In this bonus episode, Sean talks with progressive Christian pastor Colby Martin about Scripture and same-sex unions. They discuss what the Bible says and how Christians can best love their LGBTQ neighbors. This episode was first recorded on Sean's YouTube channel and is longer than typical interviews here. But if you enjoy our regular interviews, you will love this one too.
Colby Martin is the author of two books (“UnClobber: Rethinking our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality” and "The Shift: Surviving and Thriving after Moving from Conservative to Progressive Christianity"). He is progressive Christian pastor of Sojourn Grace Collective in San Diego, California.
Sean McDowell: Welcome to Think Biblically podcast. Listeners, today we've got a fascinating bonus episode for you of a conversation I had recently with a progressive Christian pastor by the name of Colby Martin down in San Diego. He is a progressive Christian, again, and has written a number of books. We had a conversation a number of months about the differences between progressive Christianity and evangelical Christianity. But in this conversation you're about to hear, we talk about the Bible and LGBTQ relationships. And as you can imagine, we come from a very different perspective and come to very different conclusions about what it means to be faithful to the scriptures, faithful to Jesus in terms of our sexuality. So hang in there with us. We share some stories and intros, but as we get into this podcast, which is longer than our typical one, almost three times as long as our typical episode, as we get going into it, I think you're going to really enjoy the exchange. So enjoy this interaction and bonus episode of the Think Biblically podcast.
Today, we are going to jump in and have not a formal debate, that's for sure, but we're going to have a substantive conversation. If you follow the channel, you know that one of the big things I aim for is charity, to have conversation with people who see the world differently. It's possible today in our cancel culture. But second, also, clarity is very important. So our hope today is that you can see what positions we hold, why we hold them, the evidence for, maybe some of the evidence against it. And then ultimately, you can make up your own mind. I was just telling Colby briefly before, thank you for coming back. You were on my channel a few months ago and we are just talking about progressive Christianity. And that show's gotten a ton of views. There were some people critical, but overall, I heard a lot of positive feedback. People appreciated you coming on to a channel of an evangelical Christian. And you're back. So kudos to you for being willing to do that. Thanks for coming back on.
Colby Martin: Yeah. Sean, honestly, I'll tell you this, last time when we did the conversation together, I walked away very encouraged by your capacity to hold a respectful and charitable space for those who see things differently than you. And I go through my life, maybe not like many people these days, where we're sort of in our silos, our echo chambers of news and politics and religion. And it's very scary to go outside of it for all sorts of really interesting reasons.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Colby Martin: And yet I have this conviction that we need to. Maybe not all the time. Echo chambers, that can serve its purpose and it's good, but I think we need to break outside of that sometimes. And it's hard to find places and spaces and people in which you can do that and not immediately regret it, be like, "Never mind. I'm going back to the echo chamber." And so thank you for the chance to practice that sort of charitable conversation with people that, like you said, do not agree, will not move towards agreement likely, especially not in the next 60 minutes, and yet still see value in this. So I share that part with you and I'm glad to be back.
Sean McDowell: Well, I hope you feel the same after this conversation. Just so our audience knows, this is my channel, so obviously I have some of the power in this dynamic. But we have agreed on a format to try to make it more of a conversation. Colby has agreed. We've agreed on the questions. And when we get towards the end, probably last, I don't know, 15, 20 minutes or so, we're going to take your questions. So at that point, we're going to ask you to write QUESTION in caps, and we're just going to go back and forth taking those questions, doing our best to address them, assuming they're on topic with what we're discussing today. So, that's the goal where we're headed.
And just one more thing, for those of you who comment, whether you can see yourself on my side or Colby's side or another side, make charitable comments. Please comment. It helps the metric of the show, but be charitable. If you think I'm a bigoted homophobia, maybe don't state it here. If you think Colby is a slacker and a Bible compromiser, maybe don't state it here. Not going to help the conversation and the substance we want to get to.
Colby Martin: Well said.
Sean McDowell: Colby, let's start with the question that we both agreed on, which is, I want to know why you chose to speak on this issue. You've done videos. You've taught on this at your church. You've written a book on this. You've publicly addressed LGBTQ issues. Why?
Colby Martin: Yeah, I think this is a great place to start. When I was thinking about this question, Sean, maybe it's no shock to you because I've been a pastor for two decades now, but I have three answers to this, got three points to this answer. But I think the honest answer is that there's been three stages. And at any point, if you were to take a time machine back, you would've gotten a slightly different response to this. It's been an evolving response to this question.
Sean McDowell: That's fair.
Colby Martin: So originally, and I would say this was back in like 2007, '08, '09, sort of that range, originally how I would respond to this question, why I speak on this, is because I was theologically driven by my study of the Bible on this topic. So I grew up, like we talked about last time, a conservative Baptist evangelical world. And then when I finally got to studying this topic and studying the Bible, I came to the conclusion that we had gotten the Bible wrong. And by we, I mean the historic Christian church.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Colby Martin: And we'd gotten it wrong on this topic. And at that time in my life, that was really profound to me. I spoke out about it because I think there's a theological commitment that I had and have to understanding and reading the Bible as accurately as possible. Then that sort of shifted a little bit as the years went on and I started to then be more in the pastoral space with this. So shifted or a layer got added from theological to a sense of personal accountability and responsibility, which is to say, there's this story in Luke 18, where Jesus has walking into Jericho and there's a blind man on the side of the road that said, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me."
And the people at the front of the procession were like, "Sh. Quiet. We've got places to go, things to do. Jesus doesn't have time for you."
And the blind man yells out louder, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me."
And then Jesus turns and says to the people who had just told the man to be quiet, and he said, "Go get him and bring him to me." And that was a number of years ago I read that and I was profoundly impacted by this sense of Jesus turned to the individuals who had just moments ago restricted access from this man and put the responsibility on them to set it right. Jesus didn't go into the ditch, the side of the road. He could have. Jesus didn't yell across the road. He could have. He said, "You just prevented this man from access to me. Now, it's your responsibility to go and set it right."
And so the second way I answer that question, why do I speak about this, is because I feel a personal responsibility, that I was for so long personally in what I would refer an anti-LGBTQ theological position, but then also a part of a larger religious tradition that was that. So why do I speak about this? Because I feel this personal, like, "Oh, my God, I contributed to building this wall to keep people on the outside. I need to be a part of tearing it down."
And then finally, real quick, why do I choose? I think the current stage that I'm at ... and they're all still true. It's just adding layers of interest to the answer, is I guess I would just say a larger commitment to God, a larger commitment to this idea that God is love, a commitment to the biblical vision of shalom, justice, a commitment to wholeness, which is another way to talk about the Greek word [foreign language 00:00:08:08], which oftentimes gets translated salvation, but can have this sense of being brought whole.
And I see that this particular topic has caused so much fracture and pain and damage and harm that if I believe that God is love, and I do, that if I believe that shalom is a worthwhile endeavor to work towards, and I do, and if I believe that wholeness is in some way the goal, the point, and I do, then that is, for me, huge north star to work toward. And this is one of the topics that get caught up in that swell, moving toward this idea of this commitment to God being love. What about you, man? Why is this a thing that you are driven to speak out about and talk to?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, I think if you had told me 15-some years ago that I'd write a book and speak in this, I would've told you are crazy, not my lane.
Colby Martin: Sure.
Sean McDowell: I think, like you, it's a range of experiences. One that stands out to me when I first started speaking in the early 2000s, I had a student wrestling profoundly, this was a high school student at a Christian school. And he said to me, he goes, "I can't keep living my life, because it's a living hell. I can't die, because if I die, I think I'll go to hell." And his issue was same sex attraction. And that jarred me. It was one of the first times I was like, "Holy cow, this is a painful issue for this young man. And he doesn't know how to navigate it well in terms of scripture and his family and his Christian community.
So it really started pastorally for me, how do I care for this young man? And then of course out of that probably early 2000s, almost everywhere I'd go and speak, almost every question started to be turned about same sex relationships. And of course the past five years, it's shifted to the transgender topic. But before that it was homosexuality, same sex unions. I mean, the top two or three questions everywhere I went, even internationally. And it was like, "I need to give some thought to this."
