You only need to watch the first fifteen minutes or so of the embedded video below in order to see that all is not well at Wheaton.
Everything about this dialog between Wesley Hill and Karen Keen is wrong-footed from the beginning. Start with the fact that Wheaton even has a center for the study of sex and gender identity. Now the conclusion of Hill’s argument is that Augustine was correct when he saw our identity as male and female as essential to marriage—but prior to that correct conclusion, and the good and intelligent things he actually does say, we should all notice that the setting is gay, the assumptions are gay, the platform is gay, the sponsorship is gay, the traditionalist defender is gay, the diction is gay, and the entire collegial atmosphere is gay.
My particular target today is that last one—the entire collegial atmosphere is gay, and wearing pink slippers.
It is impossible to conceive of a biblical call for repentance arising out of a setting like this. Wesley Hill begins by noting that his interlocutor, Karen Keen, a defender of abominations in sexual practice, is a “long time friend,” for whom he has great “esteem” and “appreciation.” So in a setting like this, I want to argue that the chief culprit is that pretended virtue of collegiality. When evangelicals come to an engagement like this, they always come wrapped in the mantle of a prevenient surrender of the central point.
So for Wesley Hill, he comes to this debate prepared for a fruitful exchange of views with a dialogue partner, as though the two of them were debating whether or not the faculty lounge were best painted in taupe or beige. And in cases like that, the situation would seem to call for dutiful politeness. When refuting the manifest errors of the one calling for taupe, “my esteemed colleague from the philosophy department” would seem to be a civilized use of the vocative. One would not want a debate over such a thing to descend to personalities. One would not want to describe the taupe advocates as “sons of Sauron.”
But because we modern Christians are a pusillanimous lot, and we don’t really believe the things we say that we do, we think that all references to “my esteemed colleague” are nice and therefore biblical, sweet and therefore Spirit-filled. We think this compares quite favorably with the rough and tumble world of the Reformation, where Calvin could refer to adversaries as “barking dogs,” or Luther could refer to bungling magpies, to the bilgewater of heresies, to astute minds that had been turned into stinking mushrooms, or to irrational pigs. Of course, one hesitates to appeal to Luther because he was singularly gifted in this kind of thing, and besides we have retired his jersey.
Serene in our ignorance, we just quietly assume that the paragraph just prior to this one represents the unbiblical practices of the Reformers, while the sweetness and light on display in the paragraph before that is manifestly the spirit of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. And so it might be, but which one is actually closer to the actual Jesus, the real one?
What actually happens in the pages of the New Testament? Jesus calls His opponents whited sepulchers (Matt 23: 27). He calls them blind guides also (Matt. 23: 16, 24). He calls them fools and blind (Matt. 23: 17, 19). Paul calls his Judaizing adversaries dogs (Phil. 3:2). John dismisses his adversaries as antichrists (1 John 2:18 ).
Not to Overstate It
Now I want to be biblical here myself, and not reactionary. The issue is what the Scriptures require me to say, and not what Wheaton College provokes me into wanting to say.
The problem is not that Wesley Hill is friends with Karen Keen. The problem is that he is the kind of friend who won’t speak the unvarnished truth to a friend who is manifestly in need of it.
Compare this with the behavior of the apostle Paul at Ephesus.
“And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater.”
Acts 19:31 (ESV)
These “Asiarchs” were pagan civic leaders, and moreover there was even a pagan religious aspect to their office. And it needs to be firmly noted that they were friends of Paul. But note what this meant—they were friends with the man whose unrelenting and uncompromising preaching of the gospel in Ephesus had led to a tumult in the city’s amphitheater. And that friendship then resulted in a pagan speaker addressing a riotous pagan crowd, in which he defended the apostle, who was in effect dismantling the paganism of that city.
If we were to translate that principle over to the issue being debated by Hill and Keen, some homosexual civic leaders, friends of Hill, would have to send a private message to him, urging him not to venture down to the rally at the end of the pride parade, because it had turned ugly, and it had turned ugly because of Hill’s successful efforts at evangelizing the homosexual quadrant of the city, such that multiple gay bars and bath houses were in danger of having to shut down. That’s when friendship with unbelievers need not set off blinking warning lights on your spiritual dashboard.
So Paul has no problem with Christians maintaining relationships with pagans. If a pagan friend invites you to a pagan banquet, and you wish to go, then go.
“If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.”
1 Corinthians 10:27 (KJV)
The fact that there will be immoral people present is not a foundational concern at all. To avoid contact—and even friendly contact with—immoral people would require us to exit the planet.
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.”
1 Corinthians 5:9–10 (NKJV)
Friendship with immoral heathens is not forbidden. Not forbidden at all. What is forbidden is to have ongoing friendships with people who live in this way, or who advocate such things, and who call themselves brothers.
“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
1 Corinthians 5:11 (KJV)
It is the old story of the right relationship of the church to the world. It is the same as that of a ship and the ocean. There is no problem with the ship being in the water. There is a problem when the water is in the ship. What this means is that because Karen Keen is calling herself a Christian sister, and she is doing this while unrepentant in her advocacy of same-sex mirage, the kind of warm collegial friendship with her that Hill exhibits is forbidden.
