Sexuality and Nature in Romans 1:26-27 (Stott)

 Romans 1:26-27 is a very deep text that talks about the darkness and destructiveness of depravity.  In the context of these verses, Paul is discussing how the rejection of God leads to all sorts of misery.  For example, rejecting God affects the mind and morals in very bad ways (v 18, 21).  Rejection of God necessarily leads to idolatry (v 23, 25).  Rejection of God can also result in God giving a person over to his or her sins – judicially withdrawing his restraint and letting them have the depraved lusts of their hearts (v 24).  Rejecting God has many dire and dark consequences: sometimes God punishes sin with sin.

Back to Romans 1:26-27.  In these verses Paul says that one result of God giving a person over to his or her sinful lusts is that they exchange natural sexual relations with unnatural ones: men lust after men and women lust after women.  John Stott has some helpful comments on these verses:

Verses 26–27 are a crucial text in the contemporary debate about homosexuality. The traditional interpretation, that they describe and condemn all homosexual behaviour, is being challenged by the gay lobby. Three arguments are advanced. First, it is claimed that the passage is irrelevant, on the ground that its purpose is neither to teach sexual ethics, nor to expose vice, but rather to portray the outworking of God’s wrath. This is true. But if a certain sexual conduct is to be seen as the consequence of God’s wrath, it must be displeasing to him. Secondly, ‘the likelihood is that Paul is thinking only about pederasty’ since ‘there was no other form of male homosexuality in the Greco-Roman world’, and that he is opposing it because of the humiliation and exploitation experienced by the youths involved. All one can say in response to this suggestion is that the text itself contains no hint of it.

Thirdly, there is the question what Paul meant by ‘nature’. Some homosexual people are urging that their relationships cannot be described as ‘unnatural’, since they are perfectly natural to them. John Boswell has written, for example, that ‘the persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual people’.  Hence Paul’s statement that they ‘abandoned’ natural relations, and ‘exchanged’ them for unnatural (26–27). Richard Hays has written a thorough exegetical rebuttal of this interpretation of Romans 1, however. He provides ample contemporary evidence that the opposition of ‘natural’ (kata physin) and ‘unnatural’ (para physin) was ‘very frequently used … as a way of distinguishing between heterosexual and homosexual behaviour’. Besides, differentiating between sexual orientation and sexual practice is a modern concept; ‘to suggest that Paul intends to condemn homosexual acts only when they are committed by persons who are constitutionally heterosexual is to introduce a distinction entirely foreign to Paul’s thought-world’, in fact a complete anachronism.

So then, we have no liberty to interpret the noun ‘nature’ as meaning ‘my’ nature, or the adjective ‘natural’ as meaning ‘what seems natural to me’. On the contrary, physis (‘natural’) means God’s created order. To act ‘against nature’ means to violate the order which God has established, whereas to act ‘according to nature’ means to behave ‘in accordance with the intention of the Creator’. Moreover, the intention of the Creator means his original intention. What this was Genesis tells us and Jesus confirmed: ‘At the beginning the Creator “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one.’ Then Jesus added his personal endorsement and deduction: ‘Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’

In other words, 1) God created humankind male and female; 2) God instituted marriage as a heterosexual union; and 3) what God has thus united, we have no liberty to separate. This threefold action of God established that the only context which he intends for the ‘one flesh’ experience is heterosexual monogamy, and that a homosexual partnership (however loving and committed it may claim to be) is ‘against nature’ and can never be regarded as a legitimate alternative to marriage.

 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 77–78.

Shane Lems
Hammon, WI, 54015


Only Six Verses That Mention Homosexuality? (Powlison)

Here’s a paragraph I appreciated from David Powlison’s forthcoming book, Making All Things New.

“I’ve heard arguments against the biblical sexual ethic that say, ‘There are only six Bible verses that mention homosexuality,’ and then proponents wiggle the definition of homosexuality to exclude modern forms.  This is mere trivializing of Scripture.  Narrowing Scripture’s relevance to a verse count or the specific form of ancient practices neither establishes nor disestablishes right and wrong regarding sexual acts.  God teaches us by identifying the main principle, giving us representative examples, and then expecting us to put in the effort to understand the ‘things like these’ (Gal. 5:21) that are also obviously wrong” (p.38).

