Wednesday, February 19, 2014


When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.

In 2007, Unchristian, a book written by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman based on original research, sent shockwaves through the church that continue to resonate. They found that young non-Christians have profoundly negative views of Christians. Among 16- to 29-year-old non-Christians, Christians were viewed as "anti-gay" (91 percent), judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), sheltered (78 percent) and—surprise—"too political" (75 percent).

Three years later respected academics David Campbell and Robert Putnam's landmark book, American Grace, concluded that partisan politics was directly to blame for the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans. "The growth of the nones," Campbell argued, "is a direct reaction to the intermingling of religion and politics in the United States." Jonathan Merritt was more blunt in his assessment of the impact of a partisan faith: "As American Evangelicals have become more partisan, American Christianity has suffered as more shy away from the faith."

Edward Johnson, a communication professor at Campbell University in North Carolina, says we are now living in a "postmodern" era where everything is relative and there is no universally accepted truth. It's an environment in which anyone who says "this is right" and "that is wrong" is labeled intolerant, he says. One no longer needs the church to double-check the settings on the congregant's moral compasess.

There was a time when a person could publicly say homosexuality
was wrong and people could consider the statement without anger, he says. Today, people have reverted to an intellectual tribalism where they are only willing to consider the perspective of their own tribe.

“They are incapable of comprehending that someone may have a view different than theirs,” Johnson says. “For them anyone who dares to question the dogma of the tribe can only be doing so out of hatred.”

Since 1969, a new social movement of support for gay and lesbian persons has emerged. This has come with increasing political and social influence in advocacy of homosexuality as a matter of civil rights and liberties. From a focus on religious holiness, the cultural debate has shifted to one of social justice. The voices calling for this profound change include noted Christian theologians, church leaders, pastors, and ethicists in both mainline and more conservative traditions. This has led to profoundly painful and divisive struggles within the Anglican Communion, the Episcopalian Church, the Lutheran Church, and many other denominations. Fears abound regarding both the biblical integrity of the church and its ability to maintain unity. (ECC –USA)

As Christians, this research confirmed what we were experiencing in our own lives: an open antagonism in the culture toward Christian ideas and doctrine; a sudden change in conversations when we mention faith, and the knowledge that came with our religious studies. But, clinging firmly to our faith, there was an increasing awareness that contemporary secular issues were pushing people away from faith and we, as church leaders, recognized that we lacked a convincing and sufficient arsenal to thwart their departure.  The conservative evangelicals and fundamentalist in particular are those who experience the greatest backlash.

Eight decades ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick, the well known and respected theological liberal, thought he’d settle the nuisance posed by slow thinking fundamentalists by simply asking God to have these enemies to liberal thought scattered and to places where they can no longer interfere. Whom amongst us who have pastured a congregation haven’t asked God to rush the earthly departure of a saint or two?

Fosdick preached a famous message entitled, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win  - Concerning them, "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him flee before Him." (Psalm 68:1; cf. Numbers 10:35) Apparently, God’s time was not Fosdick’s time. And one wonders just how many times the plea has been prayed since. Lord, we’d get on with doing your divine will if you’d move those fundamentalists out of our way -  Can’t you see how they’re holding up progress?

Back in the 1500s Martin Luther reminded the Church of this tension when he said: All the articles of faith held by Christians ought to be such that they are not only most certain to Christians themselves, but also fortified against attacks of others by such manifest and clear Scriptures that they shut all men’s mouths and prevent their saying anything against them…. This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end but it is the road.

Clearly, Luther’s struggles were of a very different nature. Global warming, social injustice, human trafficking, LGBT issues never crossed his mind.

‘Until the evangelical church becomes mature enough to recognize the self-righteous hypocrisy that so easily besets us, not only will our witness for Christ continue to be harmed, but many in the church itself will miss the grace of God for their own souls./
We all read the bible through the lenses of our own world-view. However, in doing justice to a subject like homosexuality, and giving honour to the word of God, I believe most of us do so at a very real disadvantage. We have to start by discarding our own current preconceptions.

We all have a particular sexual orientation. And, I believe, as Christians we all seek to have Scripture throw some light on this topic and to seek God’s will in finding some common ground on which to explore sexual orientation.
And there are countless LGBT people that truly love God with all their hearts and are longing to be a part of a local fellowship, like ours, but are ostrisized and made to feel unwelcome simply because of their sexual orientation and our misconceptions.

We need to distinguish between a homosexual orientation or ‘inversion’ (for which people are not responsible) and homosexual physical practices (for which they are). We must be rigourous in differentiating between this ‘being’ and ‘doing’, that is, between a person's identity and activity, sexual preference and sexual practice, constitution and conduct.” (John H.W. Stott)

“Most people who identify as gay and lesbian would say that this is not an action I’m choosing to do; this is who I am,” says Timothy Beal, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book.” A person's sexual orientation is not a matter of that person's choice. Nor is the sex-drive an inconsequential part of a person's nature. No valid study has established how or when a person's sexual orientation is determined. Many well-intentioned people have offered some wise sounding but ill informed opinions, such as having a weak father and strong mother. There is specific scientific evidence that no such influence applies to homosexuals any more than to heterosexuals.  And there is much evidence that homosexuals cannot change their natural sexual orientations as distinguished from life style.

