Sunday, March 31, 2013

live orthodoxy

Richard F. Lovelace in Dynamics of Spiritual Life:

“The main condition of spiritual life, according to 1 John 1, is fellowship with God; and the prerequisite for communion with God is ‘walking in the light,’ which may be defined as an honest heart awareness of the truth about the condition of one’s life and the truth of God’s grace, which both covers sin and provides a dynamic of sanctifying transformation. Live orthodoxy is found not among those who wave the flag of commitment to biblicism but among those who live in this focused spotlight of applied biblical truth.”

gay marriage and the slippery slope

Robin Phillips addresses the slippery slope issue related to so called gay-marriage.

If there is anything defenders of gay ‘marriage’ hate, it is ‘slippery slope’ arguments. The notion that gay ‘marriage’ is objectionable because of where it could lead is an argument automatically presumed to be invalid and unworthy of serious consideration.

Not too long ago a friend and I were having a friendly debate about gay ‘marriage’ and I pointed out that as soon as gay ‘marriage’ is legalized, countless other perversions will follow in its wake. My friend looked over at me, and said with a smile, “You do know, don’t you, that it’s a fallacy to make slippery slope arguments?”

Well, I guess I never got the memo.

It is true that when defenders of traditional marriage used to warn about the dire consequences that would follow same-sex ‘marriages’, their arguments were rather speculative, sometimes wildly so. That is why I have never found it very useful to warn that same-sex ‘marriage’ will lead to people wanting to marry their bicycles or dogs.

Over the last few years, however, it has become unnecessary to make speculative slippery-slope arguments because we have already started down the slippery slope.

Gay Marriage is Just the Beginning
By surveying what has been happening in those nations that have already legalized gay ‘marriage’, we begin to get a picture of the slippery-slope the world has already started descending down. Consider only a few examples which might be easily multiplied:

After legalizing same-sex ‘marriage’, the Netherlands began giving legal recognition to ‘threesomes.’ The women Bianca (31) and Mirjam (35) are both bisexual and have a sexual relationship with each other in addition to having a sexual relationship with their joint ‘husband’, the heterosexual Victor de Bruijn (46)
As more nations jump on the gay ‘marriage’ bandwagon, we should expect to see many other perversions introduced. Gay ‘marriage’ is just the beginning of a slippery slope towards sexual anarchy. (This does not even include the slippery slope towards totalitarianism, as gay ‘marriage’ leads to more and more freedoms being eroded. That is a different topic and one which I have addressed in my article ‘Will the Real Enemies of Liberty Please Stand up’ and ‘Gay Marriage Threatens Civil Liberties.’)

But why is this? Why does same-sex ‘marriage’ lead to these other perversions almost as night follows day? In order to properly answer this question, we must consider the logic behind same-sex ‘marriage.’

The Logic of Same-Sex ‘Marriage’

The campaign to change the definition of marriage revolves around certain principles which, once accepted, have wide ramifications in a host of other areas.

This became evident last year when the government of Britain released its consultation paper on same-sex ‘marriage.’ They continually presented the issue in terms of ‘equal access.’ In their simplistic and philosophically unsophisticated way, the issue was a straightforward question of fairness.

However, if we accept that the principle of equality means that same-sex couples should be entitled to the same rights as married couples (including the right to call their union a ‘marriage’), then in order to be logically consistent we would also have to say that a definition of marriage which includes both heterosexual and same-sex unions, yet excludes unions with animals or multiple partners, is also failing to provide equal protection under the law to someone or other. Indeed, if someone is bisexual, then in order for their sexuality to be fully expressed, their ‘marriage’ must include a minimum of at least one person from each sex. Thus, the argument that we should not discriminate based on sexual orientation, if carried to its logical conclusion, necessitates ‘threesomes’ at least.

The point is that any new definition of marriage the state may wish to impose on the public necessarily opens the door to an endless series of redefinitions in years to come. Unless the term ‘marriage’ is allowed to collapse into complete vacuity, it must include certain types of unions and exclude others. This is a point that most people accept, for most advocates of gay ‘marriage’ are still opposed to broadening the definition of marriage to include perversions such as polygamous unions, threesomes, bestiality or incestuous relationships. Nevertheless, it will become increasingly hard to argue against such exclusions once the logic behind calls for gay ‘marriage’ is accepted.

Remember, the main argument being used by the homosexual lobby is that of equal access. They are asserting that it is wrong in principle to exclude any two people from the institution of marriage if the two people love each other and desire to be married. As British MP Maria Miller said in her forward to the British government’s response to their consultation on same-sex ‘marriage’:
“Marriage is also an institution which has a history of continuous evolution…. So marriage in the 21st century is an inclusive, not exclusive, institution. It is available to all those over 16 who are prepared to make vows of life-long fidelity and commitment. Except, that is, if you happen to love someone of the same sex. This simply cannot be right.”
If Miss Miller’s logic isn’t an invitation to start down the slippery slope, then it’s hard to know what is. If marriage is to be a truly “inclusive” institution, then why choose 16 as an arbitrary age? Or again, if marriage is to be truly inclusive rather than exclusive, then is it really fair to limit marriage to a minimum of two people? If “love has no gender”, then why should it have a number? Or again, if the goal is to make marriage inclusive rather than exclusive, why are we not being consistent and calling for a removal of the ‘ban’ on brothers and sisters getting married?

Such questions, once dismissed as conservative scare-mongering, will soon be as much a part of the public debate as gay ‘marriage’ is now, for once you start down the slippery slope, it is hard to stop.

