I began to respond to a comment my cousin Jeremy made in response to my recent blog “The Surprising Reason I’m Not Celebrating Homosexual Marriage“. He says:
Doug, I really like your approach, but it’s hard to draw a line between what the Bible teaches, and what we think it teaches (i.e. our interpretation). You can too easily take that to the extreme of not acknowledging that it teaches anything, because everything becomes an optional interpretation, so I can make the Bible say whatever I want it to say. Then I’m asked to accept everyone’s interpretation as being just as valid as the words themselves, even when they are practically contradictory. Still, I agree with most of your points.
I certainly feel the tension captured in the question, “If we can’t know this for certain, can we know anything at all?” I am aware some people do logically think along the lines of what Jeremy said. However, I don’t believe this is reasonable either. I think most of our knowledge falls at various points along a continuum from certain to no idea—the poles aren’t the only option. So the question becomes, “How confident can we be in this knowledge?”
To use homosexuality as an example, some say that they get their belief, not from themselves but from the Bible. Interestingly though, they may base their confidence in their understanding of the Bible as correct in themselves and/or their own group. I think it would be more reasonable to base our confidence in a piece of knowledge of God in the whole of faithful followers of Christ (rather than just our denomination or branch). So, for example, we can be reasonably confident in the doctrine of the trinity since this has been generally held as true my the majority of Christians throughout church history. This brings me back to the point I made in my blog: since there isn’t a general consensus among a broad array of Christians regarding homosexuality, I argue that we ought to recognize a degree of uncertainty in this bit of knowledge.
I can see now that the next logical question is, “Which side do we take in practice while we wait for more certainty?” Do we not condemn homosexuality at the risk that we overlook this sin? What could be the result of this? I imagine many Christians are concerned because they think that if we do this, people may go ahead and practice homosexuality, and if it is a sin, they will then be condemned to hell because they didn’t realize they needed to repent. On the other hand, what if we condemn homosexuality and it isn’t a sin? Then we have potentially hurt and condemned many people and pushed them away from God or put barriers to them coming to God in the first place.
So it appears to me that one’s take on this issue rests in part on one’s understanding of the gospel. Though no one would say they believe this, in practice it seems that conservative evangelicals almost believe that our acceptance by God (into heaven or hell) is determined by our sin (though Jesus death allows us the possibility of entering heaven). Or at the very least, some Christians believe the first step toward God is being convicted of sin (in which case we need to know what the sins are in order for people to feel convicted). This view (as I understand it) envisions an angry God who requires a sacrifice in order to appease his wrath at the fact that we haven’t perfectly kept the rules (Bible). From this view, the Bible needs to be more of a legal document, and Jesus’ death is the significant event, while his resurrection is a nice afterthought. (This is an oversimplification, but will have to do for presently discussion.)
On the other hand, I believe the Bible is more supportive of the idea that Jesus came to bring new life and inaugurate a new nation (country/kingdom). From this point of view, God is a loving and concerned rescuer. Jesus establishes his nation, not through the violence of the world which always lead to more violence. Instead, he overcomes the power of violence altogether by defeating death (so the resurrection is really key more so than his death). He invites us to join his nation (“the kingdom of heaven”), not by following rules but by following him through the Spirit. In this case, the Bible doesn’t need to be a legal rule book, it is a means to getting to know Jesus.
I hope you can see the difference in these views and how they may influence one’s belief’s about homosexuality. If you believe the main issue is sin, that sin determines our eternal destiny, and our main job as Christians is to reduce sin, then the possibility of homosexuality being a sin is quite concerning. On the other hand, if you believe that genuinely cares about each of us despite our sin and that he can teach each of us directly, then it will be easier to trust him to deal with the issue of homosexuality and not feel we need to do so ourselves.