Friday, July 31, 2015

The Argument From the Purchase of Salvation

“Christ's atoning work cannot be extended to all people without also extending the new covenant benefits and privileges to them, which minimally includes regeneration, forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Spirit, and so on. General atonement views must either redefine the nature of the new covenant or argue that Christ dies as the covenantal head of another covenant, whatever that is.”
In less succinct language, the argument is that the saving work of Christ does more than just pay for the sins of men, it also purchases everything necessary for their salvation. This includes regeneration, sanctification, adoption, indwelling of the Spirit, faith—everything necessary is purchased by Christ on the cross as an exclusive gift for His covenant people. In the words of Romans 8:32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
In its barest form the argument looks like this:

P1:  Christ’s atonement purchases all things necessary for salvation.
P2:
Only the elect receive the gifts necessary for salvation.
C: Therefore, not all men were atoned for.

ANSWER 


Although this argument looks formidable, there are two big problems with it.

The first is that, like Owens Trilemma, it over proves the point. If all things are purchased by Christ then He must necessarily purchase the hearing of the gospel and everything related to it, including the ordinary-every-day graces of being able to waking up in the morning, listen, understand, and think clearly. But for strict limited atonement to be true it cannot be the case that the non-elect receive any of these gifts of salvation which belong to the elect alone, and that’s a problem because the non-elect clearly do receive them. They receive the benefit of hearing the gospel (John 6:32-36, Matt. 22:4-5). They receive the common graces of God (Matt 5:45-46), the facilities and blessings needed to understand the plain message of salvation. Asaph complains in Ps 73 that the wicked had so many earthly blessings that he positively envied them (v2-14). Judas was one of the twelve closest to Jesus and was given the power to drive out demons as he proclaimed the gospel, yet for all of His time near Jesus was still lost (John 17:12). Therefore if the first premise is true (Christ purchases everything needed for salvation from the cross) then the second premise (only the elect receive gifts necessary for salvation) must be false. 

The second problem is that this syllogism leads to irrationality. If true, it would mean that Jesus purchased the saving disposition of the Father to send Himself to Earth, from the Father at His death, in order that He may give it to the Father in eternity past. Christ purchases the desire to create the universe from the Father at His death, in order to give it back to the Father before the universe began, to enable Him to create for His glory. Christ purchases predestination at His death from the Father, then gives it back to the Father. The Father’s nature, actions, and freedoms are constrained by the work of the cross; He cannot dispense a blessing of any kind until the transaction has been made in time. Similar to how Chuck Norris was born into a log cabin that he himself made

To accept this model means the destruction of the truth that there was a time before Jesus was a man, but never a time before He was God. Instead Jesus, eternally man and God, is always being crucified in eternity past so as to enable the Father to act in accordance with His desires, for without Him He isn’t free. This is, incidentally, is substantially similar to the Roman Catholic argument for their sacrament of mass.
So the first premise falls by its own weight. 