David Powlison, Making All Things New, forthcoming.

Shane Lems

Mohler’s “We Cannot Be Silent” – A Review

We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong How do you explain the American sexual revolution that has been taking place since the sixties?  And what is the Christian church to do about it?  These are important questions for us to ask. If you want thoughtful and informed answers to these questions, you’ll want to get Albert Mohler’s new book, We Cannot Be Silent (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015). The subtitle shows the aim of the book: “Speaking truth to a culture redefining sex, marriage, and the very meaning of right and wrong.”  In just over 200 pages, Mohler does a nice job explaining the sexual revolution, critiquing it from a Christian perspective, and offering constructive advice for how the church should move forward in the midst of this revolution.  It is a timely book for sure!

Chapter one is a discussion of how the sexual revolution has affected culture.  Chapter two is a study of how the revolution has negatively affected marriage and family.  In chapters three and four, Mohler discusses homosexuality and transgender issues.  The next chapter (five) is a study of the changing and ultimately the end of marriage.  Chapter eight is a summary of Scripture’s teaching on sexuality, while chapter nine has to do with religious freedom.  Chapters nine and ten talk about how the gospel addresses sexuality and some major questions that arise from the topic of the sexual revolution.  The conclusion of the book is a response to the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.

One reason why I appreciated this book is because it clearly explained how the current sexual mess this nation is in finds its roots in the past – before the nineties – back to the sixties and before.  The gay marriage and transgender issues didn’t arise in the last five years out of a vacuum.  Mohler speaks well to this issue.  The book was also helpful in that Mohler did a nice job of explaining how deep and wide this sexual revolution has spread in our culture: it affects so many things, from high school sports to the military to tax laws to doctor’s offices to elementary school bathrooms.  The sexual revolution is a major movement that the church has to face; we cannot be silent!

Mohler doesn’t just point fingers in this book; in fact, he doesn’t really point fingers in the bad sense of the term at all.  He examines, diagnoses, explains, and even notes that the Christian church has not always handled this revolution well.  So he gives a loving response on how we should go about dealing with the sexual revolution in a way that’s faithful to Scripture (in justice) but also radiates with love (in mercy).

There is a lot of info in this book!  If you’re looking for a quick and light read, this is not it!  However, if you want a readable, yet reasonably in-depth look at the sexual revolution from a Christian perspective, please, get this book: We Cannot Be Silent.  It will be a help to the church as we stand on the Continue reading

Openness Unhindered: A Review

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ I recently read Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield.  This book is a sequel or follow-up to her previous title, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. In fact, the first chapter is a summary of her first book which gave the story of her conversion to Christianity.  The rest of the book gives more detail on what conversion is all about, specifically in light of homosexuality and sexual issues.

Here’s an outline of the book, starting with chapter two:

Chapter Two: Identity. 1) Who am I? United to Christ.  2) What am I like? Fallen, depraved, and sinful. 3) What do I need? Union with Christ and sanctification.
Chapter Three: Repentance. What is sin? What is true repentance? More on original sin and a discussion of temptation.  How to mortify sin.
Chapter Four: Sexual Orientation. Sexual orientation in the 19th century (Freud, German Romanticism, Foucault).  Natural revelation and orientation.  Heterosexual blindness.  Use of terms.
Chapter Five: Self Representation. What does it mean to be gay? What does the word gay mean? What is biblical sexual identity?
Chapter Six: Conflict: This chapter is about Butterfield’s disagreement about sexual issues with a female Christian friend.
Chapter Seven: Community.  What is community?  How to make your home a ‘hospitality home’ – seven steps.  Neighborhood community.
Epilogue: Marriage, ministry, and children.  A few more personal notes about the Butterfields.