Ultimately, I think two reasons. Number one is ... Well, I guess the other thing I would say is I didn't see a lot of Christians who were speaking out who I felt like were staying faithful to what scripture teaches, but doing it in a gracious, loving manner. It tended to be people who stayed what I would consider faithful, but sometimes were jerks and lacked compassion, lacked a pastoral heart, or some people who I thought were very gracious but not staying faithful to what scripture teaches. Now, of course, you and I will differ over that, and we'll get into it.
But one of the reasons I spoke up somewhat reluctantly was like, you know what? There needs to be voices that says to people who are LGBTQ, "We love you, you're made in God's image. I am sorry if we have treated you inconsistently and the pain that you bear. You are valuable. Jesus loves you and I love you" while staying faithful to what Jesus taught. So I think those are some of the reasons why I felt compelled to speak up. Now I'm curious, just for the sake of those watching, what is your position on same sex unions and/or ... sometimes it's described as LGBTQ relationships. I think this will give some clarity to those watching. And ultimately, why do you hold it, without giving us your whole book?
Colby Martin: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. First, I'll say the thanks for sharing that story. Thanks for sharing that heart. I didn't know that about you. So that was fun to hear. I appreciated hearing, Sean, that you took seriously that young man's pain, enough to where it moved you. It moved you to ask questions. It moved you to curiosity. And if Ted Lasso taught us anything, it's that curiosity is better than judgment. And I think that is a posture that sadly we don't see enough of, that curiosity, that desire to understand the pain and sit with the pain and maybe even consider in our own self, is there something that I need to know different or change if I can help alleviate that pain?
Now, obviously, I wish you would've maybe landed on a different theological landing place of it, but the fact that you even were like, "Oh, he hurts. And why is that? And is there something I can do," and landing at least a pastoral posture of, "You are made in God's image," that's no small thing. That's no small thing. So for anybody who's watching this, the two people that might be on more my end of the spectrum, that's not nothing, that's not nothing. And I know that we can oftentimes, in our desire for wanting from individuals like Sean, like we want, "You're made in God's image and fully affirmed as you are" let us, to the extent that we are able, appreciate the posture, the pastoral posture, even taking pastoral off, just the compassionate human posture of, "You are loved and made in God's image." I just think we could use more of that, if nothing else.
Okay. Your question was, what's my position on LGBTQ relationships? I think I'll start by saying this. My fundamental position is that human sexuality is a beautiful gift. It's a beautiful gift. And it is expressed and experienced in many different ways. So I start there. And then I say, as it relates to sexual orientation, which is just a part of sexuality, human sexuality, as it relates to this sexual orientation, my position is that people experience a type of attraction, a type of desire toward other humans, parentheses or not, I see you asexual crowd, or not. But the majority of humans experience some kind of attraction and desire for other people. That is a real phenomenon. It is a real thing that happens, but why it happens and how it sort of manifests, I think is mysterious.
And so for me, it seems that there is a glorious cocktail, this is kind of where I've landed, a glorious cocktail of what we call nature and nurture. And somehow these two forces come together and contribute to what we phrase for now a person's particular sexual orientation, which is a way to say that someone has these innate desires and attractions towards people. We seem to accept that the majority of humans experience this attraction towards people of the opposite sex. Then there are some people that seem to experience this innate desire and attraction towards people of the same sex, and some of both sex. And my position is that that comes about through, like I said, a combination of nature and nurture, and we don't really know. It's kind of a mystery.
But from that position, my position is that whatever a person's orientation is, is not chosen, not in any real sense of the term; second, that this person's orientation really cannot be changed or altered in any real sense. It's not to say that especially people who are more maybe in this middle space, who can be and can an experience an attraction towards people of multiple sexes, they could experience different seasons in life, or maybe that's stronger than others. So that might be described on the outside as someone's orientation changing. But I think the more accurate is, well, that was always within the realm of possibility for that person. Whereas those who maybe are on the more extremes solely attracted for like [inaudible 00:16:37] myself, solely attracted to people in the opposite sex, there's not going to be a scenario in which someone can successfully change me to be attracted to men. And likewise, my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and siblings, there's no scenario in which their orient can be changed to the other.
So orientation has come about through a mysterious cocktail of nature and nurture. It is not really changeable for the most part, in any real sense of the word. It's not chosen in any real way. And then lastly, I'll say this, that it's not inherently wicked or evil. A person's sexual orientation is just that, it's their orientation. So to just be a person who is attracted towards whatever sex, that in and of itself is not a problem. There's no problem to fix there. There's no issue to solve. In the Christian tradition, no sin to repent of. An orientation is just that, an orientation. And then you might say it's morally neutral, would be the term I would use. And then of course, how a person sort of lives from that place, now you can start to talk about issues of morality and ethics and behavior and all that. But for me, those sorts of conversations are applicable for all humans, irrespective of their orientation.
So that's my position on LGBTQ relationships as it relates to sexuality, orientation. And so for me, then, when it comes to relationships of people who identify lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, queer, whatever, it might be, really, for me, it's the same standard. If we're going to talk standards or ethics or morals, it's the same standard as it would be for me and my wife or a heterosexual couple. So now we're getting into territory, like, is there a mutual respect? Is there ... bell hooks talks about love as being six pieces: commitment, respect, trust, honesty. There's a couple more that I'm forgetting, but are all those ingredients there? And that, I think, is a really interesting discussion we could talk about; not today, necessarily. But I mean, in general, what makes for a healthy whole relationship, and to what extent does a person's orientation play into that? For me, it really doesn't. So, that's me. That's my thought. Those are my positions on that. You go, Sean. What are your position on LGBTQ relationships?
Sean McDowell: Yeah. So, let me jump on a few on a few things that you said that I think will be helpful for clarity, is I agree 100% sex is a beautiful gift. My dad in the eighties before True Love Waits, before Joshua Harris, led the first international sexual purity campaign. And would regularly say to me, he'd say, "Sex is a good, beautiful gift from God. It's a blessing, but God's given us boundaries and a design for how to live that out and express our sexual desires." But I agree with you, it's a gift.
I think sexual orientation is mysterious. I think you're right. All the data shows ... APA would say there's some combination of nature and nurture. We don't know why people are attracted to the same sex. There might be a host of different reasons and different pathways. I totally agree it's not chosen. I also agree it's not changed and that we shouldn't try to actively change somebody's. My only qualifier is the work of Lisa Diamond and her book on sexual fluidity. She says obviously when it comes to race, that never changes. But when it comes to sexual orientation, it is more fluid in many cases in and women than was suspected. So that's an interesting caveat we don't need to go into.
As I approach LGBTQ relationships, I think the Bible says there's two ways to live out in God-honoring ways. One is singleness, and the other way is marriage. In fact, today, we highlight very highly, but Jesus in Matthew 19 and Paul in I Corinthians 7, almost seemed to indicate that singleness is preferable. Now, do we do a good job in the church embracing the call of singleness? No, that's a pastoral question we could get to and probably both agree we need to do better. But I think, scripturally speaking, there's singleness and there's marriage. Now, marriage, I would argue, and we can get into some of this ... I think the scriptures are clear that marriage, going back to Genesis through the Old Testament, Jesus' teaching of Paul, et cetera, is one man, one woman, one flesh for one lifetime. That's what marriage is. It's meant to be a permanent union between a man and a woman. There's companionship that is there. And it's oriented towards procreation.
I think that's a view that is catholic in the sense of lower case C throughout the history of the church, in the sense that it's old, it's from antiquity, it is universal and there's consensus on it. So that's why I would refer to my position as the historic Christian position. That's my view. Probably no surprise to you. But when it comes to really all relationships and marriage, including LGBTQ relationships, I think God has singleness and marriage. Marriage is one man, one woman, one flesh, one lifetime. And sexual expression is always condemned outside of that relationship, but encouraged and praised within it.
Two more questions we're going to tackle. Let's maybe skip the fourth because I think we've discussed it, but maybe just say before we jump into some of the Q&A for each other, where do you think the church needs to reform in this issue? And then we'll get to some of the theology and the differences. What would you like to see changed?