It’s at this point that the advocate for strict limited atonement may try to salvage the argument by asserting that Christ purchases faith exclusively for the elect, while purchasing a myriad of common graces for all men. Something like this:
P1:  Christ’s death purchases the gift of faith necessary for salvation. 
P2: Only the elect receive the gift of faith necessary for salvation.  
 C: Therefore, not all men were atoned for.
But aside from the fact that conceding Christ purchasing gifts for all men is hardly a compelling argument for strict limited atonement, this new form suffers from the same problem that the original one does, plus the additional effect of making it more obvious that the scheme needlessly reduces everything to a crass commercial transaction. If Christ really purchased faith for men from the cross then faith is no longer an open hand offered toward God but a singular object given by God. It’s no longer an organic byproduct of a man’s affections, or an inclination to trust that comes from within the man, but a concrete item bought at the divine marketplace. It means that the Scriptures which speak of faithfulness being rewarded on the last day are senseless (Heb 10:35, Luke 19:17), along with those that some men having a greater amount of it than others (1 Cor 12:9), and those where unbelievers are urged to believe and live (Acts 16:31, Rom 10:9, Mark 16:16). This must be so, because there’s no place for those things in the case where faith isn’t something earned or exercised within a person, but is instead a good acquired on their behalf. As Chambers said,
Talk of 'purchase' could well be seen as having a distorting effect on the biblical idea of faith, by reifying it, making it a thing or object or commodity, instead of a relational response. The phrase 'purchase of faith' is a category confusion, for trust, like love, can only be given by the subject, not bought, and arises in the subject. While, of course, it is bought for us, and not from us, even that suggests a passivity that is not a feature of the New Testament's portrayal. While the trusting attitude itself can be conceptualized as passive and receptive in relation to the reception of righteousness, we are not passive but active in that trusting, we are those who believe. 
Making a final stand to preserve the argument, the strict limited atonement advocate might agree there’s no mention of Christ purchasing faith in the Bible and modify their position to Jesus purchasing the right to give men faith. “God cannot give the gift of faith apart from the priestly work of Christ, and because of the death of Christ God gives men faith directly”, they might say. But given that the demons believe (James 2:19), even though they received no atonement (Heb 2:16), this too must be discarded as unworkable. Jesus doesn’t need to buy the right to give faith—God is already the Sovereign King of the universe. What Jesus needs to do is provide a way consistent with God’s justice to forgive sinners. As Baxter says,  
“Never did Christ desire at his Fathers hands, that all whom he satisfied for, should be infallibly and irresistibly brought to believe; nor did God ever grant or promise any such thing. Jesus Christ as a Ransom died for all, and as Rector per Leges, or Legislator. He hath conveyed the Fruits of his death to all; that is, those Fruits which it appertained to him as Legislator to convey, which is right to what his New Law or Covenant doth promise. But those Mercies which he gives as Domimus Absolutus, arbitrarily besides or above his engagement, he neither gives nor ever intended to give to all that he died for; no nor to all his Elect doth he give all those fruits of his death, nor for ought I know to any in the same degree; for these are but remotely the Fruits of Christ’s death, and not constant nor inseparable Fruits. Peruse the foresaid Table of the Fruits of Christ’s death, and it will shew you which the mercies be that Christ gives by Law, and which arbitrarily, as besides his engagement.
 So every variation of the arguments for purchase is ultimately proven to be unworkable.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Classic Calvinism


PART I - ESSENTIAL DOCTRINES OF CALVINISM 

The TULIP & an Introduction
The Sovereignty of God 
Total Depravity
Regeneration
Unconditional Election
Perseverance of the Saints

PART II - A BRIEF HISTORY OF CLASSIC CALVINISM

PART III - COMMON CALVINISM

Predestination
Lapsarianism
Moral/Natural Inability

PART IV - VERSES FOR LIMITED SATISFACTION  ADDRESSED

PART V - VERSES FOR UNLIMITED SATISFACTION 

PART VI - LOGICAL ARGUMENTS FOR UNLIMITED SATISFACTION

PART VII - LOGICAL ARGUMENTS FOR LIMITED SATISFACTION ADDRESSED


Introductory Remarks 
Owens Trilemma
Argument from the Purchase of Salvation
The Double Payment Argument
...
Negative Inference Argument
Expiation-Intercession Argument
...

Introductory Remarks to Part VI

There are two kinds of arguments for strict limited atonement: the arguments from intention, and the arguments from effect. Both appear to come from Scripture when it says things like “He will see the travail of His soul and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11), but both are actually categorical deductions that fall out from an underlying philosophy, and both trade on a deficient understanding of the atonement.

