Two Ways News
Two Ways News
Greetings from the Letterbox

Greetings from the Letterbox

Responding to our dear listeners' correspondence

Dear friends

Tony is away on leave for the next few weeks, so today you have me—Jessica Sutandar from the Two Ways News production team—introducing the episodes in his stead. The following weeks will feature some episodes that Tony and Phillip recorded before Tony went on leave.

Today, in this long-awaited letterbox episode, Tony has recorded his response to some of the questions that you have sent over the past few weeks, dear listeners.

Below is an edited transcript of select answers (in response to Paul Grimmond’s comment on theological application and to Sam’s question on how we interact with our homosexual friends.) If you would like to listen to the full episode, you can click the audio player above.

We hope this helps as you continue to consider the various aspects and challenges of living for the gospel.



From the Letterbox

The depth of theological application

This question relates to an episode that we put out a few weeks ago where I discussed the regulative principle and the normative principle in regards to the history of the way we evangelical reformed types have applied the Bible to our practice of church (to what we do in church and church services and church ministry). We discussed the debate between Cartwright and Hooker and the different instincts that we have within our tribes, and about how the Bible relates to what we do in church and in ministry.

A summary of that episode: It was like a preliminary episode before I gave a talk at the Nexus conference on this very topic. I foreshadowed the kind of approach that I would take to applying the Bible to our practice, which I call the apprenticeship approach where we follow the way the Bible thinks about things and follow the trains of thought that the biblical authors undertake as they think about particular issues, and then seek to do the same. I put forth this approach to be more helpful to take instead of the regulative principle where we seek for a specific set of commands or ordinances that tightly regulate what we do, as well as instead of the more normative tendency of thinking that it's all fairly open and pretty much largely up to us in how we structure everything in our church meetings and in our church ministries. This apprenticeship approach shows that there is a third and better way, which is to look to the Bible into what God says, but in a way that seeks to think through our circumstances in the way they thought through theirs. 

In response to the episode I put out, a number of people got in touch. Our good friend Paul Grimmond from Moore College got in touch to say that he really enjoyed that particular episode, and that our conclusions about the nature of the Bible and its application were very close to the conclusions he arrived at himself. Paul has done a lot of research and has written a thesis on application in preaching. But he also said: 

“I want to raise something where I just flinched ever so slightly. As you got to the landing point of your argument, you used the following sentence, ‘There's a movement of thought from the theological principles of the cross of Jesus Christ, that ought to drive you to think and act in a completely different way.’ While I'm completely on board with your statement, I do have a slight nervousness here. One of my observations when working on my thesis is that younger evangelicals, although not exclusively younger ones, have a very narrow definition of the cross of Christ–which is what we mentioned in our quote–that the cross of Christ is basically shorthand for the forgiveness of sins. And this connection is deeply embedded in people's hermeneutics and the way they read the Bible. And my problem is that forgiveness of sins tends to produce a very reduced or reductionistic response to ethical teaching and shaping. If I'm thinking about how the apostle Paul responds to the challenges of everyday Christian living in a sinful world through theological application, it seems to me that he applies the cross, but also the resurrection and the shape of the created order and the character of God and so on to argue his point. I have taken to trying to talk about ethical decision making in terms of a variety of categories, in order to try and force people into a wider view of salvation and a broader canvas of truth to draw from. I hope this little reflection is vaguely helpful. Thanks for your ongoing efforts to keep us thinking.” 

Thanks, Paul. I thoroughly and entirely agree it's one of those cases where the quick summary you give on the fly as you're speaking doesn't capture the full emphasis that you'd like to. It's very much exactly what I'm wanting to get at that when we read the Bible, we shouldn't have just one framework in our heads that we always default to, and not read what's actually there. And when we do read what's actually there, as we look at the way the apostles and the biblical authors apply theological truth to what we do and how we do everything–including what we do in church–they draw on a whole range of theological truths and emphases, often not the ones we would naturally pick, in order to argue their point, in order to say on the basis of this we should behave in this way. And in fact, the whole approach I'm recommending, which is the apprenticeship approach, is one that looks at what's actually happening in the Bible and the way that it argues about certain things and seeks to do the same in the situations we find ourselves in. 

So thanks, Paul, for writing in with that clarification. Very helpful. And yes, you're quite right, the little, simple throwaway line we had there, doesn't capture that richness. And that's why having someone write in and having a chance to clarify and expand is such a good thing. 

Interacting with our homosexual friends

And in response to the episode on Romans 1, Sam wrote in with this question: 

“In relation to your recent podcast, which dealt in some depth with homosexuality, could you please offer some suggestions as to how Christians should or could conduct social relationships with homosexual people? I'm sure it's something many of your listeners and subscribers struggle with. I have a number of friends who are in homosexual relationships. I'm conflicted, because I wish to enjoy the company of these friends, and yet I want to “warn” them in a loving way about their homosexuality in the context of God's Word. How do I do this? How will you do this? It seems that a practical discussion of this would be helpful.” 

