Defending the Faith in an Age of Sameness (Parts 1-4)
The culture in which we live grows stranger by the day. We who are in the world, though not of the world, carry the prodigious task of defending the faith before an ever changing culture. The following contains three main considerations:
- 1. the historical march of a secular agenda to redefine men and women,
- 2. the importance of addressing the prevailing presuppositions of our day, and
- 3. the consistent biblical approach to defend the faith for the sake of the gospel.
After 40 years of struggle, a key stronghold in the marriage equality battle is now under the control of the LGBT movement. The day was June 24, 1973. An unknown arsonist entered the French Quarter of New Orleans and set fire to the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar. On the second floor met our country’s first official gay church: The Metropolitan Community Church. After the service free beer and dinner were provided to a throng of attendees; sixty of whom were listening to the piano man on the second floor. Just before 8:00 pm, the downstairs door-buzzer sounded. The bartender asked one of the patrons to open the door, expecting the arrival of a taxi driver. As the door swung open, a growing inferno leapt through the frame and swept through the lounge. Thirty-two souls perished in the fire, while thirty more narrowly escaped the fiery evil. This undeniably deplorable act was the worst attack on the LGBT community in American history. No one was ever charged with the crime, and some label this an intentional disregard by investigators – a negligence fueled by the ostracism of gays and lesbians in the 1970s, an era most known for its Jesus Movement.
But now, nearly forty years to the day later, much has changed. As recently as 1986 the Supreme Court upheld sodomy laws in a number of states. Over time, the liberal agenda gained enough influence in American thought, churches, and politics to turn the tide of public opinion against the biblical view on marriage and so called same sex unions. Today the union of two same sex people is not only legal and recognized within the laws of all fifty states, but such unions are cheerfully celebrated.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday, June 26 garnered a wide range of responses from Christians and other supporters of traditional marriage. For some the ruling brought a sinking despair over what they perceive as the continued decline of historical American values. Others felt anger and disappointment over the Court’s unusual method, by which the nine justices usurped the rights of the states to democratically decide such matters for themselves. Still others were nearly unaffected by the ruling because it met their expectations, though perhaps sooner than they anticipated.
Regardless of your worldview or your opinion of this most recent decision, the broadened definition of marriage matters to you. Even those who claim to have no interest in these fundamental issues of life and law will feel their impact in concrete and meaningful ways. As a Christian pastor, my highest concern is not how weighty decisions impact my brethren, but rather how my brethren impact others through the passage of these decisions. Namely, I am interested in how we Christians will defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
On the heels of the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision to recognize so called same sex marriage in all fifty states, the blogosphere and ticker-tape and news feeds and twitter accounts were inflamed with varied rhetoric - celebrations, critiques, complaints, condemnations, arguments, counter-arguments, counter-counter arguments-ad nauseam. And at this moment the internet continues to swell with a billowing monologue and dialogue of confrontation and consternation and all the rest. On and on it goes. But where is all this talk leading? What is the goal of our laborious, meandering discourse? If we may cut through the tension and emotion inherent in heavy controversies over the definition of marriage, perhaps we can also step back and discern the opportunities which accompany the polemics of our age. Again, we have been granted an opportunity to defend the faith with the wisdom of Solomon and the winsomeness of Paul. But how? Our friends and family members, co-workers and classmates, neighbors and strangers need a reasoned response from the Christian remnant in their homes and offices and schools and communities. So we ask, “How will we defend the faith in this unbelieving age?” Peruse the rhetoric and you will find the majority of arguments from Christians, on the topic of gay marriage, could be summarized along the lines of one or more of these statements:
- 1. The Bible teaches homosexuality is sin.
- 2. Jesus said marriage is between a man and a woman.
- 3. Paul exhorted husbands to love their wives, not their husbands; and vice versa.
Of course, these three statements and many more like them are good, true, and right. They represent the objective propositions of Scripture about men, women, and marriage. But is that all there is to be said? In defending the truth of Scripture are we only left with a handful of propositional one-liners? Again, these statements and others like them need to be said and said often. But left alone, these statements do not reason well, because they do not require a dialogue about truth. These propositions are likely not to lead us into the rich gospel conversations for which we long with our friends in the LGBT community. Furthermore, these simple statements of truth – employed as though they hold the brute legal power of our persuasiveness – do not reflect the biblical teaching we believe about unbelief and the power of God to convince and convert the unbelieving heart and mind. So we must once again ask, “How can we best defend the faith in this unbelieving age?”