Doing the Family Thing

Another principle which is fundamental to advocates of same-sex ‘marriage’ is that love creates the sufficient conditions for a marriage and a family, irrespective of gender. Essentially, it is the ethic of the Sesame Street song ‘Doing the Family Thing’:

Any group of people
Living together
And loving each other
Are doing the family thing…

It doesn’t really matter
Just who you’re living with
If there’s love you’re a family too…

A family can be
What it wants to be
‘Cause there’s all different leaves
On the family tree
And there’s all different types
Of families
Who are living together
And loving each other
Are doing the family thing
Doing the family thing
Doing the family
Doing the family thing

If love is all that makes a family, then where do you draw the line? Marcia Segelstein raised some disconcerting questions about this in her recent Salvo article, ‘Family Skewed: When the Needs of Children Are Secondary to the Desires of Adults, Guess Who Keeps Losing?
But why stop at two? In 2007, a state superior court panel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, ruled that a child can have three legal parents. The case involved two lesbians, both legal parents of two children who were conceived using a friend’s sperm. The panel determined that all three were liable for child support. All three were the child’s legal parents. There have been similar rulings in Canada, and this year the California legislature approved a bill allowing judges to declare more than two parents for some children there. While Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, asking for time to consider all of its implications, activists have already promised to try again. 
Speaking of more than two, the question of polygamy also looms. As the push for same-sex marriage continues, some legal analysts and other experts see polygamy as the next marriage battlefront. In a 2006 Newsweek article called Polygamists Unite!, one activist called polygamy “the next civil rights battle. . . . If Heather can have two mommies, she should also be able to have two mommies and a daddy.” 
From a legal point of view, it may be difficult to defend current laws against polygamy, given the success of the gay marriage movement…. 
Dr. Michelle Cretella, vice president of the American College of Pediatricians…describes yet another variation in the brave new world of family and parenting: the “bothies” movement. Similar to co-parenting, this configuration specifically involves a lesbian mom and a gay dad having a child together. The case of Bevan Dufty, a well-known gay rights activist, and lesbian Rebecca Goldfader made big news in San Francisco a few years ago when they decided to have a child together and share parental responsibilities. According to a story in the Bay Area Reporter, “both envision[ed] that their long-term partners would have parental roles and rights as well.” The piece went on to say that, according to the executive director of Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE), the group “has several member kids known as ‘bothies,’ meaning they have two gay dads and two gay moms. Some of those families began as four-way agreements.”

wilson on same sex envy

Allow me to start with my conclusion so that when I wind up there at the end, there will be no surprises. The same sex marriage crusade has nothing whatever to do with what people can do sexually in private, and it has everything to do with what you will be allowed to say about it in public. We are not talking about whether private homosexual behavior will be penalized, but whether public opposition to homosexual behavior will be penalized. Further, there is only one effective response to this, which is the cross of Jesus Christ.

When I have made this point before, the comeback is always something like, "No, no, you Christians will still have the guaranteed right of free speech . . . honest." And if you believe that, I have this Cypriot bank account I would like to open up for you . . . it's insured.

The words may sound reassuring but they have the significant disadvantage of being false. Bunyan's Faithful had a good hunch.
"Then it came burning hot in my mind, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave."
Some of the things that IQ tests throw at you are questions that mark your ability in pattern recognition. One of the reasons that evangelical Christians fail so miserably in these cultural IQ tests we keep taking is because of precisely that failing -- we don't do pattern recognition well at all. Patterns remind us of that legalistic church we grew up in. Not only can we not see the pattern, we think it might be a sin to think that there could be a pattern. In fact, we are so bad at it that Lucy has pulled away our football a hundred times, and we don't even know that she is doing that. At least Charlie Brown knew the potential problem coming up.

In this relativistic age, we are solemnly assured that there are certain things off the table. No, we would never go for that. Do you remember what they were telling you ten years ago? What would we never go for then? Twenty years? No, no, they say, patting our hands reassuringly. Polygamy? Out of the question. Incest? No way! Pedophilia? Beyond the pale. Bestiality? Don't be a sicko.

But then, while the battle over "consenting adults with same-sex marriages, adorned with lasting and mature life-long commitments" is still onging, comes now Victoria's Secret with a new line for teen-agers -- "Bright Young Things." These jailbait undies had messages on them like "Feeling Lucky?" and "Call Me." Our family was talking about this last night and Nate said they should actually have messages like "Don't touch this, Uncle Earl."

So we really need to work on pattern recognition. We would see it if we thought about it, but we don't want to think about it because that makes us realize that we might have to demonstrate courage some time soon in our lives. But think about it. What will you be ridiculed for opposing ten years from now? What will you be a "hater" for in 2023? Anybody who thinks that the sexual revolution is about to realize all its goals within the next year or two, and then we will all settle down in peaceful democratic harmony, is someone who probably ought to have their car keys taken away.

This is Good Friday. This the day that we mark the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus. This day was the day He spread His arms out wide to gather up the sin of the world. And at the festering center of that great mass of sin, we find putrid sin of envy. Envy bites and spits, and wants nothing to do with the way of holiness. But Jesus still died, and with Him we see the conquest of envy. Jesus died so that envy might die. Jesus died so that envy will die.

Because we in the Church have faltered in preaching, really preaching, the substitutionary, vicarious death of Christ on the cross, we have seen a great resurgence of envy in our day. It is the sin that is driving all these overwhelming cultural challenges that face us. This sin is at the heart of all of it. We are bad at federal math because we want somebody else to pay their "fair share." We want homos to be able to marry because of a thirsting envy that thinks it can be slaked with something as absurd as the label "marriage." We butcher children because we envy the lifestyles of those who are unemcumbered with having to care for little ones.

Envy is not the entire old man, but it is an essential organ of his. Take away a man's liver and the man dies. Take away the old man's envy, and he will die too -- and will rise a new man in Christ.

Protective legislation is something that envy will always demand, but when the legislation is passed and signed, the unhappy ache is still there. So then there will be legislation against anyone who dares point out that the ache is still there. He must be shut up, for how can we have a true democracy with all these haters running around loose? So we can call two men in the sack together "married," and we can police any hate speech that might hint otherwise. But there is one thing we cannot do. We cannot take those two men and turn one of them into a woman, and make the other one a man who wants tobe with a woman. And so the ache and self-loathing will only ramp up further.

Yes, yes, I know . . . there are surgeons who claim to be able to make one of them a woman, and this is yet another testimony to how far envy will go. Just as the priests of Baal cut themselves with knives, so the acolytes of Envy hire the surgical knives. But all they can do is mutilate a man and call it woman. Yes, and some of these men even arrive at this state of mutilated masculinity, call themselves women, and then promptly become lesbians. Envy likes to toy with its prey before the final devouring.

This is why there is no simple political solution for the peculiar kind of frenzy that has got us all by the throat. America needs to come to Jesus. By this I mean that America needs to come to the divine Son of God who became a man for us, and who lived a perfect, sinless life on our behalf, who went to the cross -- as we mark on this day -- was buried in a cold sepulchre, and who rose again from the dead, and all in accordance with the Scriptures, which cannot be broken.

Unless and until we do that, we will continue to be confounded by the differences between red ink and black ink, men and women, children and lumps of tissue. We have been struck with a judicial blindness, and the only one who can heal our sight is the Lord Jesus. Pray that He walks to the very center of our country, Nebraska say, pray that He spits on the ground there, and applies the mud to our eyes. Far better that than the mud we have been applying to everything else.

