The Unthinkable Has Become Thinkable
- James R. White and Jeffrey D. Niell
- 2004 25 Mar
Our culture is inundated—in print and on screen—with the idea that homosexuality is a normal, proper, and healthy expression of “love” between persons. This view has successfully infiltrated our TV sitcoms, magazines, bookstores, and coffee shops, but now we are being told that homosexuality—in either orientation or act—is something approved by God and therefore consistent with biblical morality.
The growing number of proponents of this view tell us that the Bible (rightly understood, interpreted, or translated) does not condemn homosexuality and that it even contains examples of loving, committed homosexual relationships within its pages. We are witnesses of a desperate clamor to move the authority of the Bible to the side of those who claim that homosexuality is an acceptable, God-approved lifestyle.
The call to receive homosexuality as a morally acceptable belief, or belief and behavior,1 is now being heard in the church and by the church. The volume of this call is increasing as is the volume of books that are being produced. A proliferation of literature teaching this “new morality” under the guise of “right understanding” or “proper biblical interpretation” is resulting in the twisting of Scripture, the confusion of many, and the weakening of the church. With increasing vigor we are told that the previous ways are wrong and unenlightened. We are told that the Bible—previously thought to condemn homosexuality—does no such thing and that homosexuals (either in practice or merely in interest) need to be embraced by the church and allowed, if they so aspire, even to hold positions of authority in the church.
This push is evidence of a tragic cultural transformation that has occurred in recent decades—one that pertains to the ethical, to the moral, and to that which is right and wrong. Yesterday’s outrage has become today’s standard. Today, homosexuality, which at one time was morally unthinkable, is on parade before us as normal, acceptable, and—in order to show its authoritative status—unquestionable. Francis Schaeffer wrote,
There is a “thinkable” and an “unthinkable” in every era. One era is quite certain intellectually and emotionally about what is acceptable. Yet another era decides that these “certainties” are unacceptable and puts another set of values into practice. On a humanistic base, people drift along from generation to generation, and the morally unthinkable becomes the thinkable as the years move on.2
Schaeffer, writing in the 1970s, perceptively continued,
The thinkables of the eighties and nineties will certainly include things which most people today find unthinkable and immoral, even unimaginable and too extreme to suggest. Yet—since they do not have some overriding principle that takes them beyond relativistic thinking—when these become thinkable and acceptable in the eighties and nineties, most people will not even remember that they were unthinkable in the seventies. They will slide into each new thinkable without a jolt.3
Schaeffer was not arguing that something is worthy of emulation simply because it was previously done. By itself, Dad and Mom’s conduct, while often qualitatively better and more polite than that of their children observed at the local mall, is not an adequate standard for morality. In fact, the point is that the basis of yesterday’s morality was of such poor quality that it could not prevent its “unthinkables” from becoming “thinkables” in short order. One of yesterday’s unthinkables—the social and moral acceptance of homosexuality in both orientation and act, in both desire and deed—is presented to us today as quite thinkable, and though we are speaking of morality and not the changing tides of fashion, our modern society can seldom tell the difference.
Furthermore, we must recognize with Schaeffer that this is the way things play out when performed upon a humanistic stage that views man (or, more precisely, self) as the lead character—the measure of all things, the center of it all—and casts God (if He even exists) in a subordinate role. In much of this discussion, God has been relegated to the periphery and man has taken His place. This practice is reflected in the quip “God created man in His image, and ever since man has returned the favor.” A humanistic approach to morality suffers from the “immaculate perception” that says, “My ways are always right and everything else must fit.”
This approach has the effect (whether admitted or not) of viewing God’s standards of morality to be the equivalent of a wax nose—capable of being shaped according to the whim of the shaper. “Wax nose” morality renders God’s moral pronouncements to be temporary and optional. In all of this, God’s authority is questioned (“Has God said?”4), and therefore, what God has declared about righteous behavior may make for nice history (for other people!) and perhaps exhibit keen insights from which we may glean some guidance, but is, according to this new (im-)morality, archaic and repressive. We are witnessing what happens when God’s absolute, authoritative standard is removed or redefined. Sliding into some kind of “new morality,” some kind of the unthinkable, and doing it without a jolt becomes easy.
Homosexuality ...Consistent With the Bible?
As noted above, however, this clamor for the acceptability of homosexuality, which is heard even in the church, is not without a stated authoritative base. The people making this claim appeal to the Bible and assert that a homosexual lifestyle is perfectly compatible with its teaching.