The mistake of the first class of arguments (Jesus didn’t die to save all men because God didn’t elect all men to salvation) lies in trying to copy the properties of other doctrines and paste them over the atonement. It reduces the satisfaction of wrath to an elect-specific event, and in so doing places it alongside the other elect particular blessings which are not shared by all mankind in general, such as regeneration, or final perseverance. The argument from the Covenant of Redemption, the Negative Inference argument, or the Intercession-Expiation arguments are good examples of this. In trying to grapple with the final outcome of the atonement it’s easy to become convinced that the design of the atonement was no wider than the salvation of the elect, but this isn’t so, since the doctrines of election and atonement are not identical things. As Spring says,
“It is no part of the doctrine of Election, that Christ died exclusively for the Elect…Though there would have been no atonement but for God’s design to save the elect, and though there could have been no designs of mercy toward the elect without an atonement; yet the doctrine of atonement and election are two distinct things.”
The second class of arguments for strict limited atonement reason that because Jesus made an effectual payment to the Father, and only the elect were saved, then it must be that only the elect were paid for. Owen’s Trilemma, the argument from the purchase of faith, and the double payment argument are examples of this.
The mistake lies in assuming the debt of sin works like a debt of money—once paid the guilty are liberated. The problem is either a modern conception of purchase, or an over reliance on the framework of it, to the exclusion of other analogies of salvation.
The first happens because our culture isn’t the same as the first century near east. We think of paying a debt as handing a credit card to the restaurant cashier, or inserting paper money into a vending machine. The whole process is casual, impersonal, transactional. In every case what the creditor is entitled to is the money itself, and if a generous person steps in to make a payment on our behalf then the matter is settled as soon as the money changes hands. But the Bible has something more along the lines of a wealthy patron redeeming his servant from the slave market as a model for salvation than it does an online bill payment. The transaction in that case is personal, equal parts settling a debt through sacrifice and acquiring a person.
 

The second way to fall into the payment trap is to allow it to become the principle analogy of salvation. When the language of purchase gets too much prominence it begins to distort the concept salvation by pushing out the other crucial analogies (like a criminal before the judge, or a lamb is brought before a priest). The debt of our sin is not a credit deficiency, but also a judicial infraction, what we sinners owe is not just the price of our sins, but our very selves to God. As Hodge says,
“Augustinians teach, it is urged, that the work of Christ is a satisfaction to divine justice... From this it is inferred that the satisfaction or righteousness of Christ, if the ground on which a sinner may be forgiven, is the ground on which he must be forgiven... If the atonement be limited in design it must be limited in its nature, and if limited in its nature it must be limited in its offer.  
This objection again arises from confounding a pecuniary and a judicial satisfaction between which Augustinians are so careful to discriminate... There is no grace in accepting a pecuniary satisfaction. It cannot be refused. It ipso facto liberates. The moment the debt is paid the debtor is free; and that without any condition. Nothing of this is true in the case of judicial satisfaction. If a substitute be provided and accepted it is a matter of grace. His satisfaction does not ipso facto liberate. It may accrue to the benefit of those for whom it is made at once or at a remote period; completely or gradually; on conditions or unconditionally; or it may never benefit them at all unless the condition on which its application is suspended be performed... Those for whom it was specially rendered are not justified from eternity; they are not born in a justified state; they are by nature, or birth, the children of wrath even as others. To be the children of wrath is to be justly exposed to divine wrath. They remain in this state of exposure until they believe, and should they die (unless in infancy) before they believe they would inevitably perish notwithstanding the satisfaction made for their sins.”
One of these two errors underlies each particular argument for strict limited atonement, and while it would be enough to point out that any argument driven by a faulty model is wrong, the following chapters will focus instead on the additional mistakes the particular argument makes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Sociopathic Argument Against Abortion


When I was in college and first encountered Judith Jarvis Thomson’s violinist argument advocating for abortion I was greatly troubled. It was so sophisticated, and I so witless, that for even a long time after it remained beyond my ability to refute. “so what?” she said, “If the baby is a person? The victim here is the woman who has to put up with a pregnancy.” To which my inept reply was, “I’ll, uh, get back to you.”

