Episode 089: Confused Sexuality with Owen Strachan
There seems to be some confusion regarding sexuality today – both in the church and world. Not everyone’s confused, by the way. Many people are quite confident in their views. And while there is some authentic confusion, there’s also unconscious confusion. Looking at the church, you see two major camps when it comes to sexuality: one is the more orthodox, traditional view, and the other is a more liberal, progressive view. And then in those two camps are multiple little camps. So, what should we believe? Just last month The Nashville Statement was released – a statement that affirmed biblical truths in regards to homosexuality and transgenderism. This, obviously, caused much controversy among the church. To tell us about the statement and then help us know how to respond to sexual confusion we have author and professor Owen Strachan joining us this week.
Who’s Our Guest?
Owen Strachan is associate professor of Christian Theology at The Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, senior fellow at The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (where he used to sit as President), and the author of many books, including The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them. Owen and his wife Bethany and their children live in Missouri.
The book that Owen mentioned (written with Gavin Peacock) is called The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them.
You can also access The Center for Public Theology where Owen frequently writes.
Lastly, if you haven’t yet seen/read The Nashville Statement, you should check it out.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio conversation.
With me today is professor and author Owen Strachan. I’m not going to list everything that he’s done because that would take a bit of time, but I will say that he’s currently Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He used to sit as president over the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as well. Anyways, it’s great to have you on the show today Owen.
Thank you so much Isaac, great to be with you.
Before we get into our conversation on the confused sexual state of the church and the world, who are you? How did you meet Jesus? What does your day to day life look like right now?
I am … Wow, that’s an interesting question. I am a speck of dust, speaking into the void. No, that’s a little philosophical.
I am a professor of systematic theology. I’m a husband and a father, married to Bethany now for over a decade. I have three little kids and find a ton of happiness and satisfaction in being a husband and a father. I’m a churchman. I love the church, the Lord Jesus Christ. I love writing books and have written a few. I love teaching students and training the next generation of pastors. Those are a few things about me.
That’s awesome. And your day to day life? If you’re an associate professor, you’re probably already into teaching this semester.
Yes. I’m actually on sabbatical. I’ve taught now for about, yeah, seven years, and so I had successfully entered my first ever sabbatical for the full academic year … People hear that and they think, “What on earth are you going to do with your time?” Actually I have a couple book projects I’m doing. I just did a 365 day devotional with Johnathan Edwards, he is my coauthor, though I’m not sure what he thinks about being my coauthor. Then I’m going to do a biblical anthropology at the academic level, so writing a doctrine of humanity basically, for DNH Academy. So yeah, full slate of things to do.
Good for you. That is awesome. As I was looking at you online, I noticed that you were a fan of Johnathan Edwards. It was funny, just this past long weekend in the summer, my wife and I decided to go through Freedom of the Will. We did it slowly, out loud, back and forth to one another. It was the most brain challenging thing. Anyways, it was a lot of fun, but Johnathan Edwards, man, he is quite the guy.
Yeah, Freedom of the Will is not for the faint of heart. It’s a very intense text, like most of Edwards’ masterworks. But if you can read it, if you can apply yourself to it, it takes a lot of time. I’ve heard John Piper recommend a single page a day from those serious, heady treatises of Edwards. Then yeah, it richly pays all the effort, all the undertaking.
Yeah, for sure. Anyways, okay, let’s get into this.
At the end of last month there was a statement on biblical sexuality published called The Nashville Statement. In brief Owen, what is this statement all about?
Yeah, The Nashville Statement is a statement that is produced by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which I was formerly president of, now I’m senior fellow of, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s a statement that basically attempts to provide the church with clarity about sexual ethics.
So, what it means to follow Christ. It offers specific guidance on the matters of homosexuality and transgenderism that basically no one has really spoken up about in a formal sense and defined. The Nashville Statement as produced by Denny Burk, John Piper, Russel Moore, Andrew Walker and others, is an attempt to provide guidance on these very vexing issues before us.
Okay, yeah. Now, for those, Owen, that are kind of unfamiliar with the idea of statements in church history, I guess a question would be, can you give us a reason for why they are important? Why is it even called a statement? I guess a question could be, why can’t we just, quote-unquote, “I’m just going to believe what the Bible says,” and then not have to adhere to a statement?