The same-sex controversy is, at its core, a controversy over the authority and interpretation of the Bible. Throughout the history of the church, and revealed in the historical understanding of Scripture,5 homosexuality has been seen as contrary to the morality set forth in the pages of the Bible. Today, however, we are being told that the moral opposition to homosexuality, based in and upon Scripture, is actually a rather recent phenomenon. We are being “informed” that the Bible nowhere condemns homosexuality as it is predominantly known and practiced today and that, as a matter of fact, a lifestyle of committed homosexuality is consistent with biblical morality.
Ironically, this makes for a remarkable case of selectivity in submitting to biblical authority. What we are observing is, on one hand, a mocking rejection of much of the teaching of the Older Testament and, on the other hand, a claim that the Bible endorses homosexuality. It is not uncommon to hear ridiculing murmurs about many things in the Bible, including the authority and observance of the Sabbath, dietary and cleanliness (or purification) laws, legislation regarding slavery, the death penalty, the sacrificial system, and the priesthood, just to name a few. Yet these criticisms are uttered with the same breath that exclaims with incredulity, “Why do you quote the Bible regarding homosexuality but ignore these other matters?”
While suspicious of the Older Testament’s laws and practices, the proponents of the acceptability of homosexuality in the church will wax on with great deference and approval about the passages that speak of close personal relationships between members of the same sex (Jonathan and David or Ruth and Naomi, for example).6 They claim these as examples of beautiful homosexual relationships worthy of emulation. Supposedly, we are not to follow the Bible in some areas (deemed irrelevant or inconvenient), but we are to follow its lead in other places. Selectivity indeed.
This claim of biblical support for a homosexual lifestyle is surprising to many. After all, is not the Bible clear in its prohibition of homosexuality? Historically, has not the church consistently rejected homosexuality since it is out of accord with biblical morality? What about all of the passages that ... well ... so clearly condemn homosexuality? What about these? Have they been misunderstood and misinterpreted and misapplied for all these years? One thinks of God’s institution of marriage—it is to be between one man and one woman. How does the current agenda challenge this design? What of the account of the destruction of the city of Sodom or the clear prohibitions of homosexuality that one finds in the book of Leviticus? What of the apostle Paul’s writing on the subject in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy? Has there been any question that Paul considered homosexual longing or behavior to be inconsistent with a God-pleasing life?
Those advocating the compatibility of homosexuality with the Bible appeal, of necessity, to these very passages, for they claim that the Bible does not condemn but does condone such a practice. More and more the Bible is seen to somehow fall in line with modern “science” and modern impulses. Wherever the Bible opposes homosexuality, these passages are reinterpreted and re-presented so that the modern reader can now “understand” the original context, which was apparently hidden, lost, or buried under a load of cultural bias. The net effect of this revisionist approach is a novel and destructive twisting of Scripture: each passage is considered and, lo and behold, we find that same-sex intimacy is not even being considered, or that the passage addresses an abuse of the supposedly proper place of same-sex intimacy.
The Authority of the Bible
In past decades homosexuals were ashamed to “go public.” Historically, theologians were not required to address this topic, as it was commonly understood to be a violation of God’s law. Francis Turretin, a theologian of the seventeenth century, simply referred to homosexuality as “the sin against nature.”7 Previously, homosexuals rarely tried to go to the Bible to obtain approval for their behavior and appetites—they knew it was not to be found. Lately, since public opinion has turned slightly in their favor, the shame has diminished to the point where the Bible is being pursued as an ally, as a moral reference point to bolster their position. After all, if the Bible can be summoned to the homosexuals’ defense, they may have a case.
So in the midst of this present debate, adherents to both sides of the same-sex controversy claim the authority of the Bible in their defense. Both sides claim that the Bible is clear. Both sides claim to have moral justification for their position. However, both sides cannot be correct. If God’s Word prohibits something, the church must prohibit it as well. The church must not remain silent where God’s Word speaks.
The Bible speaks of its own authority. It must. As God’s Word, it cannot speak, or admit, of any higher authority; to do so would be to present itself as a lesser authority. For our purposes, understanding the Bible’s own pronouncements regarding its authority is important for at least two reasons.
