Homosexuality and the Love of God: A response to Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty

By Osvaldo and Kristen Padilla

It has been the suggestion of a number of Protestant denominations that the matter of LGBTQ can be separated from the basics of the gospel. That is, that one can be affirming of homosexual unions (please note the clarification about this at the bottom) but this need not affect the traditional core of the gospel. Or to put it another way, the receiving into the churches of LGBTQ folk who want to continue in those relationships is something that is not in the same sphere as the core doctrines of the church. The acceptance of LGBTQ folk as stated above has nothing to do with the continual upholding of central belief commitments such as are expressed in the Apostles Creed or Nicaea. The reception of LGBTQ people who want to continue actively in those relationships does not at all affect my evangelical identity, to the extent that that identity is determined by certain core, doctrinal beliefs. So the argument goes. We want to suggest that a recent event involving popular Christian speaker and author Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of the evangelical flagship popular magazine Christianity Today, proves that such arguments are entirely incorrect.

The recent event is actually a continuation of an event that occurred two years ago. In March 2014, Hatmaker penned a controversial blog post entitled, “World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through,” in which she left room for those who believe same-sex marriage is OK to be within the tent of orthodox Christianity. Or to put it another way, there was no connection between the basic doctrines of Christianity and same-sex marriage.

Last week Hatmaker spoke out again regarding the issue of homosexuality, causing another stir. In an April 23rd post, Hatmaker writes,

One thing I said was that it is high time Christians opened wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community. ... Here are my arms open wide. So wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately and your life is worthy and beautiful. There is nothing "wrong with you," or in any case, nothing more right or wrong than any of us, which is to say we are all hopelessly screwed up but Jesus still loves us beyond all reason and lives to make us all new, restored, whole.

Standing by itself, her ambiguous post (just what does it mean to love and to open arms wide?) on love does not say much. In fact at first glance her words should be echoed by all of us who love sacrificially and without exception. But what does it mean to be loved by God? Does being loved by God imply a relationship with God? What does she mean by “there is nothing ‘wrong with you’”? In particular, since Christians through the ages have said that repentance is the gateway to a relationship with God, what is the connection between repentance and the love of God?1

Enter Beaty. She provides a defense of Hatmaker’s statements by concentrating on the love of God. The title of her piece is: “What Jen Hatmaker gets right about Christian love.” Beaty’s conclusion is that the angry response to Hatmaker is indicative of a misunderstanding of God’s love.

But the response from both sides of the spectrum also highlights how confused we Christians are about the nature of love—the love that God has for us, and the love we are to have for those who don’t know him.

Beaty sees as the problem with the opponents of Hatmaker that they put a condition for the acceptance of LGBTQ folks. The condition that Beaty sees is repentance. Consider the following statement:

This radical love of God in Christ is precisely what compels us to love God in return and to repent accordingly—not the other way around. And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

To bolster her argument, she quotes from Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge. Here is what the latter says about repentance: “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” Yet, “The truth is the other way around. Repentance is something that God works in us as a consequence of his prevenient grace.”

And so we have come full circle to our introduction. In fact, the current debate on same-sex unions depends squarely on our understanding of some of the basic things of the gospel. In this case, repentance.

Now there are some significant problems in Hatmaker/Beaty’s statements about the relationship of God’s love to repentance.

First, Beaty approvingly quotes the view of repentance from Rutledge, “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” The problem with this is that it contradicts the Bible. Consider the following passages:

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2-3)
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus (Acts 3:19-20; emphasis added)

So, in fact, without repentance there is no salvation. This leads us to a second point.

Second, the problem with Beaty is that she understands repentance as a human work, as self- amendment. She views it as our contribution to salvation. Consider the following:

And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

Is this really what repentance is? Repentance is actually a gift of God, as much a gift as faith and justification. Consider the following passages:

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31; emphasis added)
God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. (Acts 3:26)

This is repentance. It is a gift of God by which he grants us a contrite and broken spirit (Psalm 51), which desperately wants to turn toward a new life. It is not amending our lives; it is a God- given desire to live according to God’s commands. Consider also the following quotation from Beaty:

Prevenient grace is the kind of grace that runs out toward us when we have barely managed to walk down the path toward our father’s house. It’s a kind of grace that wipes off the slop, enables us to stand up straighter...