Colby Martin: Oh, God, how much time do we have? [inaudible 00:22:28] looked at my watch, haven't changed the battery, so then it wasn't helpful. For sure, I think the church needs to reform its theological thinking around the sinfulness of sexuality; sinfulness of sexuality, not how I want to phrase that. Let me ... needs to reform its sort of theological thinking around sex, period. End of sentence. We have now gobs of evidence, I think that's the correct theological term, gobs of evidence, that show just how damaging what is referred to as the purity culture from within conservative evangelical Christianity, what that has done to the psyche of people, the bodies of people, because we carry trauma in our bodies. So when we are living these sort of shame-induced narratives and when we are taught to be so disconnected from our bodies, when we are taught to fear our instincts and intuitions and desires, and we are taught that ... People like your father might say out of one part of them ... I'm not saying your father talks like this-
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Colby Martin: ... but that idea that sex is a gift, they'll say that out of one side of their mouth, but then the other side of their mouth is this asterisks that really just undermines what they just said. It's not really a gift. It's something to be feared. And it's something that can cause so much sin and-
Sean McDowell: ... Feared and it's something that can cause so much sin and disaster and destruction. So anyway. So we have a real sex problem in the church, theologically speaking. And one of the ways that is manifest, is as it relates to those who identify as LGBTQ. So I think reform the theology of sex, and then the way that trickles down is, come to understand and accept and humbly admit that the church has been wrong on this issue. That the historic Christian teaching on this has been wrong. That we've been wrong about this.
We've done that before to varying degrees of success. We, meaning the lowercase Catholic church. We were wrong about the earth being the center of the universe. We were wrong about slavery. There is significant chunk of theological effort that was given towards showing why slavery was the biblical way to move through this world. There was a moment at which humans had to reconcile with that. And the church had to reconcile with that. And the church had to acknowledge that we had been wrong on this particular issue.
And I think we are way past time to acknowledge that we have been wrong on the sexuality of those who identify lesbian, gay, transsexual, transgender, bisexual. So I want to see a theological reform. That might take some time, but I'm confident we're going to get there. I won't see it. I'll be like Moses in the promised land, "You all can figure it out once you get in there. I'm not going to see that." But I do believe that day will come. In the meantime, the other thing I want to see about the church reform is... And I know this word is, means a lot to you Sean, is the idea of clarity. There is a real clarity problem right now in the traditional conservative church world.
And this gets manifest in what's referred to as the bait and switch tactic, where churches tell their community through a website, through the sermons, through whatever it is that all people are welcome here. That we love all people, everyone is welcome, come as you are. But really the closer you get to the Holy of Hollies. However that might metaphorically work out, whether it's wanting to get married there to your partner, whether it's wanting to serve in certain ministries if you're gay. Whether it's wanting to be on staff or be on elder board. The closer you get then you begin to realize, "Oh no, no, no, hold on. You can't be gay and be here. That's not what we meant. You're welcome here to a certain extent."
And this is a really harmful practice of bait and switch that the number of hearts that I have attempted to hold and mend from people that thought they were going to churches where they were going to be loved and accepted, only to discover months, years into it like, "Wait, what? That's your actual position? I thought my partner and I, and our kids were going to be welcome here." The church needs to reform as it regards to clarity. If your theological position is that you cannot be gay and Christian, if your church policy is that you will not marry two people of the same sex, you owe it to humans to be clear about that. You do.
Just be right up front. Be right up front and put your policy on LGBTQ relationships right on the front of your webpage. I'm not saying it's got to always be that way. Maybe 10 years from now, we'll be in a different position. But right now there are young families that are wondering, "Is this a place that's going to be safe for me to raise my kids?" And the website and the pastor at their first coffee assures them, "Yes, you're welcome here." And inevitably there will come a point where it's like, "Oh, but that's not really true. If you want to work your way up into these other levels of leadership, or if you want to get married, you can't be gay. You really just can't be gay."
So that is a place where barring theological reform, which I understand is going to take some time. In the mean to time, churches for the love, honestly, for the love, be more clear about your position so that we get rid of this bait and switch that is so painful.
I think for me-
Colby Martin: [inaudible 00:28:37] reform.
Sean McDowell: Yeah, thanks. I actually agree with you on a lot of the damaging effects of purity culture. Some of the shaming that took place, I think we would agree there. I think some of the sexual prosperity gospel, we would agree with some of that critique. Probably some of the ways modesty was taught. I think where we would differ on obviously is when it comes to the message on LGBTQ. Now, a lot of purity culture didn't even talk about it, which sent a message that if you have same sex attraction, you don't even exist.
Colby Martin: That's right.
Sean McDowell: That in itself is damaging. So if the church reforms its purity culture and teaches a more biblical message with clarity and addresses LGBTQ, at least it would bring clarity, like you said, which I think would help kids not feel like they're not even being talked about and don't have a space to address with it.
I think that's an area we can find some common ground. I think overall, I'd like to see two things within the church. Number one, is when we talk about a biblical sexual ethic and what Jesus taught about marriage, we also remember that Jesus gave us the command to love your enemy, to love your neighbor. He told a story of the Good Samaritan. And you're write in your book, I don't remember how there's an inconsistency often in the church and a great fear around this issue that doesn't exist with others. I think sometimes that can be overstated, but I also don't totally disagree with that. I have seen a double standard and a fear on this issue and you know what scripture says for John 4:18, Perfect love cast out fear. So I want to see the church led not by fear, not by lack of information, but motivated by love.
Now, of course we have to define what that means and you and I may differ on that fine, but within the church, I would love to see that posture of just saying, "We're going to lead with love above all else." Obviously when it comes to theologically, I don't think the church got it wrong. I read every book I can get my hands on and I find the arguments biblically lacking. And what's interesting to me is throughout the history of the church, it doesn't matter geography, Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, ethnicity, male and female, there is a universal consensus that marriage minimally is a sexed institution that's meant to be permanent, and that sexual activity is to be practiced within that marriage union. So for me, what's interesting in that... Maybe you'll take issue with this, but in Georgie Yancey's book on progressive Christianity, he's like, "It's actually progressive christians are far more white, educated, upper class males." In other words, a certain view of sexuality trying to reform the church ignores so many voices throughout the history of the church. That doesn't mean it's wrong you're right.
The church has got some things wrong in the past. That's for sure, but because we've got A wrong, it doesn't fall that we've got B wrong. And especially, when we're talking about something as central to scripture as marriage, and there's such universal consensus on this. I think there's a huge burden of proof that hasn't remotely been met by the affirming side. Now you differ on that, but I would like the church. I think sometimes we don't engage people confidently and graciously because we don't really know what we believe and why. So we get defensive and we get angry. But if we would go back to the scriptures and teach, not only, here's what the Bible says about marriage, but here's why it teaches this about marriage.
Here's why male and female translating to mom and dad is important for the development of a kid. These are the kinds of things that I don't think we do well teaching in the church. And thus, we often act out of fear rather than love. So I think the two of us would both like to see the church more loving although we differ that. You'd like to see theological change, I'd like to see the church not have theological change and hold on to what it has for 2000 years. No surprise. But what we're going to shift right now to keep the conversation going is maybe 10 minutes each, you can take this conversation wherever you want to. What questions do you have for me theologically, biblically, pastorally. I'll have 10 minutes or so for you and then we'll go to live questions.
Colby Martin: Cool. And I've seen some of you all commenting and appreciate the overall inner and kindness, so thanks for following Sean's lead on that. And I've seen a couple that have... I think they're wishing for more Bible from me, which I can understand. I see you. I understand you. As Sean said in the beginning, I wrote a whole book on it.
So I'm not here to just talk about all of the arguments from the book. That's not the point of this. And then I would also say this, I think one of the reasons, and I don't know if Sean, this was a conscious decision on your part. Maybe you just wanted to have a different conversation. But if it was your conscious choice, I affirm it, I think it's a good one. For me one of the reasons why we're not just putting up on the screen 1 Corinthians 6:9 and then being like, "All right, now let's talk about it. Let's dig into [foreign language 00:34:08] , and let's dig into Mallcoy and let's dig into Romans 1. I think one of the reasons why we're maybe not doing that, and I'm not entirely opposed to it, but I think for me, a lot of what that conversation, it comes down to like Jordan versus LeBron sort of conversation. And this may not be the best metaphor, but, I've never been one to shy away from a bad metaphor. I just jump into it and hope it works out.