But change the metaphor. America needs to know that when Jesus comes to our house, He will go through all of the rooms and throw many of our most precious things out. But the first place He will go is down into the basement to find that ramshackle cardboard kennel where we keep that semi-domesticated sewer rat Envy. We always used to go down there in the evening and feed it the delicacies of spite we gathered during the course of the day. But when Jesus goes down there, knife in hand, it will not be to feed it anything. We should really get accustomed to the sound of that squealing we hear, because when the reformation comes, there will be a lot of it.

of first importance

Al Mohler writes:

The Christian faith is not a mere collection of doctrines — a bag of truths. Christianity is a comprehensive truth claim that encompasses every aspect of revealed doctrine, but is centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, as the apostolic preaching makes clear, the gospel is the priority.

The Apostle Paul affirms this priority when he writes to the Christians in Corinth. In the opening verses of1 Corinthians 15, Paul sets out his case:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Paul points directly to the events of the cross and resurrection of Christ. He is not concerned with just any gospel, but with the only gospel that saves. This is “the gospel I preached to you,” Paul reminds the Corinthians. The same Paul who so forcefully warned the Galatians against accepting any false gospel reminds the church at Corinth that the very “gospel I preached to you” is the gospel “by which you are being saved.” Their stewardship of the gospel is underlined in Paul’s words, “if you hold fast to the word I preached to you.”

Paul’s statement of priority is a vital corrective for our confused times. Without hesitation, Paul writes with urgency about the truths that are “as of first importance.” All revealed truth is vital, invaluable, life-changing truth to which every disciple of Christ is fully accountable. But certain truths are of highest importance, and that is the language Paul uses without qualification.

And what is of first importance? “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,” and “that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” The cross and the empty tomb stand at the center of the Christian faith. Without these, there is no good news — no salvation.

Paul gets right to the heart of the matter in setting out those truths that are “of first importance.” Following his example, we can do no less. These twin truths remain “as of first importance,” and no sermon is complete without the explicit affirmation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So it was then, so it is now, and so it ever shall be until Christ claims his church.

As Paul reminded the Corinthians — and now instructs us — the gospel is at the center of our faith, and the cross and the empty tomb are at the center of the gospel. “So we preach, and so you believed,” Paul encourages us. [1 Cor. 15:11]

May the power of the cross and the victory of the empty tomb fill every pulpit, every pew, and every Christian heart — and may the Good News of the gospel be received with joy by sinners in need of a Savior.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:56-58]

the victor

It is not possible, wonderful Lord,
to express in human speech
the depths of our gratitude to God
for the preciousness of the hope we have in our Lord Jesus,
the Conqueror of death, of the grave, of hell;
the Victor who stands mighty to save.

O Lord,
our lives, our hearts, our souls flow to You.
May God give us strength and length of days to praise You;
then in the eternity to come,
to share in the angels’ song
and the saints’ paean of love and gratitude,
oh what God has done for us!

- W. A. Criswell

Saturday, March 30, 2013

loaded with lies

Ryan T. Anderson on Piers Morgan. Wow - listen to the vitriol and bad logic coming from Orman ...

burk on the debate

This week has been a watershed moment for the fortunes of marriage in our culture. I’ve been following the discussion with great interest, including listening to oral arguments that were made before the Supreme Court on Tuesday and Wednesday (here and here).

Without question, the most significant thing that I have noticed in debates both inside and outside the Court has been the utter lack of moral argument. This was brought home in spades on Wednesday when Justice Elena Kagan highlighted a statement made by the House Judiciary Committee in 1996 when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed. Here are the critical lines:
Civil laws that permit only heterosexual marriage reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality. This judgment entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality, moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.
As you can see, the statement is unambiguously moral. In fact, it renders a moral judgment on homosexuality that would be almost unheard of in contemporary political discourse.

The 1996 statement draws a sharp contrast with the debates we’ve been hearing this week—debates that have been evacuated of any trace of moral argument about homosexuality. It is clear that Kagan counts such moral judgments as out of bounds, and of course proponents of gay marriage would agree. But what has struck me this week is that traditional marriage proponents seem to have conceded the point as well. Thus no one on either side of the question ever seems to raise the issue of the moral status of homosexual acts. This is a major shift in our national conversation about marriage, and it happened in less than twenty years.

It’s easy to understand why gay marriage proponents would resist arguments about the moral status of homosexuality. They consider the matter settled in favor of their view. But why have traditional marriage supporters ceded that ground? And is it proper for them to do so?

Take Ryan Anderson’s appearance on the Piers Morgan program earlier this week. Anderson did a fine job of making the case for marriage in a very hostile context. But did you notice that he made no argument concerning the nature of homosexuality itself? He presented a typical natural law case for marriage, arguing for the intrinsic link between heterosexual marriage, procreation, and child-rearing. But he made no mention–even on natural law grounds– that heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality. Why not?

There seems to be a strategic calculation that the case for marriage must be made in the public space on exclusively non-religious grounds. Albert Mohler argues that this approach is a strategic mistake and a failure of principle. I agree with him. Here’s why.

Let me say first of all that I consider Ryan Anderson to be one of the good guys. He is a stalwart leader in the cause to keep traditional marriage privileged in law. He is the co-author of What Is Marriage?, and he has been front and center this week making the case before millions of Americans. Moreover, he has taken his lumps this week for speaking out. If you don’t believe me, just take a gander at the ill-treatment he received at the hands of Piers Morgan and Suze Orman. He bears a reproach for the stand that he has taken, and I want to share that reproach with him.

But I do want to question the wisdom of making the case for marriage on purely amoral and non-religious grounds. And on this point I’m thinking particularly of how Christians engage this issue in the public square. As the public space for holding forth Christian views shrinks, does it really make sense to contract Christian moral reasoning in order to fit the smaller space? If we do that, will we not be surrendering the very aspects of our message still powerful enough to provoke the moral imagination of the people we are trying to persuade? Will it not seem disingenuous and evasive for us to ignore the elephant in the room?

Let’s face it. The primary reality shaping the contemporary debate is a moral judgment about homosexuality. Related to that is the fact that public opinion has shifted dramatically concerning the moral status of homosexuality. Seventeen years ago, the House Judiciary Committe could call it immoral with absolutely no controversy. Now only seventeen years later, such a statement would be considered by many in our country as hateful, bigoted, and beyond the bounds of rational discourse. The proponents of gay marriage know that this shift has taken place, and they enter this debate with the cultural winds at their backs.