The Scriptural view is that you couldn’t even walk without God-given repentance, not even barely; you couldn’t even stand up at all (let alone straighter) without repentance. The irony here is that Beaty inadvertently has shown what she believes about grace—that it is a cooperative endeavor in which God meets us “when we have barely managed to walk down the path.” Grace for her is helping us “stand up straighter.” In reality without grace we cannot get off the ground in the first place! But if you understand repentance in the way that she does, of course you are going to make statements like the ones above.

To end where we began: how we view homosexuality—not in the abstract but the very specific issue of same-sex marriage—is not something that can be separated from core doctrines of the Christian faith. It is tied to doctrines such as grace, repentance, and the love of God. If “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and yet you do not understand the love of God, then you don’t know God. And so the relationship of repentance to the love of God goes all the way down to the very being of God. For your view of repentance, consciously or unconsciously, says what you believe about the love of God.

Can you know the love of God in the abstract without knowing God relationally? And can you relationally know God without repentance? If the answer is no to this second question, then you cannot know the love of God (God is love) without repentance.

Let us be clear, we are not suggesting that a person has to repent in order for God to love them. That would be silly. God loves us no matter what our state is. But we are asking how can you enter into a relationship of love with God without repentance. Is that possible?


1 In Romania, for example, evangelicals are called “the repentant ones.” And in Latin America, repentance is used as a shorthand for the whole experience of salvation.

Osvaldo's father lives with us. He is not a Christian. We have literally opened our home, hearts, and arms in love for him. We share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him and tell him ad nauseam about God's love. He also comes to church with us. But he has yet to experience the love of God; he has also yet to repent. If you cannot know God or God's love behind the back of Jesus, and if Jesus' greatest act of love was what he did on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven, he will not know for himself God's love until he turns (repents) and recognizes Jesus as Lord. All rationale and stubbornness has him not repenting; that is why we are always praying that the gift of repentance might be granted to him so that he will experience God's love. His behavior won't change right away, but we know that in Christ the Holy Spirit works to transform us according to his will. 

Please note that we are not suggesting that Beaty is in agreement of same-sex unions. For Hatmaker we are not sure where she stands. The problem we have is the way repentance as it relates to the love of God is articulated. Scripture teaches us that we are to always correct and reprove and be corrected and reproved so that another gospel, different than the gospel Paul preached, isn't preached. And in this case we felt strongly that what was being articulated regarding repentance needed to be corrected.

Lastly, this entire post highlights what I (Kristen) have been saying in this blog. Women (and men!) without theological education should be especially careful before making statements about doctrines about which the best Christian thinkers have been reflecting on for centuries. Both Hatmaker and Beaty betray the least amount of acquaintance with robust theological discussion on the nature of repentance and the love of God. Shall we let people who have no formal theological training tell the rest of the church what repentance is and what the love of God is?

Osvaldo Padilla is associate professor of New Testament at Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches Greek and the Gospels and Acts. 

6 Ways To Meet With God In The Midst Of A Busy Life

As a mom I have found it more difficult now more than ever before in my life to spend quiet, reflective time with God. Before Philip was born, my morning routine consisted of coffee and reading Scripture and praying. Rarely do I get that time anymore. I don't know about those of you who have children, but my son has a sixth sense about when I wake up. Our bedrooms are on opposite sides of the house, but the minute I decide to get out of bed I will hear our bedroom door open or see him at my feet. My mornings are no longer my own. Then once the day starts, we go from 0 to 100 mph and we don't slow down. Chasing, running, feeding, picking and dusting him off, cleaning after him, calming him down, playing with him, disciplining him...Whew! I'm just exhausted typing it all up. These days are long and hard but so much fun!

However, finding that quiet time with God and His Word has been a daily struggle. And because I have not been consistent in going to the well to receive spiritual nourishment, I have seen the effects in my attitude, thoughts, my relationships, my words, etc.

You don't have to be a stay-at-home mom to share my plight. You can be an outside-the-home working mom or dad. You can be a caregiver for an adult. In fact you can just be any adult with any responsibility. Life is simply busy and complicated.

But if you are like me, then you yearn for that time with God. You yearn to protect and treasure the relationship you have with your Creator and Savior. You yearn to hear from God, to feast on His Word and be fed by Him.

