Manhood, Womanhood, and God
Staley Lecture Series, Bryan College | Dayton, Tennessee
Well, I want to thank the Staley Foundation for the lectureship that enabled me to come, and then to the Bible department, especially, that has hosted me. I’ve really enjoyed eating with them and getting to know them and for you to give me your ear on a sensitive and controversial topic. You’ve been very respectful. I appreciate that very much.
I feel like saying a word just about your campus here, not only the spiritual climate of warmth and camaraderie that I have felt folded into, but the lay of the land here is really beautiful. You may take it for granted. You may have grown up in these hills. It’s pretty flat in Minnesota, where I live, and I stood up there by the flag pole and looked out over those hills. There’s really a profound attraction in my soul to those hills. And I believe the Lord brought to my mind Psalm 121:1–2, which says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” And then he stops, and the answer is not, “My help comes from the hills.” He checks that and says, “No, my help comes from the Lord.”
So I don’t want to say that the hills are evil or that they are idolatrous, but I do want to say that my calling is to the city for now, and your calling will be to leave this place one of these days. And I want you to be able to say, when you leave these hills, and maybe go to some very far away place that’s not nearly as sweet and warm and beautiful as this place, either personally or visually, that God is there. Your help comes from the Lord, whether it’s flat or hilly or rural or urban; God is there.
Standing for the Cause of Truth
My desire this morning is not primarily to focus on this issue of manhood and womanhood in detail, but rather to issue a challenge to you to be courageous in the cause of truth this morning; to not be afraid when you have come to a conviction to stand up in a setting where it may be unpopular, and with humility, grace, confidence, and courage, to speak the truth as you see it and let the chips fall where they will. My desire for you, far more than that you agree with all the details of what I’ve been saying, is that you love the truth and that you have the courage to speak the truth as God has led you to it wherever you are.
Now, there are a couple of reasons why I end on this note and why this is such a concern to me. One of them is that we live in America in an age of amazing relativism and subjectivity. I’ll give you a definition for those in just a minute, but let me give you a little biblical underpinning for why I’m so concerned about this. Paul wrote to Timothy, saying:
The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth . . . (2 Timothy 4:3–4).
So liking becomes paramount to truth. It’s the thought, “I don’t like what you’re saying, so I won’t listen to you.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s true. Truth ceases to be the issue; liking becomes the issue. And he says that they will “turn away from listening to the truth.” Now, what that clearly says is that there comes a time — we’re in that time — when people simply will not listen to truth. They will govern what they hear by gathering around them teachers who say what they want to hear so that what’s spoken and what’s desired correspond, and they don’t have to deal with the crisis of truth in their lives.
Now that’s my first and main reason for being concerned about this. The Bible tells us this is a tremendous danger in the world — to govern your life according to your likings and not truth, and then to give in to people out there, whether it’s in the church or the world, who only want to hear a certain thing. And so, you adjust what you say to fit their likings and scratch them where they itch.
Now, the second reason has to do with the subjectivism and relativism that pervades the churches, I believe, in America, as well as society in general. You know what relativism is. Relativism is the assumption that there is no such thing as truth. What is true and right and good and beautiful for you, may not be true and right and good and beautiful for anybody else.
And then subjectivism is the assumption that in that sea of relativism, you, your individual self, are the final arbiter of what is true and good and beautiful and right for you and nobody else. There is no objective standard of reality — no absolutes. There is no judge outside or over you who can tell you what is good and right and beautiful and true for you. The subject becomes sovereign, and you are God. Then that’s where millions and millions of Americans are in deciding what is right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, and true and false for them.
The Audacity of Moral Objectivism
Now, the implication of that today is that it’s extremely unpopular to say anything with strength of conviction, except to be strongly convicted that you shouldn’t have convictions. Tolerance is an absolute, which is a self-contradiction. Relativism, if you’ve studied philosophy — I hope your professors point that out to you — always trips into a self-contradiction, because when a person stands up and strongly says, “You shouldn’t have strong convictions,” you kind of look at them and say, “What was that? What was that you just had? What was that that just came out of your mouth? This strong conviction that I shouldn’t have strong convictions?” See, a relativist always has one strong conviction — namely, that you shouldn’t have strong convictions.
Tolerance always mires itself in a contradiction because it doesn’t yield to an arbiter, namely God. The claim that you know truth today, the claim that you know of behavior that people should conform to, like heterosexuality maybe, will result in getting you called a Nazi, a fascist.
I’ll give you an example. Maybe you know of Hugh Downs. He’s getting old now but he was on the show 2020, way back when I was watching TV as a boy. He gave a radio commentary. Listen to what he said. This is what you will get if you stand up in America, say, and plead for the truth of certain family values.