I think in the Jordan-LeBron conversation, the starting places are sort of fundamentally different, which is going to lead to maybe some different conclusions. So I think maybe why there's less really engaging with the Bible between you and I or right now, is because you have a particular way that you understand the Bible, way that you see the Bible, like the way that this whole thing makes sense to you. Therefore, certain conclusions are going to make sense to you. I don't hold that same view of the Bible, therefore, different conclusions will perhaps be open to me.
And so for me to just go into the Bible and for you to go into the Bible is... I don't think it's going to satisfy your viewers the way that they would like to be so satisfied because we have like different foundations that we're coming from. So if a person is interested in my understanding my research and my study into story of Sodom and Gomorrah and Leviticus 18 and 20 and the term abomination, and the idea of Paul speaking can against these individuals and Romans...
You can go and look at all that, it's out there that's pretty easy to access. But yeah, I think that's part of why maybe we're not going too much into the Bible right now because we can kind of just miss each other with all of our different points. That being said, if you have direct questions about my work and mine with yours, I know we can get into that. I think what I'm more interested though in asking you about Sean is, you opened up with that story about that individual and how it spurred within you that this... I read it as this compassionate heart to want to lean in with love.
How does it feel for you? What do you notice in your body? How does it feel in your heart space? What does it feel for you when you tell someone who is queer, when you tell them that your sexuality cannot be expressed in the way that mine can, or that you cannot be in a loving committed relationship in the same way that I can. I'm assuming based on your earlier observation that said that there is a singleness or marriage, I'm assuming that your counsel, your advice, your direction for them would be singleness because marriage isn't an option for them. How does it feel for you to say that to people?
Sean McDowell: So let me make a couple comments on how you opened up and then I'll jump into this question.
Colby Martin: Cool. Yeah, that's fine.
Sean McDowell: So I think you're right, that really, this is a question of how we interpret the Bible. And some would even say a question of the authority of the Bible depending on what we mean by the Bible being authoritative. So that question has to be answered. Now, in your book, you do go into some biblical exegesis, so you think Christians should dive into the passages.
And I hope at some point we can get into those. But, again, the interesting thing to me is there's a range of ways that people handle the Bible, from Orthodox, from Catholic, Protestant, from the Middle East, to Africa, to Europe, and the universality of the common view of marriage, one man, one woman, one flesh, one lifetime apart from this approach, at least seems to me should give anybody pause, who comes around with a different view of the authority of the scripture. And a different interpretation what it means for same sex relationships. If I weren't that sure that would give me serious pause. Now you asked the question, what would I say to somebody who cannot express their sexual orientation like me? My thought goes-
Colby Martin: Sorry, not what would you say? Which you can't say, but how does it feel?
Sean McDowell: ... Oh, what would I feel?
Colby Martin: Yeah. How do you feel when you tell them that?
Sean McDowell: I feel love and compassion for anybody who's wrestling with their sexuality in any fashion whatsoever. I think this is, maybe it's the way I'm wired. Maybe it's the heart that God has given me. This is an issue I've talking on, I've done a ton of counseling for. And I have talked to people all over the theological map. People that are married, people that are single people who are straight, people who are gay, trying to make sense of feelings they have about a range of issues, and how does this line up with God's design? So of course, if there's somebody who's sitting there and there's a cultural narrative that says, "This behavior is okay," and I would say, "Scripture says it doesn't." It's not like I go, "Hey, here's good news for you, this feels great" any more than I would say, any other behavior year that somebody has been told is okay doesn't line up with scripture.
But with that said, Colby, I think of two other things that come to my mind and come to my heart. One is some of the same-sex attracted Christians, friends of mine, I won't mention, I just won't call them out. Who've told me many times that God's guidelines and design for marriage and singleness actually sets them free. And like you said earlier, you don't want people to lack clarity when it comes to sexuality, let's state what we believe, why we believe it. A number of my same sex attracted friends have said to me, "Hey, keep speaking what scripture says, have the boldness and have the clarity and the conviction, because as Jesus said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."
So I believe that... And I know you do too. I believe that what I hold about sexuality is in line with what Jesus held in line with what the scripture has. So I firmly believe there's a kind of freedom that comes emotionally and intellectually from aligning one's life with God's design. That's a deep conviction that I have. So I hurt with somebody, I mourn with that person, I try to be gentle with that person, but I think it is actually truth in God's design and scripture that brings freedom. So I really believe that that person, if they live out and follow what Jesus taught, will experience a different kind of freedom. Go ahead. Keep going.
Colby Martin: Thanks for that follow up. What makes you believe those friends of yours that tell you that? You say you have friends that told you that when they leaned more into your reading of the Bible, that they experience, I think you said they experience a type of freedom. What makes you believe them?
Sean McDowell: I mean, I guess the same reason I would believe any of my other friends on anything. I don't think it's unique to this issue that it's not with others. But this is probably, I mean, maybe half a dozen friends where we've spent a lot of time and in some cases shed some tears and they've told me distinctly from their own experience and understanding of scripture that this has brought a kind of freedom for them. Now, some people have come out of certain experiences in their past, that they felt were far more damaging relationships that did not line up with God's design and are saying, "Okay, time out, now I understand why God gives these particular commandments." So yeah, I don't know if that answers your question. But...
Colby Martin: Kind of, because then I guess the question is why wouldn't you believe my friends that tell me, that when I accepted my sexual orientation for what it was, when I saw my sexuality as a gift, when I let go of the shame of feeling like I couldn't be in a relationship with someone of the same gender, and when I began a loving relationship with my now partner and now spouse, I finally experienced the sort of freedom that I've always longed for. This is the story that I hear over and over and over again.
This is the story that we people gather at conferences by the thousands to share this story of... And they say the same thing, which is, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." The truth that they are loved just as they are the truth, that there's nothing wrong with them. The truth that they can be in a loving, committed relationship with someone of the same sex, and it leads them to freedom. Why are we not believing them? What makes you believe the people who land or you land and not the others?
Sean McDowell: That's a great question by the way, very thoughtful. And here's what I would say, because the basis of my view of this is not somebody's experience. That's not where my theology comes from. So, clearly because people can say, "Hey, I'm free following in the historic Christian path." "Hey, I'm free not following the historic Christian path." Then we have to point to something besides somebody's lived experience as the basis of what's actually true. Now that could be some objective scientific data about the person's psychological health. That would be one way.
But as Christians, I want to go back to scripture. So people who tell me they feel that way. I'm not going to say they're liars. Of course, they feel that way. But ultimately, as a Christian, I'm going to have to say our feelings and our experience of freedom needs to line up with what scripture says. So it's not that I don't believe them. It's that ultimately freedom to me cannot be divorced from what it means to be human. What God's designed for marriage actually is. How we're supposed to function and use our bodies. I think somebody could be free in a sense and have a more difficult emotional road and somebody have an easier emotional road and be less free. So freedom cannot be separated from truth in my mind, which is why I evaluate those two experiences differently.
Colby Martin: Okay. All right. Thanks for sharing. Feels a little disjointed to me that you could hear two people share a very similar feeling space and you believe one because it matches with your theological conviction, but you don't believe the other. And yet I have to be honest with how in my own... I don't know that I'm a whole lot different. Which is to say, I might meet be one of your six friends and hear their story of like no, "Colby you don't understand, I feel so much freer now that I have committed myself to singleness, or now that I have sort of forced myself into a heterosexual relationship." I would probably also struggle to really believe them, I think. I'm trying to name how that's probably hard for both of us to really accept that people are reliable narrators of their own experience, if it doesn't also match up with how we understand the Bible to be on this one.
Anyway I'll ask you one more question, Sean, and then I'll throw it back, I'll love to know what questions you have for me. Is there any scenario for you in which you could imagine potentially changing your mind on this? Like what would it take for you to change your mind on this? I'll just add this because it's not all that interesting to me to say, "Well, for the last 2000 years across many different traditions, this is sort of been the fundamental way of thinking about this."
I guess that's interesting to me, but if we hop in a time machine and go 2000 more years into the future, then you could theoretically look back and be like, "Well, for the first 2000 years look like this, for the second 2000 years, it looked like that. It's only interesting in so far as this is our present moment and this is what we have to work with, but that doesn't to me say anything other than this is just the point in history in which we're at. This doesn't affirm that it's been the correct way to think about it for 2000 years. So anyway, what would it take for you to change your mind? Could you envision any scenario in which your mind did change on this?