So what did I think of the book?  Well, honestly, it wasn’t a huge page-turner for me.  Why?  1) A decent part of the book was very similar to her first book; several times I found myself thinking, “I’ve read this before.”  2) The book was rather wordy and dense.  I realize this is subjective, but in my opinion Butterfield used too many words to make her points.  Again, some readers may enjoy the extra words and phrases, but I’m the kind of reader who gets bogged down by wordiness and lengthy descriptions/analogies.  3) Big sections of the material in this book are not unique to it. For example, Butterfield’s discussion of sin and repentance is a summary of several Puritan’s writings and her discussion of “gay” and “identity” is similar to that in other Christian books I’ve read on those issues (for example, Sam Allberry, Wes Hill, and Albert Mohler to name a few).

Basically, I don’t think the book was “bad” at all.  It’s just that for me it wasn’t overly groundbreaking.  If you’ve not read many books that deal with (sexual) sin, temptation, sanctification, and homosexuality, I do recommend this book.  As a side, it may be too thick and detailed for some readers: there were some terms and big sections of this book that “average” readers might not follow (e.g. Rousseau’s philosophy, ontology, platonic, semantic range, lengthy doctrinal discussions, etc.).  It’s not “light” reading at all – it’s very academic reading for those familiar with some philosophy and Reformed theology.  Back to the point : I’m glad we have solid Christian books like these that speak biblical sanity in the confusion of the sexual revolution!  I hope (and believe) it will be helpful to many who read it with attention.

Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant, 2015).

shane lems

The Early Church on Homosexuality

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts      In the days of the early church – I’m thinking specifically of the 2nd century – Christian apologists had to defend the faith against false charges, accusations, and misrepresentations.  One such apologist, Athenagoras (d. 200 AD?), wrote a booklet to Roman rulers called A Plea for the Christians.   This apology by Athenagoras is still quite relevant today because it discusses things we still talk about today.  I’ll come back to this booklet later, but for now I want to point out what this 2nd century Christian apologist said about sexual immorality and homosexuality.

Athenagoras refuted the claim or accusation that Christians were very sexually impure compared to non-Christian Roman citizens.  He said Christian spouses – man and wife – were committed to one another and instructed to avoid and detest adultery while the same could not be said of the Romans.  He also argued that Christians avoided and detested homosexuality.  As Athenagoras introduced this topic, he noted that he is not comfortable to “speak of things unfit to be uttered.”  But he briefly did in order to defend Christian sexual morality:

“For those [Romans] who have set up a market for fornication, and established infamous resorts for the young for every kind of vile pleasure – who do not abstain even from males, males with males committing shocking abominations, outraging all the noblest and comliest bodies in all sorts of ways, so dishonoring the fair workmanship of God. …These men, I say, revile us for the very things which they are conscious of themselves, and ascribe [them] to their own gods, boasting of them as noble deeds, and worthy of the gods.  These adulterers and paederasts [pedophiles] defame [even] the eunuchs and once-married, while they themselves live like fishes, for these gulp down whatever falls in their way….”

In other words, while non-Christians accused Christians of being sexually immoral, it was actually the non-Christians who were far more sexually immoral as was seen in their homosexual and pedophile practices (which were even part of the religious stories of their gods!).

One more thing worth noting is that Athenagoras mentions how the old Roman laws condemned homosexuality and pedophile acts.  When Roman citizens commit these acts, they “do violence in contravention of the very laws which you and your [Roman] ancestors, with due care for all that is fair and right, have enacted.”  In other words, those old Roman laws of sexual morality were good and fair: we Christians follow them, you Roman citizens do not!

Much more could be said here, but I’ll end with the following points: 1) the early church agreed with Scripture that homosexuality and adultery were sinful acts, 2) the early church desired to live sexually pure lives in the midst of a sexually impure culture, 3) the apologists did not give in to culture’s ways, but stood for Scripture’s truth when (falsely) accused, and 4) the apologists were not afraid to mention the usefulness of good and fair government laws which Christians obeyed.

