Or maybe he would just get himself crucified on Al Mohler’s blog.
Albert Mohler, who is no stranger to provocative blogosphere discussions, stirred the pot with a post last week on megachurches. In something akin to the experience of taking your car to get an oil change only to have your mechanic lecture you on the history of the internal combustion engine, he begins by giving us the full-on history of the megachurch movement, its development and its sociological implications, and comes around to make the point that megachurches are, in his estimation, the new purveyors of liberal theology. Or maybe the object of this exercise was to take a swipe at a particular megachurch pastor? (You’ll know when you read it.)
At issue for Mohler is a message that was preached by Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church a couple of weeks ago. The message in question is part of a sermon series called “Christian“. The big idea of the series is this: Christianity has an image problem. One of the biggest reasons is that the Bible is not clear on what it means to be a Christian–the word only appears three times in the entire New Testament. It is painfully clear, however, on what it means to be a “disciple”–this is the word by which New Testament Christians most frequently identified themselves. And the largest part of what it means to be a disciple is that we love others the way Jesus loved them.
One of the biggest aspects of how Jesus loved others was that he loved with the fullness of grace and truth. Not grace without truth, or truth without grace, or some partial combination of the two, but the full measure of both grace and truth.
In the message in question, creatively entitled “When Gracie Met Truthy”, Stanley illustrated this point by telling the story of a couple that were friends of his and North Point attenders. The wife divorced when she learned that her husband was having an affair with another man. She asked him to stop attending North Point, so he did. He and his gay partner began attending the Buckhead campus. Here the whole thing starts to get really complicated and convoluded–you’d best just listen to the message itself (it’s part 5 of the series). How’s that for a promo?
At any rate, the wife made the decision that she did not want to live in bitterness forever, so she began to reach out to her ex-husband in hopes of reconciling the family. Toward that end, she invited him and his gay partner and family to a Christmas service at North Point so that they could all celebrate the holiday together.
Turns out, the gay partner was still married when he and the husband started living together. This came out when the two men were serving as greeters at their new church. Stanley determined that they were living in adultery and could not continue serving as greeters under such conditions.
And herein lies Mohler’s issue.
The most puzzling and shocking part of the message was the illustration and the account of the homosexual couple, however. The inescapable impression left by the account was that the sin of concern was adultery, but not homosexuality. Stanley clearly and repeatedly stressed the sin of adultery, but then left the reality of the homosexual relationship between the two men unaddressed as sin. To the contrary, he seemed to normalize their relationship. They would be allowed to serve on the host team if both were divorced. The moral status of their relationship seemed to be questioned only in terms of adultery, with no moral judgment on their homosexuality.
Was this intended as a salvo of sorts? The story was so well told and the message so well constructed that there can be little doubt of its meaning. Does this signal the normalization of homosexuality at North Point Community Church? This hardly seems possible, but it appeared to be the implication of the message. Given the volatility of this issue, ambiguity will be replaced by clarity one way or the other, and likely sooner than later.
We can only hope that Andy Stanley and the church will clarify and affirm the biblical declaration of the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, even as he preaches the forgiveness of sin in any form through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His affirmation of grace and truth in full measure is exactly right, but grace and truth are not actually in tension. The only tension is our finite ability to act in full faithfulness. The knowledge of our sin is, in truth, a gift of grace. And grace is only grace because of the truth of what God has done for us in Christ.
If that is what Mohler took away from the message, then he completely and totally missed the point. The point of the message and the illustration was not to make a statement about homosexuality one way or the other, but to discuss the tension between grace and truth which we all must live with.
Mohler does speak to this, in a nice little soundbite:
[Stanley’s] affirmation of grace and truth in full measure is exactly right, but grace and truth are not actually in tension. The only tension is our finite ability to act in full faithfulness.
In other words, there is no tension between grace and truth. Just straighten up and act right and it will magically disappear.
Of course there are several issues in play here. One is the tendency of those in certain parts of the evangelical world (especially those that bear the Reformed label) to seize upon some pet issue or another and say that anyone who disagrees with them on that issue has abandoned the Gospel. But that’s another diatribe for another day.
There is also the fixation with homosexuality. As if homosexuality is a class of sin much greater than adultery or any other sin, and must be denounced as such at every possible opportunity. That too is another diatribe for another day.
The issue for today is the tension between grace and truth. Oh wait, there is no tension. Just straighten up and act right and it all goes away.
Jesus told a parable in which a landowner invited his friends to a banquet. When they all turned him down, he invited the losers and dregs of the street in their place. Of course, we must assume that all these losers repented and began to “act in full faithfulness” before they went to the banquet.
Then there was the time that Jesus invited himself to dinner at the home of a notoriously corrupt tax collector named Zaccheus. Of course we must assume that Zaccheus was “acting in full faithfulness” before Jesus would deign to darken his door.
Go ahead. Admit it. There is something scandalous about this estranged wife inviting her ex-husband and his gay lover to church for Christmas, isn’t there? And that’s the point here. Grace is scandalous stuff.
Evangelicals talk a really good game when it comes to grace and the Gospel, but an awful lot are horribly uncomfortable with grace. As Michael Spencer puts it:
“Amazing Grace” may be the church’s favorite hymn, but I’m not the first person to notice that the subject of God’s actual grace seems to give many Christians a case of hives. Singing about it is way cool. After that we need a team of lawyers to interpret all the codicils and footnotes we’ve written for the new covenant.
This is the opening line to “Our Problem with Grace“, one of the finest essays he has written that addresses the issue of grace. It is long but well worth the read.
Grace is scandalous stuff. If you are showing grace, then in all probability somebody will call you a liberal or say that you have abandoned the Gospel.
Let me close with this quote from Michael Spencer’s piece:
Sometimes Christians go very, very far down the road of sin’s allurements and dwell there for years. When this happens, we shouldn’t be outraged by such behavior, as if the church is scandalized. The church ought to be a scandal of grace every day, and when it’s not, the Gospel is missing. Go find it. Our treatment of that wayward person, in personal relationships and in the congregation, is all about God’s determination to be glorified in the lives of those for whom Jesus died as a substitute and a sacrifice.
Grace doesn’t approve. Grace just refuses to give up on us. (God really is amazing!)