Sean McDowell: Again, love the question. This is great. Let me make a couple comments from earlier and I understand you're wrestling through why I would see two different people and find it somewhat disjointed to believe one and not the other. I think we may be operating a little bit on different understandings of freedom. I don't just mean emotional freedom and happiness in life-
... must mean emotional freedom and happiness in life. I meet people who say, "Hey, I'm a New Ager. I left Jesus. I'm a New Ager, I feel more free." "Hey, I'm in Marxism, I feel more free." "Hey, I'm a Muslim." I'm not talking about somebody's lived experience of being free. I would tie freedom to our objective design and having the capacity to do what is right. Now that could take us a huge side. But I think some of the tension in what you're saying, which is fair, we may be operating a little bit off different understandings of freedom.
Now, with that said, we can come back to that if you want to, what would it cause to change my mind? I remember when I first started really studying this issue around 2012, 2013, if I remember. I remember reading some of the first books by Matthew Vines, by Justin Lee, the book, Love Is an Orientation. Some of the more academic books by Boswell. And I remember very first reading those, feeling unsettled. And I went to my wife, I was like, "I might be wrong about this. I have not thought about these passages. And I realize a lot's at stake, but as I study this, I've got to be willing to change my mind." Now, do I have built incentives not to? Sure. I get that. I'm not going to pretend complete objective space there.
Colby Martin: Yep. I appreciate that.
Sean McDowell: But I can tell you for seven or eight years. I went back and revisited your book. I was like, "Okay, what's [Colby 00:49:30] saying, is this reasonable? What if he's right?" All I can tell you is, when I first started questioning my faith with my dad, who's an apologist, instead of going, "Well, the Bible's true, Jesus is true." He goes, "Son, follow truth and only give up your faith if you're convinced it's not true." My dad, this great apologist is like, "Follow truth. That should be your guide." So as much as I have to push back against my biases, and again, not pretending to be, I can tell you, I have intentionally read these books and looked at it.
And I had a [inaudible 00:50:06] person I won't mention reach out to me recently, some posts that I did and she contacted me and was like, "You're totally disingenuous." And I said, "You completely misunderstood my point." And she was kind of attacking me. And I said, "Look, if you want to change my views, number one, be kind towards people who hold the view differently. And second, make the arguments. Prove that Jesus was okay with same-sex unions. Prove that Paul was. And not only knock down the supposed clobber verses. But give some positive reason why that is compelling that I should discount what the Universal Church has held for 2000 years."
And I'm not making a historical argument. To me, there's a burden of proof here. Even if it were 50/50 Colby, that would be hard for me to shift. 51/49, I would. 50/50, I go, "I don't know if I would". But I don't even think it's close to that-
Colby Martin: Sure.
Sean McDowell: ... exegetically, biblically. So, all I can say is somebody's got to make the biblical argument. And I look at people like William Loader, who is one of the leading, arguably scholars in the world on the ancientaries who writes on sexuality. And he's like, "Here's what Paul meant. Here's what Leviticus means. Here's what Jesus means. If you take the Bible seriously, it takes the historic Christian view." Now he rejects that for reasons that he owns and says, "I have a different view of the Bible. And I have a different view of same-sex relationships." I look at that, I'm like, "Okay. Even this guy who has all incentive to think that the Bible holds his view, doesn't." So I just don't think theologically it's remotely there. And so I'm not really tempted to shift my views on it, in a way at the beginning, I think I was more unsettled for a season.
Colby Martin: So I appreciate your response. So it sounds like, I hear you correctly, the only scenario in which you could imagine changing your mind on this is if there was a superior exegetical argument that I'm assuming means exo-Jesus from within your approach to how to interpret the bible.
It's got to be within your framework and your grid. And it's got to be a better interpretation or a better understanding of the texts. That might be the only scenario in which you would change your mind. Am I saying [crosstalk 00:52:31]?
Sean McDowell: So here's what I would say. I would say it has to be, the ultimate issue for me is biblical and theological. That's the question. So just within my system makes it sound like I have an arbitrary system and which-
Colby Martin: [crosstalk 00:52:48]. Not what I meant.
Sean McDowell: ... I don't think it's... Yeah.
Colby Martin: I just meant there are different types of hermeneutics. Maybe that's the word I should use, [inaudible 00:52:54] hermeneutic because someone else's hermeneutic, which might be more like mine-
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Colby Martin: ... which is, does it lead towards love. That's the hermeneutic look at it with lens of love. That's a far less interesting or compelling hermeneutic for you. So you're like, "Well that doesn't really change the way I understand the text."
Sean McDowell: Yeah. And it's not just interesting. I want to know, not just myself, why was the entirety of the church wrong about this? And I'm open to that, Colby. Believe it or not. I think you know me well enough. I will have this conversation, I will entertain both sides. I will hear people out. So it's not just Sean, over here in a corner, it's the history of the church. All these range of views, why should I adopt this new hermeneutic? I want to know that, if you make a compelling, biblical case, I'm game, if not, I don't see myself changing my mind.
Colby Martin: Has there been something that you have changed your mind on?
Sean McDowell: There has been a few things.
Colby Martin: Specifically sort of theologically, not obviously [crosstalk 00:53:50] the same company. Anyway, doesn't matter.
Sean McDowell: Yeah. There's been a few issues. Like the age of the earth, the potential compatibility of evolution understood a certain way and Christianity, those are two that come to mind. The role of women in the church, I've rethought certain issues that are there. Now, I'm not going to tell you where I land because people are going to freak out and go that direction. But within conservative circles, those are not insignificant things to try to think through and wrestle with. So yeah, there have been some other issues I've shifted on, tied to Calvinism and Arminianism.
Colby Martin: Yeah. No, thanks for sharing. And yeah, I'm not looking for details. I guess what I'm curious then is, when you look back at the Sean that held maybe a young earth, or the Sean that held maybe a different position-
Sean McDowell: Sure. Sure.
Colby Martin: ... on women in the church. Tell me about that version of you. Was that version of you just not reading the Bible correctly, did you just not have the right information yet? How do you compare that version of you that believe that versus the one that you are now?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, so I would say this, that I'm going to shift and I get to ask you some questions [crosstalk 00:55:11].
Colby Martin: That's true. I have taken way too much time. Sorry, Sean.
Sean McDowell: No, that's okay. [crosstalk 00:55:14].
Colby Martin: I just find this so fascinating.
Sean McDowell: No.
Colby Martin: And I don't oftentimes get to ask somebody who really responds [crosstalk 00:55:19].
Sean McDowell: I agree. I think I look back and on those issues, I think, huh? I heard one side of the issue and like it says in what Proverbs 18 or Proverbs 20, "The first to speak in court sounds right, until the cross-examination begins." I simply hadn't cross-examined my views. Now there're some issues. Well, namely this one on sexuality, I have probably read as many books on this, on any topic anywhere. So it's not a matter of not hearing the arguments. I've heard them, I've cross-examined them and don't find it compelling.
So all I can say is I try to change my views. I think it's a virtue that if you find position, you think is more compelling to say, "You know what? I was wrong. I was naive. I missed it. I'm changing." I think that's something I'm working on in my life and trying to do whether it's politically or any other issue.
So on those issues, I look back. I was like, "Yeah, I was naive. I just believe what people told me. I hadn't really considered other ways to read the text." I look at the question of same-sex unions and I think, that is not the issue.
Colby Martin: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:56:25].
Sean McDowell: We're talking probably thousands of hours reading every conceivable angle and just not being convinced. Now here's my question for you. And I'm going to go a little bit more theological and biblical. In your book at the very beginning, you call it Unclutter and you have a statement and let me see if I can find in here, "There are approximately six verses out of 31,000 in the scripture that appears to reference same-sex sex acts. The implication being because this is only dealt with in so few, we can't have the confidence that we have to hold the traditional view." To me, as I approach a biblical sexuality, these six passages are secondary. The primary question is this, is we can only understand how to think about same-sex marriage when we understand how to think biblically about marriage. And marriage is not dealt with in six passages, the Bible starts with it, Ten Commandments, prophets, Jesus, Paul, Revelation, from beginning to end, we have marriage. So I'm curious, how would you define marriage? What is marriage to you?
