Mainstream media, Christian and secular, usually favorably represents the church’s toe-dipping into social and ethical areas that are without precedent. Those media outlets typically find and mainstream examples of people, churches and organizations that find more “progressive” views and practices to be enlightening. Their purpose is to get the rest of us to join them in the water. As a Christian and a pastor, just as I find nothing particularly enlightening in David Hume or Kant, these modern mini-examples are yawners.
The December edition of the evangelical monthly magazine, Christianity Today, highlights one such recent conflict between Gordon College and LGBT advocates. The college President, Michael Lindsay, might not term it “conflict” though that is the reality of what’s happening. Still, when I open CT to articles like that, I’m usually anticipating conflict in my soul. Whereas, I very often appreciate the perspective of the CT editors and article writers, it seems that the magazine itself strives for some kind of top-shelf, mainstream approbation. This usually means someone in the confessional Christian world (e.g., me) is about to get thumped.
What interested me most about the article was not about CT. I was genuinely surprised and very thankful to God for what appears to be happening at Gordon College. When LGBT issues arise, historic, confessing Christians are usually on the defensive either by choice or by necessity. This defensiveness usually doesn’t end well. Its tension is alleviated either by bombastic, dogmatic dismissal of the issue or swallowing the progressive agenda and obviating historic Christianity.
Both of these responses trouble me greatly but for different reasons. The former so poorly represents the resources of the gospel, the church and the Holy Spirit as if all God ever does with sin is condemn and dismiss it out of hand. How many are “nones” because of this response? The latter because it is so cowardly and temporal as if God will not bring up ignoring and dismissing Scripture on judgment day. Of course there is a third way!
Try as they might to slant the direction of the interview by their progressive questions, even CT can’t dim what Dr. Michael Lindsay is doing at Gordon College. I am not a graduate of Gordon College or its theological seminary so I was unprepared for what I read. Dr. Lindsay represented a viewpoint that was historic, hopeful and helpful.
The observations are simple: Gordon College holds to historic Christianity despite the culture and even its own alumni. Usually answers to mainstream media questions regarding LGBT issues involve nuancing in support of these issues. Instead, Dr. Lindsay’s answers were nuanced in support of the biblical viewpoint. Which, of course, means opposition to LGBT issues since those issues themselves are unscriptural and a-historic.
An intelligent and nuanced response to LGBT issues begins with dialogue for understanding. Perhaps most Christians believe that to dialogue is a waste of time particularly when the main subject of discussion is so clearly represented (and condemned) in the Bible. I find this impulse in my own soul – though I don’t find it supported in the Scriptures. In fact, as Lindsay will mention in the article (as I do below), truth isn’t the only concern of a Christian: grace must also find its place in us. The apostle John saw in Jesus Christ the perfection of grace and truth
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
There has to be something incarnational about our interactions with people. Truth is one of two twin-foundational concerns of the church; the other is grace. For historic and confessional Christians, truth is settled but it is not yet rooted in the hearts and practices of men (including me). This is what is so often forgotten as Christian’s dialogue about difficult social issues. Dr. Lindsay maintains discussion and presence among his constituents not so that he can modify what is settled (truth) but so that he might see it rooted in others. If God were no missionary, then no one would be saved. But, missionaries must be full of grace as well as truth.
It also includes holding to clear biblical standards without reservations or fear. When confronted with organized opposition to the College’s longstanding policy by either alumni, students or other groups (e.g., “OneGordon”), he says, “The theological positions of a Christian college are not determined by popular vote or advocacy”! Unlike those groups that often use logically fallacious or unpersuasive arguments (like arguments from consensus or ad hominem arguments), Lindsay persuasively says, “We’re trying to model how we can demonstrate grace and truth even across differences of opinion.”
One element present in the article but absent too often in Christian dialogue and witness is making appropriate distinctions. CT asks, “How is homophobia handled on campus…?” Lindsay answers, “Part of my willingness to hear directly from them [gay alumni of Gordon] is to help us think: Are there ways Gordon needs to change its posture or its protocol even while it upholds its orthodox position on this issue?” Interesting response, isn’t it? In it, we find pastoral (grace) commitment to orthodoxy (truth). This is from a college President. Later, he says, “Christian colleges could very well set the example of our culture around the issues of principled pluralism. This might be the way we are able to bear witness to our faith in a very divided society.”
Gordon College, like other Christian schools, in order to exist has to posture and represent itself according to competing frameworks: Scripture and the non-Christian culture. (This is why the article opens with CT asking Dr. Lindsay to explain his signature on a supporting letter for religious exemption to a federal ban on workplace discrimination presented to President Obama). The church has no such burden and, perhaps without that pressure, typically opts for the family of cowardly responses. Time and again, churches and denominations have chosen either the so-called prophetic path of purity or have abandoned biblical viewpoints in favor of cultural ones. The right path seems to draw from each inclination.
Of course, this is the harder path. To simply stand up and say, “No!” or “Yes!” without biblical nuance is easy. Choosing either response has the advantage of silencing your critics (by your stubbornness) and endearing yourself to your party (by your stubbornness). Still, what of those “out there” who need to hear the truth so that they may be set free? We could either tell “them” to “be like us” or “it doesn’t matter.” Gospel-witness is lost in either case.
At Gordon College, an organization that risks its existence should it hold to biblical orthodoxy, does so. They hold the line on what is settled while seeking ways to find that truth rooted in those who need it most. Given the resources of historic and confessional churches, it is disappointing (and sinful) that more aren’t finding ways to be compassionate to the Sodomites, talk to the Ninevites, interact with the Pharisees, dialogue with the Zealots or approach the Athenians. We cannot view outreach to these groups synonymously with abdicating settled truth: what is true is settled and not at risk. The only things at risk are the souls of those who don’t know or believe what is settled. Thankfully, in this way, Gordon College, is more willing to walk the difficult path of grace and truth for their sake.