What passes for professing at Covenant College...
(Tim) A couple days ago, under the post "Why Same-Sex Intimacy Is Sin," a comment appeared written by Baylyblog's resident scoffer, Cliff Foreman. For twenty-five years, Professor Foreman's day job has been professing Reformed Christian faith as a member of the English Department at the Presbyterian Church in America's Covenant College. Most of our readers are aware that David and I aren't fans of Covenant College. We think it would be best for our denomination to sell it to Tim Keller, but to this point no one's taking our suggestion seriously.
As a simple defense of our position, consider this exchange between Prof. Foreman and a mere graduate student here at Indiana University--a young whippersnapper who lacks the terminal degree as well as the wonderful privilege of a quarter-century of spiritual and theological growth there at Covenant College, at ease in Zion on top of Lookout Mountain within the wonderfully safe cocoon of scores of like-minded Reformed PhDs sharing his commitment to the Westminster Standards.
Here then is Prof. Foreman's explanation to a shake-the-dust-off-your-feet hard-hearted unbeliever of why sodomy is wrong, followed by Josh Congrove's deconstruction of Prof. Foreman's explanation:
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CLIFF FOREMAN WRITES: How about this: God created human beings and intended them to find happiness and fulfillment in committed heterosexual marriages. Then human beings fell and sin entered the world. This meant that people would be born with sinful desires and that through life experiences those desires would solidify into sinful patterns of behavior. But God set his son to offer us forgiveness and the opportunity for significant healing in this life. Our struggle against sin is difficult, but success is possible because of Jesus' sacrifice and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But of course, in order to be healed and to enjoy the blessings of health, we need to admit that we are sick. If we say that our sinfulness is normal, we won't seek healing. We may tell ourselves that our disease isn't contagious and that it hurts no one, but we will never, then, know what it is to be healthy.
If this scenario, which is what the Bible teaches, is true, then the people who are condemning your behavior are doing so because they think you are missing out on something that would be better for you...
That's why I, personally, am opposed to homosexual behavior. I think that the people who are engaging in it are missing out on something better that is God's intention for us all. It may be that some of them will never in this life experience that better thing, but it is God's intention, as I read scripture, that they begin to seek it.
JOSH CONGROVE RESPONDS TO PROFESSOR FOREMAN:
If you simply wanted to make the argument that original sin distorts the desires of all men from birth, I'd be in hearty agreement with you; more important, you'd be speaking Scripturally. But in fact, the actual connotations of your words are so far from the truth, I'd almost assume you tossed them off in a moment of unconsidered carelessness. But since you're a man capable of great nuance and exact expression, you'll understand if I fault some of your formulations:
>>God created human beings...then human beings fell and sin entered the world.
Of course God created human beings, but is there a reason you seem incapable of speaking about mankind in the way that Scripture does? Scripture states plainly, and obviously, that God created "man in His own image," that "in the image of God He created him," and only lastly that "male and female He created them." The most obvious choice would have been for you to state "God created man," or "God created men," or "God created mankind," or even, "God created men and women." Any one of these would have been a more precise, historically-precedented, relevant usage than your pallid accommodation; more important, any one of those would have been both more Scriptural and more appropriate to the man whose sin you were, I assume, trying to point out.
>>...and intended them to find happiness and fulfillment in committed heterosexual marriages.
"Intended"? Your sentence sounds fine until one begins to imagine what you might have said. Reading your sentence, one might easily conceive that God was only distantly, tangentially, connected to the "heterosexual marriages" He "intended" men to make use of. How about, instead: "...ordained that they would only find sexual fulfillment and happiness in marriage, which He established between one man and woman." Seriously, "heterosexual marriages" is a highly troubling phrase. What other kind of marriage is there? Why must you qualify a term which can only be defined in heterosexual terms anyway?
>>people would be born with sinful desires and that through life experiences those desires would solidify into sinful patterns of behavior.
So, are you attempting here to boldly proclaim the doctrine of original sin, or rather simply that same-sex desire is innate? If the former, I'm wondering why you either (1) didn't notice that Mr. Doe claimed no adherence to historic doctrine, or (2) didn't go the simpler, more accurate, and more direct route of quoting a six-word Scripture (or at least St. Augustine)? On the other hand, if here you're conniving at the culture's clinical lie that all same-sex desire is innate, we'd all find it immeasurably helpful if you'd just tell us plainly.
>>But God set his son to offer us forgiveness and the opportunity for significant healing in this life.
I'd like to think you're here appropriating Augustine's favorite image of the sinner in need of profound healing. Alas, the rest of your words make that quite impossible, so pale and passionless they are. But, far more important, where is the omnipotent purpose of God in your words? "Sent his son to offer...the opportunity"? If this is the Reformed doctrine of definite redemption, then God is truly as impotent as He comes out to be in your language.
>>Our struggle against sin is difficult, but success is possible because of Jesus' sacrifice and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, right on, thank you. I only wish the rest of your response looked like this sentence.
>>But of course, in order to be healed and to enjoy the blessings of health, we need to admit that we are sick.
