Way back when, I started a series of posts aimed at unraveling the two issues of “women in ministry” and GLBTQ relations in terms of the three post evangelical theological streams – Neo Reformed/the post Emergent Coalescence(pEC) and the Neo-Anabaptist Missional. I said that key to understanding how they each came down on these issues was understanding how sanctification, community and Scripture worked in each one.
Sanctification deals with the question of how salvation changes us, grows us, transforms us into Christ – personally and socially. I find the Neo-Reformed and pEC understandings on this inadeqaute. To over stereotype each one -the traditional evangelicals say that the Bible says A, you’re doing and desiring B, So Stop Doing B and go do A! Go and rely on the Holy Spirit to help you tell your body “no!” In relation to GLBT relations, this is the welcoming but not affirming position. Meanwhile, the pEC’s generally look more generously on desire (and science) and encourage its flourishing towards a concept of love and flourishing as modeled by Christ. In relation to GLBT relations, this is the welcoming and affirming position. In both cases, they ignore, even bypass, the body and the issue of desire. One says just have your mind conceptually learn the Bible and then tell your body what to do. The way in which your body is formed into desire and how deep that runs within the body, is ignored. The pEC approach ignores the body as well by saying its alright, desire is inherently good, so again learn conceptually what it means to use this desire to love and flourish in the world by learning about Jesus and then all will be well. Both are intensely cognitive (heavily indebted to modernist Cartesian subject). Though spiritual disciplines are present in both emerging post evangelical traditions, there is a stark lack of appreciation for the mortification of sin and of desire that goes hand in hand with the historic Anabaptist understanding of the role of suffering and discipleship. Have I mischaracterized? If so how?
The incarnation demands that God’s salvific work in Christ is intended for real live bodies. God in Christ took our human flesh so seriously He entered into it and subordinated Himself to it in order to redeem it (Phil 2). Thd incarnation demands we acknowledge that our bodies are both good as created (as the pEC’s do) and disordered (as traditional Neo Reformed do). We acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves. We do not always know which parts of our desires are good and which have been corrupted. We are broken. We have to enter the process of the way of Jesus Himself, the way of death and resurrection, of baptism into the new order (2 Cor 17-21) in submission to God to even know what that might look like. This order of salvation is not aimed at any one desire, all are invited in for the renewal in the resurrected life. Yet it seems to me the basis for entering into this Kingdom transformation is the subordination of our entire selves into the cross and resurrection. Desire and the KIngdom cannot be separated (Gal 5:16-26). In other words, it requires the subordination of all desire together for the sake of the world. This is the welcoming and mutually transforming position. In this process, there will be desire that will have to be put to death, there will be desire that can be received as is and given to God for His flourishing, and there will be desire that inherently is good but needs reformation into the fuller purposes of God in life and mission.
I admit this way of sanctification is an affront to the GLBTQ populations. So my question is simply …
Can anyone enter the redemption of the new creation in Christ apart from submitting all desire to Christ for His purposes? On what basis might we withhold any desire in our entire beings from submission to Christ?
By “desire” of course, I am not talking only about sexual desire. (I admit I have been influenced by the analysis of desire so prevalent in postmodern critical theorists). I am talking about all levels of desire: greed, lust for power and ego, and of course sexual desire. When I say “ anyone” I include myself, and first and foremost any who are in positions of power. I admit that I cannot see how the Mission of God can be advanced apart from this kind of spiritual formation. For so many (not all!!) of our desires, formed and shaped within advanced capitalism, work against the Mission of God. I am of course talking about consumerist desires by which we desire many strange things (like a BMW) as identity markers. So powerful are the market shapers of desire, I am 100% convinced that the way money forms us, the way power in multiple settings forms us, and of course the way sexuality has been formed via the consumptive politics of the West, cannot be escaped apart from the subordination of all desire into the death and resurrection of Christ. Within these structures of formation are of course all the horrific ways we have been abused, victimized and shaped to believe this too is the way things are. All of these resulting formations misshape us in ways we fundamentally are unaware of (the Freudian hypothesis).
FOR ALL THESE REASONS I DON’T BELIEVE THOSE OF US WHO ARE MISSIONALLY MINDED, I.E. SEEKING TO ENGAGE OUR EMBODIED CONTEXTS FOR THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE GOSPEL, CAN AVOID THE ISSUE OF DESIRE! At this point it simply is not about the specific cases of GLBT peoples among us. There are multitudes among us never mind so many more around us, who have been victims of multitudinous forms of sexual abuse and societal sexual malformation. Many of us have learned sexuality is the most perverse of ways. It seems that the alternative two post evangelical streams have little to offer those caught in the darkside of sexual desire – deep patterns of behavioral abuse, patterns of objectifying or being objectified, pedophilia, pornography. This is not heterosexual, G,L,B.T or Q. The reality is “THIS IS US.” If we would take on the redemption of the incarnate Christ, if we would minister incarnationally among the largest social psycho problems of our day, we must be able to invite those lost in these various ways into the process of death to life, dying and being resuurected to new life, as in Rom 6-8. For this is about more than personal sexual preference, this is the shaping of a way of being together, a politic of sexual redemption we bring to the world in Christ who came into the world in the flesh.
I see three objections to inviting our GLBTQ brothers and sisters into this kind of community of sexual redemption. They might say:
1.) This is a power play … I respond that Jesus and entire NT insists that those in power will be the first ones in line.
2.) This is a pre-judgement …I respond that there is no judgment, no discerning possible until we first love, trust and care so much for one another that we might be able to both know each other, speak truth and be humble to simply be used by the Spirit in each others’ lives.
3.) This denies who I am– created by God to be. I respond that we join in the making of all things new. Some desires may be restored, some be put to death entirely others transformed … We cannot know who or what we will be in Christ, only that our identity be found more truthful in Him.
All this requires a community, a unique incredible community of incarnational redemption and missional disposition in the world. In the end, this is what I think is most important. All the talking, blogging will convince no one. We must embiody a new way of sexual redemption in the world that is as compelling as the gospel we proclaim. This will be the subject of my next post on this subject.
With that, I open it up these questions to your comments.For the Neo-Reformed and pEC, tell me where I have this wrong. How do you deal with desire in your understanding of salvation?
Brad Sargent has done a marvelous job responding to my posts. See his work here.