Is it not the role of Christians to stand athwart this prevailing culture? Is it not the very definition of being salt and light to do so (Matt. 5:13-14)? We cannot faithfully bear witness to the Christian story without also telling how human sexuality and marriage fit into it. That means that even those who make exclusively natural law arguments will have to bring focus upon what the natural law has to say about sexualmorality. The natural law speaks not only to the links between marriage and childrearing but also to the morality of the sexual act itself. We can hardly speak of the former without also explaining the latter.

It also means that Christians must be willing to move beyond the publicly assessable arguments of natural law to the specific witness of Christian revelation. It is not legitimate for Christians to suspend indefinitely their Christian witness when they enter the public space. If suspending that witness indefinitely becomes the terms for getting a place at the table, then we may need to forfeit our seat. At the end of the day, we must be willing to go to Jesus outside the camp and bear his reproach (Heb. 13:13). If we fail to do that, we’ve lost the debate no matter how many people may be compelled by our eloquent appeals to reason and natural law.

I am not saying that we should drop natural law arguments in favor of biblical ones. This is not an either/or thing. It’s a both/and thing. We’ve got to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. That means that we press both natural law and biblical arguments as far as they go. And in doing so, we must never leave behind the fact that our views on these matters are fundamentally moral in nature. That message may marginalize us in some contexts. But isn’t that what it means to count the cost of following Christ? (Luke 14:27-28)


So where was Jesus on this day way back then? Here's Mark Discoll's stab at it in simple, non-technical language.

Where did Jesus go after he died on Friday and before he rose from death on Sunday?

One of the primary passages that speaks to Jesus’ whereabouts after his death and before his resurrection is 1 Peter 3:18–19, which reads (italics mine):

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.

The phrase in verse 19, “in which,” is debated by some, but it seems to refer to the Spirit mentioned at the end of verse 18. Jesus went “in” or “by means of” the Spirit (in his resurrected state, as I’ll argue below).

Beyond this we are left with a lot of questions, ones that have been discussed endlessly since early in the church’s history. For us, though, the most pressing issues on which everything else hangs are where and when Christ went and preached, and the identity of the “spirits in prison” to whom he preached.

Because the language is so strange here, it’s not surprising that there have been a lot of different views on what is going on (over 180, last I checked). Though there has been a host of suggestions offered in understanding this passage, I believe we can boil them down to just three categories, which even have variations within them.[i]

I have previously addressed these three different categories at great length. For the sake of brevity, I would like to share with you what I believe is the best explanation of this passage, which answers the question, “Where did Jesus go on Saturday?”


One view of 1 Peter 3:19, which I adhere to, suggests that Jesus, between his death and resurrection, descended into the place of the dead. This place is often referred to as Hades, which is where the dead are held until they’re judged and thrown into hell, which is the second death (Rev. 20:11–15; cf. Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 21:8).

To say that Jesus descended to the place of the dead is not the same as saying he descended to hell. The idea of Jesus descending to hell between his death and resurrection is rooted the early church doctrine of the “Harrowing of Hell” found in the Apostles’ Creed (though the originality of the phrase has been questioned). Though some that adhere to this view believe that Jesus descended to hell, not everyone who holds to this view believes so (such as Calvin).

For those that disagree, like myself, they look no further than to Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross when he told him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Hell has been called many things, but I don’t believe Paradise is one of them. This is why I don’t believe Jesus descended into hell.


One is that Jesus preached to the spirits of the people who disobeyed in the days of Noah. This preaching was either a chance to repent or a proclamation of victory over these wicked people (both are legitimate uses of the word “preach”). While the idea that people after death are given a chance to repent contradicts other Scripture (Luke 16:26; 1 Peter 1:17; Heb. 9:27) the idea that Christ proclaimed victory over these people is still possible. This leads us to the second variation of this view.

Another variation of this view is that Jesus’ proclamation to the “spirits in prison” was to the Old Testament saints, especially those who lived during “days of Noah,” who looked forward to His arrival to die, take away their sins, and open up heaven. John Calvin is a known proponent of this view, as well as many others.There are a few reasons why I see support for this position too.

First, in Luke 16, Jesus describes a holding place for those that die as believers or unbelievers. What we see observe is that the rich man who died ended up in Hades, whereas Lazarus “was carried by the angles to Abraham’s side” (Luke 16:22). At this time heaven and hell have not been opened and the people in these different places of holding are waiting for either salvation or damnation. This is the prison I believe Peter is referring to.

Second, we read in Ephesians 4:8–10 that Jesus descended and ascended. It is said of his ascension that “he led a host of captives” with him (quotation from Psa. 68). When Jesus opened heaven by his ascension, he took the Old Testament saints with him.

I believe that when Jesus went and proclaimed to the “spirits in prison” it was a victorious proclamation that those in both Abraham’s side and Hades heard. Those waiting in Abraham’s side heard his message and followed him to heaven, whereas those waiting in Hades heard it as a means of condemnation and now await the final judgment where they’ll be sentenced to hell (Rev. 20:11–15; cf. Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 21:8).

That being said, this view isn’t without its problems either. There are three difficulties with this position. First, the verb in the passage is “went” and not “went down” or “descended”. Also, the text never says where exactly the prison is located. Second, the idea also must account for the same issue as the first view that “spirits” typically refers to supernatural beings, not human spirits. Although this is the case, the grammatical range of pneuma does not exclude the possibility that the verb can refer to human spirits (Acts 7:59; Heb. 12:23). Third, as already mentioned, the surrounding text appears to refer most naturally to a time after the resurrection, not between death and resurrection. Like in the first view, though, none of the problems are completely fatal. On the one hand, it could be argued that a traditional theological doctrine (Christ’s descent into hell) has influenced the reading in some ways here. But, on the other hand, it could be argued the other way, too: the church based its position on texts like this one.


Where and what Jesus did after his death and before his resurrection may never be settled this side of heaven. No position is crystal clear. They all have strengths and weaknesses. In non-essential matters as these, we need to hold them with an open hand and not a clinched fist ready to punch someone in a theological sparring match.

This post is adapted from Pastor Mark’s original post, “Tough Text Thursday: 1 Peter 3:19.” Like posts like this? Check out the whole Tough Text Thursday series on

[i] Bandstra, Andrew J., “Making Proclamation to the Spirits in Prison: Another Look at 1 Peter 3:19,” Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 38, Issue 1, 2003. 120–124.

