In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas’s last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor’s Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]
Okay; we have a little cleaning up to do on homosexuality. This is on page 67 of your book but I wanted to give you a couple of things from former students or friends about how things went in the original run of Christianity. There is a lot of research in this field now. The investigators seem to think that by the end of the first century there were about 10,000 Christians and starting out with a good deal less than that on the day of Pentecost, the Ascension but the church grows exponentially until it peaked with regard to population at around 33,882,008 in 350 A.D. or about 56.5 percent of the Roman world roughly in about 3 centuries. How did it do that? Well, interestingly enough, the church—there really wasn’t anything if you call “evangelistic meetings” in this period. There were occasional meetings of some size and you find a few of those in the book of Acts but the church grew at a rate of about 40% per decade in the first four centuries. The response of Christians to persecution and to plagues that would hit the towns periodically and the treatment of women and children seemed to have been among the most outstanding features of the church during the spirit of growth. So the main source of outreach was transformed minds. Now, of course, that doesn’t tell us we shouldn’t have evangelistic meetings today but it does raise the question of what is the main instrumentality of outreach. [2:51]
The emphasis on the character of individuals has to stand out when we think about this. Arthur Hylee, one of our past students in this course said in one of his papers, “I have never in 27 years of ministry seen people asked into leadership within our denomination because of their Christian maturity or that they are people who have a set plan for spiritual growth. When I have set with a nominating committee, the criteria has always been based on two criteria—does the person attend worship regularly and that doesn’t necessarily mean weekly and secondly, do you think they would be open to being a part of that ministry. This is called the “warm body” method.” Arthur goes on to talk about how his own experience here with the time of solitude and silence and how it affected him but he says, “Last year, my congregation’s outreach ministry team decided to arrange for a pastor’s day apart. We arranged with a local retreat center to pay the expenses for this and then offered it to the ministers in our presbytery for free for one year. No one took advantage of this; yet, in our denomination, stress and stress-related disabilities are the number one reason for clergy being put on disability leave.” So, you kind of sense a shift of major proportions and wonder if we can’t somehow identify what this problem is and see a change that might come as we think about how we spend our time and what we are trusting. Of course, when they started out in the first century, they didn’t have much to trust but God and that may well be something that allowed them to work very hard but not to carry a burden that would break them down. Of course, there were other things, like you couldn’t get on an airplane and be there. You had to spend a lot of time walking or riding a boat or something of that sort and that built into their lives times of waiting, observing, perhaps, fellowship with fellow travelers and so on and our world has been crunched by speed so it would take a very conscious effort to break that and the idea of a retreat every so often where you do nothing might be a way of doing that but it’s for many pastors, I think it just seems impossible because they have so much to do. Once we get over the idea that the secret to our success is trying harder and give up, in effect and understand that trying harder is not the solution but there has got to be something different—a different take on our lives—well, then I think perhaps we can begin to do something different but I do believe it would help a great deal if we had some adequate teaching on that and understanding of what we work with; that is our ministry and of how we don’t carry the load—the load is carried by someone else and then finding practices that enable us to begin to break our habits and let our expectations be from a different source. [7:50]
I brought a few more things to put over here for you to look at and they bear on that. One in particular that I want to mention is an interview by Jeff Bailey of Eugene Peterson and it is called, Redefining A Life Well Lived. There are several pages. I just have one copy here but I’ll put it over here. I hope you might really benefit from that and then I have a paper also from a past student, Don Ingerbretsen, called Too Good To Be True, and it’s about how he began to find a way into this indirection path that allows one to escape the alternative between just giving up or trying too hard. So, I’ll put these over here and you are welcome to have a look at them. Maybe I’ll put them here where they will be more obvious and there are a few others things there too but I think the interview with Eugene is one of the best things you will ever find about pastoring. [9:12]
Ok; well, enough preliminaries. Now, we want to go back and pick up this difficult subject of homosexuality on page 67 of your notebook and of course, unfortunately, it does not go without saying that anyone who is homosexual and whatever they are doing or whatever they are thinking, they are to be loved, not to be scorned, certainly not to be mistreated as they have often in the past and this whole topic is a deeply troubling one and it provokes a lot of anxiety and angst but we want to start out with that observation. [10:09]