In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan urged the nation to adopt family values and to return to old time religion. Similarly, Adolf Hitler launched a family values regimen. Hitler centered on his ideas of motherhood. Fanatics in the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi party, the Hezbollah, and any other intolerant organizations referred to themselves as religious warriors, fanatics, and censor the thoughts of others and loved to burn books. In the modern United States, new proponents of family values continue this tradition of fear and intolerance.
In other words, James Dobson is a Nazi. That’s the kind of abuse and manipulation of language you will get if you stand up in a public square with strength of conviction and argue on objective evidences outside your subjectivity for behavior or truth that should be one way and not another way.
One of the ways that the world puts you down and makes you feel fearful when you speak for truth is by calling ignorance, uncertainty, subjectivism, and relativism humility, and by calling strength of conviction and confidence that you know something about the truth and about what God wills for the world arrogance. As soon as you label somebody arrogant, you’ve won the debate in the public square. As soon as you can create the impression that you’re humble in all of your uncertainty about what is true and right, then you have a winsome personality. And there’s something profoundly wrong with that because the Bible commends truth to us, it commends strong conviction to us, and it commends humility to us.
Therefore, it cannot be that strength of conviction is equal to arrogance. It just can’t be. Jesus knew what he believed. He was confident. He was not uncertain. And he said, “I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul in my presence” (Matthew 11:29–30). Either he was a liar, or you can be humble and have strong convictions, but people want to be scratched where they itch.
They don’t want to be told things they don’t believe. They don’t want to have their behavior called into question. And therefore, in the contemporary, rhetorical mood where we live today, devices are found to nullify your voice apart from truth issues — namely, “He’s arrogant, because he comes on so strong. He thinks he knows something.” And so, you’re silenced with those kinds of labels.
Let me read you a text from the teachings of Jesus that is a clarion call to you this morning to be courageous in speaking unpopular things. This comes from Matthew 10:24–25. He says:
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
In other words, expect to be maligned in the world. Don’t assume that when you are called a name, you’ve suddenly made a big mistake and have said something inappropriate, thinking, “Oh, I must go back and find another way to say it so they won’t malign me.” It says you’re going to be maligned. They spit on him. They crowned him with thorns. They called him names. They laughed him to scorn. Shall we be above our teacher? That’s the point here. He continues:
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:26–31).
The point of that text is unmistakably clear because of the threefold repetition of the command. In Matthew 10:26, he says, “Have no fear of them.” In Matthew 10:28, he says, “Do not fear those who kill the body.” In Matthew 10:31, he says, “Do not fear, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Jesus does not want any of you to be afraid. And the issue about fear here is what comes out of your mouth. He is asking you to speak clearly (that is, in the light), and forthrightly and publicly (that is, on the housetops) things that will get you killed.
Expect to Be Maligned
Before your life is over, it is in all likelihood that you will be in jail for saying some of the things that I’ve said in this room in these past two days, or if not in jail, you will be the victim of random violence from certain communities in society. One of our pastors was shot at on the way home from church last Sunday night, just randomly, out of the towers across the street from the church. He heard the bullet go whizzing by and hit the ground beside him.
Now we have no idea, what was this? Why is this person doing this? Was it intentional? The police don’t have anything to say about it, but that doesn’t surprise me at all. Our church is known for a few controversial things. There are people who live in those towers who don’t like what we say, and guns are easily available. Some of them are not mentally stable. We’re going to go down.
Now, if you decide, “Oh, I’m not going to live in a place like that,” what are you? Who’s your master? What is this? Are you American, or are you Christian? Do you choose your house for safety or do you choose your house for ministry? Jesus is really clear here. Be courageous. Be fearless. I want you to be unafraid this morning, in spite of what it’s going to cost you to say things that are unpopular or dangerous.
Speaking the Truth in Love
Now, in order to do that, you need to really exploit your time here at Bryan to become strong in the truth and strong in the Word. Let me read you just to another little passage from Ephesians 4:13–15, where Paul says that the ministry in the body, to the body, from the body is:
Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ . . .
Be Mature in Your Thinking
Look, grow up, okay? Don’t be children in your thinking. Be babes in evil, but in your thinking be mature, Paul says elsewhere (1 Corinthians 14:20). He wants you to use this time here at Bryan to grow more and more mature in your thinking, to send your roots deeper and deeper into the objective evidences of God’s truth, so that when you walk out of this place and scatter all over the nation and around the world, you go with a profound conviction about a few things in the world. You will always see through a glass darkly. You will never be totally comprehensive and have all the knowledge that God has, but there are a few things that you will know, and the call is, speak them in love with courage.