I haven't figured it all out, and this is not a comprehensive list, but the following are some ways I have found to foster spiritual formation and spend time with God in the midst of a busy and crazy life. I hope some are helpful to you. Perhaps you are already doing many of these, and perhaps you have more to add! I'd love to hear ways you find to spend time with God.

1. Use The Book of Common Prayer. I grew up Southern Baptist and am still a Southern Baptist girl in many ways. If you have any knowledge of Baptists, then you know, for the most part, we do not use The Book of Common Prayer nor do we use written prayers (nor creeds, nor confessions) in our corporate or private worship. One of the many advantages of going to an interdenominational seminary was that I was exposed to other evangelical traditions in corporate worship, in the classroom and in conversations. One aspect of Anglicanism that I really like are their written prayers. These prayers are rich in theology, Scripture and doctrine, and they are fashioned in such a way that the words are almost poetic in nature. Consider this prayer: "Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved thee with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in thy will, and walk in thy ways, to the glory of thy Name. Amen. What I love about this book is that it has prayers for different days (Monday, Tuesday, etc.), different times of the day (morning, afternoon, evening), holy days in the Church (Advent, Lent, Easter), and seasons of life (marriage, birth, adoption, sickness, and death). It also contains the Psalms and a reading plan for the year. While there are doctrines that I do not agree with (e.g., prayers for the dead), I find this book very enriching to my spiritual life. What are some other books or devotional guides that you use in addition to your Bible?

2. Download a Bible, Bible study tool or devotional app. In the beginning days of Philip's life, I spent most my days holding him, whether it was feeding him, soothing him or getting him to sleep. There were times that I could barely keep my eyes open because I was so tired. In those moments I would turn to my iPhone to keep my mind busy and awake. I wish I could say that I used those times to go to the Bible on my phone or a devotional app, but I didn't. However, that would have been the best time to do so! Just recently I discovered that there are many apps designed to help one who is always on the go spiritually, some good and some not. My favorite app (surprise, surprise) is a Book of Common prayer app called Mission of St. Clare.IMG_4445

As you can see, it gives me the option of a morning or evening prayer. The word prayer is a little deceptive here, because when you click on a prayer option it gives you Scripture readings (Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament) in addition to prayers. It's quite lengthy, and so I only have time to read part of what it has to offer. However, this tool has been great! When I wake up and before I get out of bed, I grab my smartphone and spend time in Scripture reading and prayer. When I sometimes rock Philip to sleep, after he has fallen asleep in my lap, I grab my iPhone and go to this app. When I am at a doctor's office, in carpool line, in the grocery store parking lot, wherever I am that I can stop and spend a few minutes with God, this app comes in handy as it is convenient, thoughtful, structured and rich theologically. It doesn't have to be this app. It can be an app that is your favorite Bible translation or another app with prayers. What are some of your favorite Bible-related apps?

3. Listen to sermons and podcasts online. One of the many things I miss about being a seminary student is being able to listen to great sermons during the week. Chapel time was my favorite time each week. After graduating seminary, my husband (who teaches at the seminary) would come home telling me what a great sermon he heard in chapel. Thanks to technology, it dawned on me that I could listen to chapel sermons too! At least once each week (if not more), when Philip goes down for his nap I pull up a sermon online while I fold laundry or do other chores. Listening to sermons has not only focused my mind on the Word of God but it helps usher the divine into the mundane. It is much easier to do mindless, endless household chores when I am hearing a sermon about the glory of God. Beeson Divinity School has its past chapel sermons online available for viewing and listening here and has a weekly podcast you can listen to here. Overall it is a trusted center for excellent, expository sermons.photo 1I also like to listen to the sermons of my dad, who is pastor of First Baptist Church, Big Spring, here and I like the sermons of Don Guthrie, pastor of First Baptist Church, San Antonio, here. I also like the sermons of Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C., here and Time Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, New York, here. Many of these churches and institutions will have podcast apps that allow you to listen to sermons on your smartphone. I also recommend listening to sermons in the car, especially when you are going to be travelling for quite sometime. In addition I think it is a great idea if you are a pastor or someone who preaches weekly to listen to someone else preach at least once a week so that you are being fed and sharpened by other preachers of the Word. Who else would your recommend? What other institutions with sermons or podcasts would you recommend?