Well, in a perfect world, we would say that and it would be true, that everybody simply believes the Bible and we go from there and we don’t really need to clarify or define things. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a vacuum, we certainly don’t live in a kind of heresy-proof zone.
We live in a fallen world, and even the church, if it’s not careful, can be led astray by what 2 Peter 2 calls, “False teachers.”
So statements have arisen and been written in church history at different points. I think of the Barmen Declaration in the 1930s by German pastors, or I think of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978, and others we could mention. These are statements that are attempting to define what orthodoxy is, what the Bible would have the church preach and profess on a given issue. A statement doesn’t absolutely have to be produced or something like this, but
a statement is an attempt, usually, at least, to offer guidance on tough contextual matters.
Yeah, for sure. Thank you for explaining that.
One doesn’t really have to look long at the evangelical general Christian church in just even North America to find this major split between a more traditional orthodox understanding of what sexuality is, and then a more progressive version as well. So, even though we both believe in the former, I was wondering if you’d be willing to try and explain what someone would believe, a self-identifying Christian who believes in this kind of progressive sexuality? How do they see humanity? How do they see God, Jesus, the gospel and so on?
Basically, if you really want to zero in to what a progressive Christianity would say about sexual ethics, the answer would be, not a whole lot.
Because a sexual progressive is somebody who is not really going to the Bible for what the intention of God is obviously for humanity.
A sexual progressive is going to say, along the lines of a secular culture, that, “I am basically a project and I make myself who I am. I’m not defined by anyone outside of myself. I’m kind of my own authority.”
This is drafting off of– we’d have to do a deep dive that we don’t have time for but this is drafting off of what you could call an enlightenment conception of the human person, where we essentially build from the ground up who we are.
We don’t receive any kind of identity from God or from the Scripture or any external authority. Along those lines, if I feel certain desires coursing through me, raging in me, I don’t need to assume that those desires need to be remade, they’re not disordered necessarily, that’s just who I am. Suffice it to say that on matters of sexuality, as on many different matters, anger for example, just because I have a temper that flares up frequently in my everyday life doesn’t mean that I then say, “My identity is that of an angry person. I’m not going to correct this desire, I’m going to own it.” No, many of us, whether Christian or non-Christian would say, “Okay. Yeah, let’s work with that temper because the outbursts need to stop.”
Right, right. Now, there seems to be some pushback, especially with Article 10 on the Nashville Statement. I’ll read this article to you. It says this,
“We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism, and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” And then, “We deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference, about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”
Now, there has been some pushback because there have been lot’s of self-identifying Christians saying that is very … They’re pretty much saying, “You’re telling me that I’m not a Christian,” when they approve of homosexuality and transgenderism. So, yeah, flesh this out a little bit.
Yeah. This is a tough matter. There’s a wide ranging discussion over this issue. One of the places that has gone is gay Christianity, to cut right to the quick. Some folks today identify as gay Christians. I would stand with many others in saying that
somebody can definitely experience same-sex attraction in an ongoing way and walk faithfully with Jesus Christ.
Really the debate is over terminology. Is it a sound and healthy thing to call yourself a gay Christian, or a transgender Christian or some such term?
I would have some serious reservations about that, reservations that are expressed in a form there, in Article 10. I wouldn’t, for example, say, “I’m an alcoholic Christian,” or God forbid, “A pedophilic Christian.” I would say, “I’m a Christian, and yes, I have my struggles to fight, as everybody does.” But I’m in no way going to base or ground my identity in any sinful behaviour, anything the Bible does not affirm. That’s what I would respond to that question.
But it’s an issue that the church is definitely debating, and I’m praying with many others that we’ll come out on the right side of that.
Yeah, no, that’s good Owen. I guess to tag onto that too, would you say that the differing views on biblical sexuality differ from, let’s say, differing views on eschatology? Sometimes when we think about end-time theories, let’s say for example, we can say, we can agree to disagree with other Christians but it cannot be the same with sexual beliefs.
That’s a great question. I would say that, you want to go to a place like 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in Scripture, where Paul speaks to both participants in a homosexual encounter, and says that, “Such were some of you” to the Corinthian church, to a sexually compromised church. Paul is actually speaking to people who are mired in much more significant cultural sexual sin than we are.
Corinth would make Manhattan blush, 1st Century Corinth that is, or Toronto or Quebec or whatever major city you want to choose that flaunts some of these sexual conventions, biblical conventions.