That's a great question, Sam. And I think I'd like to approach it through the lens of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6 because we're thinking about apprenticing ourselves to Scripture and thinking, “How does the Bible think about things?” And in the two chapters there in 1 Corinthians 5-6, we see Paul responding to immorality on the part of people but in different ways. At the beginning of chapter five, there's a brother in the church in Corinth who is living an outrageously immoral life. He has his father's wife, Paul says, and his response and what he recommends–in terms of the response of the Corinthians to this–is a kind of no tolerance policy that that person should be expelled from their fellowship. And this is a theme that goes through those two chapters that if someone is a Christian brother or sister and is openly embracing unbiblical and immoral ways of living–and the particular example in chapter five is a particular form of sexual immorality–then this is a really serious, serious thing for our fellowship with that person and their fellowship with our church. 

If a Christian is living in an open, unrepentant way in some form of sinful behavior, whether it's a homosexual, same sex relationship, or whether it's the fact they're living with their girlfriend, or sleeping with their girlfriend or boyfriend, or if they're conspicuously and unrepentantly greedy and materialistic, or if they have a problem with alcohol, if they're a drunkard and they refuse to do anything about that or acknowledge that problem, if there's an unrepentant, sinful behavior in someone's life, then as a Christian brother or sister of ours, you must respond to that as as you would want them to respond to you. You would want to be challenged, to repent, and that this manner of life is utterly inconsistent with our profession. So if it's a Christian brother you're talking about, Sam, who is in a homosexual relationship, I think 1 Corinthians 5-6, along with many other parts of the New Testament says, well, that's there's a very serious conversation has to take place. And certainly a lot of prayer as we challenge that person that this is inconsistent with their Christian walk, and we want to see them come back to repentance before the Lord. 

But Paul goes on towards the end of 1 Corinthians 5 to make a distinction in how he would respond to this kind of immorality or behavior with someone who's not part of the church fellowship. He says in 1 Corinthians 5:9, 

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 

And so it's a very serious matter if it's someone inside who is engaging in any of these activities of which sexual morality is just one. But for those outside, it's not the same response. And Sam, I would say that if if the friends you're talking about are non-Christian friends who are in homosexual relationships, I think your response to and relationship with them should be the same as any of your non-Christian friends who are engaged in any sinful or immoral behavior, whether that's greed or sleeping with their girlfriends or any kind of thing. That is, how do we respond to our non-Christian friends? We’re gracious and friendly and gentle and open with them. By the fruit of the Spirit, we deal with them in love and show–as Paul says in Titus–perfect courtesy towards all people. We share the gospel with our friends who aren't Christians, regardless of whatever choices they're making in their life or whatever immorality they're engaged in because the big issue in their lives, as we've seen in the book of Romans, is not just the individual transgressions and sins that they're committing, whether those are in the direction of homosexuality or more just conventionally heterosexual immorality. 

The big issue is not the symptoms, it's the disease which is rebelling against God. And that's the question to deal with in witnessing and talking with friends who are in homosexual relationships. It shouldn't be the status of their relationships that is the primary thing you're wanting to talk about with them or warn them about as if that's the first issue. That's a symptom, not the disease, and you want to warn them and talk with them about where they stand with God. And let's then deal with the other issues as they come. 

Now, that's easier said than done, of course, because in our social context today, it's all made more complicated by the advocacy by the sense that the LGBT lobby or political movement insists that we not just offer kindness and grace and generosity and so on to all people, but that we offer full affirmation and full support of all aspects of that movement. And not to do so, to refuse to do so, is to is to be violent with words or even with silence. It's to persecute and do harm to people by not affirming. And that makes it difficult for us as Christians, because we can't affirm. We can't go along with the same ideological movement that's seeking to not just provide or carve out a tolerant, safe space for people to pursue their own lives, but a full affirmation of those choices. 

Now, that does make this more difficult because our friends might be looking to us for that affirmation and for that support, in the way that our culture as a whole is doing. But that in itself provides an opportunity to talk about the gospel. Because we can say, “Why do you think it would be? I like you, we’re friends, I'm on your side. You know me. I'm not a bigoted, prejudiced, awful person. Why is it that I'm not willing or not able to provide a full-throated support for you and your position for this particular view of morality and of sexuality? Why do I think differently? Let me explain that to you. Let me explain that I just have a completely different view from you about the nature of the world and of God and of life. And that changes the way I think about everything.” And that's actually a much bigger issue than sexuality. And that, perhaps, can be an opportunity to start talking about those bigger and more central questions. 

Sam, I hope that very brief response is helpful. Please do get in touch again, if you'd like to follow up on that.

And I hope, dear listeners, that you will do the same. Keep getting in touch, keep writing emails as you're doing. We really enjoy getting those responses and questions. There are one or two that I haven't yet dealt with. In fact, there's one particular one that I'm saving up to talk with Phillip about in just a week or two week’s time. 


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Two Ways News
Two Ways News
Gospel thinking for today, with Tony Payne and Phillip Jensen.