RECOGNIZING THE PRESUPPOSITIONS OF OUR AGE Certainly there are many ways by which to approach the defense of the faith in our modern age. Yet I hold the opinion that the most effective apologists keenly consider the presuppositions at work in the hearts of their hearers. For those who are unfamiliar with the language of presuppositional apologetics, a moment is in order to clarify the terminology. By the term presupposition is meant simply a belief that precedes others (something that is assumed beforehand). Or to put it another way, a presupposition is an ultimate commitment or belief from which other beliefs are derived. For example, as Christians we presuppose the reality and nature of God. Our ultimate commitment to the nature and character of the biblical God gives birth to all our subsequent beliefs. We hold as our starting point the God who is there. God Himself, and His truth, is back of everything we believe.
THE POWER OF PRESUPPOSITIONS It is important to recognize the powerful role of these presuppositions in the heart of every person. We know from the Bible that the problem all people face is not only a need for information, but rather for a radical change of heart and mind. The fallen mind, left to itself, is riddled with all manner of false presuppositions that hold sway in matters of life, thought, and belief. Therefore, our unbelieving friends are not simply in need of more facts or evidences to finally convince them of the truth. Rather, they need what we needed: a complete undoing of their fallen way of thinking and a repentant shift toward God’s revealed and objective truth. We believe all men and women are made in the image of God. They have hearts and minds which search for meaning in this world. We believe the Fall has infected every faculty of body and soul with the corrupting effects of sin. Therefore, we believe all people need a remedy stronger than facts, talking points, and eloquent arguments. Instead, we believe God normally affects change by uprooting false beliefs and replacing them with truth.
THE SHELTER OF UNBELIEF The erroneous beliefs (false presuppositions) of fallen man serve as a kind of roof over the unbeliever’s head, keeping the real facts of the real world from beating upon his head. These false ways of thinking must be dislodged and taken away in order for the truth to find a resting place in his heart. Most profoundly this is achieved by the sovereign and supernatural work of God to break the heart at enmity with Him, and then to regenerate the heart, granting the person the saving gifts of faith and repentance. This is nothing new to us! God is the one who saves. But what I often find is new to Christians is this thought that God chooses to work His sovereign grace as His people reason well from the law and the gospel. He uses us as instrumental means of grace to bring others to faith in a Christ. As we reason from the powerful truth of Scripture, like dynamite in a rock quarry, our God is faithful to explode the unbeliever’s presuppositions. As wise Christians generously sow the rich and glorious presuppositions of the gospel, God is faithful to shower His elect with grace to believe. From Scripture and experience this seems to me the normal way God works to draw, convict, and comfort His people through the reasoned biblical defense of the faith. And so it is my belief that a winsome presuppositional method of apologetics is just what we need to follow.
WHERE IS THE DEBATER OF THIS AGE? If we are to defend the faith well, we need to understand the modern age in which we live, and the presuppositions at work in the hearts of our hearers. This requires Christians to diligently study the world around us – to know the thoughts, concerns, and motives of others and how the objective truth of Scripture addresses them. The Apostle Paul displayed this when he powerfully asked the Corinthian church, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” (1 Corinthians 1:20) Paul sought to understand the presuppositions of the age in which he defended the faith. Paul’s writings show he understood people and made sense of the crucial issues of his day by disciplined commitment to think God’s thoughts after Him.
By starting with the wisdom of Scripture, we are able to recognize the general as well as the specific trends and agendas of modern people. Within a biblical life-and-worldview we can recognize the cultural conditions and circumstances, helping us wisely defend the faith. And what a challenge this is! We live in an age of plurality in which the intermingling of many differing worldviews have led people to embrace a relativity that aims to validate equally all beliefs. We live in an age of counterfeit tolerance, when the only thing that will not be tolerated is intolerance. Unless you tolerate everyone equally, you will not be tolerated. Furthermore, this high commitment to tolerance requires the rejection of objective truth, setting to our charge an additional challenge when defending the faith.