If the sickness of original sin is as shallow a matter as it sounds here, then you've preached repentance boldly. But since the truth of the matter is that our sickness is so radical that we're "dead in our trespasses and sins," merely stating it as you've done is intolerable. How about, "Repent and be baptized...in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." ?
>>We may tell ourselves that our disease isn't contagious and that it hurts no one, but we will never, then, know what it is to be healthy.
I'm barely more than halfway through your comment, and the reality of what disease you have in view has already faded from view. I gather you mean the general disease that is sin in the lives of fallen men, but if so, why generalize when there is a particular sin at issue here and not simply man's general sinfulness? In other words, there's quite a difference between what you wrote and this: "We may tell ourselves that our deviant, sinful desires for sodomy aren't contagious and hurt no one, but we will never, then, know what it is to be healed of our unnatural desires."
Up to this point I've agreed with most of the content, if not language, of your comment. But, with all due respect, Dr. Foreman, the latter half of it reads much more like so much emergent-church drivel rather than the plain language of Scripture.
>>If this scenario, which is what the Bible teaches, is true...
One might be excused here for doubting your confidence in the "scenario" you just described. If it's what Scripture teaches, isn't it, ipso facto, true? And if it's true, why begin it with a conditional?
>>then the people who are condemning your behavior are doing so because they think you are missing out on something that would be better for you.
Forgive me if I'm reading you wrong, here, but your words don't convey a particular willingness to ally yourself with God's people when they carry His message. Rather, it seems you feel the need to explain others' poor, benighted, insufficiently nuanced choice of words in condemning homosexual intimacy. And how helpful it is that you can ensure their message is correctly understood: that it's mostly about a sodomite's not achieving his very best in life, rather than about suppressing the truth of God and becoming darkened in his foolish mind. Really, it's a shame the Apostle was deprived of a fine institution where he could shore up his educational deficiencies...
Far easier, and better, it had been for you to say "Those of us who are condemning your sinful embrace of sodomy are doing so because we love you and want you to see the destructiveness, sadness, and damnation that comes from your sin."
>>That's why I, personally, am opposed to homosexual behavior.
Dr. Spaetti's question is a sound one: so, the fact that homosexuals are "missing out" explains why you, personally, of course, are opposed, positionally, of course, to homosexual behavior?
It's certainly gratifying that you understand qualifications better than the writers of Scripture. Where would we be if we thought you were willing to condemn homosexual intimacy outright? My sense, personally, is that we might end up actually being Scriptural. Where would we be if we weren't confident in your ability to so carefully parse homosexual "behavior" vs. the homosexual "orientation" that is so carefully left out of your condemnation...err, I meant "opposition"—wouldn't want to put you in the camp of the condemnatory, after all.
>>I think that the people who are engaging in it are missing out on something better...
How about, "The men who are sodomizing each other are destroying their own happiness in this life, and heaping up judgment in the next."
>>...something better that is God's intention for us all.
Considering your reticence to speak in the words of Scripture, you're remarkably audacious in assuming His intention here.
>>It may be that some of them will never in this life experience that better thing, but it is God's intention, as I read scripture, that they begin to seek it.
Professor Foreman, could you possibly have written a more lackluster defense of the creative ordinance of God? I mean, seriously: "it may be"? "...In this life"? So, are we to assume that practicing homosexuals will never see God's grace leading them to repentance in this life, but that somehow such men have hope of "that better thing" in the next life? Maybe this isn't what you meant, but if so, for the sake of readers' understanding, nuance needs to take a back seat to clarity, here. Is your qualification "as I read scripture" supposed to grant a pass for refusing to state what God so clearly has in His Word? God, who in your prose seems to have little more than "intentions," is far deadlier in His, for He has stated that those who consistently pervert His establishment (not simply "intention") of heterosexual intimacy have no hope of "that better thing" you so blithely offer them.
Finally, I'm glad you want those who practice sodomy to have a life "in which they seek God and godliness." I have little reason to doubt that. What I doubt is that the words you use to express your desires have much to do with the words God uses. And this I doubt not because I know you, but because I know this allure in my own life, and I know that "no temptation has seized you but what is common to man." Indeed, by nature I'm probably even more loathe than you to proclaim God's truth in these matters directly. But for those of us whose work is in the academy, our students (and readers) deserve more from us than simply a selection of divine truth with every corner rounded, every edge dulled, everything attenuated so as to put Scripture's best foot forward, as it were. Our students, and indeed, all who ask us to explain why we reject sodomy, deserve nothing less than the whole counsel of Scripture on this matter.
So here, to this one lost sheep wandering without a shepherd, it's neither sufficient nor loving to shrink back from speaking with Scripture's tones, to hide behind the culture's carefully (and, à la Chesterton, carefully wrong) sophisms about "sexual behavior" vs "sexual orientation," or to speak of sodomy as principally an obstacle to happiness. In short, we need to speak to sodomites not just of happiness lost, but of holiness offended. God's principal desire is not for our happiness, but for His holiness. Thankfully, His holiness is also our happiness, when we pursue it by embracing His holiness rather than the false assurances and academic accommodations of our age.