A Polemical Moment

Over at internetmonk, a post on some recent sexual scandals in the evangelical world was published. I won’t reproduce the whole post – but the part I wish to comment on I will. This will be a rhetorical, inflammatory and polemical post.

Folks, Christians are no more or less broken and capable of sinning than anyone else in this world. Simul justus et peccator — we are simultaneously righteous and sinful until the day we are glorified.

It is time to stop pretending. It is time to stop saying we have the answers and can rise above the moral degradation of our times.

All we can do is look to Jesus. We have no room to boast. We have no room to claim any kind of transformation that makes us “different” from our neighbors. We are not different. We are human. We fail.

It’s not about transcending sin. It’s about admitting our own sinfulness, naming our own sin, being harsh with ourselves and being kind and loving and forbearing toward others. It’s about being forgiven, again and again and again. (http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-church-cant-hide-its-sexual-brokenness)

This, to put it bluntly, is a load of theological bullshit, plain and simple. The simul justus et peccator principle invoked here is a mere excuse for the bad behavior of Christians – and while it is true that Christians are just as capable of sinning as anyone else, it absolutely does not follow that we have no answers and cannot rise above the moral degradation of our times. The entirety of Scripture testifies to the fact that such an assertion is completely unfounded. We do not have room to boast – but we DO have claim to a transformation that makes us different from our neighbors. Like it or not, there IS a code of conduct that Christian moral behavior is to follow, and it is a higher moral standard than the world outside the church.

While Christianity is not about making naughty people more moral, improved moral behavior is in fact a part of Christianity and one that is strongly commanded throughout the whole of Scripture, from the Mosaic law to the Apostolic writings. Christian character, both in the typical moral sense as well as in a more theological sense is to be visibly different than those outside the body of Christ such that the world outside the Church can do nothing but admit that a fundamental change in the innermost depths of their being, in their very fiber and fabric of their nature, in their very essence, has happened to those inside the church that could not have happened save for a radical encounter with Christ in which the aforementioned change is effected.

Christians are called to rise above the moral degradation of our times; our behavior is to be such that it is noticeable by those who are not a part of the church for both its moral uprightedness and its kindness, love and forbearance – not because Jesus died to make us more moral but because we are fundamentally, ontologically different. Christians are in Christ – our being has undergone a total and radical change its innermost depths such that our former, weaker nature is no more, period. The quoted piece above is nothing but cheap grace and theological bullshit.

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7 thoughts on “A Polemical Moment

  1. Mackman October 19, 2012 / 4:05 pm

    While I feel that your response would be absolutely perfect if the last paragraph of the quoted section was eliminated, I feel that the last paragraph makes some of your response a mis-characterization of his argument.

    While you accurately argue that he is blatantly incorrect in denying any sort of “transformation”, I believe you go too far in assuming that his words are meant to be used as a license or excuse to sin: He argues in the last paragraph that we are to be harsh towards our own sin.

    This post has some really, really great stuff… but it needs more grace, and less assumption.

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    • whitefrozen October 21, 2012 / 12:33 pm

      That’s a fair critique, and I could have been a bit more graceful. I just have a hard time giving views like this any sympathy, even when there are aspects of the overall thought that are redeeming.

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  2. Ryan October 29, 2012 / 12:22 pm

    You switch back and forth between saying things that Christians *should* do (e.g. “Christians are called to rise above,” “Christian character… is to be visibly different,” “a code of conduct that Christian moral behavior is to follow”) and asserting that Christians in fact do them (e.g. “our being has undergone a total and radical change,” “we are fundamentally, ontologically different”). I won’t say what I really think about the act of conflating those two things for the purpose of an argument in which you declare Christians to be better than other people, but you can safely assume it isn’t positive.

    While you might take issue with the author’s conception of transformation, I think the author’s main point was that the mere act of being or becoming Christian does not make you a morally superior being in and of itself. Scripture might say that it *should* make us better, or that it *compels* us to be better, but frankly, that’s quite a bit different from actually making you better. Frankly, in the context of the moral scandals the author describes, it would be just absurd to assert that, for those perpetrators, Christianity had catalyzed a “fundamental change in the innermost depths of their being” that made it such that “weaker nature is no more.” That might be what you think it *should* do, but you could also think the sky should be gold and that doesn’t make it so.

    To be frank, I think the author’s main point, and one that I’m appropriating here, is that Christians would do well to be a little more humble and a little less sanctimonious. This holier-than-thou attitude, asserting that you are “ontologically different” (but implying ontologically superior) from followers of other religions or non-believers, is not supported by real-world events. Christians, like all people, *are* flawed, even if they are *called to be* better. If there is a “transformation,” especially on anywhere near the level you describe, it can only be seen as a goal or end-state and not as something inherent in the act of becoming Christian. (That is, of course, assuming that you don’t go really off the deep end and start saying that everyone who has not undergone a fundamental transformation such that any outside observer would be overwhelmed by the righteousness of the individual is not a “real” Christian, which I hope is beyond you.)