Even then we can be of good cheer - all is not lost. The world remains in the control of her Creator; His world is still governed by His truth no matter how unbelieving men seek to suppress that truth. Our task is clear in this present age: by the grace and wisdom of God we must sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for the hope that is in us, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15). And we may expect the recent legal victories enjoyed by the LGBT community and her supporters will open the door or more frequent conversations about these important matters, as well as better opportunities to talk of Jesus and His good news. Since the Supreme Court ruling it seems many more people are willing to engage in dialog around these decisions. So we ask, how will we go about defending the faith during this landmark period in history of marriage in America?
DEFENDING THE FAITH IN AN AGE OF SAMENESS As we consider the rhetoric of the LGBT movement one word stands out among the rest: Equality. The idea of equality has served as the battle cry of so called same sex marriage agenda. This theme is billboards, fliers, stickers, commercials, and t-shirts. Throughout American history equality has been a noble cause for which to fight. Issues like equal rights for all races and equal pay for all genders remain important. In the same vein, the LGBT movement has fought for what appears to be equal rights. Look more closely and you might see another, more specific objective, hidden within the notion of equality: sameness.
The recent advancements of the LGBT agenda reveals another indication of the prevailing shift in our modern age. The denial of objective truth has pushed the normal pursuit of equality to a new place. Instead of lobbying for an equality ensuring everyone is treated fairly, the new version of equality would see to it that all the most fundamental distinctions are removed – in this case, distinctions between men and women. Where complementarianism defines men and women as equal but different, the debaters of this age prefer a society in which men and women are equal and the same; not unlike the utopian society of Lois Lowry’s award winning novel, “The Giver.” The story follows a 12-year-old boy named Jonas, as he navigates life in a community committed to eradicate pain and conflict and to preserve structure, safety, orderliness, and equality - by removing all distinctions of color, climate, terrain, and erasing all memory of the past. The utopian society places her hope in this new and pervasive value; a value they call “sameness.” We are seeing a similar trend in many of our cities as local governments pass laws requiring identical treatment of all people, regardless of personal conviction, principle, or conscience. Drawing distinctions, no matter the reasoning, is becoming illegal in more places every day. (Strangely, as I type this, I am listening to a radio report on action groups who are fighting dog discrimination. The lobbyists demand new laws requiring people to treat all breeds of dogs - from poodles to pitbulls - as if they were the same.) Central to the marriage equality debate is the passionate application of the “sameness” principle to men and women.
In my city, a Christian photographer declined to shoot a lesbian ceremony. In response, the city council passionately passed an anti-discrimination ordinance. The law was in the books less than 48 hours when local businesses felt pressure to conform with the principle of sameness. One of these businesses - a spray tanning salon - offered equal tanning treatments to men and women, while still recognizing the normal distinctions between the sexes. The female owner required male patrons to wear bottoms during the service, and women were permitted to undress to their comfort level (possibly no bottoms). The operator was subtly threatened to forfeit her distinctions and adopt a new equal and same policy for both sexes - treat everyone equal and the same or else pay the price as transgressor of the new law of sameness. We are ever so slowly adopting a world without distinctions, and, contrary to God’s design, a world with diminished beauty, goodness, and truth.
God’s design for men and women to complement one another is apparent in creation and Scripture. Men and women are equal, fellow heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). But men and women are not the same. We differ in design - as seen in our appearances. We differ in function - as evident in our abilities. We differ in role - as borne out in the equal-but-different way we relate to one another. God’s design is evident in God’s world and word, but this truth is being suppressed under the guise of equality; many of us have exchanged the truth for a lie (Romans 1:18). The LGBT movement is cultivating around us an age in which sameness seemingly reigns supreme. We observe this and mourn, regretting the slippery slope down which our culture is sliding – a slope that will darken the many beautiful distinctions God has embedded within His creation. On the other hand, we can also see an opportunity for a reasonable defense of the faith. Do you see it?