Many years later I stumbled upon an article by Bnonn that clarified for me exactly what was wrong in a buzzfeed-esque title,4 reasons the consent argument for abortion is sociopathic.The main take away is this:
In all the analogies pro-abortionists give, the perpetrator is acting maliciously (sometimes by proxy, as in the violinist argument) toward a woman who did nothing to merit his actions against her... Yet in the vast majority of pregnancies, the “perp” is in fact acting helplessly toward a woman precisely because she caused him to do so. And moreover, she is not simply “a woman” and he is not simply “a perp”—rather, she is his mother and he is her child.
“Ah” says I in a vaguely pirate growl, “that be it entirely. Why didn’t I see it before?”
In an instant it became clear to me that Thomas’ callous stiff arm was the very weapon to be used against her. When she says,
A woman may be utterly devastated by the thought of a child, a bit of herself, put out for adoption and never seen or heard of again. She may therefore want not merely that the child be detached from her, but more, that it die.” the proper response is, “You’re a sociopath, and have no place in our society.” When someone comes to you with the serious argument that they should have the right to dismember their child because they may get depressed at the thought of someone else raising it, the comeback is, “Get lost, psychopath.”


And the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that not only does the sociopathic argument prove to be outstanding against abortion advocates, but it also explains nearly everything surrounding abortion itself, from the suffering of women who undergo it to the limited number of doctors who perform it. Which is why we'll first look at using the observation as an argument, then as a behavioral tool.
"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds"

Let’s start by showing how well the argument works in general, and here I can do no better than to repackage what Bnonn argues when he urges his reader to imagine they are alone on an Antarctic research base when a baby shows up at their door. “Are you morally obligated to take care of this baby, or is it morally permissible to close the door and let it freeze?”
The answer is obvious: only a sociopath would let the baby die.
Now what if, instead of a random stranger, the baby shows up on the doorstep of his own mother? Is it reasonable for her to take a surgical knife and hack him to pieces? Should we be sympathetic to her if she were to use forceps to crush him to death? No. What are you anyway, psychotic?    


The argument is not just powerful however, it’s simple. All the user needs to do is point out that the “fetus” in the womb of a pregnant woman is her offspring. You don’t really need to mention the fact that “fetus” will automatically inherit her love of certain foods, personality traits, behaviors, and coloring, and will, if given enough time, express those traits and enjoy watching indie films with her on Chinese food night. There’s no need to muck around with definitions, DNA, or ask where life really begins, it’s enough to point out the thing in there is her offspring and that makes her a mother. And if it’s wrong to let some stranger die when you can easily prevent it, how much more sociopathic is it to knowingly murder your own son or daughter? In point of fact you can’t get more sociopathic than that.

It also works well as a counter argument, and to prove it I’ll just jump to the strongest, most visceral argument the pro-abortionist has. The dreaded, “but what about rape?” rejoinder. “What about the scared 14 year old girl who was raped by her brother?” The pro-sociopath confidently asserts. “Surely abortion is permissible in this case?”
The sonic screwdriver of abortion arguments delivers the perfect answer: “Do you really think that the wisest course of action is to ask what a sociopath would do, and then do likewise? Do you think the world needs more people who are driven only by bloodthirsty psychotic urges? Are you honestly trying to argue that the best way for the mother to heal from the rape is for her to dismember her child? What are you, some kind of sociopath?

From what I’ve seen the vast majority of people who support abortion are not really reasoning out the implications of it, but are instead trying to defend freedom to do as they please, to be unconstrained by the obligations and bonds of being a normal human in society. That’s why they use language like pro-choice, because it advances the idea of freedom. To this the response is, “Is the freest person in the world the teenager who kills his parents without remorse for the inheritance money, since he’s loosed all the natural bonds of obligations upon him? Are you prepared to defend the proposition that happiness is found in having no conscience, and then doing as you please? That normal adults should behave in real life like junior high boys playing Grand Theft Auto?”
The sociopath argument wakes them up by dashing cold water on their face, and arresting their self-aggrandizement. It makes it evident that the goal they’re pushing towards—freedom from relational imposition—is itself sociopathic. All you need to do is point that out.

"Having their conscience seared with a hot iron"

In addition to providing a snappy the argument, there's a secondary, related feature of the sociopathic observation that's worth mentioning: it functions as a great explanatory model. That abortion is a fundamentally psychotic act does very well to explain the behavior of those involved.
  
