Monday, October 30, 2006


So if the future really is unwritten, even for God, what does that mean for how we approach life? That's the kind of question that can take a lifetime to answer; it certainly has implications for every aspect of our theology. And aside from beginning to shed the general sense of fatalism that's colored my view of the world for as long as I can remember, it's a question I'm only just beginning to explore.

For some issues it has very direct implications; some of the biblical passages that Christian Universalism uses to build its case, for example, take on a very different meaning when filtered through the lens of Open Theism. Although universalists wouldn't necessarily have to abandon their position in order to adopt Open Theism, it would require them to reformulate a number of their arguments.

And the notion of praying for one's future spouse (before one has met that individual) only makes sense if one can assume that God already knows who that individual is; if the future is indeed unwritten, then such a prayer is an exercise in futility. Not that such a prayer was necessarily biblical in the first place, but it's nonetheless become a part of popular evangelical culture.

In terms of the Great Debate that I've examined on this blog over the last year, it doesn't appear to provide any significant advantage to either side. Those who are most inclined toward ex-gay philosophy are among the least likely to accept the idea of Open Theism, for reasons that have nothing to do with the issue of homosexuality; they're simply likely to come from those conservative camps that regard such a notion as heresy.

And yet Open Theism can arguably be used to support their position. If God already knows the future, then he knew from the beginning of time exactly who would turn out gay and which of those individuals would ultimately leave the church (or never gravitate toward it) as a result of the rejection they would face at the hands of his people. Within the traditional model, then, it's difficult to truly escape the implication that God is the author of same-sex attractions, since at the very least he did nothing to prevent that which he fully knew would take place. Of course, theologians have written entire libraries debating over statements like the one I just made, but ultimately it all comes out sounding like an endless exercise in semantics.

Meanwhile, Open Theism offers the genuine possibility that homosexuality is something that God honestly did not intend. It's not a slam dunk argument, as it still requires that one accept certain preconceived assumptions, but it does potentially dampen the wind in the sails of the "God made me gay" camp. One still has to address the fact that God would have seen the introduction of homosexuality into his creation as at least a strong possibility - I say 'strong' since its consistent presence in similar proportions in every known society throughout human history (not to mention the animal kingdom) argues that its potential (if not its inevitability) was present within the matrix of God's original design.

(Not that ex-gay advocates are necessarily averse to such a possibility; Elizabeth Moberly's theory on the origins of homosexuality, which is still popular in many ex-gay circles, states that same-sex attractions are the byproduct of a reparative process that's hard-wired into our psychological makeup. Of course, Moberly's theory also assumes that this reparative process can be tapped into to restore an individual to heterosexuality, a conclusion that the real world has yet to vindicate, so the ex-gay movement would probably be best served to move on in search of better theories.)

On the other side of the debate, if God does not know the future in advance, then it makes perfect sense that the Bible would stick to addressing situations that were actually being faced by the biblical authors. Many of the issues we face in contemporary society, though similar in some respects to those faced by previous generations, were mere possibilities in biblical times. Had God tried to address every possible future situation in the Bible (even just the likely ones), it would have had to be hundreds of thousands of pages long.

Thus one wouldn't expect the Bible to address the issue of same-sex marriage, since such an idea wouldn't have occurred to people (even those with homosexual orientations) living in an age when marriage and procreation were economic imperatives and romantic love was an incidental byproduct that followed after marriage, if at all.

The existence of individuals that are predominantly same-sex attracted wasn't completely unknown in biblical times, but that makes it all the more instructive that the Bible's condemnations of homosexual behavior were directed specifically toward its manifestations in idolatry and prostitution, just as it does under the traditional view of God and time.

The debate still comes back around to the question of whether homosexuality is directly contrary to God's character or merely an unintended variance from his original template (or something he intentionally and positively brought into being, but that argument is beyond the scope of what I want to address here). If the former, as most conservatives would advocate, then no homosexual relationship could ever be a good thing, regardless of any other considerations. Such a stance requires reading certain assumptions into the relevant biblical texts, however, so it ultimately becomes as much a matter of defending those assumptions as it is of debating over what the Bible actually says.

