- Revd Daniel Kirk
A review of Martin Davie's 'Living in Love & Faith. A biblical response' Dictum press.
What - another Christian book on the subject of sexuality?! Haven’t we had enough of them? The church seems to be obsessed by sex - why can’t it just get over it’s irrelevant issues with what consenting adults do in private and move onto more important issues such as mission and social action?
Well it turns out that despite what the leader of the opposition (and politicians across the board) might think - the church founded by Jesus Christ hasn’t changed its fundamental God ordained desire that sexual activity should only be enjoyed within heterosexual marriage. Much of modern society has changed its mind though and not satisfied with just allowing people the freedom to ignore Christian ethics in this area, want to force the church to take up non-Christian, dare one say it - pagan, views on this subject.
A 19 century relative of mine Elizabeth Rundle Charles placed the following well known quote on Martin Luther’s lips: “If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”
This is the battle field that the loyal soldier Martin Davie remains unflinching on, as he reflects again on the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith (LLF) report. This new book by Dictum Press is a longer and deeper response to the LLF report than his previous booklet was (194 pages rather than 33).
After a summary of the process that led to the report in the first chapter, the second handily sums up the official report. The third chapter sketches a theological response to LLF by looking at the need for ‘double listening’ - to the word of God and to the God’s world (à la Karl Barth & John Stott). Here he focuses particular on the writings of Peter (1 Peter) and Paul (Ephesians 4-5) to listen to the authoritative biblical teaching ‘on holiness and sexual ethics within the life of Jesus’ churches’ (64).
Davie’s key question in this chapter is whether ‘LLF has given due weight to this passionate concern of the apostles for the holiness of Jesus’ church for the sake of her mission to the world’.
This is helpfully and impressively (given that the book only came out a few months ago!) fleshed out by looking at Carl Trueman’s analysis of the current situation of sexual ethics in ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism and the Road to Sexual Revolution’. Davie then concludes the chapter by suggests three major avenues for a Christian response to this ‘double listening’.
Chapter four probably provides the strongest response to LLF where three positive areas of teaching in the report are highlighted before nine problems are identified. A clear conclusion is then stated: ‘The fundamental problem with LLF is this: it fails to acknowledge a clear pattern of sexual identity and behaviour in Scripture, endorsed by Jesus himself, and supported by what nature teaches us. This clear pattern is reflected in the church’s traditional teaching and practice, but has been rejected by those who wise to bring change... The way forward is to uphold... this pattern’ (p.128).
Chapter five looks at the Anglican view of Scripture and LLF and chapter six suggests the next steps for the Church of England and for biblically-grounded Anglicans before concluding with some FAQs and further resources. This is a very valuable resource for those considering the use of the LLF course in their churches as it gets to the nitty gritty of the LLF report and shows it’s fundamental weaknesses and underlying raison d’être which many may be unaware of.
What Alexander Webster wrote about a similar process to that of LLF within the Eastern Orthodox Church is relevant: 'What we behold in the appeals of the trailblazing Orthodox scholars discussed herein is a subtle, erudite, but disingenuous public challenge to abandon ancient Christian verities under the guise of a "conversation" or "discussion." That should sound an alarm to refugees from mainline Protestant denominations and radical Roman Catholic parishes who witnessed the naive embrace of their own Trojan Horses beginning in the 1960s.
The pattern is unmistakable: first, a call to "transcend" narrow, rigid, archaic dogmas, coupled with an invitation to a "conversation" to share viewpoints based primarily on personal experience and "new" knowledge instead of immersion in the Tradition; followed by a summons for mutual forbearance, tolerance, and, ultimately, full acceptance of diverse moralities. Soon enough, the orthodox frog in the gradually boiling pot is fully cooked and no longer a living frog.’
There might be some criticism that this book of Davie undermines the LLF process before it has really begun and so undervalues all the hard work that evangelicals have put into ensuring that an orthodox Christian perspective on sexuality is heard throughout the material.
However, on reading it I was reminded of a story written almost two hundred years ago by Hans Christian Andersen called ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. Everyone appeared to be taken in by two rogues who pretended to have created a wonderful new outfit to cover the embarrassment of the Emperor’s nakedness. Many were taken in until one little child exclaimed: ‘But the emperor has nothing on at all’ (Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, FS, 1995, p.235). Martin Davie raises the same point about LLF and in doing so allows us to see through the dangerous deception of this process.
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