Just moments ago on Friday afternoon, October 10th, Dr. Greg Thornbury of Union University in Jackson, TN gave an address at “The Politics of Jesus” conference at the First Baptist Church of Durham, NC entitled “Marriage: If Not Sacred – What?” The young theologian of rising renown spoke with characteristic eloquence and punch in his talk, questioning as he went along the helpfulness of natural law theory, the state of marriage in the current, the need to evangelize through biography, and the duty of the church to place itself in the midst of society as a light in darkness.
“Marriage: If Not Sacred – What?”
I. Opening Excursus on the Promises and Disappointments of Natural Law
a. Key Matters
With the foundational consensus crumbling, how can the church even speak of marriage in the culture in a manner which would gain a hearing? Is marriage within evangelical life flourishing to the point that it commends marriage to the unbelieving world? In what way can a common language be advanced in the matter of public law, and how should local churches respond to this cultural change?
b. 2008 may well be remembered as the year when the apple lost its shine relative to natural law theory and marriage
c. Evangelical media personalities are now the stuff of parody
d. Henry—conservative evangelicals never heeded his call to social responsibility but had adopted posturing, overheated rhetoric, and “logically irreconcilable one-liners”
Bad: “Not Adam and Steve, it’s Adam and Eve in the Bible”
e. Neo-thomists are legion, for they are many—Sproul, George, Geisler
Hope for natural law is high now
f. We Christians like the “silver bullet” idea—we seek the one solution that will cure all our problems
1. Some now think that pure reason, cool analysis, is the answer for evangelical political woes; natural law is the answer!, some say.
2. (Sarcastically) Shame on Carl Henry, Karl Barth, Jacques Ellul and Stanley Hauerwas for their biblical idealism
3. Thornbury: I had an opportunity to speak to a Washington legal group and was told that my talk could not include any Scriptures; I am skeptical that such an approach could work
g. Is Optimism in the power of Natural Law justified?
i. Pinker: Concept of dignity is natural ground on which to build a ground for bio-ethics.
ii. Church is franchised to guide people in the most important events of people’s lives.
iii. Thornbury: If you want to cite Roman Catholics this much, just go ahead and cite Scripture
iv. Sooner or later, you will encounter a Jabba the Hut who recognizes that natural law theorists are ultimately Catholic or Catholic-influenced
2. Also, while truth may be objective (ala natural law), knowledge is always personal (cf Polanyi)
i. Also, do we really trust public reason? We should not be too optimistic about pure reason; 30% of Americans believe in UFOs
ii. I do not dislike natural law theory altogether but I do think it is a bad fit for a postmodern age
II. The Foundational Consensus on Marriage Crumbles
a. Bans in trouble
1. California State Court overturned the marriage amendment
2. Marriage issues are off the radar due to the economic crisis
3. 33% of evangelicals have no problem with same-sex marriage in some polls
b. Evangelical’s house not in order
1. Evangelicals divorce at the same rate as the culture
2. Barna Group: in area of divorce rates, evangelicals are just like the culture
3. What can help us regain credibility in the culture?
III. Community, Narrative, Biography, and Public Policy
a. Our weakness on the marriage issue is in the area of authenticity
1. How about a seminar on how to forgive as a Christian? To forgive as a spouse?
b. The language of life action almost always speaks louder than speech—we need to acquire a Jesus “skill set”
c. The remarkable claims of Athenagoras
1. Recounted injustices Christians suffered
2. Implored persecutors to examine the lives of Christians—prayed for the country, group did not commit abortions, no accusation would stick to the group
d. Defending the Power of Narrative Theology
1. Some evangelical leaders have recently said that Christianity is not a life, but a body of doctrine
2. The Christian life tells a body of doctrine better than any other medium!
3. Biography is an ideal medium for the current day; could not stories of inspiring lives mean as much as syllogistic arguments?
i. We know that we are sinners; we need to tell our own stories of sin and redemption
ii. We should tell stories with moral clarity and courage, just like numerous Hollywood movies (Juno, for example)
IV. Four Questions for Testing the Authenticity of Narratives in Public Policy
a. Is there “articularity”? (literary data) Can you tell the story articulately?
Charles Taylor: the key power of an idea’s power is articularity, not inarticulateness
b. How deeply rooted in the tradition of the culture in question is the story? (biblical data) Scriptures are part of our culture, so we should use them; they are part of our cultural literacy
How well have the Islamic scriptures contributed to society?
c. What is the shape of the narrative? (sociological data) Sociological data continues to suggest that a home with a dad and a mom is the happiest of all forms
Example of a salesclerk who did not know what a wedding was like and wanted to find out; natural curiosity
d. Is there explanatory power to the story? (natural law) Can we not say that nature creates an inherent complementarity between the sexes?
Knowledge can be experienced by communities, individuals, societies; in this sense it is strongest, not when it is merely cognitive
V. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Religionless Time”
a. The confessing church struggled mightily in Nazi Germany to stem the tide of evil
The broad majority of citizens trusted Hitler and his government; Bonhoeffer did not
b. “Do not seek great things for yourselves” (Jer. 45:5) Bonhoeffer quoted this line from Jeremiah to establish the fact that God would save the soul and that even if God destroyed Germany, He would save the souls even as the building burnt to the ground
1. The church stands not at the boundaries of culture, but in the middle of the village
2. The church does not stand in the halls of power; it does not seek power; it must stand in the midst of the village, giving biographies to those who desperately need the Lord Jesus Christ