The Lived Sexual Body and a New Evangelism

Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed posted Evangelicalism's obituary a few weeks ago. In a brief text message exchange at the time I wrote to him: "So you are giving up on the term "evangelical?' I was surprised to read that today. I don't think I can do that yet, though I totally agree with your assessment." He replied, "It means GOP." I didn't, but, in agreeing, I could have also added "and nearsighted on human sexuality."

I then went on to argue in a few lines that we can't abandon this beautiful, rich, biblical, gospel of the kingdom term. There is no better term to capture God's work of love and care for the world.

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I wrote, "You can't jump from the evangelical ship! You are The Godfather of evangelical awesome!" - that was great line if I do say so my self! The conversation moved on to Yankees and Cubs and that was it. 

I am now more willing, a few days later, to join in the pronouncement American evangelicalisms death. But "we are not like those who have no hope!" Just as I can say, Hallelujah, Christ is Risen!

So also, I can say, the Gospel of the King is good news again!

Evangelicalism is good news for our world! I have good news. And I want to tell others about the news, I desire others to follow Jesus, to cherish Scripture and live into its canonical story, to embrace the self-giving work of Christ, and to be enlisted into the work of "goodnews-ing" the world through deeds and words.

 Evangelical means a call to a vocation to be "Christ for others." 

Only those who’s ultimate standard is not his reason, his principles, conscience, freedom, or virtue; only the one who is prepared to sacrifice all of these when, in faith and in relationship to God alone, he is called to obedient and responsible action . . . founded in a God who promises forgiveness and consolation to the one who on account of such action becomes a sinner.
— "After Ten Years," Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In the recent book, Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality, I wrote an essay called "Bent Sexuality and the Pastor." It stood a bit apart from the others in its attempt to problematize so-called biblical and Christian sexuality in light of our brokenness and trauma. You might say it's grounded in a robust "already-not yet" theological anthropology. 

I am vocally critical  - even, God forbid, to the point of strong emotion [can't have that!] - of some traditionalists, particularly one segment of American Evangelicalism, now collected around the Nashville Statement, and some of whom have contributed to this volume. My embodied aversion to this approach is what I see as it's near complete myopia related to the complex nature of our sexual body. The sexual body, both our own and other’s, is bent irreparably until Jesus makes all things new. I oppose what I see as a selective application to the sexual body of an unbiblical over-realized eschatology, not possessing a theological anthropology rooted in a New Testament alteady-not yet. 

I’m ill at ease in both the “traditionalist” and the “affirming” positions, as they have galvanized into impenetrable fortified city-states within the region formerly known as evangelicalism; these now are labels of gospel orthodoxy for defining faithful identity. I’m an affirmational traditionalist or, if you prefer, a traditional affirmationalist. Whatever! Seriously?!

And even if I were to concede that theoretically or abstractly or idealisticly total repair in our human life before new creation was possible through the "merits and mediation of Jesus" - that wonderful Anglican phrase, we are so egregiously self-delusional and lacking self-awareness that we are incapable of both naming and repenting of degree of the angle of our individual and communal sexual bentness to survive God's judgment. 

But what a wonderful, even scandalous, reality the Gospel is! God's kindness, his patience with us, and attention to us is always and ever present until we reach eternity. Whatever the healing of our sexual body might encompass in this life, it will only every be partial. And it will only be realized because we have come to know God's limitless kindness and inexhaustible patience through the care, attention and contempt-free curiosity of the church. 

I am also critical of affirming advocates who redefine the gender of the sexual body such that its redefinition is detached from body. While qualification absolutely needs to be injected into the overly ordered gender binary of male and female, given the presence of real live humans who don't fit the structure and who are nevertheless made in God's image, I reject any attempt to abstract gender from the concrete sexual body. I might add however that I also think much of what is labeled as either male or female today has little to do with a biblical gender identity.

I pray that what will come of the battle over and against the sexual body within the church ultimately will be a new community of Jesus followers - perhaps a new evangelicalism (a people of good news), who outright reject the war. And instead they form a volunteer body of new evangelical medics who, while taking fire from both sides of the battle lines, courageously and heroically build and defend a field hospital situated in the middle of no man's land between the battle trenches where human sexual bodies lay as casualties of war.

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In my heart and mind it is to this heroic and dangerous endeavor that Jesus calls true disciples today - those who are biblicists, crucicentrists, conversionists, and activists - "at the dawn of the twenty-first century;" I'm "persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means" venturing courageously into the no man's land between the two warring armies to care, attend, lament and love where the collateral damage from the weapons of warfare have left the vulnerable terribly wounded, pinned down, isolated and resourceless.