Some ethicists call for the church to recognize that a homosexual orientation is not sinful per se, for the Bible does not condemn it as such. Discussion within the spheres of biology, psychology, and sociology challenges the church to broaden its treatment of human sexuality beyond the arena of the morality of various behaviors to include theologically informed discussion of the dynamics that form sexual preference or desire. The church should take care to understand and respectfully address these debates, including the position that homosexuality is an issue of advocacy for the oppressed or civil rights for the marginalized, lest it risk being misunderstood or mocked. The church must speak from Scripture, which calls people to define their personal identity and express their sexuality in relationship to the Triune God.

When a man or woman tells me they’re gay, as an increasing number of people do, I’m not always comfortable because I don’t fully understand their world. But I recognize that God has made them a part of mine. 

Sven Ljungholm
End Part Two


Anonymous said...

'Fosdick preached a famous message entitled, "Shall the fundamentalists win - concerning them, "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him flee before Him." .... Apparently, God’s time was not Fosdick’s time.'
By not scattering the 'fundies', that tells me they are not His enemies, and that Fosdick got it wrong.

Graeme Randall said...

Oh come on..... Fosdick was wrong in that he wanted the fundamentalists to be 'smitten', and that he wasn't trying to seek reconciliation within the church and seek a way that all God's people can worship the one God together. It has nothing to do with whether the Fundamentalists are wrong or right. I could say equally say that the fact God hasn't answered the prayers of many fundamentalists in 'smiting' the Liberals, and instead has allowed more and more fundamentalists to become liberal is proof that the liberals aren't wrong and aren't his enemies.

Neither of us are His enemies - we are all His children, with different experiences of our relationship with God.

Yours in Christ,
Graeme Randall
Former Australian East in London

Kjell Edlund said...

This question about the divisive opinions within church, mostly between those so called Fundamentalists vs Liberalists is clearly important to recognize.
But I guess the most of us are somewhere in the middle.
It's difficult to discuss burning questions like this on LGBT, and remain calm and reasonable, on either side.
But still, it's about real human beings, and we, Christians in this dificult time of ours, need to talk about it. And preferably do it without trumbelling sentiments.

I confess though it's not allways easy to be rational and friendly in my own comments...

Anonymous said...

Four years ago I fought hard and long to convince fellow Christians that a so called homosexual lifestyle was sinful in whatever form. I've not come full circle, yet, but I have come a long way in understanding that homosexuals too need stable, loving relationships. My thanks to Sven for your ongoing nonjudgmental teaching. Are you going to tell us on which side of the fence you stand?

active soldier, former officer Midwest USA

John Sullivan said...

An excellent post Sven!

As for Harry Emerson Fosdick his name was considered anathema by my officer parents. I inherited the bias. When I went to Princeton my faculty advisor chose my Master's thesis: "The Life, Times, and Preaching of Harry Emerson Fosdick". I was horrified. When I vented my disapproval, I was told that "it will be the best medicine for you".

Surprisingly, I discovered that Fosdick had a "born again" experience; that in many ways he was just as "evangelical" as I was. Reading about his misadventures, and plowing through all his published sermon manuscripts, I became a different person. I saw things through different eye, and it was for me the first step out of fundamentalism into a whole new spiritual journey.

We have now arrived at a different junction in church history, two roads with regard to scripture: one for those who are literalists, and the other for those who choose to read scripture historically and contextually. One which claims the scriptures are infallible, the other which sees scripture as inspired, but still a human product.

Will the twain ever meet? Yes, I believe they will eventually. I've discovered that most theological liberals are former fundamentalists.


Having visited Union Seminary and Riverside Church often in the late 60s, and again in the 80s, and knowing something of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s visits there along with the impact of the Harlem Baptist visits that led to his ‘born again’ experience, Fosdick, the Baptist preacher, has always fascinated me.
I read a review of Robert Miller’s, Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (Oxford University Press) and share a few nuggets:
“These were the days when Christians literally beat down the doors to get into church. "Crowds Smash Door: Near Riot to Hear Fosdick" ran the headlines of a 1924 newspaper. It was not uncommon for people to wait in front of the church for more than two hours in what they called the "bread line" so that they could be fed at Fosdick’s table…. The carnationed, gray-gloved ushers, or what Fosdick termed his "Guard of Honor," were really the city’s best-dressed bouncers and bodyguards…. Miller compares opening up one of Fosdick’s preaching notebooks to "looking into a magician’s bag of tricks after marveling at his acts." It would take weeks, months, sometimes years of notebook preparation for a sermon to be born. "It’s like going to an apple tree," Fosdick explained. "and saying, ‘this one is ripe now."…. Fosdick’s own self-description -- "I may be a liberal, but I’m evangelical, too!" -- …. One comes away unclear as to how much Fosdick saw himself either as heir of his own past or as harbinger of a fresh religious movement.
At Riverside, Fosdick was interested not in building a community of Christians so much as in carrying out a ministry to individuals. "I would rather help individuals," Fosdick said, "than preach sermons." Fosdick imagined his parishioners marching to heaven single file, not side by side…. And one of the greatest preachers America has produced pooh-poohed the traditional role of preaching, redefining it in more acceptable therapeutic terms as "personal counseling on a group scale."
A portion is being used in the next blog article.

John Sullivan said...

Yes, and he read his manuscripts word for word in a raspy voice. When I told my homiletics professor that I preached from a manuscript, he replied, "that's alright John, some people just read better than others".

Thanks for sharing about Fosdick.

Jeff Bassett, Former said...

Just a thought…the difference between the label of Liberal/Conservative has everything to do with those bits of Scripture you choose to hold fast to…Liberals may really be conservative and Conservatives may be considered liberal.