....We can no longer assume, even in the Bible Belt, that people aspire to, or even understand, our “values” on marriage and family. These parts of our witness that were the least controversial—and could be played up while playing down hellfire and brimstone, for those churches wanting a softer edge—are now controversial. Churches that reject the sexual revolution are judged as bigoted. Churches that don’t won’t fare much better, for in a secularizing culture, churches that embrace the revolution are unnecessary—just as the churches that rejected the miraculous in favor of scientific naturalism were in the twentieth century.
In post-Obergefell America, Evangelicals and other orthodox Christians will be unable to outrun our freakishness. That is no reason for panic. Some will suggest that a Christian sexual ethic puts the churches on the “wrong side of history.” Well, we’ve been on the wrong side of history since a.d. 33. The “right side of history” was the Eternal City of Rome. And then the right side of history was the French Revolution. And then the right side of history was scientific naturalism and state socialism. And yet, there stands Jesus still, on the wrong side of history but at the right hand of the Father.
If we are right about the end of human sexuality, then we ought to know that marriage is resilient. The sexual revolution cannot keep its promises. People think they want autonomy and transgression, but what they really want is fidelity and complementarity and incarnational love. If that’s true, then we will see a wave of refugees from the sexual revolution, those who, like the runaway son in Jesus’ story, “come to themselves” in a moment of crisis.
Churches so fearful of cultural marginalization that they distort or ignore the hard truths of the Gospel will not be able to reach these refugees. Churches that scream and vent in perpetual outrage won’t, either. It will be of no surprise if the churches most able to reach those wounded by sexual freedom, and the chaos thereof, will be the churches most out of step with the culture. Whatever one thinks of the “temperance” of many wings of American Evangelicalism, it is no accident that so many ex-drunks, and their families, found themselves walking sawdust trails to teetotaling Baptist and Pentecostal churches, not to the wine-and-cheese hour at the respectable downtown Episcopalian church.
The days ahead require an Evangelicalism that is both robustly theological and warmly missional, both full of truth and full of grace, convictional and kind. This does not mean a kind of strategic civility that seeks to avoid conflict. The kindness that is the fruit of the Spirit is of the sort that “corrects opponents,” albeit with gentleness and patience (2 Tim. 2:24–25). A Gospel-driven convictional kindness will not mean less controversy but controversy that is heard in stereo. Some will object to the conviction, others to the kindness. Those who object to a call to repentance will cry bigotry, and those who measure conviction in terms of decibels of outrage will cry sell-out. Jesus was controversial among the Pharisees for eating at tax collectors’ homes, and he was no doubt controversial among the tax collectors for calling them to repentance once he arrived there. He sweated not one drop of blood over that, and neither should we.
While I am not worried about Evangelicals’ caving on marriage and sexuality in post-ObergefellAmerica, I am worried about Evangelicals panicking. We are, after all, an apocalyptic people, for good and for ill. We can wring our hands that the world is going to hell, but then we ought to remember that the world did not start going to hell at Stonewall or Woodstock but at Eden. Adam was our problem, long before Anthony Kennedy. Mayberry without Christ leads to hell just as surely as Gomorrah without Christ does. We cannot respond pridefully to the culture around us as though we deserve a better mission field than a sovereign God assigned to us.
This means that Evangelicals can best serve the culture by being truly Evangelical. We are not in a “post-Christian” America, unless we define “Christian” in ways that disconnect Christianity from the Gospel. The mission of Christ never calls us to use nominal Christianity as a bridge to redemption. To the contrary, the Spirit works through the open proclamation of truth (2 Cor. 4:1–2). It is the strangeness of the Gospel that confounds the wisdom of the world, and that actually saves (1 Cor. 1:18–31). The Gospel does not need idolatry to bridge our way to it, even if that idolatry is the sort of “Christianity” that is one birth short of redemption. Our frame of reference is not happier times in the 1770s or 1950s or 1980s. We are not time travelers from the past; we are pilgrims from the future. We are not exiles because American culture is in decline. We are exiles and strangers because “the world is passing away, along with its desires” (1 Jn. 2:17).
I don’t think American Evangelicals will fold on our sexual ethic. But if we do, American Evangelicalism will have nothing distinctive to say and will end up deader than Harry Emerson Fosdick. If so, the vibrant Evangelical witness God has called together in Nigeria or Argentina or South Korea or China will be alive and well and ready to send missionaries to preach the whole Gospel. Whether from America or not, a voice will stand, crying in the wilderness, “You must be born again.”Please read it all at the link.