Consider for a moment why the people who work in the industry become inhumane, (or the inhumane are attracted to it). Having a normal person engage in sociopathic behavior has one of two possible outcomes: either they become hardened and make peace with the psychotic behavior and come to accept it as normal, or they flee for their life. That’s why the Planned Parenthood executive was able to casually discuss selling baby organs over wine and salad. In her case the proverb is literally true when it says, “She eats and wipes her mouth and says, 'I've done nothing wrong.'” She’s a sociopath. Kermit Gosnell is a sociopath. Mary Gatter, senior medical director for Planned Parenthood is a sociopath. They are untroubled by aiding a mother in killer her child, or selling children’s body parts because their consciences have been seared thanks to so much bad behavior. They are past feeling now. The people who knowingly and openly lie on their behalf so that can get money from abortions, people like the legacy print media, are sociopaths.
If it came out that they were cooking the baby's flesh and feeding it to farm animals to "prevent it from going to waste" should we be surprised? No. Sociopaths.

This also explains why many women who abort their babies are traumatized by it and are regretful or miserable afterwards. They’re suffering because they’re normal people who just behaved like a blood-thirsty sociopath, and can’t very well reconcile the two courses of life. Of course it’s traumatic and takes time to get over. Of course that kind of thing can give you nightmares.

It's at this point that I turn the model over to you for some final considerations. Firstly, is it reasonable to extrapolate that institutions engaging in sociopathic behavior will have a negative impact on society? Is it reasonable to conclude that the impact of 55 million women murdering their children is larger than the loss of life to the children, but also extends to the deadening of our empathy generally? What happens if Minority Report is right when it says, “There's nothing more destructive to the metaphysical fabric that binds us than the untimely murder of one human being by another.” particularly a baby by its mother? What do you think happens to a community where more babies are aborted than born alive? When a people collectively decide it’s better to kill their children rather than see them born into this world, as if we were living in The Road by Cormac McCarthy? 
Don’t hear me overselling it or going into hysterics, and keep in mind sociopaths typically have good taste in music and a flair for culture. Acting like a psychopath isn’t identical to murdering everyone at the first opportunity. But please for a moment use the model to predict what the legalization of a murderous sociopathic urge would do to a society, and see if it doesn't explain at least a little of the moral unraveling of the last 50 years.
"The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth."
So there it is. The sociopathic argument may very well be the most powerful argument out there, for hitting at the ego, rather than the head (which is where the problem is), and as a related bonus the model proves an excellent framework for understanding the behavior of abortionists and the effect on the women who receive them.
Sociopathic. It’s simple to use and cuts right to the heart of the matter. There you go, it's all yours now. Use it wisely.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Owens Trilemma

God imposed His wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved ... If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, "Because of their unbelief; they will not believe." But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins!

Spend any time with a theologian who holds to strict limited atonement and it won’t be long until you hear Owens Trilemma. Although the argument cannot be properly separated from its defense, for clarity’s sake it has been arranged into halves:
P1: Only one of the following can be true:
a. 
Jesus paid for all the sins of all men,
b. 
Some of the sins of all men,
c. 
Or all of the sins of some men.
P2: Option A and B are unbiblical. (A is universalism and B means nobody is saved.)
  C: Therefore all of the sins of the elect (some men) are paid for.
At this point a someone might try to defend part A of the first premise, “The Bible says non-believers are lost because they refuse to believe, not because there’s an insufficient atonement for them. Therefore it’s still possible Christ has died for all since sins are forgiven upon belief.”
But Owen has anticipated this, and counters with the second half of his argument:

P1: According to you, Christ paid for all men’s sin.
P2: But unbelief is a sin just like any other.
C: Therefore, Christ paid for unbelief and men cannot be condemned for it.
 And since the conclusion is still universalism, the first premise must be false.

ANSWER 

 
The trilemma works only if the atonement is so effectual that it goes into effect immediately for those whom it was purchased for, regardless of anything else. We’ll cover the general form of that argument in a subsequent chapter, but for now it’s enough to point out that only by assuming this is Owen able to argue that only the elect were atoned for.  


It's a terrible assumption, since it has the effect of making faith superfluous, both in the negative form (damnation) and in the positive one (reconciliation). The Bible is clear that men are lost because of their unbelief, not just because of their sin, (Mark 16:16, John 3:18, 2 Thess 2:12) just as a refusal to take the cure held out by the doctor kills a sick man. And it’s also clear that faith is necessary, since men are saved upon belief (John 6:29, Eph 2:8, Acts 2:38), and not until. Because of this, point A from the first syllogism is still a valid possibility.

