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. 

Chipped fingernail paint and the gospel

IMG_1846 This past weekend was one of those tough parenting moments. As an aside, I am thankful for those friends who debunked the myth early on that it’s only the 2s that are “terrible” or else I would be completely unprepared for the 4s! Our son Philip threw the tantrum of the year. We had never seen him that angry. Because he didn’t get something he wanted on Friday night, he lashed out at us in every possible way. He was like a mad dog with his teeth sunk into his anger, and he was not going to give it up. Finally after a long time of us holding his bedroom door shut and telling him to get on his bed and calm down, he gave up. His anger gave way to tears, but the damage had already been done.

 

We grounded him for the first time ever. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Because he was grounded, it meant that he missed his best friend’s birthday party on Saturday and the first birthday party of the new school year.

 

Saturday morning after waking up, Philip went into his playroom and played quietly by himself. After some time passed, I went to him and told him how much we loved him but also how much he hurt us by his sin. He looked up at me and said, “Mommy, please give me a new heart.”

 

“We know all too well our sins and offenses.”

 

Sunday morning we rushed to church late as usual. Even though I had little time to get ready, my hair and make-up were satisfactory, and I was wearing jewelry and new clothes. Quite a feat for a mom of a little one! Everything about my outward appearance looked put together except for my fingernails. My dark blue fingernail paint was chipped and ugly. My fingernails gave me away that all wasn’t put together on the outside.

 

“It turns out Jesus doesn’t even want the best we have to offer.”

 

One of the main reasons that my husband and I left the Baptist church and have come to the larger Anglican church (our church is actually an evangelical Episcopal church) is because of weekly Communion. In part we love taking weekly Communion as it is a constant, visible reminder of the gospel. But we also love the way in which Communion is taken at the Anglican Church. Instead of little cups of juice and fingernail size crackers being passed to each person individually without ever needing to leave your seat, the taking of Communion in the Anglican tradition involves getting out of your seat and kneeling next to brothers and sisters. Communion isn’t just an individualistic experience but one the church does together. (As an aside, in a way, Communion is also more of an individual experience in the Anglican tradition as the priest or vicar gives each person, individually, bread and wine, looks into their eyes, and says, "Take this and remember Christ died for your sins.") I remember the first time the significance of the act of taking Communion truly sunk in. I walked forward with open hands, bringing nothing with me, kneeling in reverence and submission, and receiving the bread and wine. This was the message of the gospel. I bring nothing of my own merit to Christ. Instead I kneel at the feet of Christ in reverence and submission waiting to receive from him in faith his body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of my sins. Instead of taking Communion, here I’ve learned to receive Communion just like I have received the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

“What does Jesus want? He wants you.”

 

Sunday morning after listening to Dean Andrew Pearson’s wonderful sermon of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I have been quoting here, Communion was offered. We were sitting on the last row that morning. As I waited for my turn to go to the table, I prayed and watched people of different kinds get up from their pews to receive Communion. Then, a few rows ahead of us, a man on crutches got up and limped forward to the Communion table. He was lame. Yet while he is lame on the outside, it occurred to me we all approach the table of Jesus Christ limping, lame with our own, invisible crutches and bruises. Just like Philip asked me on Saturday, so I, too, that morning came limping to the table asking, “Jesus, please give me a new heart.”

 

When it came for my turn to get up, I looked down at my chipped painted fingernails and was thankful. I was thankful that there was something on the outside of my body that wasn’t perfect, that needed fixing, that was ugly. Because it reminded me that stripped of all of my pretenses and outward appearances, I am one in great need of Jesus. I need a new heart. Every day. I, like Philip, make my Father sad. At times, I, too, sink my teeth deep into sin, into my selfishness and pride and refuse to let go. I, too, need the Holy Spirit to continue to sanctify and make new my heart. I, too, come to God on crutches knowing that he heals the sinner, cures the brokenhearted, and makes new the old. Only in Jesus do we find what we’ve always been looking for – love so perfect, love divine.

 

“Every time we celebrate Communion we issue an altar call. We say, The table is set. This is what Jesus Christ has done for you. He has died and is risen again. And he is alive. Come forward and simply receive by faith Jesus Christ. What do you bring when you come forward? Nothing. You just come forward, and whether you are rich or poor, young or old, whether you got it together or you’re a total wreck, whether your bruises really hurt or whether you are still struggling with your bruises, we all take the same posture on our knees and open our hands like beggars and simply receive. We say ‘yes’ to Jesus and surrender our hearts and lives to him.”

 

For the full sermon, listen here.

My Reward: What Philip Teaches Me About God's Love

IMG_3290 Last night Philip, our 2 year old son, had trouble falling asleep; so he brought his blankets and lovies with him into the living room and asked if I would rock him. How could I say "no" to that? So I gathered him up as well as all his soft things into my arms and rocked him. He fell asleep within 5 minutes but I held onto him for much longer staring at his sleeping face and his little hands and long fingers.

