August 29, 2017
Denny Burk[In the wake of the release of The Nashville Statement last week there have been several critical comments and questions raised. Denny Burk responded to these issues and his treatment is well worth your close consideration.]
As The Nashville Statement began to trend today on Twitter, we began to see a lot of support gathering for the statement. We also began to see a great deal of criticism and more than a few questions. All of this was to be expected. This will be an ongoing conversation going forward, and we will be engaging the substantive issues at stake in the days ahead in this space. But I wanted to take an opportunity to address three items that have come up today—two mundane points and one substantive.
I have been asked numerous times today why this statement and why now? We began planning this statement months ago. In fact, when I accepted the position as president of CBMW over a year ago, I announced what we planned to do:
Evangelicals [need] to come together to produce a new statement of conviction concerning these current challenges. This will be hard work and will likely take some time. But it will be worth the effort to produce a statement of evangelical unity on these matters that can serve as a reference point for churches and Christian organizations that are looking for confessional language on these issues. We will need all hands on deck for this effort, and I am hopeful that a broad coalition of like-minded brothers and sisters will come together to have a hand in this work. I am confident that we can achieve this.
About nine months ago, we began making plans to convene the meeting in partnership with the ERLC’s research institute (which is headed by my good friend Andrew Walker). The ERLC’s national conference is held annually in late August. So once ERLC agreed to host our meeting to finalize the draft, the date was set—August 25. We have been planning for this particular date for many months now.
The mayor of Nashville sharply criticized The Nashville Statement today in large part because of the name. She tweeted:
The @CBMWorg’s so-called “Nashville Statement” is poorly named and does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville. 10:45 AM – Aug 29, 2017
A reporter in Nashville asked me to comment on the mayor’s tweet and why we chose the name we did. It’s a fair question, and here is the answer that I gave to the reporter. There is a long Christian tradition of naming doctrinal statements after the places where they were drawn up: The Nicene Creed (325), the Constantinopolitan Creed (381), the Chalcedonian Creed (451), etc. Even more recently, there was the Barmen Declaration (1934), The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), The Danvers Statement (1987), and the Manhattan Declaration (2009). There are countless other examples. In each case, the name simply indicates where the statements were drawn up. Whether The Nashville Statement will prove to be as enduring as those others remains to be seen. But that is the reason for the name. We were simply following a precedent set by many before us.
3. Article 10
I would say that by far, the most push-back that I have heard today has related to Article 10, which 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.
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.
Evangelicals who have been drifting away from biblical fidelity on these issues have often been running under the cover of confusion—confusion about what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith. From the very beginning of the Christian faith, sexual morality has always been central. Those who wish to follow Jesus must pursue sexually pure lives. A person may follow Jesus, or he may pursue sexual immorality. But he cannot do both. He must choose. One path leads to eternal life, and the other does not. These are not new teachings. They are the ancient faith.
And yet, there are many “evangelicals” who are trying to convince other evangelicals that homosexual immorality is a special case. They are trying to convince people that same-sex immorality and following Jesus can indeed go together. One of the main reasons for The Nashville Statement is to expose this contradiction.
In my address to the meeting in Nashville on Friday, I highlighted Article 10 with these words:
That is why Article 10 of The Nashville Statement is as important as any other article before you today… We are not arguing today about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We are not spinning our wheels about adiaphora or some issue of moral indifference. We are declaring what it means to be a male or female image-bearer. We are defining the nature of the marriage covenant and of the sexual holiness and virtue. To get these questions wrong is to walk away from Jesus not to him. There is no more central concern than that.
Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality… Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:3-8). The stakes are higher than the revisionists want you to believe, and The Nashville Statement aims to clarify that.
The Nashville Statement leaves no room for such revisions nor does it leave ambiguity on the question. But we are not merely reasserting what the Bible says about the moral status of homosexuality. We are also saying that the gospel of Jesus of Christ offers hope for those laboring under the power of this particular temptation:
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.
We labor for moral clarity on the point not so that we can say to sinners, “Keep out!” We are standing with our arms wide open saying, “Please, come in. Come to the waters of life available to any and every sinner who turns from sin to trust in Christ.” But we cannot make plain the path to life to those who think they don’t need it. And the revisionists of our time are leading precious people away from Jesus and not to Jesus because they are telling them that they have no judgment to fear. This is the opposite of love.
Real love—as God defines it—always rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). And that is our aim with The Nashville Statement.