And when the winds of adversity blow, and all kinds of new and crazy things come out of the television and out of the newspaper, be strong, be critical, and be thoughtful. Don’t be sucked in by television advertising. Know where you are and who you are and stand.
I used to take this passage from Ephesians 4:15, where it says, “Speak the truth in love,” and I limited it in its meaning to if somebody has done something wrong and they need to be confronted, we’ll go to them meekly and lovingly, like Jesus says, “Take the log out of your own eyes so that you can take the speck out of their eye and rebuke them and tell them what they need to be told in love and humility” (Matthew 7:5). Well, that’s true, but I don’t think that’s what this text is about because the whole context here is about doctrine.
It says, “Don’t be carried away by every wind of doctrine, but speaking the truth (namely, doctrinal truth) in love, we are to grow up in all aspects” (Ephesians 5:15). The point of this text is to be well-grounded in what you believe about God and man and the world. And then when you speak it, speak it with strength of conviction and love for people so that there’ll be won over.
Loving the Truth in a World of Political Correctness
Let me give you some examples now regarding the kind of thing I think you need to be really shrewd about. I called this talk Lovers of Truth in a Politically Correct (Sex-Leveling) World because I’ve considered these things as I’ve lived in Minneapolis these past couple of years, watching the way language is so manipulated by politically correct people to get their ideas into students’ minds by circumventing reasoned argument and using clever language. Here are just a few examples.
My son goes to Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, and I go down there sometimes to see him or to do whatever, and I went down a year ago and saw two posters. They were over every doorway that were leading to the stairwells, so every student had to pass under these posters. They were school-sanctioned posters, and they were politically correct, and they were gender-leveling and homosexuality-endorsing. But the way they did it was oblique and remarkably shrewd and clever. The kind of thing that students, by and large, in the 9th through 12th grade have not been trained to discern, spot, unpack, and make distinctions about. That’s why you’re here, to learn to do that.
Here was one of them. It was a big, beautiful poster, colored with a rainbow kind of decoration, and it said, “One in 10 people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They could be your brother, sister, parent, or friend.” That’s all the poster said. What’s that? What’s that message? It’s crafted in such a way so that if a parent went into a principal and said, “I don’t like that,” they could say, “Well, what don’t you like about it? It doesn’t teach anything.”
Viewing Culture with Discerning Eyes
Well, there’s several problems with that simple little quote. Number one, the statistic is inflated. Ten percent, what’s the point of that? The point is to create a feeling in these students — “My God, every 10th person in the hall is gay.” And that is the feeling they want to create. Because once you feel that, you have to say, “It just can’t be as bad as I feel it is. Something must be wrong with me.” That’s the thought. That’s inflated. The numbers aren’t 10 percent. No, the national center for health statistics say three percent. William Simon McKinsey Institute says two to three percent. The Chicago study recently said 1 percent, maybe — nobody knows for sure. Ten percent was one of those inflated figures.
Then here’s the second thing wrong with it: there was no moral assessment of the behavior. It’s an emotional appeal. Your parent might be gay or bisexual. Now, when that thought enters a ninth graders mind — “My daddy might be a bisexual” — what’s he supposed to do with that? There’s no teaching, no standards; it’s just the thought sewn in the kid’s brain. I’ll tell you what happens. He might first say, “It just can’t be.” But if it keeps coming back, he’ll say, “Well, if it were, he’s okay, and it must be okay.”
And so you reduce the whole moral dimension of something being right or wrong. This is politically correct manipulation of language to put ideas into minds by short-circuiting clear, critical thinking. And it happens in every newspaper almost every day and on almost every television advertisement and virtually all kinds of media efforts.
Here was the other poster. It was even more tricky. It was shorter, and this poster said, “Respect sees no color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.” That’s all it said. How can you complain about that? What do you have against respect? What are you, homophobic? What are you, against disabled people?
There are several problems with it. The first is that it puts homosexuality in the same category with gender. Gender and sexual orientation are side-by-side. Respect sees no sexual orientation, and respect sees no gender and no color. So once you’ve got sexual orientation listed beside whether you’re male or female, and whether you’re black or white, then you can’t feel any more strongly about this distinction than you can about these distinctions. Nobody feels that it’s right or wrong to act black or act white. Nobody feels that it’s right or wrong for a woman to act like a woman and a man to act like a man. And therefore, obviously, nobody should feel that it’s right or wrong for a person who has a homosexual orientation to act that way and the one who has a heterosexual orientation to act that way. That’s the message of the poster.
