The Nashville Statement
An Evangelical group recently drafted a biblical statement on human sexuality. Dr. Craig offers his thoughts on the Statement.
The Nashville Statement
KEVIN HARRIS: Well, I fear that personal computers all over the globe are going to explode today as we do this podcast. It's rather controversial, especially in today's culture. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. It is called the Nashville Statement – a coalition for biblical sexuality. It is drafted by the CBMW – the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Many people and some prominent leaders and scholars in the Christian church have signed this statement. Bill, what do you know about the CBMW? They have been around for a while, haven't they?
DR. CRAIG: They have. This is an organization that was originally founded to defend a view of husband-wife relationships called complementarianism. That is to say, they defended the traditional view that the husband is the spiritual head of the family, and that the wife is called to submit to the loving, servant leadership of her husband. They are opposed by so-called egalitarian views of marriage which think of the husband and the wife as not standing in an asymmetric relationship of subordination. This was, for many, many years, their principle concern – to defend complementarianism with respect to the relationship between a husband and his wife and children. I think that now, because of developments in our culture with same-sex marriage and now transgender concerns, that they have found themselves literally thrown into this hornet's nest in which now they are speaking to issues that seem far more culturally significant and with greater ramifications than they ever anticipated. So this statement is particularly pertinent to transgender issues.
KEVIN HARRIS: It brings up . . . in church history there have been these councils and these gatherings to draft or codify or clarify statements. I'm not going to put this on par with the Nicene Council or anything like that, but is this a similar thing? Is this necessary from time to time for Christian leadership to gather and say, We need to discuss some issues. We need to clarify our position?
DR. CRAIG: I think it is helpful on issues that one thinks are biblically significant and clear and are important to our culture. I think it is good to draft a statement of principle on this. It is interesting in this one they adopt the methodology of affirming a certain truth and then denying a certain proposition so as to make very clear exactly what they are affirming and what they are denying. This is a very interesting way of formulating your position.
I feel uncomfortable about signing these sorts of statements because it can lead to great misunderstanding and puts you on the line with respect to certain issues. But I signed this Nashville Statement because, as I read through it, I found myself in agreement with it, and in particular I think the issues that are addressed are of burning importance in our culture and tremendously significant theologically. So I did affix my signature to this statement.
KEVIN HARRIS: It is comprised of a preamble and then articles. There are fourteen articles. We'll go through these quickly. You could say a ton of things about each one of these articles perhaps. But we will just look at each one and get your comments on them.
The Scripture that they begin with is: “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3).
DR. CRAIG: The reason they chose that, I think, is that the emphasis throughout this is that a person's gender is not a matter of your personal choice. God has made you a man or a woman. It is he who makes this determination, and not yourself. So it is a reaction against this sort of subjectivism and relativism that is so rampant in our culture.
KEVIN HARRIS: It begins:
Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female.
That's how it begins – immediately saying that there is a distortion in Western culture.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, and emphasizing against that that not simply our souls but that our bodies are important to God and valuable and reflect his glory and design.
KEVIN HARRIS: The second paragraph of the preamble basically says we have two choices. We can succumb to the spirit of the age and just embrace what secular society is saying and where Western culture is going or we can stand and clarify biblical conviction and courage and hold fast to what we think the Scripture teaches. It asks the question which will we do? Apparently this Nashville Statement is saying, Here is where we stand, and here is where we think we ought to go with this issue. The final paragraph:
Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.
WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.
WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.
That is the most important article, I would think.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, it would seem, wouldn't it? The emphasis here is that marriage is not just a social construct invented by human beings. This is a divinely ordained institution. The institution that God has divinely ordained involves a heterosexual relationship, and therefore these other alternative sorts of unions are not, in fact, in accord with God's design for marriage.
KEVIN HARRIS: The second article may seem a little out of place, but as I was reflecting on it I can see how it fits the overall picture in that the press has taken evangelicals to task in saying, You guys believe in sex inside marriage and not outside of marriage; the culture gave that up a long time ago. You've been awful silent on that. What gives? Why are you just now making up a big row over the homosexuality issue? So they put in Article 2 perhaps in response to that.
WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.
WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.
DR. CRAIG: Right. It limits sexual expression to this union described in Article 1 which is this heterosexual union between a man and a woman and, in effect, condemns as against God's will adultery and premarital sexual intercourse. Sexual relationships are to be within the safe bonds of this God-ordained marriage relationship which in Article 1 is declared to be a lifelong relationship which also means implicitly that divorce is wrong. So this is a very, very conservative statement.
WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.
DR. CRAIG: Here is where the complementarity comes out. They are affirming that the man and his wife are equal before God as persons. Any attempt to say that the wife by submitting to the leadership of her husband is thereby somehow inferior is to be rejected. They are co-equals before God in their dignity and their worth. Their belief is that is not inconsistent with a kind of submission of one to the leadership of the other.
KEVIN HARRIS: The emphasis seems to be that we are equal but we are wired differently.