4. Listen to praise and worship music. One thing I have started doing recently is writing down song titles we sing in worship each week at my church. I am REALLY bad at remembering names/titles. In the past I would want to listen to a song sung on Sunday but couldn't remember the name of it. Now I keep a list and either find the songs on YouTube, iTunes, or Pandora. I turn off the TV and put on these songs while I am getting ready in the morning (Or afternoon or night! You never know when it will happen with a toddler.). I'll put on music when I workout at home or when I am not listening to a sermon while doing chores. Sometimes when my son and I are playing quietly, I turn on worship music. What this music does for me is to fashion my mind on God, His glory and, if the songs are written well, on Scripture. It is much more difficult for my mind to wander, to worry, to be distracted, or to be tempted when I am focusing on God through music (not to mention it's a nice break from Veggie Tales!). I am also realizing that my son is picking up on lyrics and singing about Jesus. This is a great way for him to be exposed to who God is, His Word and the love of Jesus. My all time favorite person to listen to is Fernando Ortega. I find playlists of his music on YouTube. Some of my favorites are: Our Great God, Sing to Jesus, Give me Jesus, and Lord of Eternity. I also love Keith and Kristyn Getty and Kari Jobe. Who do you like to listen to and what are some of your favorite songs?

5. Make time for silence and prayer. It is VERY difficult to cut out the noise in our lives when we are addicted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. I am speaking from personal experience! Social media, our phones, our iPads, our laptops are our biggest distractions, I believe. I have noticed in my own life that when I do have a few moments of silence I immediately want to try to fill it with the things mentioned above. I am allowing these things to steal my time, my thoughts and my energy away from God and family. I am in the process of learning to put these things down and give it to God. Obviously I haven't given it up all together, but I am learning to not give it first place. I want to learn to use these social media tools in moderation and only after I have spent time in prayer, silence and mediation with God. The more time and practice I put into being quiet and still before my God, the easier and more natural it becomes. Just recently I stopped listening to music for the entire duration of my running/walking. I'll listen to music for part of my run and then spend the rest in complete silence. I use to try to fill up my time driving in the car by talking on the phone; now I try not to call people as much. I substitute talking on the phone with quiet prayer. I have noticed lately that by setting aside time to be silent and to pray, I am more aware of the sin in my life and equally, if not more powerfully, aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. What are some ways you cultivate silence and prayer in your life?

6. Don't forsake Scripture. None of the five above options are meant to replace reading Scripture. As Christians we confess that Scripture is the Word of God. If this is indeed true and if we want to hear from God and know God's heart, we must remain in Scripture. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Some of these suggestions, like the aforementioned app, provides daily Scripture readings, but a devotional app or worship music or sermons should never be a substitute for reading God's Word. Practically speaking, I have found personally that I don't do well with the reading the Bible in a year plan. I feel overwhelmed and rushed. Instead of understanding what I am reading, I feel like I am checking off a box. For some, however, this works well. If it works well for you, then don't stop. However, what works for me is to pick one book of the Bible or two books (one Old Testament and one New Testament) and read little chunks at a time. I like to consult good biblical commentaries on the specific book I am reading and go slowly enough that I understand what I am reading. If I am unsure which book of the Bible to read next, I consult the reading plan in The Book of Common Prayer so that I am reading what many Christians and churches are reading at the same time. Sometimes I spend an entire week on just a couple of verses because they are so powerful I am not ready to leave them. Because my son is a morning person (like me!), I have given up reading my Bible in the mornings (unless I can on the app mentioned above). Now, I try to read when I eat lunch or when I am about to go to bed. Or, I read Scripture when my husband and son are playing together. I have had to change my thinking and my routine. This has been hard, but I realized if I didn't do it I would never find time to read Scripture.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful to you. I am still on a journey of trying to give more of my time and thoughts to God and less to things of this world. I am still trying to figure out how to be creative in receiving spiritual formation and spending time with Jesus Christ during the week. I would LOVE to hear from you. Perhaps there are blogs you like to read because they are spiritually edifying. Perhaps there is a book that you would recommend as an addendum to reading Scripture. Let's keep this conversation going so that we are encouraging and helping each other in this Christian walk!