If the latter is true, however, then the idea of same-sex marriages is not necessarily beyond the bounds of those principles that we use to judge other relationships: self-sacrificial love, fidelity, tempering of character, trust, mutual respect, creativity, etc. It may not have been what God intended when he first created Adam and Eve, but we serve a God whose plans cannot be thwarted for long, a God who can use even the most seemingly useless person in incredible ways, a God who revels in making good come out of what appears to us to be the bleakest of situations.

The same God who used a bloodline that included liars, murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, Gentiles and idolators to rule over his chosen nation and to ultimately give birth to the Messiah is certainly great enough to make use of a group of people (homosexuals) that many of his followers regard as the lowest of the low. In fact, it's precisely the sort of thing that a student of the Bible ought to expect from such a God.

Whether gay marriage lies within the scope of God's will is a debate that won't be resolved anytime soon, but in any case it would be worthwhile for Christians on both sides to remember the heart that the God they worship has for "the least of these."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Back in a Few

I won't be gone that long, but in case it takes me a while to get back on track with blogging, I wanted to mention my impending absence for the benefit anyone who hasn't taken me off their reading list after my most recent ventures into heresy.

In the meantime, here's some random humor to help pass the time...

The Council of Elrond

Star Trek Meets the Knights of the Round Table

The Gay Agenda


Tuesday, October 17, 2006


One discovery that continues to surprise me is how many of the Christian beliefs I was taught growing up are ultimately based on assumptions that aren't necessarily as biblical as everyone assumes them to be. In this case the assumption is that God, being eternal, exists outside of time and therefore has already witnessed all of history, past, present and future. Although there are a number of biblical passages that can be used to support that belief, there are even more that seem to suggest otherwise. At its core it's a doctrine whose roots lie in Greek philosophy (Plato in particular) and not necessarily in the worldviews of the biblical authors.

This belief requires that we allegorize or otherwise explain away the many times in the Bible that God changes his mind or expresses emotions like surprise, regret and hope. Proponents of the traditional view most commonly assert that God was speaking in such terms purely for the benefit of his audience, even though there's little discernible benefit in such a practice unless God is, in fact, being honest about his feelings.

I'm currently reading Gregory Boyd's God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God, which makes a strong case for Open Theism - an alternative interpretation of these types of passages that doesn't in any way diminish God's sovereignty (though it may at first glance seem to).

According to the Platonic view that influenced early church theologians, time is an illusion, an element of the physical universe which itself is an illusion. In modern terms we most commonly view time as a dimension of the physical universe, along with length, width and height. Therefore, for God to be all-knowing and all-powerful, he would necessarily exist outside of time and be able to simultaneously view all of history from the moment of creation to the moment the universe ceases to be.

But what if time isn't a dimension as we define it, but merely our acknowledgment of the linear progression of events that is a necessary element of existence? Steeped as I am in a modern scientific mindset that has been heavily influenced by ancient Greek thought, that's a difficult concept to absorb. Under this alternative definition of time, however, God would not be diminished by not knowing every detail of what lies in the future, since the future does not yet exist. An omniscient being knows everything about that which exists, but logically does not know that which doesn't exist. An omniscient being would envision all future possibilities, but since the future exists only in terms of possibilities, such a being could still be genuinely surprised by which of those possibilities actually come to pass.

In fact, once I stop viewing time as a created 'thing,' I begin to see how much sense it makes that God would experience the passage of time as well - not because God is inferior to time, but because a being whose existence did not include any sort of linear progression would be completely static and unable to engage in relationship with other beings in any meaningful way.

Furthermore, it arguably enhances God's greatness if he can be confident in his future plans despite not having prior knowledge of every last detail of what is to come. God, who knows the laws of physics, biology and human nature far better than we could ever hope to, can direct the broader path of human history by setting certain events in motion, and simultaneously leave each of us fully free to determine our roles in those events. He can know generally what is going to happen without knowing what each of us will individually choose.

And how else could free will truly exist? If God knew everything that would ever happen in our lives before we were even born, then in reality we're completely helpless to alter our destiny for better or for worse. Even if God technically didn't decide who would ultimately go to hell, why would he create people that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt were going to make the choices that would ultimately lead them there?