EXPOSING AND DEPOSING THE PRESUPPOSITIONS A biblical defense of the faith does certainly involve positively pointing out and explaining the truth. In many cases, though, false presuppositions function together as a proverbial roof built over the unbeliever’s head, acting as a makeshift shelter from the pressuring realities of God’s revealed truth. Keeping with the focus of this article, a commitment to the idea of sameness promises a place to escape from God’s created order. When faced with the commitments of unbelief, we should be willing to place ourselves upon the unbeliever’s position, with a purpose of showing it for what it is: an inconsistent, impossible, and altogether weak protection. From Scripture we endeavor to show one or more of the following:
1. We can show the impossibility of living consistently by the false presupposition of sameness. At the heart of the LGBT community is an assumption that the fundamental distinctions between men and women are unnecessary and can be blurred, or altogether eliminated. As the battle for marriage continues, the evidences are appearing more and more. Following the most recent Supreme Court decision, marriage licenses were not available in all areas because the applications for marriage licenses needed revising. The current application forms do not allow for two husbands or two wives. One can reasonably expect entirely new gender neutral terms to replace those of “husband” and “wife.” We aim to show the impossibility of living consistently in a world without distinctions. Although a person may claim to believe in these distinctions, he cannot help but live according to them because they are real. We might call this a “point of tension;” a point where a false belief crashes against an unchangeable reality of God’s world. It is good for us to press in at the points of tension so we may illustrate the frailty of our hearer’s stated beliefs.
One such reality should be immediately obvious when thinking of the physical design and function of male and female bodies. A man is not designed to carry and give birth to a child. 2007 did bring us the story of Thomas Beatie, who apparently gave birth as a man. Headlines cheered “The Pregnant Man,” subtly overlooking the fact that Thomas was born Tracy LaGondino. In reality Thomas was not the first impregnated man, but instead the first woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery and then become pregnant. We must challenge our hearer to bear the burden of proving he can live by what he says he believes. Boys are boys and girls are girls; from their earliest days they are treated accordingly. The fundamental distinctions between men and women cannot be escaped or eradicated.
2. We can show the impossibility of anything contrary to God’s revealed truth. Eliminating the distinctions between men and women is not only a bad idea to be frowned upon; it is impossible. Because the fundamental distinctions between men and women are unavoidable and unchangeable, those who pretend they do not exist or try to override them will find themselves fighting an impossible battle. The inevitable end will be disappointment, defeat, and despair. We must work to show our hearer the impracticality of his position. He prefers a world in which the truth is not true; he dreams a dream that cannot come true. Within our presuppositional method of defending the faith, this line of argument has been called “reasoning from the impossibility of the contrary.” Again, we must not only affirm the truth of the Christian life-and-worldview, but simultaneously must show the impossibility of any belief or way that is contrary.
3. We can show the logical end of living by the false presupposition. In love, we must be willing to place ourselves upon the position of the unbeliever, so that we might show what is the logical end-result of every position which is contrary to God’s way. Here I am not only thinking of the clear promise of judgment and condemnation by a righteous Judge, but also the mounting despair and defeat which will meet the unbeliever throughout his rebellious quest to have his way; an inevitable despair will consume him in the end. As Francis Schaeffer profoundly taught, the unbeliever needs help to see that his denial of revealed truth has resigned him to fall below the line of despair and into a position in which there is no hope of arriving at anything like the beauty, goodness, and true of the Christian message. We pray God will break through to our hearers, giving them a keen sense of their futile efforts to reshape God’s world into their own image, and granting them a captivating interest to turn from their way in surrender to the truth.
DRAWING OUT AUTONOMY Some who read this might think, “Yea. Yea. I see what you’re getting at. But how will this help me get the gospel to my hearer?” The approach laid out above is not aimed simply at winning important arguments. I have in mind something far more spiritual and meaningful. Reasoning on the level of ultimate commitments will help us get to the heart of the matter; and the heart of the matter is autonomy. Prideful independence lay at the heart of all detractions from the Christian truth. Simply put human autonomy is willful independence from God; it says I know better than God and my way will prove victorious in the end. I think my own thoughts. I go my own way. In other words autonomy asserts, I am God. Human autonomy was the central factor at the Fall of our first parents Adam and Eve. The serpent tempted Eve, “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1) Rather than thinking God’s thoughts after Him, our first parents chose to think their own autonomous thoughts and then to go their own way. And even now all the pains of the Fall, in this modern age, demonstrate the dastardly consequences of human autonomy. Defending the faith in the way we explored above will help us draw out this independent and autonomous mindset, and then to show God’s better way.
