The church has been granted the privilege of announcing the Gospel, the good news. More clearly, the church is the protector and chief advocate of the good news in response to the bad news, namely: that, from birth, we have rebelled against a holy God who, justly, demands the payment of a penalty for our rebellion.
The good news announced in pulpits everywhere is that Christ has paid that penalty and, through no merit of our own, God has applied his sacrifice to our account, turning away God’s wrath from us and, by claiming Christ by faith alone, we might spend eternity worshipping the merciful God with whom we were once at war. (For more of this good news, I urge your reading of What is the Gospel? by my friend, Greg Gilbert).
It is because of this Gospel – and the transforming and preserving effect it has upon those who hear it and, consequently, on the culture in which they live – that I wish, in this series of posts, to urge the church, through its leaders, to change its current, silent course and begin speaking the Gospel to one of the chief threats to it today: the redefinition of marriage.
Before I criticize, please know of my great love for the church! Pastors, elders, and lay leaders labor daily to speak the good news to a hurting world. I am not unaware of the many martyrs who have laid down (and even now in parts of the world, are laying down) their very lives in the defense of the Gospel, for the sake of the Gospel. Insofar as they are redeemed heirs of God, these are good people who passionately love the God they worship and the people to whom they are called. My intent is not to blame, but to encourage through the Gospel, and for it’s sake.
Over the next five days, it is my hope to share some of my personal thoughts related to what I have perceived as the near total lack of public response to the redefinition of a core component of the Gospel. Here is how I intend to address this issue:
- First, I wish to do this by contrasting responses to the redefinition of marriage in New York with Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. It’s a curious contrast.
- Tomorrow and Wednesday, I would like to offer several reasons why I believe there has been a hesitation by the pastor-leaders to speak boldly on this issue.
- On Thursday, my post will outline the urgency of this issue, one that must be addressed by the Gospel. I’ll also consider the question: what is more important: winning the political battle or declaring the Gospel?
- I conclude on Friday by offering some suggested next steps the church, and particularly ministers of the Gospel, can overcome any hesitation and why they should.
Maybe Rob Bell should write a book about same-sex ‘marriage.’
Earlier this year, a trendy leader of a church in Michigan wrote a book called Love Wins. Before it even came to publication, church leaders from around the globe were abuzz offering this or that denunciation of the message of universalism (everyone goes to heaven eventually) Bell put seemed to advocate for in his book.
When Love Wins finally shipped to the bookstores, several prominent church leaders took to the Internet, newsletters, radio, podcasts, and virtually any other medium you can think of to denounce what they suggested amounts to a false gospel. And well they should. As several have put it – and I paraphrase – there can be no good news of heaven if there is no bad news of hell.
It was an amazing response – and a necessary one. Getting the penalty of hell correct is essential to understanding a just God. Still, I was impressed by how many wrote critiques of the book, warned against reading it, added it to conference agendas, and much, much more.
Pastor-leaders like Justin Taylor, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Tim Challies, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler, Francis Chan, Denny Burk, Joshua Harris, and Danny Akin, just to name a few, had something to say about the matter – each in some way defending a core element of the Gospel.
Pastors throughout the country, no doubt, took to the pulpits to explain the reality of hell and the grace of God that prevents one from experiencing it. If your church is like mine, small groups gathered to talk about the book and offer their own perspective on what had become the top-of-mind issue for much of the evangelical world. And beyond.
Now, several months after the release of the book, it still garners attention. In fact, I have seen at least two books published in response to Rob Bell. Unless their authors were tipped off as to the specifics of Bell’s book, that means that they wrote, published, and distributed these books in a mere fraction of the normal time it takes for a book to go to print.
Now contrast that appropriate response by several pastor-leaders (and many in the church) to someone advancing a dangerous doctrine to what happened on June 24, 2011 in New York.
For weeks, the drama had been building in Albany. For at least a month, the nation had watched the New York Assembly redefine marriage, the question now was whether the New York State Senate would agree. Years earlier, the same measure had been defeated. In the intervening time, dozens of states (30, in fact) had enshrined the definition of marriage within their state’s constitution. Millions of Californians voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman, only to have a single judge invalidate their ballots.
Yet, when the final vote was cast and Gov. Cuomo signed the bill officially redefining marriage in New York, those same pastor-leaders who had gone out of their way to castigate Rob Bell were all but silent. There were no, “Farewell Religious Liberty” tweets, no sermons, no series of pastoral blog posts analyzing what marriage is and why it is important, and I doubt seriously that any pastor-leader has contemplated writing a book in response, let alone more than one doing so.
In fact, except for Al Mohler and John Piper, I cannot find – and I would like to be wrong – a single comment on the issue from the rest of the list above (though I will give Denny Burk credit for this post).
This is not a significant surprise. In recent years, the issue of same-sex “marriage” has become almost both a difficult issue to address and one that, due to its constant press for acceptance, has almost numbed our conscience. As a result, when one considers the issue of hell and Rob Bell, it is a new and different angle in which to discuss the implications of the Gospel, whereas what happened in New York, in the minds of many good men, is just old news by now.
It is also quite possible that some mentioned the issue in passing and, because it was not the controversy the media was looking to report on, it went largely unnoticed. And, certainly, there is a case to be made that opposition to the redefinition of marriage by pastors is, by this point, old news.
I do not question the ability of pastor-leaders to speak to a theological issue that occupies the attention of our nation. Clearly, they were quite comfortable discussing the issue of hell in a variety of different ways, in front of a lot of different audiences, and using plenty of different mediums to do so. Ability is not the question, but comfort in engaging a cultural, “extramural” issue may be.
Had pastors responded to this issue as they had to Rob Bell, I don’t think we could have possibly missed it and the church as a whole would be in deeper discussion on this issue. The question then becomes, what made pastor-leaders hesitate?
That is the subject of tomorrow’s post.
About Jeremy Dys
Jeremy Dys is the FPCWV's President and General Counsel. In addition to his duties of providing strategic vision and leadership to the FPCWV, Dys is the chief lobbyist and spokesman. Dys is regularly featured in local, state, and national print, radio, and television outlets. He lives close to Charleston with his wife and growing family.