It wasn't until I became a parent that I experienced the indescribable gift and blessing of a child. He's my son. I don't deserve him. Although he can drive me crazy at times and will do things to spite me, he is my great reward. Solomon says this in Psalm 127:3, "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward."

Reflecting on this last night brought to mind another son I didn't deserve. "For God so loved the world (which includes me and you!), that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-8). "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

I am constantly reminded when I look at my son the great sacrifice God made so that we might find forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with Him, our Creator through the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. Just like I don't deserve my son Philip, I don't deserve what God's Son did for me on a cross. Just like Philip is my great reward, even more so and greater is the reward I have in Jesus Christ.

I cannot imagine giving Philip up for anyone in this world. I simply would not. In fact, I would give myself up before giving him. So the truth that "God so loved us, the world, that he gave his Son" blows my mind. It's an even greater love than I know personally through being a wife and a mom. It's a sacrificial love. And it's a love that Scripture tells us that Jesus agreed to as well. Philippians 2 says that Jesus humbled himself by leaving the throne room of heaven to become man so that "for our sake" he would be made "to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).

Christians have used this time of Lent historically as a time of preparation for Easter. We remember our sins that cost Jesus Christ his life; we repent and reconcile with our brothers and sisters; we spend time in reflection and meditation on Scripture; and we fast. God has given me a gift in Philip for many reasons too numerous to list here. But one of the best gifts is that Philip serves as a daily reminder to me of God's sacrificial love in sending his Son for me as a propitiation for my sins.

I have been given the gifts of two sons: One who died for my sins and who is the Son of God and one who I get to hold and comfort in my arms at night. During Lent I want to encourage parents and non-parents alike to reflect with me on God's Son, on our sins which he came to take away, and on the great, sacrificial love of God.

I want to mention that I was honored to write a blog post for Mommybites.com, which will eventually also be featured on Happy Family's website, that went live today. I don't write much on the topic of motherhood, so it was a joy and a challenge to reflect on something deeply personal and to share it with the world. It was in writing the blog post for Mommybites and reading a post by my very good friend, Leslie Ann, called 5 Things Parenting Taught Me About God, that encouraged me to reflect on my own experience as a mom and what God is teaching me about Himself through this experience.

The selfish one

It was Tuesday and I was in the kitchen washing dishes when a thought suddenly hit me. It was one of those thoughts that you can't seem to let go or it can't seem to let go of you. Later that day, when my husband Osvaldo was home, I shared it with him.

"Honey, I had this thought today that what if the only way (our friend) Don* is going to accept Jesus is for one of us to die. And I thought about it and the thought makes me angry. How selfish of Don to not just come to Jesus now but wait for one of us to die!"

Osvaldo looked at me and said, "I've had that same thought before. And I prayed that if it took me dying for Don to come to Jesus, then I would do it. But I have asked the Lord that Don would come to faith without that needing to happen."

The conversation ended there but the thought didn't. It still lingered in my mind for the rest of the night. When I woke up the next day it was still there. I carried it with me into the shower and from the shower to the bathroom counter. Then it hit me. So clearly, so vividly, that I was brought to my knees, literally. I was humbled. Broken. Ashamed.

Prior to this moment, I was angry at the thought of me dying in order for Don to come to salvation. I was angry with his selfishness and his hardness of heart. But that's when the Holy Spirit reminded me that someone died for me. I was selfish, hard-hearted, blind, but still Jesus gave his life on a cross in order that I might be saved! Whereas if I were to die my death could not save Don (or anyone) but only point to my salvation in Jesus, Jesus' death has saving power! And he did it for me. This is what Romans 5:6-8 is talking about:

"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

And, if it was really my choice and if it was really God's plan, I would rather save my life for a few more years on this earth even if it meant that Don would lose his for all eternity? Seriously? By Wednesday morning I wasn't upset or angry at Don anymore. God changed my heart. The window from which I had been looking out at Don became a mirror from which I could only see myself for who I really was. I was the selfish one! I was broken. Ashamed. Humbled. For I was acting as one who accepts the love of God freely yet refuses to love others like Christ loves her.

A second humbling thought was that it wasn't that I necessarily had a problem with love but choosing the recipients of my love or of God's love for that matter. For if God were to say to me, "Kristen, you must die in order for your son Philip to know me, to come to me." I feel certain that I'd say, "Take me!" Why? Because I love my son deeply. But we don't get to pick and choose who we love as Christians. No, we get the privilege of loving others because He first loved us.

God may or may not take my life in order for Don to be saved. But just as Christ laid down His life for me out of this pure, abounding, selfless love, I pray with fervor that I will follow the example of my Lord and love Don in the same manner. I also pray that God will use whatever means necessary to save Don from sin, from hell, from eternity without Him – even if it means my life.

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." 2 Cor. 5:14-15

"Lord, help me to love Don and others like him who are not easy to love and who turn a blind eye to you because you first loved us. Amen."

*Don's name was changed out of respect for this person. Please pray for Don to find faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.