Owen clearly sees this weakness however, and adds his second argument to prove that regardless of faith, part A is universalism. He does this by decoupling faith from salvation, and in so doing eliminates the need for faith altogether. Even for the elect. If the Trilemma is true then it doesn’t matter if the elect believe or notthey’re already saved because Christ has already paid for their sins completely. 

Thus the argument proves too much. A pardon purchased from the cross gets around the need for faith, but it also results in an eternal justification for the elect who would never be under wrath, contrary to Eph 2:3. So in an attempt to prove strict limited atonement Owen backs into a very unbiblical stance.

The other problem is with premise 2 of the second half. Unbelief isn’t a sin like any other, but is something far worse, since willful, continued unbelief is the one sin whose presence can’t be forgiven. Unlike other sins which can be absolved if a Christian dies while committing them (say for example someone gets into a car crash and dies breaking the speed limit law) unbelief can't be pardoned. It's the one that makes all the difference. The Spirit applies the atonement to the account of the believer, to the one who has faith, so to blaspheme the Spirit with unbelief is to commit the unpardonable sin. As Spurgeon says,
Observe the heinous nature of unbelief in this—that it is the damning sin. There is one sin for which Christ never died; it is the sin against the Holy Ghost. There is one other sin for which Christ never made atonement. Mention every crime in the calendar of evil, and I will show you persons who have found forgiveness for it. But ask me whether the man who died in unbelief can be saved, and I reply there is no atonement for that man. There is an atonement made for the unbelief of a Christian, because it is temporary; but the final unbelief—the unbelief with which men die—never was atoned for. You may turn over this whole Book, and you will find that there is no atonement for the man who died in unbelief; there is no mercy for him. Had he been guilty of every other sin, if he had but believed, he would have been pardoned; but this is the damning exception—he had no faith.

It’s at this point, faced with defending eternal justification against the need to have faith, that most strict limited atonement advocates abandon the trilemma (as Owen does) and instead appeal to the necessity of faith, adding that Christ purchased faith from the cross for the elect. So it is to this argument that we go next.

Monday, July 13, 2015

C.S. Lewis on Unfaithful Ministers & Homosexuality

When I read this piece about a PCA church treating sin as if it’s a matter of opinion I couldn’t keep the Episcopal ghost from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce out of my head. In an attempt to put into yours what’s stuck in mine, I’ve taken the speech and altered it slightly, pushing the ideas into the present day.