Friday, March 29, 2013

expiation and propitiation

When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I’m often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don’t use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren’t sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words.

Expiation and Propitiation

Let’s think about what these words mean, then, beginning with the word expiation. The prefix ex means “out of” or “from,” so expiation has to do with removing something or taking something away. In biblical terms, it has to do with taking away guilt through the payment of a penalty or the offering of an atonement. By contrast, propitiation has to do with the object of the expiation. The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him.

In a certain sense, propitiation has to do with God’s being appeased. We know how the word appeasement functions in military and political conflicts. We think of the so-called politics of appeasement, the philosophy that if you have a rambunctious world conqueror on the loose and rattling the sword, rather than risk the wrath of his blitzkrieg you give him the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia or some such chunk of territory. You try to assuage his wrath by giving him something that will satisfy him so that he won’t come into your country and mow you down. That’s an ungodly manifestation of appeasement. But if you are angry or you are violated, and I satisfy your anger, or appease you, then I am restored to your favor and the problem is removed.

The same Greek word is translated by both the words expiation and propitiation from time to time. But there is a slight difference in the terms. Expiation is the act that results in the change of God’s disposition toward us. It is what Christ did on the cross, and the result of Christ’s work of expiation is propitiation—God’s anger is turned away. The distinction is the same as that between the ransom that is paid and the attitude of the one who receives the ransom.

Christ’s Work Was an Act of Placation

Together, expiation and propitiation constitute an act of placation. Christ did His work on the cross to placate the wrath of God. This idea of placating the wrath of God has done little to placate the wrath of modern theologians. In fact, they become very wrathful about the whole idea of placating God’s wrath. They think it is beneath the dignity of God to have to be placated, that we should have to do something to soothe Him or appease Him. We need to be very careful in how we understand the wrath of God, but let me remind you that the concept of placating the wrath of God has to do here not with a peripheral, tangential point of theology, but with the essence of salvation.

What is Salvation?

Let me ask a very basic question: what does the term salvation mean? Trying to explain it quickly can give you a headache, because the word salvation is used in about seventy different ways in the Bible. If somebody is rescued from certain defeat in battle, he experiences salvation. If somebody survives a life-threatening illness, that person experiences salvation. If somebody’s plants are brought back from withering to robust health, they are saved. That’s biblical language, and it’s really no different than our own language. We save money. A boxer is saved by the bell, meaning he’s saved from losing the fight by knockout, not that he is transported into the eternal kingdom of God. In short, any experience of deliverance from a clear and present danger can be spoken of as a form of salvation.

When we talk about salvation biblically, we have to be careful to state that from which we ultimately are saved. The apostle Paul does just that for us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where he says Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ultimately, Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. We simply cannot understand the teaching and the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth apart from this, for He constantly warned people that the whole world someday would come under divine judgment. Here are a few of His warnings concerning the judgment: “‘I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’” (Matt. 5:22); “‘I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment’” (Matt. 12:36); and “‘The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here’” (Matt. 12:41). Jesus’ theology was a crisis theology. The Greek word crisis means “judgment.” And the crisis of which Jesus preached was the crisis of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.

Therefore, Christ’s supreme achievement on the cross is that He placated the wrath of God, which would burn against us were we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ. So if somebody argues against placation or the idea of Christ satisfying the wrath of God, be alert, because the gospel is at stake. This is about the essence of salvation—that as people who are covered by the atonement, we are redeemed from the supreme danger to which any person is exposed. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God Who’s wrathful. But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about.

curse motif

RC Sproul on the curse motif of the atonement ...

Louie Giglio in Remembering the Silence (via) ...

On the Friday we call Good Jesus was the only one at the cross who could possibly die. Because he was the only living soul on Planet Earth. Jesus was alive when God’s love drove the nails our sins screamed out for into his hands and feet. Nails of love punctured flesh as blood so precious streamed down to the ground. A puddle of incomprehensible love soaking into the soil.

His innocence now gone he gasped and cried. Purity now covered in muck and shame. And when the sun fully scorched the beautiful bloom of grace Jesus could no longer suck in enough air to breathe. And finally his heart stopped beating.

In an instant all hell broke loose and darkness covered the moment as his lifeless mangled body hung for all the world to see. God’s undeniable expression.

I love you.

charismatic v. cessationist

Seemed like it would be fun to repost this ...

Q. How can you tell when you're at a cessationists party?
A. The pinata looks like Benny Hinn

Q. How can you tell when you're at a cessationist's baby shower?
A. Nobody brought any gifts.

Q. Why did the cessationist make an illegal U-Turn?
A. He didn't think the no U-Turn sign was for today.

Q. How can you tell when only cessationists come to your wedding?
A. Nobody signs the guest book, for fear of adding to what is already written.

Q. What do you call a charismatic at an auction?
A. Broke, because they'll buy anything.

Q. How many Pentecostals does it take to change a light bulb?
A. Ten. One to screw it in and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

Q. How many cessationists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A. None. Because God can providentially heal the broken bulb himself, but he must do it sovereignly without our help.

Q. What does a cessationist have in common with the Grinch?
A. They'd like to steal the gifts from those who are obsessed with them.

Q. Why did the charismatic run the red light?
A. Because God didn't tell her to stop, and she didn't see any stop signs.

Q. Why was the charismatic parked at the four-way stop?
A. Because the sign hadn't changed.

Q. How do the charismatic and cessationist both become millionaires?
A. Charismatics embezzle money and hire mean cessationists attorneys to argue their way out of jail.

gay marriage myths

Myth #1: Marriage is fundamentally a voluntary union of persons in a committed relationship

We tend to think of language as something posterior to thought. A thought comes into your mind and then you find the right words to express it. Anthropologists and neuroscientists are currently doing some fascinating work on the relationship between thought and speech and have discovered that things are a little more complicated. Speech does not merely proceed from our thoughts like a one-way street. Rather, researchers have been finding that there is also traffic flowing in the other direction: how we speak affects how we think about the world on a level that our conscious minds may never even be aware. As psychologist Lera Boroditsky put it in a Wall Street Journal articlesummarizing some of this research, “the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express”.