Colby Martin: Very challenging. Marriage to me is very challenging. It is work, it is effort. It is-
Sean McDowell: I mean defining marriage. I agree.
Colby Martin: I understand. I understand. But I'm starting there for a reason.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Colby Martin: I'm starting there for a reason because sometimes I get concerned that someone who claims to have a biblical view of marriage, which they define in a very particular way, which others can push back on and be like, "Come on. There's a lot of other types of marriage in the Bible. Let's be honest about that." I get worried that when someone like yourself talks about a particular version that it becomes reductionistic, that it's just reduced to. Is there one man, is there one woman and are they... At that point, it's like, "Okay, and what?" Because there was no county office in ancient civilization. So there was no city registrar that signed off. There was no marriage license or certificate.
So even that becomes a if we're really going to say, and I reject this, but if we're really going to say that God had one idea for what marriage is, and one acceptable manifestation of that. And it looks like one man, one woman married, how on earth do we wrap our arms around what married means in any other context, outside of ours and maybe more recent ones that we have some data and records on? Which is to say, for hundreds of thousands of Homo sapien years, when was marriage a real thing? When did it actually move from just one man and one woman being interested in each other, holding hands, snuggling at night to keep warm. At what point in that relationship was God like, "No." "No." "No." "No." "Yes, now you can have sex. Now, it's fine."
My point is I think when we reduce it to just this sort of flat definition of one man, one woman, it's such a low bar for me. It's like that doesn't really tell me anything. Because I know plenty of heterosexual couples, myself included that you could look at their marriage, a certain points in time and be like, "That marriage is really sinful. That's a really sinful marriage. I don't care that you're a man and a woman and you have a certificate from the county. That's irrelevant. That's completely irrelevant to whether or not this relationship is honoring to God or is generating good fruit or is contributing towards wholeness and wellbeing.
So that's kind of why I start there. Like marriage is hard, it's challenging, it's complicated, it's not easy, it's not simple, it can't be reduced to just a simple definition. And I think when we do that, we're not being fair or honest with the larger experience of what humans have tried to do to figure out, how do we live peaceably in a society with each other, without... Yeah. Anyway. All Right. Taking more time.
Sean McDowell: Okay. So fair enough. [crosstalk 01:01:11].
Colby Martin: I didn't really answer your question. So my definition of marriage... Yeah. Go ahead.
Sean McDowell: Let me just press in a couple areas to see where you go with this. Fair enough.
Colby Martin: I drive people like you and I drive people that watch this, I drive you all nuts because I don't really answer questions as directly as people wish I would.
Sean McDowell: Okay. So would you say marriage minimally requires commitment?
Colby Martin: Yes, 100%. It is a commitment.
Sean McDowell: So it requires commitment.
Colby Martin: Yeah. Uh-huh (affirmative).
Sean McDowell: Okay. So we've got that part of it. Would you agree that marriage is meant to be permanent? It's meant to be permanent?
Colby Martin: When you say meant, I just want to clarify that for you, I think if I'm correct, you're imagining a God somewhere who has like a, "Here is the outline of what marriage is. Earth, I hope you get it. Good luck. Minus the [crosstalk 01:02:08] of it." That's kind of, when you say meant to be, you're saying [crosstalk 01:02:12].
Sean McDowell: I'm saying, is there a design that God has given? Yes. I believe if we want to understand what marriage is and God is the creator, just like we look at a design for my smartphone, we ask the creator. There is a sense where we could if there's a design, but in this case, I'm just simply asking if it's supposed to be, even non-Christians will give vows. When you give a vow, nobody gets married and says, 'Well, it might be permanent." We get married intending to be permanent. I'm not saying there's not justification for ending it. Okay. Fair enough.
Colby Martin: I'm with you.
Sean McDowell: So commitment-
Colby Martin: When people enter into this commitment, this sacred commitment, they intend for it to be for the [crosstalk 01:02:50].
Sean McDowell: Got it. That's it. Would you say marriage is two, Two people?
Colby Martin: I think that's been the predominant construct for marriage for a lot of civilization, not for all of it. We have very good reasons to look back at time and see the marriage looked different. It was more of a communal experience. I personally can only imagine, see the aforementioned comment about marriage being very challenging. I can only imagine married to one person at a time. There are others that I'm close to, that have a different way of thinking about that and experiencing that. And I don't know what to tell them. Let me try that again. I affirm their life giving relationships.
Sean McDowell: So you can't imagine being married to more than one person?
Colby Martin: [crosstalk 01:04:01].
Sean McDowell: But you can imagine a couple or I guess they'd be called a throuple that could be life giving and honored by God.
Colby Martin: Yes.
Sean McDowell: You're open to that.
Colby Martin: Yeah.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Colby Martin: I've seen it, I've said. I'm familiar with it within many people.
Sean McDowell: Okay. So my next question would be, for me the answer is, if we go back to Genesis, God makes male and female. So marriage is sexed. The two shall become one, there's a unity that's there. Cling to his wife, it's meant to be permanent. These factors can be found. And two, because it's God's mechanism for multiplying and filling the earth, man and woman is all that is necessary. If you take away the difference and complementary between man and woman, can't keep it to two, it could be three, it could be four and so on.
So for me and this is probably no surprise to you, I think there's a very simple, clear way to find a definition of marriage. Go back to Genesis, Jesus affirms it in Matthew 19, that it's sexed, it's permanent. And there's a commitment that's there. And it's about populating, filling the earth, amongst other things. Where does your understanding of marriage come from? Is it from the Bible? Is it from somewhere else? That's part of my question and I'm curious.
Colby Martin: Sure. Sure.
Sean McDowell: Where did you get this definition? What biblical support is there, if that's not the place you get this definition from?
Colby Martin: Sure. But before I respond let me go back to something you said where you talked about a certain clarity in the Bible about marriage, but I submit to you Sean, that again, you even go back to pick any point in the Jewish people's history, or even before that, when were couples considered married? I would hope you would acknowledge that that's a moving target. It has been a moving target, which is to say, we have a target in our culture right now that marriage is official when maybe there's an efficient that says, "I now pronounce you..." Maybe some people are like, "No, it's not until they sign the document." Maybe some people go as hardcore. "No, it's not until it's in the file folder."
I would like you to admit if you're comfortable, that the point at which someone becomes act actually officially married is not only a sort of nebulous, hard to pin down slippery target, but it has changed and it's different depending on culture, depending on time and history. And the reason why I think that is worth pointing out is because I think in some part that pushes back a little bit against this idea that God has this one very simple biblical idea of what marriage is and that we can just know what it is. I don't think that's true. I don't think we can say, "This is the point at which that couple's married. Not then." "Not then." "Yes." "No." "No." "Yes." How do you reconcile that? How do you-
Sean McDowell: Yes. So my honest answer is-
Colby Martin: Does that question even make sense?
Sean McDowell: It does make sense. And my answer might not be what you expect.
Colby Martin: That's fine.
Sean McDowell: I don't see why it matters. Now, let explain why, just because there's debate about the particular moment that somebody is married, doesn't mean we can't distinguish an essence of marriage from something that's not married. In fact, maybe you'll like this one, maybe not. It's the fallacy of the beard, right? Exactly at what point does somebody have a beard? And we can debate some of the particulars, but I know that you have a beard. And I know that I don't. When we look at marriage, I'm talking Jewish tradition and Christian tradition, there's no debate until this generation, that marriage is meant to be permanent, it's a commitment, that it's a sexed institution and that it's about procreation. I think you're getting lost on the particular secondary issue of exactly when somebody's getting married and missing the large universal commonality. And the reason it's been held so much in the church is because it's so clear in Genesis and Jesus spoke on this in the other passages. Now that might not be how you expected me to push back, but tell me what you think.
Colby Martin: Yeah. I completely submit that from your perspective, I'm losing the forest for the tree. Why I'm narrowing in on the tree is because when I was in the evangelical world and when that was my viewpoint, the tree that mattered in the forest was the tree of, is this sin or not? At what point does this become a behavior or an action that the God of the universe would deem wicked and sinful? And at what point is it not? And if we were to use your beard example, if we buy into this idea that there's a God that says, having a beard is sinful, then we darn well would imagine. And actually we don't have to imagine, in the Jewish scriptures, there were very strict perimeters around what length of beard and all that, to keep it in that, not sinful category.