Now, most of us—it will take some learning to get where we can be with people who are homosexual and especially if they are militant and as they say, “out and proud” so our bodily habits and our thoughts and our emotions have to be handled separately from this because we want to have been done with anger and contempt as modus operandi and so now we come to this special case and we approach them in terms of loving God and our neighbor as ourselves. [10:53]
Ok; all of that said now, I want to work through a couple of pages here—67 and following. First of all, what is homosexuality? Homosexual desire is desire for genital union with a person of the same sex however that is to be managed. No doubt there is much more to same sex cohabitation than that—much more, but that is the only point of contention. Few people object to people of the same sex loving, delighting in, living with and caring for one another. In fact, that’s a beautiful thing. Humans and animals experience homosexual excitation or desire [and all of this is very vague area so I have to be careful with it] as a natural phenomenon but one who experiences homosexual desire is not thereby homosexual. A homosexual is someone who in their overall pattern of life devotes themselves to the gratification of homosexual desire. It is a matter of identity for them. That identity is not usually A choice—ONE choice; people don’t usually sit down and decide that I am going to be a homosexual or a heterosexual but it is a life posture one drifts into through many experiences and choices usually without any conscious direction. Experiences and choices of many different kinds over a long period of time, beginning at an early age often involving natural predisposition or tragic events but I have made many choices and received many influences myself but I didn’t choose to be a heterosexual. Even so, I would not locate my identity or my character in terms of my sexual orientation. I think that cheapens humanity. Now, I believe it will be clear to an unbiased and informed person that homosexual union as above described is unnatural at least in a sense that our bodies are not made for it and also I think that it is unscriptural. But, we now know that anyone who is “out and proud” will find ways around that which satisfies themselves. The intellect will always be enslaved in persons whose primary aid is to gratify their desires, and that’s not just sexual desires and not just homosexual desires. It is pointless in my opinion to try to win in an interaction with a militant homosexual. The issues really lie elsewhere at the level of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. [14:34]
So, if I were going to have a discussion which I am glad to do with homosexual who is “out and proud” or “hid and shameful,” I would start with loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself and I wouldn’t start with whether or not homosexual union of varying degrees is right or wrong. You will get absolutely nowhere with that. And so, I recommend that in this discussion, if there is going to be one, we start with the fundamental things that will take care of everything else if they are adequately pursued. It is the longtime failure to deal with “these issues” that has resulted in churches and denominations having to invest huge energies and resources in dealing with issues around sexuality that should never even have come up. Most non homosexuals fit Pauls’ description—note, non homosexuals—“of those whose God is their belly,” that is, their appetites and “whose glory is in their shame who set their mind on earthly things.” Now, you understand what a broad description that is. You go back to our discussion about frugality yesterday and so on. You see this is not just about sex. If the battle were fought at this level, everything would fall into place, I believe. There would still be issues of course but they would have a context of discussion so that when we are having a fight over homosexual marriage or homosexual ordination, we do that in the context of people who love God with all their heart, soul mind and strength and their neighbor who happens to be the person I am talking with here then as myself and I am inviting them to step into that as they talk to me. You see what I am talking about here, okay? So, you shift the ground and you don’t just get your swords out and start beating on one another at this level of what to do about homosexual ordination or whatever. Now, you still have to reach decisions; you are involved in a corporate organization of some sort, maybe a denomination, maybe a church; you still have to reach decisions. I understand that. I am not…the last thing but maybe not quite the last thing but close to it, well, you should just say, “well everything is okay.” See, one of the ironies of the discussion is that on one part of the argument, the homosexual will say, “well, we are just the same as heterosexuals” but of course, they aren’t. If they were, there wouldn’t be a discussion. There would be nothing to talk about. It’s the fact that they are different and differences have to be honestly dealt with. What are the differences? If there is a difference between Bishop Robinson and his friend living together in something called matrimony and a woman and a man and so on, living together in that in similar ecclesiastical positions, well, then we have to deal honestly with the differences. So you have the one side saying, “Well, there are not differences; we are the same.” That is a false attitude but now, you are probably not going to be able to carry the day with them by pointing that out but gently talking, listening, perhaps some progress could be made and the differences could come out and then we could have an honest discussion about why the differences make a difference. As long as you have people who say, “there is no difference,” then you cannot have an honest discussion. The discussion begins where you acknowledge that there are differences and on both sides, you honestly try to understand what difference the differences make. [19:25]