There are fascinating examples of this from all over the world, but the phenomenon is just as evident close to home. In the last forty years, we’ve seen how the way people speak about unborn children (i.e., calling them “foetuses” or “lumps of tissue” instead of babies) has had an unconscious effect on how so many people think about the ethics of abortion. Or again, how we think about homosexuality has been enormously influenced by pairing homosexuality with words that already had a positive semantic range, such as gay. In David Kupelian book The Marketing of Evil, he showed that these and many other language shifts did not just happen, but arose out of a deliberate strategy for changing the way Westerners perceive certain key issues.

By introducing changes in how we speak, the media often changes how we think.

The same thing is now occurring in the debate over same-sex marriage. Almost without anyone taking notice, our society has begun to talk about marriage as a voluntary union of persons in a committed relationship, rather than a union of a man and a woman. Never before has marriage been spoken about in this way and the implications are profound. Because of how the brain works, this shift in how we talk about marriage has been attendant to a shift in how we think about marriage. Unconsciously we begin wondering: if marriage is really the union of persons in a committed and loving relationship, why shouldn’t gay people be allowed to participate in this institution?

As same-sex marriage was discussed in the public discourse of various English-speaking countries (first Canada, then Britain, and now America), it was almost universally taken for granted not simply that marriage ought to refer to the union of persons, but that the essence of marriage always has been the union of persons. As a result, less and less people, even among the Christian community, understand marriage to be intrinsically and inviolably heterosexual.

Let’s consider what it would mean if marriage has always been the union of two persons, with the gender of those persons being accidental in an Aristotelian sense. We are then claiming that the union of a man and woman has always been a variant of the union of persons, that biology and the possibility of reproduction were never at the core of what marriage is but additions to it, that consummation was never central to the completion of a marriage since only practical when the “union of persons” happened to be members of the opposite sex, that “man and wife” were never something that made a relationship a marriage but were always a species of the genus “union of persons.”

The only problem with construing marriage in these terms is that this has never been how it was understood, even among cultures like ancient Rome which might have been most inclined to understand marriage as the union of persons. Those who take this view are thus pushed into the corner of having to acknowledge that throughout most of human history the laws, customs, culture and language built up around marriage was based on a misunderstanding of what marriage actually was, for until recently no one understood that marriage has actually always been the union of persons.

Fewer and fewer people, even among the Christian community, understand marriage to be intrinsically and inviolably heterosexual.

Now let’s be clear: the fact that marriage has never been understood as a union of persons does not itself prove the new concept to be faulty. However, at a minimum it does establish that it is a new concept, a novel definition that is discontinuous with the institution of marriage as it has been understood and practice for thousands of years. This is something the champions of gay marriage are reluctant to acknowledge, since their case for “equal access” depends on maintaining some degree of continuity with the norms of an existing institution. This pretence of continuity enables them to form their arguments in quantitative terms, as if they were merely expanding the pool of people who can get legally married, rather than qualitatively altering the very essence of what marriage is.

Myth #2: Gay marriage legislation would remove the ban on same-sex couples getting marriage

The issue of same-sex marriage is often framed in terms of a choice between either preventing or allowing gay people to get married. When the issue is framed in these terms, that is usually a good indication that the person has fallen victim to another key myth. The reality is that legislation to introduce gay marriage would not remove a ban on same-sex couples getting married because no such ban exists. There is no more of a ban on same-sex couples getting married then there is a ban on two-wheeled unicycles or square triangles. The very nature of what marriage is necessarily excludes same-sex unions.

Now government could always change the definition of marriage. However, as I pointed out in my earlier article, ‘Apples, Oranges and Gay Marriage‘, few people on the other side of the debate are upfront that this is what they are pushing for. Instead they will almost always frame the question in terms of giving same-sex couples access to an existing institution. The reality—which Douglas Farrow drew attention to in his book Divorcing Marriage—is that a ban on same-sex couples getting married only exists if you first start out by assuming that marriage is a union of persons rather than a union between a man and a woman. But to assume this is already to presuppose the conclusion of one side of the debate, which is why most arguments for same-sex marriage are ultimately circular.

There is more going on here than merely a lapse in logic. By framing the issue in terms of a supposed “ban” on same-sex marriage, the media has followed the gay-rights lobby in subtly altering the categories in which the debate is taking place. This is analogous to the way the media altered the terms of the abortion debate by deliberately framing the issue in terms of ‘choice.’

Myth #3: Gay marriage is the most tolerant option

Senator Rob Portman is among the growing contingent of Republicans who believe gay marriage to be the most tolerant option.

The small but growing wing of the Republican Party that supports same-sex ‘marriage’ is trying to package it within the context of a libertarian political philosophy. Senator Rob Portman reflected this move when he wrote, “We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives.”

The problem with this argument from liberty is not simply that it is false, although it is. The problem is that it is the exact opposite of the truth, as I have already suggested in my article ‘Will the Real Enemies of Liberty Please Stand Up!’ It is those who oppose same-sex marriage who are the true champions of liberty. Indeed, if gay “marriage” is ever legalized, it is likely to result in unprecedented restrictions on freedom of speech and even thought. This was a point that S. T. Karnick drew attention to back in 2008. The Director of research for The Heartland Institute pointed out that,
The issue, it’s important to remember, is not whether society will allow homosexuals to ‘marry.’ They may already do so, in any church or other sanctioning body that is willing to perform the ceremony. There are, in fact, many organizations willing to do so: the Episcopal Church USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Unity School of Christianity, the Unitarian Universalists, the Swedenborgian Church of North America, the Quakers, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and the United Church of Christ, among others. Such institutions either explicitly allow the consecration or blessing of same-sex ‘marriages’ or look the other way when individual congregations perform such ceremonies. 
No laws prevent these churches from conducting marriage ceremonies—and nearly all Americans would agree that it is right for the government to stay out of a church’s decision on the issue. Further, any couple of any kind may stand before a gathering of well-wishers and pledge their union to each other, and the law will do nothing to prevent them. Same-sex couples, or any other combination of people, animals, and inanimate objects, can and do ‘marry’ in this way. What the law in most states currently does not do, however, is force third parties—individuals, businesses, institutions, and so on—to recognize these ‘marriages’ and treat them as if they were exactly the same as traditional marriages. Nor does it forbid anyone to do so. 
An insurance company, for example, is free to treat a same-sex couple (or an unmarried two-sex couple) the same way it treats married couples, or not. A church can choose to bless same-sex unions, or not. An employer can choose to recognize same-sex couples as “married,” or not. As Richard Thompson Ford noted in Slate, ‘In 1992 only one Fortune 500 company offered employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners; today hundreds do.’ 
In short, individuals, organizations, and institutions in most states are currently free to treat same-sex unions as marriages, or not. This, of course, is the truly liberal and tolerant position. It means letting the people concerned make up their own minds about how to treat these relationships. But this freedom is precisely what the advocates of same-sex ‘marriage’ want to destroy; they want to use the government’s power to force everyone to recognize same-sex unions as marriages whether they want to or not. 
The effects of such coercion have already been felt in some places. Adoption agencies, for example, like any other organization, ought to be able to choose whether to give children to same-sex couples, or not. But in Massachusetts, where same-sex ‘marriage’ has been declared legal, these agencies have been forced to accept applications from same-sex couples or go out of business. 
What’s at issue here is not whether people can declare themselves married and find other people to agree with them and treat them as such. No, what’s in contention is whether the government should force everyone to recognize such ‘marriages.’ Far from being a liberating thing, the forced recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ is a governmental intrusion of monumental proportions.
Myth #4: Gay marriage will bring greater equality