Peace~

 

The Pendulum Swing: Legalism to Liberalism and Back

Image Legalism and liberalism are both roads that lead to hell. And I truly believe it.

This may be a pretty bold statement but let me tell you why I feel compelled to make it. At the root of both legalism and liberalism is the belief that Scripture alone is not enough; it lacks the authority as the Word of God. Legalism says Scripture is not enough, so it seeks to add to the Word. It imposes on Scripture additional rules and limitations because salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is not enough; there needs to be more. Liberalism, on the other hand, says Scripture is too much, so it seeks to detract or take away from the Word. It softens the commands of Scripture and refuses to accept all of Scripture because salvation through faith in Jesus Christ seems too harsh, too limited.

What is interesting is that these two extremes feed off of one another, almost in a parasitic-type of way. Or, like I put it often to my husband, they hit against each other like a pendulum swing. Legalism reacts to liberalism and liberalism reacts to legalism. And the more they hit at each other the further away they go from each other and from the authority of Scripture.

As Christians I think it is our goal to stay in, what a seminary professor of mine used to call it, the center of truth. The center of truth affirms that Scripture is the Word of God and submits to the authority of Scripture. I think this is where most of us Christians reside. We want to be good exegetes of Scripture (drawing ones ideas from the text) instead of eisegetes of Scripture (reading ones ideas into the text).

Hermeneutic of reaction

Now going back to legalism and liberalism, these two camps have been around for a looooong time – centuries in fact. But I have been observing for some time that young “evangelicals” are being pulled into either of these two currents as if it is some new thing. What I want to caution evangelicals my age and younger, then, is not to get persuaded into a hermeneutic of reaction, interpreting Scripture through a reactionary lens of the tradition you grew up in or the one you dislike.

One popular example of this is Rachel Held Evans. In her book, One Year of Biblical Womanhood, she talks about the legalist tradition she grew up in, noting primarily the limitations it placed on women. The rest of her book is dedicated to reacting against legalism. But in her reacting she leaves behind core Scriptural, gospel truths, such as salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. She writes, “I … am no longer convinced that everyone different from me goes to hell.” What happened to John 14:6 here? This is just one example of many in her book where she reacts so hard against legalism that she engages in a pendulum swing and goes to the other extreme. She trades one hermeneutic for another. She grew up in a tradition that added to Scripture; now she takes away or softens Scripture. In both cases the authority of Scripture is on trial.

Another example is that of a preacher I heard one time in church. He had witnessed many families destroyed by the abuse of alcohol, so he preached a sermon that forbade any drinking of alcohol and made it as primary an issue as salvation. He made a rule out of his reacting against those who abuse alcohol and imposed it on Scripture. Now salvation in Jesus was no longer enough, you also had to maintain an alcohol-free life to be truly saved.

I have heard some say, “Well I would rather err on the side of legalism than liberalism.” But my answer is, “I would rather not err on either side!” If you don’t think legalism is such a bad thing, then just read about all the encounters Jesus had with Pharisees and what he had to say about them adding to the Law. That might change your mind.

Remember my bold statement at the beginning? Look at Revelation 22:18-19. It says, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” Basically both who add and who take away from Scripture will be left out of the new kingdom, also called the new Jerusalem.

My proposition is this: Let’s make it our aim to be in the center of tension of truth and to come under the submission of Scripture even if there is tension, even if we aren’t sure of a proper interpretation, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Sure, we will react to legalism and liberalism. (I’m doing it even now!) The difference is whether we are reacting out of a belief that Scripture is the Word of God and I am going to submit to it, or out of a belief that Scripture is too soft or too harsh and I, because I live in the 21st century, know better.

This is the first post of what I hope several that will take us even deeper. I would like to talk about: what are signs or red flags of legalism and liberalism; how do we stay in the center of truth; what are some interpretive guidelines to use when reading Scripture; how reactionary language can or cannot be helpful; etc.

So what are your thoughts or questions? Have you encountered either of these two currents?

Let me just say that it is natural for us to veer a little to the left or right of the center of truth in our interpretations of Scripture. There are primary issues and then there are secondary issues found in Scripture to which we can disagree but still be gospel-centered believers. But our belief of Scripture will determine whether we are pointed to the gospel which says salvation is in Jesus Christ alone or whether we are pointed away from this gospel and, sadly, to hell.