As soon as you line up those things without any distinction — gender, color, religion, sexual orientation — you’ve told the students treat them on the same level. They’re not on the same level. To be a male or a female is a holy and good thing, created by God and endorsed by God and in God’s image. To act out a homosexual orientation and to act out a heterosexual orientation are profoundly different than that category. That’s the first problem.
What Respect Sees
The second problem is the statement, “Respect sees no . . .” All that the public schools can do, since they have forsaken virtually all truth, all normative reality, and all behavior and God talk, they don’t have any positive foundations for respect. They can’t say to a student, “Respect somebody because you see in them this.” Instead, they say, “Respect sees no . . .” and then they list off things that respect doesn’t see. So it leaves a big void underneath, making you think, “Well, why should we respect anybody?” And that’s one of the reasons why there is so little respect among students for anything.
The schools can’t provide them with a positive foundation. The foundation for respecting black and white and male and female and people of other religions is that God has created all human beings in his image. There is a way to respect a murderer. There’s a way to respect a rapist. There’s a way to respect somebody, no matter what they’ve done, because they’re created in God’s image. They are not snakes. They’re not frogs or horses. They are human beings, no matter what they’ve done, no matter their sexual orientation, no matter their sex, no matter their religion; there is a respect that one can afford them even if it might mean putting them in jail. You don’t put snakes in jail. But you can’t say anything like that. You can’t provide a foundation for respect in the image of God. And so, students are left with a groundless call to respect, and they say, “What’s the deal? Why shouldn’t I shoot him? He mouthed off to me.”
And the third problem with that, is in fact, respect does see gender and religion, and it makes a difference. There are courtesies and forms of respect that men owe to women that they don’t owe to men. The one I could get most agreement on is that you don’t go in her locker room, you go in his locker room. To tell these students that respect sees no gender is terribly destructive. Respect sees that she’s a woman, and I will treat her differently than I treat these guys that I’m always treating in certain ways. I will offer certain courtesies, and I will offer certain respect. I will acknowledge sexual differences. That will mean I don’t take liberties with her that I might take with guys. To tell them, “Don’t see it,” is wrong.
It’s the same thing with religion. Respect looks at a satanist who’s involved in ritual, satanic abuse, and he looks at a Jewish person who’s trying to keep the 10 commandments, neither of whom know Jesus Christ, and he will respect this Jewish person more than this satanic person. I’d stand up in any group and say that. Respect does have eyes for gender. It does have eyes for religion. And it makes a difference in the kind and form of respect that you give to a person.
Love the Truth
Well, I just plead with you. Take advantage of these years here at Bryan to become discerning men and women, so that when you read the paper, or when you see a poster, or when you look at a billboard or you hear an advertisement, you are not blown about; that they don’t insinuate ideas in your mind that don’t come through the critical filter of biblical thinking. Be the kind of people who can go to a principal and explain to a PTA group or a principal just what I’ve explained to you — why those posters are destructive. Even if they don’t agree with you, the world is dying for want of people to stand up and speak that kind of truth.
Now let me say one other thing about your relationship to the truth. I want to plead with you not only while you’re here to become critical and discerning and thoughtful and perceptive, able to make distinctions and get beneath the surface, but I also want to plead with you to fall in love with the truth. I don’t want you to come out being a big head on the top of a spindly little heart. I want you to love the truth with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, Paul said that people will perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. Notice it didn’t say they didn’t receive a conviction of the truth. It says they didn’t receive a love of the truth.
You need to love the truth. That’s a heart issue. That’s a prayer issue. That’s not just a study issue. That’s an issue of going out into the hills here by yourself on a Sunday afternoon with your Bible and getting on your face before the Lord and saying, “Why am I so cold? Why am I so indifferent to big things in life? Why don’t I feel what I ought to feel in worship? Why don’t I care when I read a book about big, important issues in literature, or philosophy, or anthropology, or history, or other things. Why don’t I feel anything? Lord, help me, change me.” The world needs people with big, passionate hearts that love the truth.
I’ve been entrusted in these days by the Thomas Staley foundation with a charge to speak to you. And I feel it’s appropriate, therefore, that I close with a quotation from their assumptions about these lectures. I’d like to read it to you and then urge it on you:
The foundation will offer its resources to support and encourage devout Christian workers who are unashamed of their testimony, who rightly handle the word of truth, and who take the Scriptures as their rule of faith and life.
I feel I’m in tune with the Staley Foundation and I’m fulfilling my obligation to close by appealing to you to be clear about the truth and courageous in the truth and obedient to the truth and in love with the truth. Do whatever you must do in study and in prayer to fall in love with the truth. Be strong in the truth and speak the truth. And if necessary, suffer for the truth in the years to come.