The Puritans, "gay Christians," and our identity in Christ...

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I'm about halfway through Rosaria Butterfield's Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. This book is her second work after her popular personal testimony in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith. Her honest writing (she was born again after living in a lesbian relationship and working as a pioneer in the field of Queer Studies as a tenured profession of English) is helpful and humbling (particularly her exhortations to show hospitality and love to those in bondage to their sin). 

One aspect of her books that has encouraged me thus far is her obvious love for the writings of Puritan pastors such as Thomas Watson, John Owen, Richard Baxter, and Jonathan Edwards. Their voices help her writing and thinking avoid the presuppositions of modern psychologists and all their hellish deviancy on anthropology. There is a reason the Puritans are known as physicians of the soul: they believed Scripture's testimony about the deceptiveness of the heart, the depth of human depravity, and the radical power of Holy Spirit in the new birth and subsequent sanctification. They were masters of the Biblical doctrines of temptation, sin, repentance, and sanctification.

In our recent discussions of homosexuality here on this blog, I've often had the thought that those who are promoting the "gay celibate Christian" idea are intensely pessimistic...

...or naively ignorant...or, more likely, stubbornly resistant...when it comes to God's call to mortify our flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who feel justified in using such descriptions of themselves need to read works like Watson's challenging and encouraging The Doctrine of Repentance and Owen's Of Temptation. What these works will help modern Christians realize is their laziness and unbelief; they will remind us of the warfare being waged between the flesh and the Spirit and ultimately give us the courage to affix our bayonets.

Let me, though, leave you with a few quotes from Butterfield that pertain to our discussions of homosexual desires, sexual identity, and all the associated nomenclature. Many who use the terminology "gay celibate Christian" betray this: their sexual identity is so precious to them that, at least in some sense, it takes precedence over their identity in Christ and the renewal of the inner man in Christ. Butterfield puts it this way,

In the phrase "gay Christian," gay is a descriptive or limiting adjective, and its job is "to indicate the quality of a noun or pronoun." It indicates what kind of Christian you are. When a limiting adjective is used to define a people group, it is a mark of identity. When you modify the noun Christian with the adjective gay, you pair terms with incompatible anthropologies, and recommend a false philosophy of the soul. Adjectival modifiers create new nouns. The case in point here is the category of "gay Christian," someone who both loves Jesus but is also, in attraction or action, persistently experiencing homosexual desires. The question is this: do we really want to say that gay Christians are a different type of Christian? Doesn't that create the kind of ghettoizing subgroup mentality that works against and not for real unity in Christ's Body?

Her final question above is a good one and something those calling for the church to be more loving toward homosexually-tempted Christians need to consider. And then a little ahead,

So in the phrase "gay Christian," the noun Christian is changed by using a word whose sexual expression affirms behavior that stands apart from God's commands. In this way, it is different from a linguistic place keeper that identifies cultural affiliations (like Italian American, for example). "Gay Christian" differs from Italian American because God does not condemn national origin as sin, but he has much to say about sex apart from the covenant of marriage, personal identity apart from Christ's exclusive claim, and self-representation that hijacks the appearance of sinful behavior and calls it grace. The word gay is only extricable from the sexual practice of homosexuality if you believe that sexual orientation is a morally neutral road map of humanity, and if it is a true measure of a man. Sexual orientation is no such animal.

It is not that adjectives can never modify the noun Christian, but they should do so in ways that neither create gratuitous factions nor violate God's call that redeemed people identify themselves according to their new nature in Christ. New nature does not necessarily mean new feelings (although it may). "New creature" is a term that beckons God's people to grow in Christlikeness, to grow in sanctification, but we do harm to the call of Christ when we presume that opposite-sex desires should replace same-sex desires as the exclusive proof of real sanctification. "New creature in Christ" means that we have a new mind that governs the old feelings and a new hope that we are part of Christ's body.

And this,

Words matter. Self-representation matters. And identity in Christ bleeds union in Christ and communion of the saints. This blood is truly life-giving. And the term "gay Christian" has great potential to mislead people, even as those who use it are seeking clarity, honesty, and transparency.

And also, 

...making an identity out of sin patterns is itself a sin, as it deadens the conscience by defending the flesh instead of disciplining the conscience for godliness.

Amen. And one more,

As all Christians attempt to discern matters of sin and grace and work together to give God glory in all of the details of our lives, I fear that our current language (i.e., sexual orientation, mixed-orientation marriage, gay Christian) is creating its own Tower of Babel in our churches. God created men and women so that we would enjoy him forever (eternally) and so that we would give him glory (on earth and in heaven). But when we even unwittingly create subcategories of Christians based in patterns of sexual sin, we are in effect taking aim at the very God who will safely hedge us in as we feel lost in the depth of the sea, as Psalm 139 outlines.

The church in Corinth had some in her who loved homosexual sin (1 Cor. 6:9-11), yet when they repented of their sin and were united to Christ by faith they received a new and permanent identity: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17). We should abandon all of those adjectives before "Christian." Their use is causing many to stumble.

Andrew Dionne is the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Spartanburg, SC. He and his wife Sarah have six children. Read more from Andrew here.