The reason why I think it matters. And maybe I think it needs to matter to you when marriage happens and when it is actually ordained or God-approved is because your fundamental operating position is that not married sex is sinful. And I'm saying, well, then doesn't that require that you know when a marriage is valid in the eyes of God and when it's not. So the reason why I'm zeroing in this tree is because I think this tree infects the whole forest with this disease of the idea that God has this one very narrow idea of what is acceptable sexual activity. And that we've got it figured out through these ancient words that we've read and interpreted. So I think the tree more than maybe you're giving credit.
Sean McDowell: So here's what I think. I think some of the particular ways this expressed in culture, whether it's in a public vow with people watching from chairs, whether you sign a contract, whether it's a handshake, whatever it is, those are secondary to the biblical minimalist that a man leaves a father and mother, clings, makes a commitment to his wife and then the sexual union follows. So just because there can be some cultural expression of this norm of marriage doesn't mean we can't know what marriage is. Doesn't mean that it's not sexed. Doesn't mean that it's not limited to two. It doesn't undermine because there's particular cultural ways that these commandments are to be practiced.
So look, even look in scriptures. Divorce is allowed by Jesus, Matthew 19, at least minimally for sexual unfaithfulness. Paul in 1st Corinthians 7 is abandonment. So on the flip side, there's a commitment to sexual faithfulness in marriage. And the opposite abandonment is making a commitment to stick with somebody. I think we can derive a pretty minimalist view of what marriage is without getting lost on the particular cultural moment. I don't know any Church Father who had history, who would say, "Okay, you've left your mother and father, you've made a commitment. People culturally understand..."
... [inaudible 01:12:00] father. You've made a commitment. People culturally understand this, but you can't have sex. You're not married because of this particular detail. And maybe we're going round and round on this one.
Colby Martin: That's certainly what pastors do today.
Sean McDowell: Well, yeah, I don't know if I've ever seen a pastor do that. Maybe you have, but if they do, then shame on them.
Colby Martin: [crosstalk 01:12:19] before you're married, and married is very limited to the ceremony and/or the signing of the document. That's exactly what most pastors tell their people.
Sean McDowell: But that's not arbitrary. That's a cultural expression with particulars from the biblical model and norm of leaving father and mother, making a commitment, this is how the community recognizes it. So, okay, maybe we differ on this. Let me ask you one more. And I somewhat hesitate on this because I don't know, I don't want it to feel like it's below the belt, but I want to know where you want to go on this. I won't press you after asking this. You can just take it where you want to.
But as I read in your book, it's talking about same sex action. It doesn't commit loving, committed, mutually honoring and respecting relationships between people of the same sex. So the Bible doesn't specifically condemn those categories of loving, mutually honoring, committed and respectful. You said you'd be okay with a throuple because the Bible doesn't explicitly condemn that. The question that people often ask me and some have asked me from our last conversation is what about something like incest? Would you be okay with a marriage, if there's commitment, it's honoring, it's mutual and the other adjectives that are used, are you okay with that? Are you undecided? You're not sure? Are you against it? And if you're against it, why would that be different than same sex unions?
Colby Martin: I'm fine responding to this question. I do typically start when ... because this question, like you said, there's a handful of questions-
Sean McDowell: It comes up.
Colby Martin: ... that tends to come up. And I often respond initially with, why do you care what I think? And the reason why I say that is because I'm just one guy who's trying to figure some stuff out and try to share. I'm one beggar who's found some bread offering it to some other beggars. So I would hope nobody would be hanging their hopes on whether or not their desire for an incestuous relationship will be okay or not based on what some random dude from San Diego says.
So that's my first sort of preamble is, I mean, I can tell you what I think, but I don't really know why it matters. But then secondly, or the other thing I say by way of preamble is who's asking this question? Where are the people in our society that are pushing against the larger church institution to say, "This innate desire that I have to marry my sister, I didn't ask for it. It's here. I can't change it. It's just part of who I am. And the fact that you won't marry me to my sister is really harmful and oppressive." Where are all these people? Where does this question come from other than just an exercise in, "Colby, where do you draw the lines?" Which is fine. We can talk about where does Colby draw the lines. They're still just Colby's ideas of where the lines are. I would caution everybody to not put too much talk what I'm saying, which I don't think is a problem based on the comments.
For me, I have not seen any evidence psychologically, I have not seen any evidence in terms of the wellbeing of humans, I have not seen any, anything that says incestuous relationships can be generative and life giving and lead to flourishing. It's not to say they're not out there. I mean, especially in other cultures, other times. I hold the space that I'm just ignorant on whether or not that has happened. But for me personally, I don't know that anybody is really clamoring to engage in an incestuous relationship. So it feels a bit like a hypothetical red herring.
But if ... a real world hypothetical, if someone came to our church and they were first cousins and they're like, "Hey, we want to get married," that would be really weird. That would just be really awkward. I would have a lot of follow-up questions. And if the people that I'm speaking to have a really particular commitment to the Bible as being their prescriptive guide for how to live life, it's not too hard to go to the Bible and say, "Well, here's some prohibitions against incest. So our ancient spiritual ancestors seemed to think it was a bad idea. If that has any weight for you today, I present it to you."
Sean McDowell: Okay, I got a million more questions for you, but I said I wouldn't press this one further, and let you speak. Fair enough. Now, we are pushing limits on time. So I don't want you to feel like the bad guy here. Do you want to take a handful of questions, or you had committed really to lessen this? If you got to go, everybody's going to understand. Want to do one to two questions?
Colby Martin: I'm good. Yeah, pick out some questions that you think would be additive to the conversation. I got time for that.
Sean McDowell: All right. We don't have a lot of time. If you have a question for Colby or myself, write QUESTION in caps, put it in there quickly. And if we see it in the next few moments, we will take your questions live. I'm seeing a ton of comments, mostly positive-
Colby Martin: Great.
Sean McDowell: ... some that maybe are not so, but it is what it is.
Colby Martin: Theophilus says that I can't just give a straight answer. No, I give a very crooked answer, just like my theology.
Sean McDowell: So, I mean, here's the first one that-
Colby Martin: [crosstalk 01:18:31] straight, whatever. Forget it. Don't worry about it. That was a joke for the people in the back.
Sean McDowell: Here's an interesting one. This is for you, but I think we should probably both answer this. "Colby, what if you're wrong? What if you're preaching the wrong gospel? If you're wrong, then you're a false teacher. Why change God's word. Why reform what God says?"
Colby Martin: Yeah. So I don't believe I'm changing God's word, DR. So right out the gate, that's kind of the point of my book is that I'm exploring what the Bible actually says and doesn't say. So I'm not changing God's word. I'm not reforming what God says. I'm reforming what the church has historically taught based on bad ideas. "If you're wrong, then you're a false teacher." I'm assuming I'm wrong on a whole bunch of things. So if I have to be right on everything to not be a false teacher, then I guess you're correct, I am a false teacher. You win.
But the more interesting thing is, what if I'm wrong overall in this? If I'm wrong overall in this, I think I'm in a better position than Sean, if you're wrong. I think that if I'm wrong on this, I get to stand before the pearly gates and say, "I was just following Jesus's example. That's exactly what I was doing. And that's all Jesus ever asked of me is to follow his example."
And Jesus would lean over Peter's shoulder and be like, "Yeah, he did. Let him in. He's fine. Even though he had some weird ideas, all I really wanted was for people to follow me. And he did that. He had trust in my way." And he'd let me in. I think if you are wrong, though, Sean, and those like you are wrong, I think then it's this ... you still get to be let in because you're a wonderful man, I'm sure Peter would have no problem with you.
But then there would be follow-up questions like, "Were you not paying attention when I said that I desire mercy and not sacrifice? Were you not paying attention at this idea of grace being quite literally just a free gift, that you don't have to do anything to earn it? It's just there. It's just there. Why were you hanging all these millstones around people? Why were you making it hard? Were you not listening when I said, 'Take my yoke, it's easy?'" The yoke of the Pharisees, where you have to behave a certain way, where you have to believe a certain way, where you have to do all the right things ... The whole point was that's not the point. And so I think you might have a lot more things to answer for if you're wrong. If I'm wrong, Jesus was like, "Yeah, but he was just following me. Paul might have some issues with him once he gets inside, but he's cool with me."