I am a little optimistic, I guess, here saying that if the battle were fought at this level, everything else would fall into place. It wouldn’t actually. There would still be a lot of stuff that would have to be discussed but at least you would have a framework for a discussion that doesn’t just at the outset involve a head-on confrontation with no common basis in which to deal with them. We live in an age where sexual desire is perverted into all human connections by many, not just homosexuality. We need to deal with the general problem in the light of the Kingdom of God and discipleship. We need to do that in detail. It’s the details that can help if anything can help. This happens as a result of the popular culture and what the intellectual culture teaches and fails to teach about humankind. The church must stand against this with pure and powerful lives and teachings in love. It must bring healing to the broken souls and this is in large measure an intellectual task once love is in place. And the intellectual work has to be done but if the emotions are stirred up and then you can’t do the intellectual work. By intellectual I mean just understanding “what the deal is.” [21:20]
So, I back up now to the general treatment here at the end of 69—an appropriate practice of chastity. Now, remember what it is—we described that—abstention from sexual involvement in action, in emotion, in thought and in others ways—just stepping out of it will purify our thoughts and allow us to step free of playing the various games around sex and romance, the “look,” verbal and bodily innuendos and sub tones, trying for perfect satisfaction and so on. We must regard others as spiritual beings in a world that is basically also spiritual. Sex is a passing mode of human union and I refer here to Jesus’ discussions with the Sadducees about marriage and the afterlife. You are a whole person before God regardless of sex and marriage and I do want to read that passage form Isaiah. It is such an important one and breathtakingly anti-cultural for that day. So, He is giving instructions, “Preserved justice and do righteousness”, first verse of 56, my salvation is about to come, my righteousness is to be revealed. How blessed is the man who does this; who keeps from profaning the Sabbath and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” This is a pretty high standard but a good one. “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people.” And again, that is a drumbeat all the way from Leviticus and Deuteronomy and again, it’s absolutely contrary to the way this was held because this is anti-racial if you don’t recognize that. It is anti-discriminatory, we might say. “Neither let the eunuch…” now, the eunuch was usually in this setting a person who had been castrated to serve in the Royal or some other household that had a lot of influence and money. “Neither let the eunuch say, ‘behold I am a dry tree for thus saith the Lord, “To the eunuch who keeps my Sabbath and choose what pleases me and hold fast my covenant. To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.” And He goes on to continue to enlarge upon that theme. So, we are a whole person before God regardless of sex and marriage and we need to claim this and walk in it. Now, folks, this is going to be very demanding on your preaching and teaching to do this and so I leave it at that on this subject and see if you have comments or issues you would like to raise now before we quickly move on. [25:03]
Q: If a homosexual couple are married and have kids together; then 3 years down the road they effectively become Disciples. Should they then become divorced?
A: Well, I would think that they would continue to live together with their children and love them and care for them. They would not have to continue to be sexually engaged to do that and in fact, heterosexual couples do that all the time, so I would simply separate that out and I would talk with them and teach them and listen to them to see what they concluded and decided to do. See, this comes up in many, many situations—the missionaries to the Sue Indians in Canada—the Sue Indians were polygamists and one of the Chiefs had thirteen wives and a minister told him that he must get rid of them. Now, so he left and when he came back, he found out that the Chief had hung all of them but one and the Chief’s thinking was that’s the kind thing to do—to turn them out on the street and just let them fend for themselves—now, I’m sure he could have actually, being a Chief, he might have been able to make some better arrangements than hanging them but the missionary did not think about helping him with that. He just said you have to do it. So, I would think that for example, if they were disciples and living in the Kingdom of God, they would find their way clear into what is to do but I wouldn’t tell them what to do if the story you told is the whole story. I would teach them about sexuality among other things and what it means and hope to see them grow to the point to where they increasingly love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and their neighbor as themselves. That’s what I would do. Now, the issue of—they need fellowship and all of that but now you are moving into a different area. See, what I would like to see them do is to sustain a stable home for themselves and for their children and of course they will have some explaining to do now and then but that is what I would like to see them do and I would like to see them work their way through sexuality. [28:16]
Q: Can you explain the cultural shift of living together before getting married?