We can either end our explorations at this point and conclude that, since God tells us he is loving and just, that such actions are in fact loving and just even though every God-given instinct in our bodies screams out that there is nothing even remotely loving or just about such a scenario, or we can step back and reevaluate some of our assumptions. Adherents of the traditional view would tell us that we simply cannot understand the full answer (it's true that there are things our finite minds can't fully comprehend), and that we should not let our fallible human reasoning skills take priority over the words of God - and yet the traditional view itself is based more on human reasoning than it is on what God has actually said to his people.

Although there are passages in the Bible that describe God as eternal and perfect, it is one thing to be immortal and unchanging in character and quite another to be completely unable to change in any way. Everyone faces situations where they must reconsider a course of action if they don't want to compromise their integrity, and by allowing each of us to freely choose how to conduct our lives, God must necessarily adapt his plans (at least on individual levels) according to the choices that we make.

There's a lot more that could be argued in both directions on this issue, and short of reproducing the entire book I couldn't touch on all of the relevant biblical passages. Having only read this one book on the subject I'm not ready to declare the issue settled, but I do find that Open Theism resonates with me on a deeper level than the traditional view ever did. It's one thing to give intellectual assent to an idea, as most Christians do with the traditional view, and quite another to truly believe it in the depths of one's being.

Suddenly prayer has an importance that it never truly had when I viewed God as being outside of time. No matter how many different ways theologians come up with to try to convince us of the importance of prayer, none of them really ring true in a universe where every outcome has already taken place. If the matter has been eternally settled since before the beginning of time, what's the point in trying to change it?

But if the matter isn't yet settled, if the future hasn't yet been fully decided, if we are, in fact, participants with God in the creation of what is to come, then we have both an incredible freedom and a tremendous responsibility to work toward making this world a better place.

Yes, God will prevail in the end, but what that means for me and those around me depends in part on my actions. Christian theology has always assumed as much, even though that assumption contradicts our long-standing view of the nature of God and time.

If that's heresy, then may the church find a way to make orthodox beliefs even half as inspiring.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


One of the more positive trends in evangelicalism in recent years is the movement toward increased dialogue and a stronger sense of unity between denominations by returning to an emphasis on the basic tenets of Christianity, as defined by the early church creeds. Christians who agree on the short list of assertions in those documents are free to disagree on other matters of doctrine.

At least in theory. In practice, all but the most liberal evangelicals still maintain a list of pet issues that, although officially regarded as nonessentials, are in practice treated as non-negotiables. Homosexuality is the most obvious example of this double standard; although no mention of it or any related topics appear in the creeds, and although the biblical passages used to condemn homosexuals are all surrounded by significant disputes over context and word translation, many evangelicals who otherwise advocate unity would still break fellowship with any Christian who disagreed with them on this issue alone.

Another issue that remains a hot button among evangelicals is that of biblical inerrancy. Although the exact definition of "inerrancy" remains open to debate, it's nonetheless an issue that conservative Christians largely agree on. Interestingly enough, though, it's not a concept that has much direct biblical support; the closest that the Bible comes to calling itself inerrant is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

From that it's a matter of defining and extrapolating from the term "God-breathed" and reasoning that, if God was involved in the process of inspiring the authors of the various books of the Bible, he would have ensured both that what was originally written was free from error of any sort, and that the copies made of those original manuscripts would remain free from all but the most inconsequential of errors.

That still leaves a can of worms to dig through, of course. Are all of the Bible's historical accounts literally factual in the way that we keep historical records today? Should every statement made about God in poetic works like the Psalms be taken at face value as though it came from an encyclopedia, or should the authors be allowed some room for poetic license? Does inerrancy extend to the Septuagint? The manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls? The King James Version? Does it extend to the books of the New Testament, which hadn't been canonized (and in some cases hadn't yet been written) when Paul made the above statement? What about the books in the Catholic Bible that most Protestants consider apocryphal?

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Advocates of inerrancy have answers to every objection that's been raised to their position, of course, as well as to those who disagree with them only on particulars, but in the end it's a doctrine that relies more on human reasoning than on anything actually asserted in the Bible. Most evangelicals take inerrancy for granted as a doctrine that's essential to the Christian faith, without ever realizing the irony that a belief system that views human reason as suspect and prone to deception would place so much weight on a doctrine that has its roots in human reason.

