Making Sense of Sexuality
For many people, the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and gender just doesn’t make sense. (And that probably includes a lot of people in our churches!) 'How can God expect people to live in such a way that they have to deny who they really are?' 'How can such oppressive ideas claim to be good news?' This should make us stop and think. If we’re going to help people to see and live out the beauty of God’s plan for sexuality and gender, we need to understand why it doesn’t currently make sense to them. We need to understand the stories they are believing which mean that God’s story doesn’t work. One of the key areas where this applies is on the topic of identity.
Some of the most helpful teaching I have heard on the topic of identity and sexuality was given by Tim and Kathy Keller at an event hosted earlier this year by Living Out. At the event, Tim and Kathy helped us to understand different ways that identity is formed and how they impact on understandings of sexuality. The teaching is incredibly helpful as we think about issues of sexuality, but it is also hugely helpful and relevant to so many other areas of life.
Living Out have kindly released video recordings of each session, and they are well worth watching. If you go and watch the videos, you’ll find that as an added bonus each one starts with an interview with a same-sex attracted Christian, a great way to get a bit more understanding of what it’s like to follow Jesus as someone who is same-sex attracted. Here’s a brief summary of each of the four sessions to whet your appetite.
Talk 1: Culture and Identity
In the first session, drawing on the work of Charles Taylor, Tim outlines the move from a traditional model of identity, which held sway in the pre-modern period and is still prominent in much of the non-Western world, to modern identity, the dominant approach to identity formation in the Western world today. Traditional identity was rooted in the external: first in honour (whether through victory in battle or bravely facing the dangers of childbearing) and then in various understandings of external moral absolutes. In traditional identity, it is the community – others – who validate an individual in their identity. With the move into early modernity and the Enlightenment, Romanticism and then late modernity, moral absolutes first moved inside the individual through reason (in Enlightenment thought) or feeling (in Romanticism), before finally any concept of moral absolutes was abandoned altogether (in late modernity). Now, morality and identity are not just discerned internally, they are determined internally.
Keller gives some fascinating examples of how the narrative of modern identity can be seen in popular culture (e.g. Babe: If a pig feels like they are a dog, let them be a dog! Or Frozen: Elsa should ‘let it go’, embracing and expressing what’s inside, regardless of whether it means lots of people will freeze to death!) To end, Keller, outlines seven reasons why modern identity doesn’t work and is destructive.
Talk 2: Christ and Identity
How is Christian identity different from traditional and modern identities? Tim isolates two vital aspects which constitute Christian identity: the basis of identity is Christ’s performance, not our own, and the ultimate validator is God, not us.
With Christian identity based on Christ’s performance, not our own, it is the only identity in the world which is received and not achieved, meaning it gives an unparalleled security and can be equally available to all people. God as the ultimate validator overcomes several of the great risks of having human validators for identity: they can manipulate us, and they die. God does neither. Keller looks at several key biblical themes which allow us to see and bring out this theme of identity (the image of God, adoption, gifts and calling, being known by God, and Jesus’ teaching on discipleship) before sharing reasons why Christian identity is so good.
Talk 3: Church and Identity
In the third session, Kathy Keller outlines some of the practical implications when applied to issues of sexuality and gender, exploring what kind of churches we need to become in order to be able to help those who are LGBTQ+. She considers what we must do, what we must say, and what we must become known for.
Talk 4: Moving Forward
Tim’s last talk outlines how we can grow in the Christian identity outlined in the second session. He argues that gospel practices are vital and that to be effective they must capture the imagination, be repetitive and be communal. Within this, he notes the vital importance of participation in local church gatherings and having a rich prayer life alongside friendship and accountability.
You can find videos of all of the sessions on the Living Out website.