A: What has gone on simultaneously with that kind of shift—think of when rape was capital punishment, right? And think when it was called the “fate worse than death,” right? Now, it’s still an awful thing but what has shifted is the entire meaning of sexual union and I think that is where we have to go back to. Once again, I don’t advise hitting these issues head on. You have to lay a foundation for them because I mean, it isn’t just cohabitation. It’s the whole culture of “hooking up” and now, of course you don’t want to use that language around campuses because it refers simply to “shall we have sex tonight?” Or “maybe right now?” You see, there has been a total shift in the meaning of these things and that is what we are going to have to do if we are going to help. Certainly if I were a Pastor I would let it be known that I thought that this was not the best arrangement and that we need to do better than this and then I would teach about sex. I would teach about it and say well, now what actually happens when two people “hook up?” What is that? And why, as I say in some of my books, there is no such thing as casual sex. [30:14] See, it’s the idea that it’s like having your back scratched and so I say, Tom, that we just—on this whole range of issues-we have to retreat to the more fundamental issue of what it is like to have a relationship of love to another person; not sex, love. What is it to love other people? And upon what basis are people coming together for a “hook up” or a “shack up” or whatever you want to call it in whatever generation. Your identity is that in you out of which you act routinely without thinking. Identity has to do with what you act, how you act and that’s why I say “my identity as a heterosexual or a homosexual is not an adequate basis for my identity.” Suppose now that’s the whole deal. What does it tell you to do….not much of anything except certain kinds of genital behaviors and so now, what does that have to do with honesty, for example. What does it have to do with a life of compassion? What does it have to do with discipleship to Christ and so on? And, so you want an identity that is rich enough to deal with your whole life, right?
And there are lots of ways going wrong on this. For example, people who identify with their job. That’s not good and yet, that’s often the first thing we want to know or is asked of us when we meet people. What do you do? And you know it might help in Christian circles to say, “Wouldn’t you like first to hear about who I am?” [32:27] So, identity reaches to the depths of the person and it indicates ways of acting that are consistent with that identity. Having said that, I just ask you to think, suppose your identity is homosexual or heterosexual? Just think…….what does that do for your life?
Q: What is your Biblical definition of marriage?
A: Marriage is a union of two people under the grace of God, whole life in which they now change their identity because their identity is now wrapped up with the identity of another person and that’s what it means to say, “the two shall become one.” That isn’t referring just to sexual union. It’s referring to how two lives are interwoven so you don’t have two lives anymore. How can the lives of two men become one? Or two women become one? How is that possible and to what extent is it not possible?—as it would be true in the case of people of opposite sex. Now, those are the kinds of details you have to go in it with and that’s where when you come up in the discussion whether it’s in the law courts or wherever, when you come up to the discussion, you have two men or two women who say, “well, we’re just like a man and a woman.” No, really? So that’s where the details come in but the basic idea and that is why the discussion about homosexual marriage, depending on the context, the appropriate response is, homosexual what? How can the lives of two same sex people come together to form one life? Am I getting that question over to you? How can the lives of two same sex people come together to form a life? Now, we know you can go a long way…brothers, for example or people who are thrown together in the march on Germany. Well, you see life can really throw you together with another person of the same sex. You don’t deny that, see? A lot of times in this argument that point is lost and people want to just say, “Plunk, nothing.” Well, it isn’t nothin. Men and women have been living with one another forever. The issue of sexuality is a separate issue. It isn’t the same as “can the lives of two men or two women be engaged without one another in some deep way?” Yes, they can. Biblically, that’s Ruth and Naomi, see? But, in that case, God was involved in that. So, marriage is a sacrament because, in my opinion, it is impossible if it’s just two people. Bishop Sheanmen, years ago had an old book called Three To Get Married and I don’t know about your experience but I’ll tell you my experience is that it would be inconceivable for me to have been able to have the life that I have had with Jane apart from God and under that then to think of my life without hers, I can’t. I don’t know what it would be. [37:01] So, that’s the challenge now you see.
