Like many, I was very saddened to read about Mark Achtemeier's talk at the current Covenant Network conference. Clearly, he is quite "off the mark." It is sad to see one who was apparently so well grounded theologically and scripturally capitulate to those who claim the supreme authority duet of subjective experience and relativistic post-modern truth. I trust that he is sincere, and that this position he has taken with those who eschew Bible, Christ, and Tao (see Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis) is one of heartfelt and heartrending reflection. Nevertheless, it is important to note two major points that should give anyone serious pause before following Professor Achtemeier into the bright land of amoral enlightenment.
The first is to look at who is rejoicing when a prominent figure embraces the "anything goes as long as we really love each other" approach to human sexual relationships. It should cause us to reexamine our thinking when those who have rebelled against nature and the God of nature find us amenable to their lifestyles. Many in these circles are now openly promoting multiple partner "unions," and the acceptance of incest among consenting persons. One may say there are no views such as these among the Covenant Network folk, but so far they have shown little resolve in resisting societal pressures to step in line with whatever is deemed "progressive," which currently includes advocates for these sexual practices. Society and science hold more authority for this circle of ecclesiastics than Bible or even church tradition, and for them Christianity is merely a religion to make more relevant according to their own personal understandings than the faithful community of a risen Lord whose eternal Word transforms us and the world.
Of course it is understood that there is no valid rationale for condemning and avoiding such people with their perspectives. Christ calls us to stand and walk in their midst as fellow sinners who have been reclaimed through the blood of Jesus Christ from our sin. We are compelled by the Lord of all servants to seek both the welfare and the redemption of all people, not just the ones we are compatible with personally in culture, religion, race, orientation, politics, or philosophy (although there may be an exception regarding Iowa State University supporters). But when those who disagree and denigrate God's revealed viewpoints find our viewpoints to their liking, then that should be enough of a signal to us that we have moved away from God's truth and have accommodated ourselves in some way to serious and potentially damning error (and believe me, I am no stranger to this predicament).
The second observation is to note the incredible arrogance in the language of those who have opted out of the "traditional view" of marriage and have embraced the gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, and endless other qualifications approach to marriage and sexual relationships. In his talk to the Covenant Network, Professor Achtemeier indicates several times that his former position against gay partnerships and marriage was due to his lack of personal experience with good, committed Christian gays, and that his understanding of scripture was due to sheltering himself from the insights and opinions of others who disagreed with his "traditionalist" position (one can only wonder how he managed to remain this "sheltered" in both experience and education while attending Harvard and Duke). However, he then projects his personal journey as being the experience of the typical evangelical. This again is incredulously arrogant and self-serving..
I am an evangelical Presbyterian minister (albeit a very low profile, relatively irrelevant one) who has read a pretty good share of the books both pro and con on sexual orientation issues. I've even studied much of the secular research. Plus, throughout my life, even from high school days, I have known gays in committed relationships and gays in ongoing multiple relationships. (As Professor Achtemeier should know, there are a number of diverse and even opposing viewpoints among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons on what forms their relationships should take.) During my years (long, long ago and in a galaxy far, far away) at Princeton Seminary, I so frequently sat at the "gay table" in the commons that many people assumed that I was gay, too. Plus, at Princeton and Duke (and even my pedestrian undergrad school, Wichita State), I had excellent liberal and evangelical professors who pushed me hard to wrestle with the foundations of my beliefs. Yet, I am confident in my approach to the scriptures and the moral positions I believe the Spirit and the scriptures instruct me to take. I've just always believed that these same scriptures and Spirit also called me into personal and loving involvement with those who I may be at odds with in both faith and life.
What then to make of this speech and Mark Achtemeier's new perspective? Yes, it gives ammunition to the liberal camps in the ongoing ecclesiastical wars in the mainline denominations. Of course, this doesn't really matter since the victory of some liberal church people will have no bearing on the catholic witness of Christ's church in all its authentic forms. It certainly will not cause the biblical interpretations of the orthodox, catholic, and evangelical to crumble into ashes because Professor Achtemeier's apology for his new view is so overwhelmingly persuasive. And, of course, God is not going to "repent" of God's clear intention (according to Jesus) in creating humans, sex, and marriage (although God may "repent" of having created the PCUSA, which raises a whole host of other issues to ponder).
The clear and obvious answer is to pray for Mark Achtemeier. As a fellow disciple of Jesus, I am confident that he would appreciate this, even if he thinks the motivation for the prayers is misinformed. I know I appreciate the prayers of my liberal friends who think I am out to lunch on my positions. In a more serious vein, however, I believe if Professor Achtemeier is truly seeking to be faithful to his God (and I believe he is), and is not simply rationalizing to deal with personal pressures to conform to this world, then he will be willing to open himself to his trusted evangelical friends and colleagues who take issue with his new position. If he is sincere, let him test his view in the fires of personal discourse with his friends, such as Robert Gagnon and others. This, along with the sweet incense of the prayers of the saints, will help him hear and follow the voice of his Shepherd who is certainly calling out to him. Again, Mark Achtemeier can be "on the mark!"