Saturday, August 24, 2013

Terminology Matters

Warning: adult themes, potentially not safe for homeschoolers.

Thabiti Anyabwile has been catching all kinds of flak for this recent article (warning again - it's a very frank discussion of homosexuality, use discretion). To sum, he recounts a thinktank meeting years ago when he saw the tide turning towards pro-homosexuality, and what he thinks he should have done differently. He suggests that one way to counter the pro-homosexual agenda is to discuss it openly, describing in gory detail what actually occurs, and letting our collective gag reflex work.

Obviously the usual suspects have lined up to denounce him. But there's even been flak from solid quarters, such as Carl Trueman. So I'll try to explain why I think Thabiti has it right, starting by clarifying what he's not saying (if I'm reading him correctly).

Thabiti is not saying that morality is defined by what we find disgusting. He's not saying that our gag reflex always works as it should (sinful creatures that we are). He's not saying that our argument should be primarily or even largely aesthetic. While it is true that we all know sodomy and other homosexual acts are the perverse acting out of idolatry and we generally find them disgusting (see Romans 1), I don't think he's primarily arguing that the disgust makes or proves them to be wrong. He may be suggesting that the sense of disgust at homosex perversion is a residual effect of the imago dei, a warning from the conscience, but that does not seem his main point.

I think his main point is just this: the way we speak of something affects how people view it. That's it. If your opponent controls the terms, he wins the debate.

How many who are now scolding Thabiti use the same reasoning regarding another great evil, the child sacrifice known as abortion? They know full well that evil hides behind euphemisms. So "killing an unborn baby" becomes "aborting a fetus", "removing a blastocyte", or "women's rights". Only the most depraved would vote for a politician who is pro-sucking out a baby's brains before dismembering it and throwing it in the dumpster. But change the term to pro-choice, and suddenly we have a champion of freedom!

Similarly, who could be against 'love' or 'equal rights' or 'marital freedom'? But when you understand that what is really meant by those terms in this context is serial sodomy? It's a little more difficult to support a measure to treat two males violating each other anally as if they're the same as a man and woman in marital covenant. But if you let them hide their disgusting perverse acts behind the banner of 'freedom to love who I want', their evil can gain societal approval much more easily.

Describe evil for what it really is. The deeds of darkness hate the light, and thrive in the shadows. Why let them define the terms?

One more point - a common objection I've seen is that we should be more 'winsome'. The pro-sodomite won people over by being winsome, they say, and we need to outdo him; if we do as Thabiti suggests, we'll lose. Listen - it is impossible to be regarded as the more winsome when you are the one saying "No". Men passionately hate it when God says "No"; do you really think they'll take it well when the message is passed along from a fellow creature? If your idea is to be more kind and loving, absolutely. If you think we will ever be viewed as such, try it a few times and see what happens. Then feel free to join us in speaking the truth plainly.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Should We Follow Gamaliel's Advice?

Acts 5:38-39 reads:

"So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"

Recently I've been seeing this come up over and over, exhorting us to stop fighting against perceived false teachers, heresies, and unbiblical practices. If it's not true, the reasoning goes, it will die out and go away. And if you're wrong and it actually is true, well, you don't want to oppose God, do you?

Is this an appropriate use of this passage? I think not, for numerous reasons.

First, it's an inference drawn from a narrative which is exactly the opposite of direct commands, such as Titus 1:10-11 and 1 John 4:1-6, as well as descriptions of the church such as Ephesians 4:11-16. In interpretation, the clear always trumps the unclear; clear doctrinal teachings explain the narratives. To subvert clear, unambiguous teaching by making it subordinate to possible inferences drawn from narratives is twisting the Bible on its head. It's a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

But even if that clear teaching wasn't there, would this even be good advice for Christians? True, it's the words of scripture - but it's the words of a blasphemous enemy of the church plotting the best way to eliminate any memory of Jesus Christ*. Well guess what, the words "He has uttered blasphemy" are recorded in scripture about Jesus - should we therefore hold that Jesus is actually a blasphemer? Of course not. Nor should we swallow this utterance unquestioned. At the very least, we need to have the same skepticism we use for the speeches of Job's friends.

And putting that aside, is it even good advice? Really, how often has "just ignore it and it will go away" worked? Maybe with an annoying little sibling you might get lucky occasionally. Maybe. But a health issue, a weed problem, a leaky faucet, Milton, or a subversive movement? Not likely.

No, I don't think this was good advice we should emulate. I think it was providentially terrible advice, just as God providentially made Absalom listen to Hushai's awful advice rather than Ahithophel's counsel. God protected his people by making their enemies act foolishly. By the time they got around to full-on attacks, it was too little, too late.

This advice of Gamaliel's is directly contrary to God's commands, was aimed at destroying the church, and proved to be spectacularly awful. Why, exactly, should the church follow his advice now? Oh that's right - it's those who are promoting unbiblical nonsense and want it to go unchallenged who suggest we should. How about we just obey God instead?

By the way, do you think they actually believe what they're promoting? Here's a test - go to one of their churches and start teaching, say, the full gospel, the sufficiency of scripture, etc. Do you think they'd let you go unopposed or shut you down? Exactly.

*Because he had been mentor of the Apostle Paul, I've often heard people speak of Gamaliel as if he surely must have been a Christian himself. And maybe there's some early-Christian literature describing his conversion, I dunno. But in this story, he's clearly not a Christian. He compares Jesus to some rabble-rousing nobodies and schemes how to make people forget about him, too. Certainly he doesn't speak up affirming Jesus as Lord and Christ! And a few paragraphs later, when we see his great disciple Saul, what is he doing? Assisting in the murder of Stephen, and going on a Christian-killing rampage. So his top man was a persecutor, he rejected Jesus as Messiah and wanted the church to just go away. We think he was a crypto-Christian... why, exactly?