Let’s just look at the facts. What can be done and what can’t be done as distinct from what I might want to pump up because of some engagement I have with political or social ideas or my own desires. See, that’s the hard work of sorting out and now this is where of course Pastors and teachers come in. And, so if we are going to teach about it, we just have to do a great deal more than getting up and saying, “this is terrible and this is wrong or this is wonderful.” What are the facts? [37:48]
Q: Can you tell me more about the shape of a soul?
A: Well, I am talking about the shape that the person, including their soul will take in union with other people and that marriage is a very special kind of union that makes its own demands and gives its own results. What I am saying is, I mean, someone says, “We can do that—two men and two women.” Okay, what can you do? Let’s see. Look at the facts.
Now, of course there is a level at which you as a pastor will simply say, “It’s wrong and God says it’s wrong.” OK. I would just encourage you—don’t stop there. [38:41]
Q: Does the great commandment have to do with idolatry?
A: That refers to anything other than God—one way of understanding that is to say that all of those are idols. I might take my sexual fulfillment as an idol if I love that more than God. Now, and I wouldn’t want to think of that just in terms of God said, “Don’t do it, but how am I involved in God’s life?” Is there anything more to me than just “I don’t do it” and does that fit in? A common way that I will turn the discussion with young people who come and “out” themselves to me or to their parents when they come around in distress, well, to the young person, I’ll say, “Now, how much is there to you other than your homosexuality? Is that all? Are you going to make a life of being homosexual?” So, you have to broaden the discussion and likewise, loving God with their heart, soul, mind and strength. That wouldn’t just consist in doing what you or someone thinks He says about being homosexual. Actually, that would be a pretty small corner. So you get really the important questions about what are you living for and you need to help people understand that to live for sexual enjoyment—pretty thin gruel and you can blow it up into something it isn’t but actually, there is not a lot to it unless you have been somehow set up so that that’s all you think about. A lot of people are in that position where they are heterosexual or homosexual.
Now today, especially many young people don’t have an identity and they are staggering around and don’t know what to do with themselves and then here comes a ready-made identity—oh, they are homosexual. Look how they are treated—look what a big deal this is socially and so they sense that somehow they can have a ready made identity and they just do that and then they go back. Did I mention here that homosexual stimulation is not uncommon among human beings? It doesn’t mean you are a homosexual if you find that somehow exciting but they might—see, they have a feeling and in the lack of an identity jump to that and now they know who they are, living in a culture that blows sex up into such a big thing and then people think, “Well, I can be that and I will immediately have a community” and a community of people who have been treated unjustly. So, it just gets very complicated and that I think is why we need to back off and deal with these fundamental issues and so, you know, someone says, “Well, I have become a homosexual or I have been a homosexual.” Well, what do you think about the Kingdom of God?—and I think that’s a way to get going. [42:55]
You may have read some of the places where Lewis talks about how he loved men and now then, most people who read that outside of Christianity say, well let’s see how that is homosexual. Well, it wasn’t homosexual at all. He loved men. He loved to get together and laugh and carry on and criticize one another’s work and all that sort of thing, you see. Well, that has been a major part of human fellowship and life. Women, also, you know and so we have lost an awful lot and basically under the heading of “loving people. [43:39]
Q: Can you explain more about identities?
