This week I was privileged to participate in the ERLC’s national conference on the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage. I joined panelists Randy Stinson, Thomas White, Steven Smith, and moderator Philip Bethancourt discussing “Preparing Next Generation Leaders for a Post-Marriage Culture.” You can access many of the discussions here and the highlights of the conference here.
The conference was timely, instructive, and encouraging. I left contemplative about the roles of the ERLC, Midwestern Seminary, and the cultural moment before us. Let me explain.
The Strategic Importance of the ERLC
First, it struck me that it is now impossible to conceptualize the Southern Baptist Convention—or the broader evangelical community—without the ERLC playing a leading role. This is a testimony to the tone, substance, and imagination of Russell Moore and his team, as well as recognition of our own cultural moment.
The evaporation of cultural Christianity, the ever-expanding sexual revolution, the redefinition of marriage, and how these factors coalesce to challenge religious liberty appear to be the pressing issues facing the evangelical community. The need for leadership from the ERLC is great, and they seem more than equal to the task.
Truth, Spoken in Love
Second, the conference’s tone exhibited an Ephesians 4:15 ethic, the truth being spoken in love. As Russell Moore pointed out in his address, a more compassionate tone is not a marketing strategy. It is living out the ethic of Christ.
We best demonstrate the spirit of Christ when we speak the truth in love to those who differ, and when we speak the truth in love about those who differ. The world watched, and they noted the seasoning of grace on the event. That is a win for the church and will doubtlessly open more ministry doors than a “scorched earth” approach.
Our Offensive Message
At the same time, we should not underestimate the offensiveness of our message, even with a pitched-perfect tone. A cursory look at social media interactions during the conference underscores this reality. But this should not surprise us.
As we speak the Scriptures, we are speaking to humanity’s great questions: human identity and sexuality, the nature of marriage, redemption and forgiveness, and one’s eternal destiny. And a world that finds it insufferable that we speak with conviction on God’s roles for man and woman and God’s definition of marriage will find it more offensive that we lay claim to the most ultimate, eternal, gospel issues.
After all, the most offensive truth claim we make is not that sexual activity is to be confined to one man and one woman in the life-long covenant of marriage. The most offensive truth claim we make is that God’s Son came to earth, lived a fully sinless life, died on a cross, rose again, shall return for his church, and that all must repent of theirs sin and believe in him, or face eternal punishment.
Midwestern Seminary & the ERLC
Lastly, I am reminded that for Midwestern Seminary to be for the Church, it must include us equipping our students for the full complexity of 21st century ministry. This means we train our students in the classic disciplines of original languages, theology, and church history, and that we teach them to evangelize, counsel, and preach and teach God’s Word. Yet, in order to be fully for the Church, we must train our students to engage the great moral, ethical, and cultural issues of our times. We’ll be increasingly looking to the ERLC for partnership and assistance in this task.
Issues of gender, marriage, and sexuality are not going way. The church must be prepared to engage these issues, cognizant of the full complexities they bring us. Yet, we must not let our engagement overlook our first imperative to be gospel people, pointing persons again and again to the message of a crucified and risen Savior. Not as a cure all, or an immediate moral disinfectant—but as our only hope, gay or straight, religious or irreligious.
I left the ERLC conference more fully aware of the challenges we face, but even more encouraged by what God is doing to strengthen his church. I think you should be encouraged as well.topicsERLC, Homosexuality, Marriage