First, the question of the moral acceptability of homosexuality cannot be answered solely by the individual texts that specifically speak of homosexuality; the entire teaching of Scripture—especially its teaching on marriage—is relevant to our discussion. As we consider what the Bible has to say about marriage (in chapter 8), we will see that a biblical definition of marriage leaves no room for homosexual intimacy or homosexual marriage.
Second, if the authority of the Bible, the stated consensus of those on both sides of this issue, is to be maintained, we will see that the Bible cannot truly be shown to approve of homosexual practice or desire. Even from the passages that are often cited by advocates of the acceptability of homosexuality within the Christian faith, the Bible from cover to cover, in passage after passage, disapproves of homosexuality, calling it sin yet offering hope for those who are struggling with it.
The interpretive approach of those who advocate the acceptability of homosexuality from the teaching of the Bible challenge the authority of Scripture at every point and on each passage. These revisionists point to the Law of God as found in Leviticus and say that these passages do not apply to the modern day. While speaking of allegiance to the Bible, they revise the clear teaching of the Bible with regard to homosexuality. The psalmist, however, thought otherwise: “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Thy Law is truth” (119:142). Yet the Bible says that the “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and “all [God’s] precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever; they are performed in truth and uprightness” (Psalm 111:7–8) (emphasis added).
We must view the present-day controversy over homosexuality as evidence that some have rejected the authority of the Word of God: even some in the church. It is possible for the “law to be lost” among those who claim to be followers of God, and there is indeed a “famine in the land ... a famine for hearing the words of the Lord” (see Ezekiel 7:26 and Amos 8:11–12). Many in the contemporary church have been drinking from the well of relativism rather than consuming the absolute truth of God’s Word. This is precisely what society at large has done in previous generations; they have denied the existence of that which is absolute, invariant, and universal. They have denied God’s Word, and, as a result, call that which is evil good and good evil. This error has crept into the church, and she has embraced this re-tooled idol (Ezekiel 33:17–20). In truth, Christianity stands against relativism. Christianity is grounded upon the basis of antithesis: God is distinct from His creation and has declared that which is good and that which is evil. He has interpreted all of existence, including marriage and the relations allowed within marriage. Whenever we deny God’s interpretation of reality, whenever we reject His determination of righteousness and unrighteousness, we drift in the morass of relativism, having denied the existence of absolutes. This is what Francis Schaeffer referred to as “philosophic homosexuality.” Schaeffer wrote,
Some forms of homosexuality are of a similar nature, in that they are not just homosexuality but a philosophic problem. One must have understanding for the real homophile’s problem. But much modern homosexuality is an expression of the current denial of antithesis. It has led in this case to an obliteration of the distinction between man and woman. So the male and the female as complementary partners are finished.... In much modern thinking, all antithesis and all of the order of God’s creation is to be fought against—including the male-female distinctions. The pressure toward uni-sex is largely rooted here. But this is not an isolated problem; it is a part of the world-spirit of the generation that surrounds us. It is imperative that Christians realize the conclusions that are being drawn as a result of the death of absolutes.8
1. Some will assert that the Bible knows and teaches nothing of an orientation (inclination, proclivity) toward homosexuality as a lifestyle and that the Bible only condemns homosexual behavior or deeds. This view will be shown to be false. The Bible condemns both the practice of an evil deed and the inclination toward an evil deed. Homosexuality, either as an interest in intimacy (inclination) or as an intimate interest (behavior) in a person of the same sex is forbidden. Both the desire and the deed are considered immoral in the Bible.
2. C. Everett Koop and Francis Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, revised edition (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1983), 2.
3. Ibid., 3.
4. Genesis 3:1.
5. See chapter 8 of this book.
6. See Tom Horner, Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), chapters 2–3.
7. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Cider; James T. Dennison, ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994). Turretin’s words could be applied to our own day without any doubt. While demonstrating various forms of illicit intercourse to be examples of adultery (violations of the Seventh Commandment), he included homosexuality and bestiality as examples. He wrote that such violations comprise “the sin against nature and those horrible crimes expressed by the words sodomy and bestiality (of which mention is made in Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:27, which are not even to be named among Christians, although even now they prevail too much in various places to the disgrace of the Christian name)” (vol. 2, 121).
8. Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There. The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Vol. 1 (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1982), 37.
Excerpt used with permission of Bethany House Publishers. The Same Sex Controversy copyright date 2002 by James R. White and Jeffrey D. Niell. All rights reserved.