The Gospel Coalition released the video embedded below on Tuesday that featured Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Rev. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI and Dr. Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. They discussed how the Church can subvert the cultural narrative of sexuality that has shifted rapidly over the last few years.
Read the transcript:
Kevin DeYoung: It’s no secret that our culture has changed a lot. I mean, that’s always true, but it seems like it is rapidly changing, especially in this area of sexual morality, things that would have been unthinkable when we were in school or when Grandpa Keller here was in school. Things are just changing so what are we to do as Christians. How are we to equip pastors and other believers to be persuasive, to engage a culture and people of this culture who think so differently in this area of sexual ethics, and do it in a way that is winsome and maybe would win a hearing? What do you say Russ?
Russell Moore: Sometimes a lot of people come and say to me, “Come in and teach us how to talk about these issues without sounding like bigots.” My response always is, “I can’t do that because unless you affirm almost complete sexual liberty you’re going to sound like a bigot in contemporary American culture.”
What I can help you do is not to be a bigot. I can’t help you on how not to sound like one. I think the main thing is not to panic. Not to act as though we’re living in a time that is radically different from any other time. We have the same sets of problems that the church has always had, they just manifest themselves in different ways. Hold to our convictions while at the same time see people as people and recognize that most people aren’t going to change their minds at the end of a twenty minute debate. Sometimes it is going to take years. Sometimes it, like in Jesus story of the prodigal son, it takes a famine in the land, a crisis in his life, before he comes to himself, but he knows he has somewhere to go home to.
So take time to see people as people and see it as a long-term project.
DeYoung: Yeah I think we can be so fearful of “how do I talk to those people?” Yeah we have different struggles, but that puts the “other” moniker on somebody when we think fundamentally we have the same sort of penchants for idolatry, we have the same sort of heart issues, there is more that we have in common. I think that’s a good first step. And I realized in writing a book on homosexuality and speaking on it in various places through blogging and honestly through some mistakes I’ve probably made I have to realize with these issues in particular anybody and everybody can be listening and watching at any moment. So this thing right now.
So it doesn’t mean that we are not bold and prophetic in some moments, it’s just means if that is the only speed you have, that is the only way you go, you just have to be aware of how you are being heard. And it means, even though it may be bothersome to us at times, it means we do have to do a lot of “I’m not saying this, I’m saying that… And those of you who may have been hurt in this way….” You just have to understand there’s just not our safe audience we’re speaking to. Everybody is listening in and not with sympathetic ears.
Moore: Also not just the safe audience, but a lot of times I think people assume they’re only talking to the radical activists.
DeYoung: Or that too, yeah
Moore: So they come in with this full… When in fact you are always being overheard by the person who isn’t out trying to destroy Christianity, but that same-sex attracted person who is sitting in the last row of the church who is wondering “is the Gospel for me?” So whatever we are saying also has to include her.
DeYoung: Tim, you think about this stuff all of the time in Manhattan and how to deal winsomely with these issues.
Tim Keller: Yes, I’m forced to. I’m forced to. How do you, how do you undermine the cultural narrative of sexual freedom? I would actually say that if you talk about sex too much then people say you are obsessed with sex in spite of the fact that I only, I only answer the question as often as I’m asked and I’m asked all of the time. But I actually think you can preach and talk about the foundations, the underlying ideas of sexual freedoms.
First of all, the view of freedom. You can talk about freedom. You can say, “ok, how do you define freedom?” Don’t talk about sex right away, wow… If you actually start talking about how do you define freedom? What does it mean to be free? People will sit still and listen to you, and you can undermine a narrative of freedom and also identity. How do you get an identity? Then let’s not talk about sex and gender, let’s talk about that.
I have found that people actually sit still longer, and actually they often don’t think that deeply. So for example, years ago you know when “Grandpa Keller” was a young man, there was a book, a little InterVarsity Press book called Becoming Free by Charles Humbolt, in which he used the idea that a fish is only free when it is in the water. If the fish feels free to come out onto the land it will die because it is made for the water.
So what is freedom? Freedom is actually, it’s not free when it is dying, so freedom is finding the right restrictions. It is not the absence of restrictions. It is finding the right restrictions, so the restrictions that fit in with your nature.