A trim, bald man who sat on the seat in front of me leaned back and addressed me in a soft-spoken voice. “Excuse me,” he said in a very agreeable fashion, “but I couldn’t help overhearing parts of your conversation. I’m the senior pastor at Intown PCA church in Portland Oregon and we’ve been approving of gay marriage for awhile, which makes me something of an expert on the recent SCOTUS decision. Doomed are we? Hardly. Honestly, it’s astonishing how these primitive prejudices linger on. There is not a shred of evidence that this twilight is ever going to turn into a night. There has been a revolution of opinion on that in educated circles. I am surprised that you haven’t heard of it. All the nightmare fantasies of our ancestors are being swept away. What we now see in this subdued and delicate half-light is the promise of the dawn: the slow turning of a whole nation towards the light. Slow and imperceptible, of course. But the arc of history is doubtlessly bent toward justice, and unless we find ourselves on the right side of history the name of Christ might be forgotten. The foolish notion of an endless homosexual agenda that seeks to strip God from the public dialogue is quite ridiculous.”
His words were magnetic, his countenance attractive, so I informed him I was a reporter and asked if I could hear more from him on this topic. “Certainly. But I must meet with an old friend first. You’re welcome to sit in if you like.”
No sooner had I told him I’d like that a great deal than the bus came to a stop. The man carefully brushed the crumbs of the croissant from his shirt and checked his iphone6 to be sure he was not going to be late. He wasn’t. We exited together and went inside the posh coffee shop as the smoggy bus rumbled off. We sat at a table near the door; I took the chair further back, toward the counter. The laptop booted up just as the guest appeared.
“Ah, Dick,” he stood up and began with obvious pleasure, “it’s been too long. Too long since we’ve had one of our talks. I expect you’ve changed your views a bit since we spoke last, seeing as how you’d become a bit narrow minded for a while there. No doubt in light of recent events you’ve broadened out again?”
Richard smiled as they shook hands and took the empty seat.
“How do you mean Brian?”
“Well, it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that you weren’t quite right. Why, my dear boy, last we talked you were considering that homosexuality wasn’t an unqualified good! As if you were some kind of regressive fundamentalist!”
“And that’s not right?”
“Oh, in a spiritual sense, to be sure, it isn’t always entirely good. I myself still believe there may be some sin in there if the couple isn’t at least professing monogamy. I am still, my dear boy, looking for the Kingdom after all. But to think that homosexuality in and of itself is wrong is hidebound superstition or backwards mythological--”
“Excuse me Brian but have you no regard for the welfare of gay people themselves? Do you not care about their eternal destiny?”
“Ah, I see, you’re asking if I have any notion of where the whole thing’s going. You’re saying their movement with its continual hope of morning (we must all live by hope, must we not?), with its field for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it? That is a beautiful idea.”
“I didn’t mean that at all. I was asking if you’d considered their condition.”
“What condition is that?”
“We call it sin.”
“There is no need to be profane, my dear boy. These matters ought to be discussed simply, seriously, and most of all lovingly.”
“Discuss sin lovingly? No, you can either love sin or love people. If you care about your congregation you’ll get serious or they might be lost forever. Call sin what it is.”
“Go on, my dear boy, go on. That is so like you. No doubt you’ll tell me why, on your view, my church is in this ‘sinful mess’ that’s caused the Northwestern Presbytery to send you to meet with me.”
“Don’t you know? We’re discussing if you’re an apostate. I volunteered because I thought to meet with you and bring you back.”
“Are you serious, Dick?”
“Perfectly.”
“This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalized for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken? Are you willing to assert there’s no such chapter in the Bible as Romans 14? Were you unaware they’ll know we are Christians by our love?”
“Do you really think there are no sins Brian?”
‘There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. All sins which you fundamentalists exhibit. But honest opinions fearlessly followed or love wonderfully expressed—that is not sin. God is love.”
“I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions. Take your most recent blog post for example.”
“Yes, now that is certainly true. My blog is not only honest but heroic. Fearless. When the doctrine of orthodox sexuality ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk.”
“What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came—popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and soon a bishopric with the Episcopalians?”
“Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?”
“Brian, I am not suggesting at all. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At college, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives up until that point, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: what if sin is real? When did we put up one moment’s real resistance to the loss of reality?”
“If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is a mere libel. Do you suggest that men like—”
“I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but you and me. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn’t want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes.”
“I’m far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it’s not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed. Homosexuality is not a sin. That’s an honest opinion and it’s also true.”
“Of course you think that. Having allowed yourself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, you’ve reached a point where you no longer believe the Faith. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend: a drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm. The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man’s mind. If that’s what you mean by sincerity they are sincere. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent.”