A: Often times in our society with its recent paths, they don’t do justice to this. They have no idea what it means. So, we need to think about that and actually there was a time when your denominational identity in this country gave you an identity. Being a Lutheran, being a Methodist, being Catholic; whatever, it gave you an identity. You knew what to do. That was a much simpler world and had a lot of drawbacks to it but identity is one of the most precious things in human life and without it a person is pretty well ruined. From the inside, they will not have any direction. [44:32]
And so, well, let me turn onto 72 for a moment because of this whole issue. Now, I am retreating back to the issue of sexuality and not just homosexuality and the suffering that serious Christians, young people especially go because they don’t distinguish these three things that I have here. For example, it’s very common for people to think that if they have had a thought of something wrong, they have sinned and this is in part due to failing to translate correctly the passage in Matthew 5. In many of your translations, it was “whomever looks after a woman, and lusts after her.” You understand? That’s actually translated that way in a lot of versions but it does not say that. What is being talked about there is not a thought of sin and one of the great “sillies” of the recent—not too recent past was Jimmy Carter’s admission to Playboy magazine that he had had evil thoughts and he was obviously doing just exactly what is so destructive here. The thought of something wrong with no inclination to do it is something you cannot control directly, though I must say as your mind is progressively transformed, there will be fewer and fewer thoughts and that is not even temptation. Temptation is where you have the thought and the inclination and that is where you are apt to tease that out and foster temptation. That’s what Jesus is actually talking about. He’s talking about if you “look” for the purpose of lusting, then you got a problem. Now, I don’t think He is saying that temptation is sin but it is a problem. So, we want to stay outside of that as much as possible and one way of staying outside of that is to keep out of the thoughts. So, the training of your thoughts—we talked about “how to” yesterday with William James but we want to understand that habit applies to thoughts, feelings, will, actions, social relations. It isn’t just he presents it as it were somehow built into the physics and physiology of the body and a great deal of it is but you want, I hope, to have a better understanding of the person than that and recognize that your mind and your feelings also have habits and we have to break those habits. A good thing is to come to the place to where there are certain thoughts that will not occur to us and especially in sexual relations. We want to come to the place to where as we meet and have to do with one another, we don’t think sexually and that we can come increasingly to that point and certainly the point to where temptation is not a problem. Now, in temptation, you have thought and inclination but the will does not relent. Well, it doesn’t relent to the act. What Jesus is getting at is your will has already relented to something that shouldn’t be there. Now, He says, “he committed adultery already with his heart,” you have to recognize that adultery in the heart is not adultery. No one has ever gotten pregnant or picked up a disease from it and it isn’t the same as adultery but it is a problem. That’s what He is saying and you don’t have a wide vocabulary that people are used to discuss these issues but if you have a person who is cultivating their lusts by how they are relating to another person—that’s a problem. That’s a problem. So, you don’t need to be there and then of course, sin is the relenting of the will and again, it may be that you don’t carry through for external circumstances but “would you if you could you?” That is where we have said yes to the deed whether actually carried out or not. And we don’t want to be in that position and the way to stay out of that position is to stay out of temptation and a good way to stay out of temptation is to be trained to where there are certain things you just don’t think and now, I don’t think it is a mistake to say that for most people in the area of sexuality they think and they indulge their thinking and they cultivate it and some people, that ‘s what one of the things that is being addressed in Colossians 3, “lay aside fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection.” That is, desires that are out of order and then you have the wonderful old category in the King James, “evil concupiscence” which sounds like something you wouldn’t want to get into but it just means “inherently evil desires”. Now, the previous category wasn’t inherently evil desires; it was desires out of order—out of balance; inordinate affections. So, those, you know, we have to really come to appreciate the subtlety of the writers of the Scripture and try to attend to the nuances and one of the benefits of memorizing is you do get to attend to the nuances and they become very instructive when you have a passage you have read all your life and suddenly when you memorize it, something hits you in the face and you may very well, say, “Wow, that’s helpful. Thank you.” So, we have to do justice to the subtly and depth of the Bible. It is not written as a theological or psychological treatise and if it were it would be impossible for people to read. In fact, for many people it’s impossible anyway. They don’t recognize what a challenge the Bible is intellectually. I include a quote in the book, Knowing Christ Today from C. S. Lewis where he says, “you know you don’t have to be educated to read the Bible” partly because reading the Bible is an education but you have to accept it as that and not groan because it puts you to sleep. Say, “No, this is a challenge and I have to rise to that and accept it. It is the most profound book in human history by far—by far—but that means you have to dig. You have to live with it. You have to learn and grow and develop the concepts and watch how it comes along. Then, it’s really very rich.
OK, let’s take a little break and come back in 15 minutes and we will go on from there.