If we defend the faith while keeping the three points above in mind, perhaps God will grant us the ability to draw out the autonomy at work in our friend’s worldview. According to the example above, as we show the inconsistency and the impossibility and the despairing end of all efforts to subvert God’s sovereign, wise and good order for men and women, we may anticipate the common objection. It goes something like this: “I hear what you’re saying. But let me assure you – the sameness we envision, we will one day achieve. Science and technology will make a way. Everyone will finally enjoy the freedom to be and do whatever we please. If a man wants to look like a woman, or function like a woman, or be a woman, he may. And if a woman wants to look like a man, or function like a man, or be a man, she may. Just wait – you’ll see.”
And this is the devilish sound of human autonomy – We envision. We will achieve. We will make a way. We will be and do whatever we want. Just you wait and see.
You cringe. I cringe too. But on the other hand, this response is exactly what we want to hear. Before our dear friends can come to Christ, the autonomy of their unbelief must be brought into the light; and euthanized by the all-sufficient power of revealed truth. So we do all we can to bring to the surface every word of self-sufficiency and independence present in the unbeliever’s thinking. Autonomy is the real problem - it stiffens the neck, hardens the heart, directs the conscience, defends the sinner, and rejects the Savior. A gracious blessing is offered when a Christian strives on the basis of Scripture to deal a death blow to his neighbor’s autonomous way of thinking and believing. Like an island prisoner, the autonomous thinker is stranded with his independent thoughts as the only comfort. The waves of God’s relentless truth crash upon the shore of his little island of self. The fierce winds blow against him, the blazing sun oppresses with the scorching heat of the fallen world. He desperately strings together a few vines and twigs and hunkers down under his rickety shelter. He feels the pressing need to make sense of his world, but alas he cannot. Preferring to follow the dictates of his own fallen conscience, he has abandoned the Truth; all the while the knowledge of God surrounds him on every side (Romans 1:18-22).
With gentleness and patience the Christian employs the same method we have detailed above, to show the futility of man’s wisdom - which is no wisdom at all - when it is dragged into the light of God’s incomparable truth. No matter where the unbeliever runs for cover – to hide from the burning gaze of God’s irrefutable wisdom – we seek to explode his shelter and send him running off again. We do this by disproving him from the Scriptures at every point; until he runs out of places to hide and his autonomy breathes a final gruesome sigh of death. And then, as His soul is writhing in despair, with nowhere to turn and the crushing heel of the Law upon His neck, we rejoice to offer the crowning jewel of all our apologetic efforts: the good news of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
Therefore, as with a laser sight, our defense of the faith takes aim to destroy the unbelieving presuppositions of autonomous minds. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). We intend to show that futility, despair, and defeat awaits all who go their own way and then comfort the defeated with the good news of God who “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all;” He who will also then freely give us all things (Romans 8:32). By dealing with the unbiblical assumptions behind the unbelieving agendas of this age, and reasoning with love from Scripture, we are privileged to commend to the world the surpassing riches of God’s grace toward us in Christ – grace which enables His people to exchange lies for truths, denial for adoption, folly for wisdom, despair for hope, death for life, and the glory of a King whose Kingdom has had no beginning and will have no end.
As we conclude, let me suggest four ways you and I can grow as defenders the faith:
- 1. We should become more astute to recognize the fundamental changes within our culture over time. To strike at the root we must do some digging. If we will “tune in” to the foundational ideas and beliefs of our time, we will become more effective ambassadors of Christ (Acts 17).
- 2. We should sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. Sanctifying Christ as Lord does not only mean we grow in assurance of our salvation. It also means we have committed ourselves to think, reason, and engage according to His way. We must learn to think God’s thoughts after Him in order to powerfully challenge unbelief (2 Corinthians 10:5).
- 3. We should know the Bible well. To think God’s thoughts, we must read and God’s thoughts. Let’s study God’s word daily. Growing in wisdom and knowledge will help us have wise lips that make knowledge acceptable (Proverbs 15:2).
- 4. We should cultivate a deeper gratitude for the grace of God. The intolerance and impatience of our day demands of us gentleness and longsuffering. May our speech always be with grace as though seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Grace has brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.
To learn more about defending the faith in our challenging era of history: Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion by William Edgar Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith by Greg Bahnsen and Robert Booth Every Thought Captive: A Study Manual for the Defense of Christian Truth By Richard Pratt "Presuppositional Reasoning with False Faiths" by Greg Bahnsen (article)