I would say, yes there are matters that Christians have essentially, to use an overused phrase, “agreed to disagree” about.
I don’t think that homosexuality is one that the church finds a great deal of room to disagree about.
The historic church has not taken that position, the modern church has not taken that position, the Bible, I don’t think, takes that position. I do think that there are some matters in Scripture frankly that are clearer than others.
I’m glad to confess that I teach that in my systematic theology class here at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City. I just want you to know Isaac, and your listeners to know, I don’t mean to be talking out of both sides of my mouth, there are matters, even the age of the earth for example. People take the biblical text seriously but come to slightly different conclusions. But
when it comes to sexuality, either the behaviour is right or wrong.
There’s not a lot of give there. I would say, we need to go back to some of these core texts and search them out afresh.
Yeah. No, that’s really good. Owen, as you’ve obviously sat as the president and still are affiliated with the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, I guess a question would be, how important is it for Christians of all ages, but especially young adults today, to really study the Bible’s true teaching on sexuality? That’s a very general question, but I just want to see your understanding of how important this is in our day and age right now?
Yeah, it’s like giving a t-bone to a labrador. Yeah, I would say that
we need to be very careful and think hard about a paradigm that holds out sexual ethics, or any other matter, as if it is adiaphora, a theological matter than doesn’t essentially matter.
Evangelicals in the 20th Century got pretty used to a kind of doctrinal ranking system, where we have primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrine, and we would say, “Oh, that’s a primary doctrine so we’re going to hold to that. Tertiary doctrine doesn’t really matter.” Now, of course we can all admit that there are some doctrines that are closer to the burning core than others.
I’m of those evangelicals who would affirm that, but we also want to be careful. Jesus says that, “Neither jot nor tittle will pass away from the law.” His law of course, His law of love, you know, covenant law. So, when we’re thinking about the teaching of God, we just need to know this,
God doesn’t give us a ranking system for the Bible, so we want to approach every doctrine, every verse, every passage, not as if we’re doing ethical theological buffet, but as we’re seeking to obey it and live by it in the fullest possible extent.
These matters are core matters. Human sexuality is, even in Christian circles, sometimes treated, perhaps because it’s divisive, let’s be honest, in a secular culture, as if it doesn’t really matter. But think about where it’s placed,
think about where the creation of a man and a woman is. It’s not buried somewhere, it’s right there at the beginning. Man and woman come almost as soon as the heavens and the earth and the sky come.
Genesis 1-2, I would encourage us all, and myself, to return to those foundation texts that give us human origins.
I don’t think, by the way, that Genesis 2 is totem pole, I think that it’s actually displaying how God makes the man and the woman. If we toy with that, then we’re going to end up in some interesting places when we try to defend actual, real manhood and actual, real womanhood.
Yeah. No, that’s great. Okay, so the last three questions I would like you to answer to the best of your ability are responses that you would give to these three scenarios. The first one is this, what would you say to a non-Christian listening to this right now, who’s thinking, “And this is the reason why I can’t stand Christianity, they’re always bickering with one another about these different issues, and especially about sexuality.” What would you say to a non-Christian who thinks that way?
I would say that
Christians will split churches over the colour of the carpet, so do not underestimate our ability to disagree with one another.
Having grown up in small Baptist church circles in Maine, very near to Canada, in my youth, I’ve seen that firsthand. I would go on to say that actually,
sexuality is a key part of human flourishing. God has a plan for men, God has a plan for women.
“God calls men to be the head of their wife,” Ephesians 5, “God calls men to be elders and pastors in the local church,” 1 Timothy 2. And yes, there’s disagreement among genuine evangelicals over these matters, but
disagreement doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as truth. We have to search out what the truth is.
I would want an unbeliever to see that sexuality is not a matter to be sorted out long after one figures out the historicity of Christ, the truthfulness of the resurrection, something like this. You look at a person like Rosaria Butterfield for example, who was a professor of Queer Studies at Syracuse University in New York, and you recognize for her as with so many today, actually obeying God’s plan for human sexuality is a huge part of coming to faith.
I would want that skeptical friend to understand that, to see that as best they could, as best I could make it clear, and also even Christians to see that vital truth.