For my part, I'm not sure. Archaeological discoveries have repeatedly vindicated the existence of people, places and events mentioned in the Bible. Does that mean that Noah's flood literally covered the entire globe? I don't see why the validity my faith ought to hinge on such matters. Just because God himself does not make mistakes, it doesn't necessarily follow that he micromanages his people to the extent that most versions of inerrancy would require.

Does the Bible have to be completely error-free in the modern sense of the term to be a reliable foundation for the Christian faith? Can it still be "God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" even if Genesis 1-3 doesn't provide a C-SPAN-style transcript of how God brought the world and its first inhabitants into existence?

I run the risk of conflating two separate debates here, since not all inerrantists require that the early chapters of Genesis be taken completely literally, but many of them do. One of the core concerns of inerrantists is that if the Bible is found to contain even the slightest error (or anything that could be considered 'fiction' by the modern definition), then all of it must be regarded as equally unreliable. Although that's not how the real world works, it's a very real fear in the minds of those who require absolute certainty.

I'm not ready to discard the doctrine of inerrancy, since I do see validity in some of its claims, but neither do I see it as an essential doctrine that should be used to draw the line between "true believers" and "heretics." While I understand the fears of those who advocate strongly for inerrancy (and those fears aren't completely baseless), I've also come to see how a need for absolute certainty, far from being a component of a healthy spiritual life, is in fact a sign of a weak and immature faith.

For my part, I'm willing to live with a healthy dose of uncertainty. It may not always make for a comfortable life, but when did God ever promise us one of those?

Friday, October 06, 2006

One Year, 100 Posts

It seems somehow significant that I was able to reach those milestones at the same time - in part by delaying another post that's sitting half-written in my queue, but that one would have been #100 at roughly the same time if not for this one. 365 days ago I said hello to the blogosphere, and somehow I'm still here typing away.

I'm not going to get mystical about it, since sometimes a coincidence really is a coincidence, but it is kind of cool that it worked out that way. Although my 200th post is unlikely to fall on my two-year anniversary, here's hoping that I'm still around to note both of those events.

And it's been quite a ride. As an example of both how far I've progressed and how slowly change comes, here's an excerpt from the letter I shared back on that first day:

So where does that leave me, except in a state of perpetual uncertainty? Since God has not seen fit to give me a straight (no pun intended) up-or-down answer, all I can do is go back to Him on a daily basis for guidance. And perhaps that’s how He wants it to be; it’s easy to become spiritually and intellectually lazy when we think we know all the answers. Will the answers He gives me over time match the expectations of those around me? I don’t know. I keep discovering over and over that God doesn’t fit neatly into the theological boxes we perpetually try to stuff Him into.

But I do know this: God wants to do something big in the gay community. I’m not the only one who senses that, though I don’t know of anyone who has a clear picture of what it’s actually going to look like. The church, both liberal and conservative, does more to hinder than to help, but the stubbornness of God’s people won’t hold back His plans forever. His Spirit is already moving, in ways that aren’t necessarily going to please people on either side of the divide. And something new is clearly needed. Exodus isn’t the answer. Soulforce isn’t the answer. Focus on the Family is, unfortunately, part of the problem.

I’m sure that all sounds very vague and pretentious, and I could be wrong about any or all of what I’m predicting. But God has not abandoned the millions of people who experience same-sex attractions, even if many in His church wish we’d all just go away (we’ve tried; we can’t). On that much I’ll stake everything.

Here's to whatever God has in store for the next twelve months...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Just about everyone in the blogosphere has already beaten me to this, but it's worth publicizing as far and as wide as possible. Jim Burroway has written what may be the definitive parody of anti-gay literature, in which he copies their wording and methodology and then shows exactly how he doctored the facts to make the "heterosexual lifestyle" look absolutely horrifying.

Sadly, the people who most need to read this (i.e. the ones who made it relevant in the first place) either won't go near it or will completely miss (or ignore) the point, but it's well worth passing along to anyone who is willing to listen.