This booklet, A Plea for the Christians, is recommended reading if you want ancient Christian help in standing for the truths of the faith.  Next time, I’ll share what Athenagoras said about Christians and abortion.

shane lems

Homosexuality and the Church

Homosexuality is one of the biggest social issues the Christian church in the West has to deal with today.  Therefore, I’m always happy to find good biblical resources on this topic – and as I’ve mentioned before (here and here), Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay is near the top of my list.  I appreciated the counsel he gives to churches on how to help Christians who are struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA).  Here are his five points (I’ve edited them slightly to keep them brief):

1) Make it easy to talk about.  Pastors as well as church members need to know that homosexuality is not just a political issue but a personal one, and that there will likely be some within their own church family for whom it is a painful struggle. …Many Christians still speak about homosexuality in hurtful and pejorative ways.  …Such [hurtful] comments are only going to make their Christian brothers and sisters struggling with SSA feel completely unable to open up.  Timothy Keller has said that churches should feel more like the waiting room for a doctor and less like a waiting room for a job interview.  In the latter we all try to look as competent and impressive as we can.  Weaknesses are buried and hidden.  But in a doctor’s waiting room we assume that everyone there is sick and needs help.  And this is much closer to the reality of what is going on in church.”

2) Honor singleness.  Those for whom marriage is not a realistic prospect need to be affirmed in their calling to singleness.  Our churches need to uphold and honor singleness as a gift and take care not unwittingly to denigrate it.  Singles should not be thought or spoken of as loose ends that need tying up.  Nor should we think that every single person is single because they’ve been too lazy to look for a marriage partner.  We need to respect that singleness is not necessarily a sign that someone is postponing growing up.

3) Remember that church is family.  Paul repeatedly refers to the local church as God’s household (i.e. 1 Tim. 3:15).  It is the family of God, and Christians should be family to one another.  Nuclear families within the church need the input and involvement of the wider church family; they are not designed to be self-contained.  Those that open up their family life to others find that it is a great two-way blessing.

4) Deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than cultural stereotypes.  Battles with SSA can sometimes be related to a sense of not quite measuring up to expected norms of what a man or woman is expected to be like.  So when the church reinforces superficial cultural stereotypes, the effect can be to worsen this sense of isolation and of not quite measuring up.  For example, to imply that men are supposed to be into sports or fixing their own car, or that women are supposed to enjoy crafts or to suggest that they will want to ‘talk about everything,’ is to deal in cultural rather than biblical ideas of how God has made us.

5) Provide good pastoral support.  Pastoral care for those with SSA does not need to be structured, but it does need to be visible.  Those with SSA need to know that the church is ready to support and help them, and that it has people with a particular heart and insight to be involved in this ministry.  There may be issues that need to be worked through, and passages from the Bible that need to be studied and applied with care and gentle determination.  There may be good friendships that need to be cultivated and accountability put in place, and there will be the need for long-term community.  These are all things the local church is best placed to provide.

These are great pastoral notes for churches who want to show grace and love to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.  Churches should never become so focused on the biological family and/or cultural ideas of masculinity and femininity that they end up being legalistic and inward focused rather than gospel centered and outward focused.

Sam Allberry, Is God Anti-Gay? (n.l The Good Book Company, 2013), 66-70.

shane lems

Prayers and Prejudice

... Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert - Rosaria Champagne ButterfieldIf you haven’t read The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, you really must!  It’s a great biography full of mercy, conviction, struggles, love, church, fellowship, and the triumph of sovereign grace.  Here’s one convicting paragraph I highlighted so I would read it again (and again!):

“Shortly after becoming a Christian, I counseled a woman who was in a closeted lesbian relationship and a member of a Bible-believing church.  No one in her church knew.  Therefore, no  one in her church was praying for her.  Therefore, she sought and received no counsel.  There was no ‘bearing one with the other’ for her.  No confession.  No repentance.  No healing.  No joy in Christ.  Just isolation. And shame. And pretense.”

“Someone had sold her the pack of lies that said that God can heal your lying tongue or your broken heart, even cure your cancer if he chooses, but he can’t transform your sexuality.  I told her that my heart breaks for her isolation and shame and asked her why she didn’t share with anyone in her church her struggle.  She said: ‘Rosaria, if people in my church really believed that gay people could be transformed by Christ, they wouldn’t talk about us or pray about us in the hateful way that they do.’”

“Christian reader, is this what people say about you when they hear you talk and pray?  Do our prayers rise no higher than your prejudice?”

Rosaria Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, p. 25.

shane lems