Note: This post is not about homosexuality, though that is a topic I deal with. Keep your comments consistant with the theme of this post, and don’t drift into a pro- or anti-homosexual rant. Those comments will be deleted.
The worms are loose after Al Mohler opened a can of them on his blog this week. Mohler stirred things up by, in a long and winding route, concluding that megachurches may be the new distributors of liberal theology. Or is it that he just took a backhanded swipe at a specific megachurch pastor? No doubt about this—in his blog, Mohler takes a direct shot at those who are working through the whole issue of homosexuality within the church.
Short and to the point version: Andy Stanley recently preached a series of sermons called “Christian.” One of these messages was titled “When Gracie Met Truthy.” (Stanley obviously needs help with his sermon titles.) To illustrate his topic—grace—Stanley shared a story about some in his church. It seems a woman decided to divorce her husband when she found he was in a sexual relationship with another man. Not only did she ask him to move out of the house, but she asked him and his lover to find another church. So the men started attending a satellite campus of Stanley’s North Point Community Church nearer their home. They were living in an open relationship, something that came to light after the men had begun serving as volunteer greeters at their new church. Stanley did a little more investigation and determined that the second man was not yet divorced from his wife. Stanley concluded their relationship was an adulterous one, and informed the men they could not serve as volunteers in that fashion.
The story came to a conclusion with the first man’s ex-wife and her daughter inviting the men to a Christmas service at their campus of North Point so they could celebrate the holiday together. Stanley shared this story as an example of grace in action, illustrating the topic of his sermon—grace.
On his blog, Mohler, after a sharing a rather long history of the megachurch movement (kind of like taking your car in for an oil change only to get a lecture on the combustion engine), takes issue with Stanley for barring the men from ministry because of adultery and ignoring the issue of homosexuality. According to Mohler,
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.
Because of this, Mohler concludes that Stanley intentionally used this story to help “normalize homosexuality” in his church. Mohler then uses this story to say that megachurches may now be preaching liberal theology. (Many megachurches I have attended preach no theology, only self-help and motivational messages; but that is for another day.)
Let’s ignore what he has to say about megachurches. If you have read this site for more than two weeks, you know that we find many of these churches to be suspect at best for failing to point people to Jesus. And let’s ignore the issue of homosexuality, which continues to baffle even the most well-meaning disciples. (And I am not defending Andy Stanley in the least. Maybe he is trying to make homosexuality normal within his church. I don’t know.) What is the real problem with Mohler’s blog post? The problem is he missed the whole point of Stanley’s message: The tension between grace and truth.
Grace. Just why do we fight so hard against God’s free gift of grace? Why do we constantly take this freely-offered forgiveness from God and insist we do our part to earn it? The tale Stanley told seems scandalous. Two men leave—really, destroy—their families in order to take up house together in a fashion God did not design men to engage. These two men obviously had sinned. They didn’t need anyone to pronounce “moral judgment” on them. They knew what they were doing. And yet the first man’s wife, whose life was shattered by his actions, forgives him and invites him to a Christmas celebration as part of her family. What an incredible illustration of God’s scandalous grace in action.
Yet Mohler misses this entirely. He misses grace in his headlong race to be sure that Andy Stanley understands right and wrong when it comes to homosexuality. Mohler writes,
What does Andy Stanley now believe about homosexuality and the church’s witness? We must pray that he will clarify the issues so graphically raised in his message, and that he will do so in a way the unambiguously affirms the Bible’s clear teachings — and that he will do so precisely because he loves sinners enough to tell them the truth — all the truth — about both our sin and God’s provision in Christ. Biblical faithfulness simply does not allow for the normalization of homosexuality. We desperately want all persons to feel welcome to hear the Gospel and, responding in faith and repentance, to join with us in mutual obedience to Christ. But we cannot allow anyone, ourselves included, to come to Christ — or to church — on our own terms.
No, it seems we must come on Al Mohler’s terms. He states that his problem with Stanley’s message is that there was no mention of repentance. If only we were able to act right, he says, there would be no tension between grace and truth. “His affirmation of grace and truth in full measure is exactly right,” says Mohler, “but grace and truth are not actually in tension. The only tension is our finite ability to act in full faithfulness.”
What would Mohler have done with the king Jesus told us about, the one who invited some well-heeled men and women to a dinner party, only to be rejected by them all? Remember how the king then sent his servants out to the highways and byways to gather in everyone they could find? Losers, drunks, whores, the homeless. Religious and non-religious. The obese and gossipers. All were freely invited to come and feast. Do you think there may have been a homosexual as part of that gathering? How would Mohler have responded if he was there when Jesus told this parable?
Would he have said, “Jesus, certainly you mean that those who were invited repented and acted in full faithfulness before they sat at the table, right?” Would he have demanded that Jesus pass moral judgment on these cretins as he demanded that Andy Stanley do with the two sinners in his church?
This is not about homosexuality, divorce, adultery or even church discipline. This is all about grace. And grace is one thing the Al Mohler’s of this world will not tolerate unless we add, as Michael Spencer put it, “all the codicils and footnotes we’ve written for the new covenant.” Michael wrote those words in what I consider his greatest essay, Our Problem With Grace. Almost prophetically he writes what applies so readily here today:
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!)
As Daniel Amos sang it, Jesus came for sinners/losers and winners. His grace is extended to all on one condition: That we die. Not that we stop sinning according to someone’s moral judgment, but that we die. And all of us can do that.
I cannot write about grace with quoting Father Robert Capon, who expounds so radically about grace that Michael warned me not to let anyone else know I was reading his books lest I be branded a heretic. Capon writes in his Parables Of Grace,
But if the salt of the earth becomes insipid—if a disciple of Jesus forgets that only losing wins, and a fortiori, if the apostolic church forgets it—where in the wide world of winners drowning in the syrup of their own success will either the disciple or the church be able to recapture saltiness of victory out of loss? The answer is nowhere. And the sad fact is that the church, both now and at far too many times in its history, has found it easier to act as if it were selling the sugar of moral and spiritual achievement rather than the salt of Jesus’ passion and death. It will preach salvation for the successfully well-behaved, redemption for the triumphantly correct in doctrine, and pie in the sky for all of the winners who think they can walk into the final judgment and flash their passing report cards at Jesus. But every last bit of that is now and ever shall be pure baloney because a) nobody ever will have that kind of sugar to sweeten the deal with, and b) Jesus is going to present us all to the Father in the power of his resurrection and not at all in the power of our own totally inadequate records, either good or bad.
But does the church preach that salty message? Not as I hear it, it doesn’t. It preaches the nutra-sweet religion of test-passing, which is the only thing the world is ready to buy and which isn’t even real sugar let alone salt. In spite of all our fakery, though, Jesus’ program remains firm. He saves losers and only losers. He raises the dead and only the dead. And he rejoices more over the last, the least, and the little than over all the winners in the world. That alone is what this losing race of ours needs to hear, even though it can’t stand the thought of it. That alone is the salt that can take our perishing insipidity and give it life and flavor forever. That alone …
This is why I would much rather read and re-read Capon than pay attention to Mohler. Presented with an opportunity to praise a good message on grace, Mohler paints himself into a corner of morality. It is just more of the same: Good Christians don’t (fill in the blank with your own pet sin). Mohler blew it. Andy Stanley (and megachurches in general) are not preaching liberal theology. What can be more liberal than a grace-less Gospel?