Yeah, that’s awesome. Alright, so the next scenario would be this, what would you say to a Christian who has come now to the realization that they have to make a decision on where to stand? If they’re going to go along with what the world says sexuality is, and that even some of the church is saying, “Yeah, you can keep doing that,” or on the other side? If they’re unsure on where to stand, how would you best counsel them in this?
I would say they need to know that faith in Jesus Christ is going to cost them everything, and that we are not in the business in coming to faith, however well intentioned in this endeavor, of bartering how much of our former lives we’re going to hold on to and how much we’re going to give away. I think of Rosaria’s story, you can read about that story, the listener can, in her book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. I think also of the story of another lesbian woman interestingly, Jackie Hill-Perry, who’s a spoken word artist here in the States. Jackie was also a lesbian and also was confronted by the claims of Christ, and also saw that she was going to have to radically leave her sin.
That’s true even if you don’t have this dramatic conversion narrative though. The person who never acts, for example, on a desire, forget homosexuality for a minute, but never acts on that desire to lustfully engage in heterosexual behaviour outside the covenant of marriage, that in itself is a dying to self.
We’ve got to recover death to self, carrying one’s cross, as the essential mark of Christianity, the essential mark of treasuring Christ, every single day we take that cross up and we follow him. There’s no bartering those terms away.
Yeah. That’s good. As you say that, it kind of reminds me of when Jesus is talking about the cost of discipleship. We have to consider that before we even think about it.
That’s really important. The last one was this, what would you say to a Christian who believes in orthodox historical biblical sexuality, and seeks to make a difference in our sexually confused church and world? Maybe this young adult is in a church, let’s say, that maybe the church leaders are condoning more worldly ideas or ideologies of sexuality, or maybe their friends are thinking this. What would you say to help them take a stance and help this confused state?
Let me say one word and then a direct answer.
I’ve actually co-written a book that answers some of these questions. I’ve written it with a Canadian pastor named Gavin Peacock.
Gavin formerly captained Chelsea, the English soccer club, English premiere league, for a number of years and was a star really, a soccer star before giving it all up, moving to Canada, Canmore in Alberta, and becoming a pastor. We wrote a book called The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them, for Christian focus. The Grand Design has answers, it’s a short book, but it has answers to a number of these questions.
I would say to somebody who is in a church that is compromised on these matters, or is perhaps moving a bit, or exploring “Can we kind of have some sort of truce with the world?”, “Can we call people out of certain behaviours but still allow them to retain an identity?” all these sorts of things that honestly good-hearted people are trying to work through, I would just say, know that probably if you are not the senior pastor, your ability to affect change in a church is going to be limited. That doesn’t mean that you leave right away, I wouldn’t say that.
I know faithful believers in churches and denominations that don’t hold exactly what I would see as biblical truth, but they’re trying to be a light there. I would say though that you really feel, to use a cheesy phrase, the wind beneath your wings when you are linking arms, because church membership, let’s be honest, is linking arms with people. It’s a living fellowship, it’s not just your name on a piece of paper.
You’re going to feel God’s pleasure, to quote Eric Liddell, when you are with believers who love the truth of the Word of God.
So what I’m praying for in America and Canada, all over the world, is that there will be a recovery of a love for the Word of God. Forget sexual ethics, just a whole-hearted, full-throated confidence in biblical doctrine, and that there will be many, many more churches planted by faithful men who go out and sound these things, shake the rafters with these truths and lovingly call sinners to faith, total repentance. Not partial repentance but total repentance in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s where I think you’re really going to see the gospel spread and take root in people’s lives.
Yeah, that’s awesome Owen. This obviously, it’s such a short period of time, so we’re going to have to cut it short here, but Owen, if people want to read more from what you’ve done, maybe articles, books, is there some place that they can go online to find that?
Yeah, I appreciate that. I’m on Twitter, the handle is @ostrachan. Then I have a website where I post articles on sexual ethics and many other matters. The website is The Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Seminary here in Kansas City. The website address, very quickly, is cpt.mbts.edu. That’s a place to go.
The book that I mentioned is The Grand Design. Those are some resources for folks, thank you.
That’s awesome. Thank you so much Owen for your time and your wisdom today. Again, if you’re listening and you just heard Owen say those places, I’ll put all those links to the websites and to that book, The Grand Design, all these different things on the episode page. But again, thank you so much Owen, I hope to talk to you again soon.
Thanks a ton Isaac.