But according to the rules of collegiality, it is required. And that requirement is sin. We all can have close friends and family who get as spiritually confused as Keen does. We can love them dearly, and they can know that we love them dearly. There is no inconsistency in saying, with tears, that many are enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18). But my friendship with such must culminate in appeals to repent, and to turn from the sin that is destroying them.
A Walk Through Ezekiel 8
Now there is no way that things could be this dislocated on the surface at Wheaton College, and not have them be unbelievably bad behind closed doors. I am reminded of the tour that Ezekiel was given of the behavior of Israelite rulers in his vision in the eighth chapter. Son of man, do you see what they do? You will see worse than that (v. 6). And then Ezekiel dug a hole in the wall and uncovered a secret coven of reptile worshipers. And God showed him what they were doing in there, and said you will see worse than that (v. 13). Then he was shown the women weeping for Tammuz, and told that he was going to see worse than that (v. 15). And then he saw a group of them worshiping the sun (v. 16), with the result that the land had been given over to turmoil (v. 17). “And the Lord spake unto him, saying, ‘Behold, the land is filled with violence. But my soul is pleased with them, for before the shedding of blood, they did not neglect to put Black Lives Matter signs in their windows.”
This is an a fortiori argument. If they are willing to say in public what they are currently willing to say, what on earth are they saying and doing in private? If they do such things in the green tree, what shall they do in the dry (Luke 23:31)? If they are this way when the cameras are running, what are they doing when the cameras are not?
When Wheaton is off the cliff, and everybody in the country knows it is off the cliff, please know and understand that it went off the cliff sometime before. When these things happen, it is invariably the case that they actually happened some time before.
Hello Slavery My Old Friend
For those of you who decided, for some bizarre reason, to soldier through the entire discussion in the above video, you will have noticed, in the middle of Karen Keen’s presentation, why I decided, so many years ago, to make such fast friends with the slavery issue. And I have to say, as a friend, the slavery issue has never let me down. What a steady Eddy.
Nothing reveals the actual doctrine of Scripture and the actual hermeneutic of your standard-issue evangelical like this topic. Just present them with what the apostolic teaching on slavery actually was, and you will be treated to a gaudy spectacle of waffling, noodling, backfilling, and that-was-then-this-is-nowing that you have ever seen in your life.
And don’t tell me that I should have warned you. I did warn you, decades ago, and you didn’t want to hear it.
The only exception that I have ever run into—from a high-profile evangelical Bible teacher, that is, the kind with something to lose—is John MacArthur. I just finished his recent book Slave, which was very good. And as I listened to it, it almost induced me to abandon my dearly-held cessationism. There he was, out in public, being honest with the slavery texts. It was a miracle.
So what am I going on about? Keen says, and actually says it out loud, that when it comes to those nasty old black and white proof texts, slave owners were able to prove their point, and Q.E.D. In order to refute the slave owners and their pesky verses, the enlightened ones had to put on their secret decoder rings, and then drape the scarf of mysteries-solved over their heads, and then to examine the trajectories and contours of God’s redemptive purposes, generally considered, looked at in a dim light, and all while squinting. If you were to do all these things, you could see the faint smoke of God’s liberating intent wafting off the epistles, the plain teaching of which we were all so eager to ignore.
So the reason “affirming” evangelicals have the traditionalist evangelicals in a hard half nelson here is that they are employing a method for getting rid of texts that we don’t like, and it is a method that traditionalist Christians have already adopted with regard to other angular texts, and which they have adopted almost universally.
And I have to make one other point here. There is a trajectory in Scripture, a long arc, that leads to the elimination of slavery through the work of the gospel. I have argued in favor of that trajectory in various places, and the best example of it is found in Paul’s appeal to Philemon with regard to Onesimus. Astute readers of the Scriptures should be attuned to the broader themes, and they should be able to pull on a long thread.
But if they employ this hermeneutical “device” as a means of setting aside the plain meaning of multiple texts, or turning them upside down, one should start to become a tad suspicious. Did the witch throw some powder on the fire? What’s that thrumming sound?
So sure, point to the broad themes. And then show us how those broad themes HARMONIZE with what the texts plainly state, straight up, and no funny business. And you will not be able to do this correctly on sexual issues unless you are willing to go back to the slavery issue, revisit your sleight-of-hand exegesis, and tell us what the Bible actually says.
Back to the Bible
What we are experiencing in our day is a famine of the Word of God.
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD”
Amos 8:11 (KJV)
People want to be told what they would most like to hear. This means they don’t want to hear a Word from God, the kind of Word that would be absolutely true whether or not you or I had ever been born. The quality of truth is not dependent on our emotional ups and downs. The truth of the Word is not dependent upon our presence. Or approval. Or anything else from us.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears”
2 Timothy 4:3 (KJV)
God is taking the Scriptures we liked away from us, and He is doing this because we did not want to put up with those Scriptures that we did not like. We wanted to eat the jello, and we didn’t want to eat the peas, and so God is taking the whole plate away.
“Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:38 (KJV)
So when the Scriptures are finally taken away from us, and we are lamenting the fact that we have lost the Word of God, we should not waste our time wishing that we could go back to “the good old days,” the times when we owned all those Bibles, and we were only embarrassed by a couple hundred passages that were “no fly zones.” But no. If you want to be stalwart when it comes to Romans 1, then you are going to need to do some practice drills in 1 Timothy 6.
And don’t tell me that it all seems so unfair. Things are tough all over.