And when somebody says, “Well I should be free to live anyway I want without… As long as I don’t harm other people.” You can also attack that by saying “how do you define harm?”
As soon as you say, “I’m not harming you.”
Oh you’re imposing your view of human nature on me which means at bottom it’s not just a matter of freedom. You have to have beliefs about right and wrong, and by hiding behind freedom and saying “I don’t have to decide what’s right and wrong” we don’t do that. Everybody is free to live the way they want as long as they don’t harm other people, but as soon as you decide what is harming and what is not you are actually imposing a view of human nature on other people.
They only reason I’m doing this quickly is because I think you can undermine people’s understanding of freedom. Which is really silly, but the culture is “freedom is absence of restrictions.” You go, no it is finding the right ones, and you can talk about love.
Frankly you say, “if you get into a love relationship or you get into marriage, and you don’t realize you are now restricted if you are totally free to live anyway you want once you are in the marriage there will be no love. The closer the love relationship the more you have to do what the other person wants and they have to do what you want.
The culture’s understanding of freedom means that love is impossible. Now that whole approach I think undermines, it makes it harder for people when you get to sex to say “I should be free to live anyway I want.”
So go after the underlying narratives – how do you define identity? How do you define freedom? And then when you turn to sex when they’ve heard you talk about that you don’t have as hard of a case to make.
DeYoung: What approach have you taken in either equipping churches or talking to people who disagree in trying to subvert that dominant narrative?
Moore: Well, many of the things that we have talked about here and another of those things is to try to help pastors not to feel as though they have to have easy answers and explanations for every psychological issue behind sexuality. I think what that tends to do is to, for one thing for the people who hear us, if they hear us just rattling off talking points, that have no basis in the authority of scripture and don’t resonate with their experience, they’re going to think “how can I trust you to talk to me about how to be born again much less when you don’t even understand this?” And we end up creating a lot of collateral damage.
I deal every single week with parents, for instance, of gay or lesbian children. Many of them have been in churches where there were pastors or teachers or others who have come in with some pop psychology view of why this happens and so they are spending their life kind of going through the script of what did they do wrong in terms of parenting. Nothing. I mean human sexuality is complicated in every sense and so the answer isn’t to try and come in and diagnose what went wrong here, but instead to come in and say, “the Gospel applies to you. The Gospel is a costly way for all people, taking up the cross and following Christ, and we want to be the sort of people who help who help you to see how that applies in your situation.”
So to be clear about sin and repentance. Be just as clear about the offer of grace, and make you are constantly saying to people who are wondering when you say “Jesus came for sinners,” “you must not be talking about my particular form of sin.”
“No we’re talking to you, and this is what it will look for you to follow Christ.”
I think just being open about that and not being fearful and panicked about having those conservations.
DeYoung: And in a paradoxical way I think we need to give ourselves the freedom to understand that we may not be persuasive. We may just not be persuasive.
Moore: That’s right.
DeYoung: You know I had a friend say, “Kevin, I don’t think we’ve lost the argument on sexuality.” And I thought,” Are you serious?”
And he said, “I don’t know if arguments have really been made.”
It’s not a logical argument. It’s not that somebody decreed this nice syllogism and then the culture decided. No, it is a hundred other things. It is what looks normal, and it is what they see on Facebook and what comes across on ESPN and the music they listen to. You can’t undo all of that. It’s not just a series of arguments that you can poke holes into, but we can present a better way. We can give them the strange experience of saying, “here is a Christian that is thoughtful and kind, and I still think they are a bigot, but I’m having a hard time still holding to that position.”
And maybe over the long run somebody like Greg Koukl says “you put that pebble in a shoe” and they walk a few more miles and you put enough there then that they have to stoop down later and see what that is and think that maybe there is another way to understand this madness.
Moore: Yeah if we are right about a biblical design for sexuality then reinventions of that are not ultimately sustainable. And so eventually people and cultures come to a crisis point. And so we have to be the people who have confidence enough in what we believe God has revealed to be able to be there on the other side to deal with people who are saying, “I’m not, this hasn’t made me as happy as I thought it would. I need to find something else.”