Throughout this year there have been near-daily reports of prominent folks coming out for marriage “equality.” The basic idea is simple: if heterosexual couples can get married, isn’t it simple fairness that homosexual couples can also get married?

The idea that gay marriage will bring greater equality is a total myth. The reason it is a myth is because it is not true, and the reason it is not true is because it is based on a meaningless idea and only meaningful statements can have a truth value.

In order to demonstrate the meaningless of the above idea, I’d like to consider the nature of equality. In order for something to be equal, three things are necessarily required:

  1. Thing A
  2. Thing B to which A is equal
  3. Quality C that A and B share in common which renders them equal.

Consider the case of the pencil on my desk. I could say, “This pencil is equal to this pen with respect to its length” or I could say “this pencil is equal to my other pencil in respect to its pencil-ness.” Both of these statements are meaningful because the statements identify two objects that share a quality in common which renders them equal. But if I were to simply pick up the pencil and declare “This pencil is equal” or “this pencil brings equality”, I would be uttering a meaningless statement.

It is also meaningless to simply announce “gay marriage will bring equality” without specifying (A) that to which gay marriage is equal to, and (B) the quality shared in common by gay marriage and that to which it is equal. However, these variables are rarely identified.

The most obvious thing someone could say is that gay marriage will make homosexuals and heterosexuals equal with respect to the ability to marry. That is, both groups should have equal access to the institution of marriage.

The problem with this position is that it again assumes the myth that homosexuals are not allowed to marry. The reality is that no one is stopping homosexuals from getting married, since they are allowed to marry someone of the opposite sex. The fact that they do not want to do this is no more relevant to the question than whether the pope wants to marry. Just as it would be absurd to change the definition of marriage to include celibacy so that the Pope can have “equal access” to the institution, so it is absurd to change the definition of marriage so that homosexuals can begin to want access to it.

(As an interesting aside here is that for nearly all of human history, homosexuals would have been adverse to the idea of same-sex marriage. Gay scholars have often warned us not to assume that just because something works in a heterosexual context that it can therefore by transplanted into a homosexual context and still work. This is a fallacy they have referred to as the “error of heterocentrism.” Realizing that not all relationships are equal with each other, some homosexuals have been openly opposing same-sex ‘marriage.’)

Myth #5: Gay marriage will not undermine the traditional family

The Republicans who now support gay marriage have been keen to emphasize that it is consistent with “family values” and that it will strengthen rather than undermine the institution of marriage. Senator Rob Portman reflected this idea when he came out for gay marriage. During his CNN interview, Portman said he now accepted same-sex marriage “for reasons that are consistent with my political philosophy, including family values, including being a conservative who believes the family is a building block of society, so I’m comfortable there now.” Portman echoed these thoughts in his article for the Columbus Dispatch, saying,
“One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution…. the experience of the past decade shows us that marriage for same-sex couples has not undercut traditional marriage…. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society.”
It is, in fact, a myth that gay marriage will not undermine the traditional family. The reason this is a myth is because, once again, it is the exact opposite of the truth.

By making marriage simply the formalization of an intimate relationship between two adults, same-sex marriage does two things. First, it undermines the organic connection between marriage and child-bearing; second, it undermines the centrality of sex in marriage, including sexual faithfulness. Both of these things have profound ramifications for how we understand the relationship between the family and the state, ultimately undermining the integrity of the traditional family and, consequently, “family values.”

I take it as self-evident that gay marriage would undermine the organic connection between marriage and child-bearing, but how will it undermine the centrality of sex in marriage? The answer to this question has profound ramifications on the relationship between the family and the state.

A recurring theme in all the literature about gay marriage is that marriage is first and foremost a loving relationship, a bond of commitment and affection between two adults. It is first about the communion of souls in a committed and affectionate relationship and only secondarily about the acts those people might or might not perform with their bodies. You can find statements like this scattered throughout the gay and lesbian literature, and this is why I have argued elsewhere that same-sex marriage carries with it many Gnostic assumptions about the body.

The de-emphasis of the physical dimensions of marriage has resulted in the UK government announcing that the concept of consummation and non-consummation will be inapplicable to ‘marriages’ conducted by homosexuals. When the news surfaced that the government had decided that both consummation and adultery couldn’t be committed by two people of the same sex, many people puzzled at this, even though it was the logical outworking of the sex-less descriptions of “union” propagated amongst the agitators for gay marriage. You see, once our understanding of “union” in marriage is reduced to “a loving relationship between two committed adults”, then what two people do with their bodies becomes extrinsic rather than intrinsic to that union. But in that case, it is possible, in principle, for gay marriages to occur between two people who are celibate. By contrast, for a heterosexual marriage to be “consummated” (that is, to be a fully complete marriage), there is an act the husband and wife must perform with their bodies.

Now notice the difference between defining marriage as “A union between one man and one woman” vs. defining it as “a committed and loving relationship between two adults.” In the first definition, since “union” is implicitly understood to involve a sexual component, there is an empirical reality we can point to when establishing whether a relationship is really a marriage. But there is no corresponding empirical reality that can constitute what it means to be in a marriage regulated by the second definition. Indeed, a person might have a “committed and loving relationship” with any number of other persons without it being marriage. Because of this, the only way that a committed and loving relationship can be upgraded into marriage is if the state steps in and declares that relationship to be a marriage, in much the same way as the state might declare something to be a corporation or some other legal entity. By contrast, traditional marriages have and could exist without the state’s recognition because it is fundamentally a pre-political institution. Marriage is pre-political in the sense that it has intrinsic goods attached to it, not least of which is the assurance of patrimony and thus the integrity of inheritance. Such goods do not exist by the state’s fiat even though the state may recognize, regulate or protect them.

