VALLIANT, Okla. (BP)–When I was in college at John Brown University in the early 1990’s, I loved playing foosball. I played every day, at all hours. It’s possible that, had I not loved it so much, I might not now be working my way through Liberty University’s distance learning program, but I digress.
I was never a great player, mainly because I was never able to generate enough power without spinning the handle, and spinning, in real competitive foosball, is strictly verboten. There was even a catchy saying in the foosball community at this private Christian college: “Hate the spin, but love the spinner.” It is much easier to slam the ball into the back of the goal when you spin, but the truly talented players can fire unbelievably powerful shots just by the action of their wrists. They don’t need to spin in order to be effective.
On April 20, USA Today published an essay by Jonathan Merritt. Merritt, 26, is a recent graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and according to the footnote of his essay, he works as a faith and culture writer. The article is titled “An Evangelical’s Plea: ‘Love the Sinner’,” and it is a call for Christians to reach out in love to the gays and lesbians around us, and to do so in tangible ways. This is a worthy point to make, and a call that all of us who name the name of Christ ought to heed. But in making the point, Merritt makes use of quite a lot of rhetorical “spin,” enough to make me want to dust off that old catch phrase I learned around the foosball tables at JBU.
Some of this “spin” can be found in his opening paragraphs, where he provides examples of quotes that he has mined from the internet in an attempt to demonstrate that evangelicals prefer to display their hatred for sin. To characterize the late Dr. D. James Kennedy as a “fundamentalist televangelist” can only serve to inflame and prejudice USA Today readers, who may be unfamiliar with his life and ministry, against anything he might have said. Some of the statements he quotes are indefensible, but some, given their proper context, might be entirely appropriate. His quote-mining “spin” can only serve to confuse the issue and it paints with too broad a brush.
Another example of “spin” being employed by Mr. Merritt is in his use of statistics. He cites a Barna Research Group study which found that 80 percent of non-Christians ages 16-29 describe Christians as “confusing” on this issue. He then suggests that this is perhaps because “many recognize the difference between the life of Jesus Christ and the lives of those who claim to follow him.” This is quite a leap, and I can’t imagine what it is intended to suggest, if not that we ought to look to the opinions of the young non-Christians around us rather than to the scriptures when evaluating our degree of faithfulness to Christ.
But perhaps most disturbing in Merritt’s essay is his seeming willingness to compromise biblical definitions of sin and salvation. In discussing the marriage debate, he rightly states, “our biblical convictions prohibit a redefinition of marriage.” But he then goes on to suggest “other areas” where we might be able to compromise, such as offering support for anti-discrimination measures in the workplace and in reducing legal impediments to inheritance and hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples.
Let me be clear: I do not believe that it is a sin to be tempted by homosexual desires. I am convinced, however, because the Bible is very clear, that homosexual behavior is sinful. I will leave to others the debate over whether it is a chosen lifestyle or an inborn reality. That debate makes not one bit of difference to me. What scripture condemns is homosexual behavior.
It sounds very compassionate to advocate for these rights; it might even make one feel as if they are “showing love” to gays and lesbians in a way that is “concrete and tangible.” But what it is, in fact, is simply more terribly naïve “spin.”
The person who is enslaved to the sin of homosexuality does not need Christians to express love to them by making their sin easier to commit. Rather, they need Christians who will love them enough to come alongside them and show them their desperate need for a relationship with the One who can forgive them and restore them to a right relationship with their Creator.
I am convinced, however, that Mr. Merritt’s most egregious spin is contained in a paragraph in which he discusses marriage. It contains concepts that are, I believe, harmful to the Gospel itself. Merritt states: “God’s model is a lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual union, but we must balance this message with the scriptural understanding that we are all sinners. Individuals who have decided to follow Christ have not ceased to be sinners; we are simply sinners who have taken advantage of God’s gracious gift of salvation.”
This paragraph only tells part of the Gospel story, and the part it leaves out is absolutely essential to this discussion. In John’s first epistle, he writes, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
Merritt’s presentation of “God’s gracious gift of salvation” in the paragraph quoted above makes it sound as though a sinner can hold to Christ while simultaneously holding to a habitual sin. This is not only false, but it is dangerously misleading, and offers false hope to those who wish to believe that their anti-biblical lifestyle can somehow be compatible with saving faith. God’s Word is clear: It cannot.
Mr. Merritt has many good points to make. And I have no doubt he possesses the necessary intellect and skill with the language in order to be effective in making them. In this essay, however, it seems that he has relied more upon spin, a spin with potentially dangerous consequences.
Yes, I believe the phrase I learned during my misspent youth in Northwest Arkansas applies here. As Jonathan Merritt is my brother in Christ, I love the “spinner” who wrote this article. I’m just not terribly fond of his “spin.”
Wes Kenney is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Valliant, Okla. To read the Jonathan Merritt post on USA Today’s blog, visit http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/04/an-evangelicals-plea-love-the-sinner.html. Jonathan Merritt is director of college and singles at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.