“You’ll be justifying homophobic hate speech in a moment!”
“Why? Because we err in one direction, does it follow that there is no error in the opposite direction?”
“Well, this is extremely interesting,” he said with a frown. “It’s a point of view. Certainly, it’s a point of view. In the meantime...”
“There is no meantime,” replied the other. “All that is over. We are not playing now. I have been talking of the past, of your past and mine only in order that you may turn from it forever. Only someone who isn’t a believer says what you say and compromises where you have. But there’s hope Brian. One wrench and the tooth will be out. You can begin as white as snow if you will admit there’s such a thing as sin. And I have come to meet you for this very thing. You are sliding into Hell but you are yet in sight of Heaven. Will you now repent and believe?”
“I’m not sure that I’ve got the exact point you are trying to make.”
“I am not trying to make any point,’ said Brian. “I am telling you to repent and believe.” It was obvious he was trying to get his friend to turn in hopes of having the effect trickle down to the congregation. And indeed for a moment Brian seemed to be bending. But the inward struggle ceased and the moment of consideration died, the frown being replaced by a smile.
“But my dear boy, I believe already. We may not be perfectly agreed, but you have completely misjudged me if you do not realize that my religion is a very real and a very precious thing to me.”
“Very well,” said the other, as if changing his plan. “Will you admit that gay marriage is no marriage at all?”
“In what sense?”
“That it’s inherently unfruitful. Will you accept they can’t have children as a biological impossibility? That it goes against the created order? Accepting this will hurt at first, until your conscience is restored. Reality is a bit harsh. But will you try?” His voice was full of tenderness.
“Well, I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances first. I should want a guarantee that this theory opens doors to the gay community, not closes them. I seek to find a wider sphere of connection by building an atmosphere of free inquiry in the spiritual life.”
“No,” said the other. ‘I can promise you none of these things. I can only promise that as you were once blind so you will see. My promise is for grace to the man who admits he’s a sinner.”
“Ah, but we must all those beautiful words of Amazing Grace in our own way mustn’t we! For me there is no such thing as a final answer on sin. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind to keep us humble, must it not? To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.”
“If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for.”
“But you must feel yourself that there is something stifling about the idea of sin? Stagnation, my dear boy, what is more soul-destroying than stagnation?”
“You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched.”
“Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some ready-made truth which puts an end to what I know to be love in the way you seem to be describing. Will embracing your understanding of sin leave me the free play of mind, Dick? I must insist on that, you know.”
“Free, as a man is free to drink while he is drinking. He is not free still to be dry.”
Brian seemed to think for a moment. “I can make nothing of that idea,” he said finally.  
“Listen!” Richard said hitting the table with his palm, “once you were a child. Once you knew what sin was. There was a time when you accepted the reality that only with a light bulb and socket together did you get light.”
“Ah, but when I became a man I put away childish things.”
“Sin isn’t a childish thing! This isn’t a matter of opinion Brian, this is life or death. It’s real! Believe and you will meet face to face with the Father who made us male and female and sent His son to pay for our sins. You will be changed by the facts if you but believe.”
“I should object very strongly to describing God as a “fact” Dick. The Supreme Value would surely be a less inadequate description. It is hardly—”
“Do you not even believe that He exists?”
“Exists?” He snorted, his normally calm and unperturbable manner disrupted. “What does Existence mean? You will keep on implying some sort of static, ready-made reality which is, so to speak, ‘there’, and to which our minds have simply to conform. These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way. If there were such a thing—there is no need to interrupt, my dear boy—quite frankly, I should not be interested in it. It would be of no religious significance. God, for me, is love. The spirit of sweetness and light and tolerance—and, er, service, Dick, service to good works. We mustn’t forget that, you know.”
“If the thirst of the Reason is really dead…” Richard paused. “Can you, at least, still desire happiness? If not for the people trapped in the abuse of the gay lifestyle, then for yourself?”
“Happiness, my dear Dick,” he said placidly, his smooth composure returning, “happiness, as you will come to see when you are more mature, lies in the path of duty. And being the voice of Christ to the gay community has given me such a happiness as you can’t understand. Oh Dick, if you could only see the people who need love! One notices a certain lack of grip—a certain confusion of mind among them. That’s where I can be of some use to them. That’s my passion. There regrettable jealousies. I don’t know why honestly, but tempers seem less controlled than they used to be. Still, one mustn’t expect too much of human nature. I feel I can do a great work among them. I’m even writing another blog post—submission and resistance. We must submit to the world but fight those like you who’d claim the name of Christ falsely. Just as Jesus did with the Pharisees. Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, my dear boy. It has been a great pleasure. Most stimulating and provocative. Goodbye, good-bye, goodbye.”
He followed Richard out the door and I was forgotten. But I’d heard it all, and it had left a deep impact on my soul. I logged into my Christianity Today account to post the article that had practically written itself—‘Religious Haters kick out church and Pastor for showing love to gay community.’