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    • Ryan October 29, 2012 / 12:29 pm

      It was not my intention to write “frank” or “frankly” so many times and look like an idiot, haha. Just take that as evidence that I had to delete quite a lot of other things I would have regretted saying.

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    • whitefrozen October 30, 2012 / 6:20 pm

      As I said to the first comment – a fair critique, for the most part. I think it unfair, however, to see this as a holier-than-thou kind of post when so far as I can see, I’ve done little but reiterate what I take to be a pretty basic Biblical exhortation to a higher standard of behaviour for Christians. If I’m wrong, fine – but I don’t think I am.

      ‘Christians, like all people, *are* flawed, even if they are *called to be* better.’

      Right – which is why I noted that Christians are in fact capable of sinning. My argument was that it doesn’t follow from that fact that Christians are simply to settle for a low standard of moral behaviour. If I didn’t make that clear, then that’s my fault, but I don’t think I failed to make that clear.

      ‘If there is a “transformation,” especially on anywhere near the level you describe, it can only be seen as a goal or end-state and not as something inherent in the act of becoming Christian.’

      This I simply disagree with – my reading of the New Testament leads me to believe that there is a ‘now’ aspect as well. St. Paul repeatedly exhorts Christians to extremely high standards of behaviour – blamelessness. Not just to try – simply be blameless. I think the ‘now’ aspect of transformation is something not paid enough attention to in Christian though.

      ‘While you might take issue with the author’s conception of transformation, I think the author’s main point was that the mere act of being or becoming Christian does not make you a morally superior being in and of itself. Scripture might say that it *should* make us better, or that it *compels* us to be better, but frankly, that’s quite a bit different from actually making you better.’

      I’m not arguing for Christians being ‘better’, as in ‘I’m a better person than you!’. I’m arguing that the standards of behaviour for Christians are high, and that we are called to meet those standards.

      ‘(That is, of course, assuming that you don’t go really off the deep end and start saying that everyone who has not undergone a fundamental transformation such that any outside observer would be overwhelmed by the righteousness of the individual is not a “real” Christian, which I hope is beyond you.)’

      I would make no such declaration – while I do certainly believe that there are outward signs of an inward transformation, I also know that people, as noted above are flawed, and different and God works differently with each person. But I think that outward behaviour can be a reasonable indicator, but not hard and fast declaration, of how far a person has come in his/her walk with God.

      ‘Frankly, in the context of the moral scandals the author describes, it would be just absurd to assert that, for those perpetrators, Christianity had catalyzed a “fundamental change in the innermost depths of their being” that made it such that “weaker nature is no more.” That might be what you think it *should* do, but you could also think the sky should be gold and that doesn’t make it so.’

      Fair enough.

      My overall point should be clear – that while Christianity is not about making bad people better, better behaviour is one of the things Christians are called to have and that a high standard of moral behaviour is one of the (but not the only) distinguishing mark of one who is in Christ. As I said above, I think it is unfair to characterize this as a holier-than-thou post, but I’m glad you commented as you did. Hopefully more discussion will follow.

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      • Ryan October 30, 2012 / 10:53 pm

        I should have been more precise and less caustic. I’m very glad to read in your reply how you make a distinction between things that Christians are called to do and things that Christians do. In your original post, I felt that you went back and forth between those two things, blurring the concepts. Saying that Christians are expected to meet a high moral standard (I’m saying “high” and not “higher” here to stick to places where agreement is more secure) is, I think, rather uncontroversial, but I agree that it is necessary to assert that point when it isn’t given due consideration. The post would only be holier-than-thou if you had intended to say that Christians were, in fact, on a higher moral plane by virtue of being Christian.

        You’re right to point out that we differ on the nature of that “now” aspect of the transformation you mention, but maybe not that much. I certainly wouldn’t disagree that the mind and even the body can undergo great changes when finding or converting to a new faith. I personally wouldn’t isolate those immediate changes to Christianity’s unique make-up–in general, I find a complex dynamic systems account of human behaviour very convincing, and any sufficiently large change in input conditions, religious or otherwise, would be expected to have both immediate and long-term effects in the whole system. Those differences may or may not manifest themselves in moral actions, but I wouldn’t negate the possibility of considerable changes. So, it’s not concerning a matter of whether or not, but rather how, how much and over how long a time where I think we diverge. Stating that becoming Christian necessarily involves a transformation to one’s very being is a very strong claim that makes clear predictions about real-world behavior. I think it’s important that those predictions bear some resemblance to actual performance data.

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  3. Rowe November 2, 2012 / 7:49 pm

    Not as deep as the rest of the comments, but the LEO in me says throw the pedos to the wolves in general population.

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