“Do I have to be a bigot to be a Christian?” That was the question that Jeff Cook asked in his recent article in Relevant Magazine following the shocking announcement that Exodus International, a ministry focused on homosexuality and the so-called LGBT community, was closing after issuing an apology for “years of undue judgement” and “imprisonment” in an “unbiblical worldview.” In short, the efforts of Exodus International to speak truth to the homosexual community over the years is now a thing of the past.
Apparently Exodus International had answered Cook’s question with a triumphant “no!” But it is my allegation that such a question is not only misframed, but it is also misleading. The better way to ask this question, rather than using the politically charged and culturally expedient word “bigot,” is to ask: “Must one hold to a standard to be a Christian?”
Toward the end of his article, Cook not only tells us that “Christian bigotry” is repulsive and “antithetical to love,” but he also attempts to attach a rough description to it; namely, that it is “irrational devotion to one’s opinions at the exclusion not just of other opinions but of other people.” I wish to use this description as the framework by which we can peer into the rest of the written piece as a whole.
To begin with, Cook tries to point out, at the expense of 1 Peter 2:9-11, that too often, the Christian wrongly “perceive[s] moral differences as camps as “us” and “them.” marking our opponents and so commencing an ideological war.” But of course, as 1 Peter 2 points out, it is the very nature of the Church that we are a separate people, called out and chosen. But how does this logically lead to a situation wherein our enemy are those unchosen and not called out? Cook assumes that to believe in a separation is to suddenly make others the enemy. That is a clear distortion of the doctrine of Scriptures. Regarding whether we have commenced an ideological war, we must affirm that any statement of belief or system of ideas, any creed whatsoever, is an ideology. And any time written or spoken words are used to express those creeds, especially when they lie in disagreement with the world, is to “commence” a war.
But it is important to note that the war is against the lies of this world and, as the author himself admits, is not against flesh and blood. There is nothing in our standing strong for the truth that should indicate we are waging war on people.
Now, since our doctrines and systematic theology is mutually exclusive with that of liberalism, (see Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen). we apparently fall within Cooks description of a bigot. We hold to “opinions at the exclusion… of other opinions.” But the remarkable irony in this description lies in the fact that his entire article points to a view that is mutually exclusive with my own view. Does this make him a bigot? If he disagrees with, say, the Calvinist view of election, whereas I affirm such a doctrine, we must face the fact that Jeff Cook is guilty of bigotry. For how can God both unconditionally elect his chosen people and at the same time not practice election? To say this is possible is, to use his own word, “irrational.” Surely Cook would object here by noting that he doesn’t hate the Calvinist, just disagrees with the doctrine. And I and fine with that. But cannot I use the very same objection when accused of bigotry for holding to the immorality of homosexuality?
To believe is to exclude other ideas, but it is not to create enemies out of human beings.
Moving away from the matters of belief and bigotry, we must shift the conversation toward Cook’s claims about God Himself. Cook predictably opines, citing the Romanist Thomas Aquinas, that “God displays his power, not by eliminating all His opponents but by converting them.” What is slightly humorous about this statement is that it is a clear breach of the postmodern desire to avoid absolutes. On one hand the option is this: God displays his power by eliminating all His opponents. On the other hand the option is this: God displays his power by converting them. Both Aquinas and Cook choose the latter. But this does not mean that to disagree with them is to choose the former. No, we take a different view altogether: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” (Romans 9:22-23). To be clear, we hold that God “eliminates” some of his opponents, but also “converts” others.
From the faulty assumption that God’s “mission is to bring all men and women to Himself,” Cook concludes that “our main concern cannot simply be who is ‘right’ but who is redeemed.” Such a conclusion is remarkably frustrating. First, as for “who” is right, we hold that Christ is right. He is the very truth, the very word, that became flesh. He is the “who!” And we as Christians ought to follow in his glory and proclaim His name! Second, to say that we as humans ought to be concerned with “who is redeemed” is to say that we ought to take upon ourselves the role of God Himself! Who is or who is not redeemed is a matter for the Lord, not for us, his lowly servants! That Cook puts this forward in a Christian magazine is absurd and quite concerning.
Off and on throughout the rest of the article, this idea continues to be pushed that if we work on “relating” to the unsaved and “acting” in the right way toward them and being “bound” to our neighbor, then and only then can we convince others that following Christ is a “respectable, rewarding, and an attractive pursuit.”
There is so much wrong in this method. (1) “Relating” to the unsaved does nothing to glorify God if by “relating” we are mimicking or approving their actions. (2) “Acting” in a specific way so as to convince them that Christianity is the “way to go” is simply a way denying that “faith comes by hearing” the proclamation of the Gospel. (3) “Bound” to one’s neighbor is a distortion of Paul’s statement that he is a servant to all. To make this concept more Biblical, we ought to realize that we are bound by the Word, bound by Christ, and then we, with Christ, practice the art of servant hood. But we are not bound to other people. No, Christ set us free to be bound to Him and to Him alone. Lastly, by doing all these things, God forgive us if our intent is to convince others that Christianity is a “respectable, rewarding, and an attractive pursuit.” Christianity is hard. It leads to persecution. It is mocked. It is frustrating. It is demonized. What is the Christian life? A hip coffee house? A theme park?
No, the Christian life is a Pilgrimage. We are on a weedy and pothole-ridden path home. But home, in the presence of God’s glory, is where we can rest and receive our reward. And home can only be our future if we “repent of our sins and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15) which of course, is a “stumbling block” to some and “nonsense” to others (1 Cor. 1:23).