Sean McDowell: So no surprise, Colby, I see it very differently than you do.
Colby Martin: I know.
Sean McDowell: I think you have it way worse if you're wrong than me, on two levels. Number one, I think I Corinthians 6 is pretty clear that certain behavior people engage in can keep them away from the kingdom of God. Now, I realize from your book that you would interpret those passages differently. And out of total fairness, I recognize that we have not entered into those passages and gone into that debate. But the question is, what if we're wrong? If we're wrong, you're telling people something that the Bible explicitly calls sin is okay and misleading them about their salvation. On that level, I think you have it way worse.
But there's a second way that I think your position has it way worse is that the primary reference point in scripture to God's love for the church is a particular relationship. And it's not a brother-sister relationship. It's not a motherly love for her child. It's not comrades in war. It's marriage. It's marriage. The primary metaphor that God gave us to show his love for the church is marriage. The Bible begins with a marriage. It's all through the Old Testament, unfaithfulness to God, in the prophets, was compared to adultery. Hosea is commanded to live with a prophet; or I'm sorry, Hosea the prophet was commanded to live with a prostitute, very different. Jesus talks about marriage and Paul in Ephesians 5 is like, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church." This is a mystery that points to the salvific plan of God and his love for the church. So I think if I'm right about this and you're wrong, you are arguably twisting the primary metaphor that God gives us to understand his love for the church. That strikes me as a pretty serious thing.
Colby Martin: Yeah. I hope you are not right.
Sean McDowell: I get that. That's air.
Colby Martin: I hope you are not right because that's a God I really want nothing to do with. That's the God that I think Jesus came to point us away from.
Sean McDowell: Okay, fair enough. Man, there's so many things I want to talk to you about, Colby. This one is for me, but I think maybe it came up. Let's end with this one because I don't want to push the time too much. But this was for me, it says, "Sean, can you share more about the freedom Christians have when they align their lives with God's design?"
This is for me, but I just got done talking. Will you talk about what you mean by freedom, what it means to be a person who is free in their relationships? And this goes back ... I'm talking for a second to give you time to think of an answer. This goes back to our question about the two experiences that you had asked me, why I believe one story and not the other. And you described the couple in a same sex relationship being more free, and articulating that to you. So explain to us or the audience what you mean by the freedom somebody can have, and then I'll give mine. I think that'll add more clarity. And then we'll wrap up.
Colby Martin: Cool. You and I clearly read the early chapters of Genesis differently.
Oh, one second. I'll be with you in just a few minutes. Okay? Just give me like five or 10 minutes. Okay? All right.
We clearly feel differently about Genesis. For me, it's not a prescription for how a marriage should be. For me, it includes, among other things, a description of how the ancient Jews thought about marriage in a particular context. And that's fine and all. But I want to go back to this moment in these opening story of Genesis, where man and woman are created, and women's created for man because it's not good for man to be alone, which is interesting right there, right, that everything that God creates is good: stars, good, moon, good, tree's, good, buffalo, good, even scorpions, good, I guess. But then loneliness reverses the flow of goodness, this divine record scratch.
And yet now we have many churches that say your path is singleness, which I think singleness is wonderful if people choose it for themselves. It should never be given to them by others. But there's this moment where man and a woman eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which again goes back to why I think I'll be fine if I'm wrong because the one thing God wanted to keep from humanity was the knowledge of good and evil. God's like, "You all can have everything. I'm going to hold on to the capacity to discern between what's right and wrong because if I give it to you're going to screw it up." And that's all we've been doing is we've been screwing it up. They eat of it and immediately they see each other naked and are filled with shame and they cover themselves up. And then the story goes on that God is like, "Where is everybody? Where'd you go?" And they're hiding from God.
And you know what God says next, Sean, God says, "Who told you that you were naked?" I say that because for me, Sean, freedom is the absence of shame. For me, freedom is trusting that we are love loved by God as we are, that we do not need to cover up who we are. Who told you, who told you, young kid who has feelings for people of the same sex, who told you there's anything wrong with you? Who told you? Don't believe it. It's not true. So freedom for me means being free of shame. I think that is one of the things that Jesus' death and resurrection does, is it unlocks the power of shame. And that is part of how we are free, free from the powers of sin and shame.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Colby Martin: And for me, that is sort of what leads to freedom is when someone is no longer mired and feeling like they need to cover up and sew themselves some fig leaves.
Sean McDowell: Okay. So freedom is very much an emotional experience for you, the absence of shame?
Colby Martin: Emotional, spiritual mental, physical. Yeah, man. We're a trinity of beings, heart, body, soul, mind. That's four things, but all of it. Yeah. Shame runs deep. Shame lives in our body. It doesn't just live in our feelings. Shame lives in our mind and our soul. So getting all of that out is the path of freedom.
Sean McDowell: So I agree with you on freedom in terms of its relationship to shame. But let me take a step back to explain how I understand freedom and how I think it lines up scripturally. So when I ask students, and I do frequently, how would you define freedom? The common answer they'll give me is freedom is doing whatever you want without restraint. As long as you're the author of your life [crosstalk 01:29:14]-
Colby Martin: Bad answer.
Sean McDowell: ... which is a bad answer. As long as you do whatever you want, you're the author of your life and there's no restraint, you're free. I asked students one time, I say, "Give me a depiction of this to the person who's most free." And the answer is like a person alone on an island with no restraint, live uninhibited, do whatever they want. Well, I think these students understand freedom from, but they don't understand freedom for. Half of freedom is negative, where we lack something. If we're locked up in prison, we're not free because we're restrained to a degree. But the other part of freedom is understanding what were made for and then living according to that design. Again, like my smartphone was made for something. It's not a waffle maker. It's not a scuba tank. It's when I understand what it's for and use it accordingly, you could say that it's set free.
What's interesting, the Bible starts with, "In the beginning, God created." He made us for something. We're not accidents. We were designed. And if we want to be free, we have to understand what God made us for. And of course, the answer is to be in a relationship with him and to be in a relationship with other people. Like you said, in Genesis, "It's not good that man is alone." So there is a sense you and I agree that we're made for relationships.
Colby Martin: Yep.
Sean McDowell: In fact, hell is described as darkness, which is loss and the lack of relationships. Heaven is a city bustling with people and a banquet where there's relationships. So we're made for relationships. But the same passage that you and I are talking about that says we are made for relationships, and you just shared in Genesis chapter one, is the same passage that tells us marriage is man and one woman in a committed relationship for life. So we agree, the absence of shame. We agree on the importance of relationships, that we're not to be alone on an island. But I also have to say, who's the maker, who's the creator? How did he design us to be? And we're free when we're living out according to God's design.
So here's when illustration. I'll end with this that I'll sometimes share with students, like take a piano. If you sit down to a piano and you have person A and person B, person A goes, "I don't care [inaudible 01:31:44] that piano. I'm going to take a bat, I'm going to beat this thing up and bash it. I'm free to do whatever I want to that piano." In one sense, you could say that person's free if they own it.
Another person looks and goes, "I know the truth of that piano. I know what it was made for and how it's meant to be used." And they've cultivated the discipline, which involves resisting certain urges and feelings, cultivated the discipline to play that piano as it's meant to be played. Whether they feel like they enjoy it or not, that is beautiful music using something according to its design. Now when somebody does that, there's often the feelings that follow because music is beautiful, but there's a sense where the person is free when they understand what the piano is, use it the way it's meant to. That's how I look at human nature and I look at sexuality. It's a gift-
Colby Martin: Yeah. And you can't have freedom without limitations. You can't have freedom without restrictions and boundaries. 100%
Sean McDowell: That's exactly right. And I think you and I differ over where those restrictions and those boundaries are.
Colby Martin: Sure. But fundamentally, yeah, I agree with you.
Sean McDowell: That's where it comes in. All right, Colby, I hope you'll forgive me for keeping you way past we agreed to. This conversation was really fantastic.
Colby Martin: 70 times 77, brother.