An imaginary example should make my meaning clear. If an unmarried man and a woman are shipwrecked on an island together with no one else around, and they decide to be husband and wife, it is meaningful to talk about them getting married and having a family even in the absence of a civil government. To be sure, a legitimate marriage almost always involves recognition by the wider community, but because the community is recognizing something that is existentially independent to itself, there can and have been situations in which the recognition of the community is posterior in time to the marriage itself. This is why the type of families created by traditional marriage have an a priori claim on the state. By contrast, one cannot say the same about two homosexual men or two homosexual women on an island who decide to get “married”. Without the mechanisms of the state to confer the status of marriage upon two members of the same sex, there are no acts that organically mark the relationship out as being marriage within a state of nature. Indeed, the philosophy behind same-sex marriage is one which makes both marriage and family entirely the construct, and therefore the province, of positive law.

The only way that a committed and loving relationship can be upgraded into marriage is if the state steps in and declares that relationship to be a marriage. Without the mechanisms of the state to confer the status of marriage upon two members of the opposite sex, there are no acts that organically mark the relationship out as being marriage within a state of nature.

Now let’s take my island scenario one step further and imagine a scenario involving three persons: a 35-year old man named George, an 18-year old girl named Mary, and a 40-year old man named Kevin. George and Mary have a sexual relationship with each other and perhaps they even have children, while George also enjoys a homosexual relationship with Kevin. Now, looking at this situation from the outside, there are a couple possibilities. One possibility is that George and Kevin are in a gay marriage, with Mary being their adoptive daughter whom George is pursuing an incestuous relationship with. But a second possibility would be that George and Mary are husband and wife, with George simply being unfaithful to Mary by having a relationship with another man (or even acting with Mary’s consent because she understands her husband’s bisexual urges). Now here’s the important point: without the state there to declare one of these relationships to be ‘marriage’, we simply can’t say which of these two options are correct. Looking at the situation from the outside, there is just no way to tell who is married to whom. Unlike heterosexual marriage, which has an existential fixity that can be recognized within a state of nature, gay marriage is meaningless without the mechanisms of government to legitimize it.

Someone may object to my example by pointing out that similar confusion would abound if there was a heterosexual married couple on the island and one of the spouses engaged in illicit sex with a third party. For in that case, looking at it from the outside, we wouldn’t be able to tell who was married to whom. Very well then, let’s modify my second example so that George and Mary are still having a sexual relationship but George and Kevin are not. You might think that this would simplify things by removing the possibility that George and Kevin are in a gay marriage. However, since sex is not a necessary condition for gay marriage (for remember, gay marriage is usually described merely in terms of “a committed and loving relationship between two adults”) it is impossible to know that George and Kevin are not married merely because they are not having sex with each other. The only way we could know whether or not they were married would be for there to be civil government on the island to confer the status of marriage upon them.

My thought experiments have been complex, but my basic point is very simple: without the intervention of government, there is no a priori existential state of affairs that marks certain types of same-sex relationships out as being marriage within a state of nature. Unlike heterosexual marriage, which exists in nature and is then recognized by the state, homosexual marriage is an abstract legal entity with no natural or existential existence. Now to be sure, within the paradigm of traditional marriage there are sometimes hard cases and it is not always clear whether something can count as a marriage, but at the centre there is a recognizable reality that is pre-legal, and the hard cases arise by virtue of how far removed we are from the centre. But there is no comparative ‘centre’ for determining what a normal same-sex marriage would be within a state of nature. Indeed, what counts as “a committed and loving relationship” is incredibly vague and open to any number of interpretations or further applications. Indeed, once marriage is divorced from nature like this, then in principle there is no limit to the types of relationship that can have the status of ‘marriage’ or ‘family’ conferred on it by the state.

All this has enormous implications for how we understand the relationship between the family and the state, to return to my point that gay marriage undermines the traditional family. By rearranging the very nature of what it means to be married, gay marriage raises the question of whether family and marriage can be considered pre-political institutions on the basis of natural and biological realities and intrinsic goods. This is because such natural and biological realities are being expunged from the essence of what we are now told marriage is and always has been, namely the union of persons through a committed and loving relationship.

Since consummation is unnecessary for a same-sex union to be called a complete marriage (even putting aside the question of what would count as consummation within a same-sex context), then what determines whether or not a heterosexual marriage is complete? Either we can have two separate non-equal definitions of marriage, or we can realize the logical consequence of same-sex marriage and say that the only thing left to determine what actually makes something a complete marriage or a legitimate family is the law itself. But have we really considered the implications of saying that traditional marriages and families are entirely the construct of the state?

There is no escaping from this problem. If homosexuals and heterosexuals are really “equal” before the law, then logically heterosexual marriage must collapse into being little more than a legal construct as well. Indeed, marriage and family become mere adjuncts of the state after the removal of the de facto conditions that make the traditional family a pre-political institution in the first place. No longer is family something that, in the words of Douglas Farrow, “precedes and exceeds the state.” No longer is the family a hedge against the totalitarian aspirations of the state because no longer is the family prior to the state.

This is not mere hypothetical speculation about what ‘might’ happen if same-sex marriages are legalized. Canadian theologian Douglas Farrow has shown that after Canada legalized same-sex marriage, even traditional marriage began to be spoken about as little more than a legal construct. In his book Nation of Bastards, Farrow criticized warned that by claiming the power to re-invent marriage, the Canadian state “has drawn marriage and the family into a captive orbit. It has reversed the gravitational field between the family and the state… It has effectively made every man, woman, and child a chattel of the state, by turning their most fundamental human connections into mere legal constructs at the state’s disposal. It has transformed those connections from divine gifts into gifts from the state.”

Most people are not aware of how gay marriage will undermine the traditional family because it does so in ways that are subtle and ubiquitous. However, once gay marriage is introduced into a nation, it undermines the integrity of every family and every marriage in the nation. It does this by rearranging the family’s relationship to the state. The state which legalizes gay marriage is a state that has assumed the god-like power to declare which collections of individuals constitute a ‘family.’ But by this assumption government declares that both marriage and family are little more than legal constructs at best, and gifts from the state at worst. In the former case, marriage and family lose their objective fixity; in the latter case, we become the wards of the state.