The Danger of Grace Without Truth
The speaker, Brennan Manning, was impressive. I had read his books on grace and healing, and attended his meetings that my church had sponsored. Still, I felt uneasy. So much love, I thought. But what about the clear word to lay aside childish things, to take hold of the greater, truer aspects of one’s identity in Christ? Agreed—God embraces us in our weakness. But in our wickedness? I wondered about his take on sexual purity, especially on homosexuality.…
I met with Manning for lunch to pursue these questions. He appeared genuinely offended when I expressed my concerns over his ambiguous references to homosexuality in his writings. During our uneasy meal, he advocated for committed gay couples; he also challenged my commitment to a biblical sexual ethic--no sex with either gender outside of the heterosexual marital covenant—as narrow and uninformed. I shared with him about Desert Stream's commitment to providing safe and powerful opportunities in the church for the transformation of the homosexual. My assistant Mark Pertuit and I both shared about our own healing journeys. Manning dismissed our offering on the grounds that I was not enough of a moral theologian to be taken seriously on the issue.
Obviously, Manning and I have a different take on moral authority. Mine is derived from a conservative take on Scripture; his base of authority is unclear to me. But out of that lack of clarity emerges from him (and, sad to say, many like him) a dreadful sentimentalizing of homosexuality. Strangely, those bound by same-sex tendencies become the “sacred cows” of healers like Manning. Instead of embracing confused men and women with truth and grace, these ones dance around the struggler, granting him or her an almost heroic status. The result is a false compassion that can encourage one to identify and act on one’s homosexuality.
Grace without the clear and authoritative truth of Scripture is deadly. The goalposts change. We lose the revelation of God’s will for our humanity. We are left instead to construct an identity based upon our experience of reality. “I feel gay; therefore, I am gay; therefore, God blesses my gayness.” This strips the cross of its meaning. Jesus died to offer us the way back to the garden; He rose to raise us up according to the Father’s will for our humanity. If that truth is lost, then grace becomes meaningless; its life-transforming current becomes diffused, powerless. The truth of Scripture guides the current of grace. Without truth, grace loses its essential, dynamic power to transform lives.
For many healers of influence, grace embraces the same-sex struggler, but is apparently unable to transform him. Certain ones have empowered this deception--like Mel White, a former Fuller professor and evangelical pastor, who now heads up Soulforce, a gay advocacy group. In his biography Stranger at the Gate, White portrays himself as a somewhat tragic figure whose gay impulses compelled him to form multiple partnerships before and after his marriage dissolved.
Friends of his, like the late ethicist Lewis Smedes of Fuller Seminary, took up White’s journey into gay liberation as nearly authoritative. As a result, Dr. Smedes became profoundly distrustful of students like myself who dared to advocate for the healing of the homosexual. I would pass Smedes in the hallway; he would look me straight in the eye and ask, “How long before you fall back [into homosexuality]?”
Far more subtle is the influence of White upon Philip Yancey. The prolific writer featured White in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, showcasing White and his friendship with him as a powerful example of God’s grace. Though the author does not embrace all of White’s choices, Yancey highlights a man who has become the most influential gay Christian of our day. Inadvertently, the author provides an ungodly bridge between a false prophet (White) and thousands of readers seeking clarity in the area of homosexuality. Perhaps Yancey’s inclusion of White in his book is an example of one who has “secretly slipped in among” us in order to “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4).
Grace without truth is deadly. It plays upon our sentiments. “I want to be a nice guy. I do not want to give a hurting person any more trouble. Didn’t Jesus include the outcasts?” Our desire to be merciful is understandable but uninformed. Sentimentalism distorts the essence of the homosexual conflict; it promotes a dramatic view of the self, which only distances the struggler from his cure.
And it distances one from the real good news of the Gospel. To be sure, Jesus first called the religious hypocrites to repentance. But He then called His followers to deal forthrightly with their sin (Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-12). To ignore the latter is to scramble the witness of Christ and to set up vulnerable ones for deception.
Men and women facing profound same-sex vulnerabilities require the fullness of grace and truth. Without that fullness, we can readily mislead God’s people into powerful deception. What if I had gone to a Manning or a White at the onset of my healing journey? Perhaps we as Christians are far too naïve in what and who we take in.
Our Christian world affords us a range of broad influences. We must ask ourselves: What is this leader’s basis for authority? Is grace harmonized with biblical truth? Ask God for discernment; then act on it. Be prepared to ask the hard questions. Increasingly, we will face well-respected Christian leaders who are deceived and deceiving others in the areas of sexuality and homosexuality. We must speak the truth in love to them. We do so for their sakes, and for those who would otherwise be led astray by them.
Amid the battles you will face in such truth-telling, share joyfully and generously about the healing of the homosexual. If you are being transformed in this area of your life, make it known. If you know of others who are being set free, make it known. Nothing conveys more powerfully the fullness of grace and truth than the transformation of the same-sex struggler! What God raises up in the yielded, resolute one is nothing less than His glorious image, all through the liberating power of grace. True grace. What a message for our day! What a great and glorious God we serve. What a privilege to make Him known through the testimony of changed lives.
“Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ…” (Phil. 3:18). “For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error” (2 Pet. 2:18).
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
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