The contrast between this ethic and the Christian understanding of human nature and God’s law could not be greater. Because we are fallen creatures, we must not look within to find the truth about ourselves. The human heart is darkened. God revealed His law so that, in its light, we might see ourselves clearly. And “through the law,” Paul writes, “comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The law of God serves as a measure against which the human being is shown to be wanting. We are not good, and we cannot do the good that God requires.
David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, once held the classical Christian view that homosexual relationships are sinful. But after his younger sister came out as a lesbian in 2008, he changed his mind.1 The sequence is important. Gushee did not change his mind because of careful biblical exegesis and reflection. His sister came out and then he changed his mind. Gushee later wrote a book about the process, Changing Our Mind (David Crum Media, 2014). As George Guthrie writes in his review of Gushee’s book,
The book constitutes [Gushee’s] own story of encounter, compassion, cognitive dissonance, and existential change of perspective. As he met LGBT couples, sat with children who’d been traumatized at home or church, processed his relationship with his sister who came out as a lesbian, heard from a student who’d been pained by David’s past teaching, he seems to have been backed into an existential corner….The way he’d been reading Scripture seemed increasingly implausible….At the end of the day, then, Changing Our Mind isn’t so much about David’s reasoned abandonment of 2,500 years of Judeo-Christian teaching on sexuality as it is a telling of his story, a story of seeking to pull together the disparate stories in his world.2
“We Know What the Text Says”
In an even more telling transformation, New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson, an able defender of the historicity of the Gospels,3 whose daughter has identified as gay, wrote in Commonweal,
I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says?….I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience…which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. (emphasis added)4
It is difficult to find a professing Christian leader who has relinquished the classical Christian position on sexuality on purely exegetical grounds. The most popular voices in the less academic evangelical realm who claim to have changed their minds — Matthew Vines, Justin Lee, and Jen Hatmaker — are either gay or are very close to someone who is.5 The readiness with which these high profile Christians abandon their former convictions in light of personal experiences suggests that they had, perhaps unknowingly, already adopted a worldview that undermines the classical Christian understanding of human nature and the relationship between God’s law and the human heart.
Establishing a Righteousness of Their Own
God made human beings in His own image and declared everything He had created “very good” (Gen. 1:31).6 Then Adam took the forbidden fruit from his wife and ate, and sin rooted itself in the human soul. Consequently, the apostle Paul writes, “No one is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Jesus, approached by a young man seeking to gain eternal life by his good deeds, declared that “no one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). The gospel itself — the good news that God became man, lived, died, and rose again to save sinners — is predicated on the truth that human beings are incapable of self-redemption.7
Yet we strive to establish our own essential goodness. The Pharisees sought to do this by following the “tradition of the elders,”8 a system of practices rendering the law of God, which God gave as the chief means to reveal humanity’s sinfulness and need for His mercy,9 doable.10 Referring to this attempt, Paul writes, “seeking to establish their own [righteousness], they did not submit to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). Their unwillingness to acknowledge their sinfulness blinded them to the good news that Jesus came to save sinners.
The Luminous Self?
The same self-delusion today takes center stage in what might be described as the Gospel of Self. Look within, its apostles urge. Peel back the layers of socially imposed norms to find your authentic self — the true, inherently good, you —and live in accordance with what you find.
The paradigm has become so culturally predominant that in June 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled an employer must affirm an employee’s gender self-identification without regard to his or her biological sex.11 The employee’s inner sense of the core self must be permitted to determine the workplace environment.
One of the clearest expressions of the Gospel of Self can be found in Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile’s best-selling book, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. They write, “Buried in the deepest precincts of being, I sense there is a truer, more luminous expression of myself and that as long as I remain estranged from it I will never feel fully alive or whole.”12 The human person is not merely good, but a being of luminous light. One may have to dig past culturally imposed norms to find oneself, but once found, the true you is a thing of unspeakable beauty.
While the idea of the luminous self directly contradicts the biblical doctrine of original sin, it gains a foothold in Christian circles when its advocates associate it with the imago Dei.13 The shiny self is the self that has been made in God’s image. The imago Dei is not, as Irenaeus described it, a shattered mosaic, but rather a buried treasure waiting to be unearthed. And once found, any refusal to affirm and celebrate the discovery constitutes a wholesale rejection of the person and God’s image in her.
- Jonathan Merritt, “Leading Evangelical Ethicist David Gushee Is Now Pro-LGBT. Here’s Why It Matters,” Religion News Service, October 24, 2014, https://religionnews.com/2014/10/24/david-gushee-lgbthomosexuality-matters/.
- George H. Guthrie, “Changing Our Mind,” The Gospel Coalition, January 9, 2015, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/changing-mind/.
- Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: HarperOne,1997)
- Luke Timothy Johnson, “Homosexuality and the Church,” Commonweal, June 11, 2007, https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/homosexualitychurch-0.
- Matthew Vines and Justin Lee are both quite publicly gay and have been out for some time. Jen Hatmaker’s daughter came out publicly in June 2020, but her family had known “for some time.” “Jen Hatmaker Reveals Her Daughter Is Gay,” Christian Today, June 30, 2020, https://www.christiantoday.com/article/jen.hatmaker.reveals.her.daughter.is.gay/135119.htm.
- All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
- “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).
- See Mark 7:1–13.
- Romans 3:20; see discussion below.
- Following this system, Paul once considered himself “blameless” (see Phil. 3:6).
- Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 590 U.S. ___ (2020). See Melissa Legault, “Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Prohibits Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity-Based Discrimination in Employment (US),” National Law Review, June 15, 2020, https://www.natlawreview.com/article/landmark-us-supreme-court-ruling-prohibits-sexualorientation-and-gender-identity.
- Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery(Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press Books, 2017), 23.
- The image of God.