DR. CRAIG: It does say “distinct as male and female” doesn't it? That's right.
WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.
DR. CRAIG: I am not sure what they are reacting against here. This is obviously a theological article as opposed to a cultural one. I suspect that what they are reacting against are people who might say that a wife's submission to the leadership of her husband is a result of human sinfulness and the Fall into sin. What they are implicitly saying is that this relationship between a husband and his wife is God-ordained prior to the advent of sin and fallenness, and therefore it is not something that is overcome in Christ. Those who would argue that a wife's submission to her husband's leadership is a result of human sinfulness are apt to say that this is overcome then in Christ so that in a Christian marriage the wife doesn't have to submit to her husband's leadership – they are co-heads of the family, co-leaders. I think implicitly they mean to deny that here by saying that this asymmetry is not something that is due to human sin.
WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.
DR. CRAIG: The word “self-conception” here is a little bit odd because in the context of thinking here about sexuality “conception” sounds like “conceiving a baby” - the conception takes place at the union of the sperm and the egg. But that is not what it is talking about here. What it is talking about here is a person's self-concept – how he conceives of himself. What it is denying is that if you are born with physical abnormalities, say a mixture of sexual characteristics or psychological conditions (you feel that you are, for example, of a different gender than your biological sex indicates), that that does not abrogate the connection between your biological sex and how you ought to think of yourself in terms of gender.
WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.
DR. CRAIG: Here they are talking about that very tiny percentile of the human population which are hermaphrodites – have this kind of mixed biological sexual characteristics. What they want to say is that any such physical abnormality does not in any way impugn the dignity or worth of these persons, that they can be faithful Christians, and it encourages them to embrace their biological sex insofar as it can be known. They recognize there the ambiguity that exists for these persons; how difficult that must be. But insofar as one's biological sex can be determined, they encourage that person to conceive of himself in that way.
KEVIN HARRIS: This is a necessary article in that this tiny percentage of people are being used as a political football, exploited.
DR. CRAIG: Exactly. It becomes the thin entering wedge so to speak. That is really unfortunate, I think, because the number or the percentage of people who are born with these sort of anomalies is so tiny that it really has little application to person's who have normal biological sex but have a different conception of themselves as belonging to another gender. It is quite a distinct set of people.
WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.
DR. CRAIG: Here they would rule out conceiving of yourself as a homosexual (even if you feel those desires) or conceiving of yourself as belonging to a different gender then your biological sex. You are to conceive of yourself in the way that God has designed you, however difficult that may be.
WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.
DR. CRAIG: Here they are reacting against people who would say, God made me a homosexual. This is the way God made me. They are denying that having such an orientation is a manifestation of the natural goodness of God. Rather, they would say that this is something that is not God-ordained, but nevertheless these persons are not to be condemned for having a same-sex attraction. They recognize that persons who have same-sex attraction can live rich, fruitful, faithful Christian lives, but in accord with the earlier articles this would mean lives of chastity – that they would (like all heterosexual persons) refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage.
KEVIN HARRIS: That is what is meant by purity of life – walk in purity of life in the grace of God.
DR. CRAIG: That is implicit. Yes.
KEVIN HARRIS: OK.
WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.
WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.
DR. CRAIG: Here it is almost stating the obvious. We all experience temptations to sexual immorality. I am amazed as I think about what people do because of the sex drive. It is just such an incredibly powerful influence in human lives that leads people to self-destruct, to become involved in relationships that ruin political careers and ministries, leads to dissipation. It is just really quite amazing how powerful this drive is in human beings. What they are saying is however powerful your desires toward immoral behavior may be, that doesn't justify your indulging them. I think this is an elevated view of human beings. It means that human beings are rational rather than simply animals. It calls us to a higher view of human beings than animals in heat that are just driven to quench the desires that they have as a result of their animal nature. It is saying that these should be under the control of the rational mind.
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
DR. CRAIG: I thought this was perhaps the most radical statement or article.
KEVIN HARRIS: It is the strongest one.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. Because here they are not simply saying that it is sinful to indulge in these homosexual desires or transgenderism, but it is saying it is sinful even to approve of those others who do. It will not brook any sort of disagreement on these issues. It is a very radical statement. It is saying that if you disagree with me about the licitness of transgender behavior or homosexual activity you are sinning. So it is a very strong statement.
KEVIN HARRIS: It even gets into the issue of Romans 14 which gives us some guidelines – there are disputable things on which we can disagree like drinking wine or not to drink wine, eating vegetables or eating food sacrificed to idols, whether you play dominoes on Sunday, things like that. We can agree to disagree on. They are disputable matters – gray areas. We look at principles of Scripture. And this is not one of them.
DR. CRAIG: That is what this statement is saying. That gave me great pause as I read this. But in the end, as I reflected on it, I guess I think this is right. Someone who says that it is alright – that it is morally legitimate – to participate in sexual activity outside of marriage, that that person is sinning. I think that is true. He is. He is going against the clear teaching of Scripture and that it is wrong to do so.
KEVIN HARRIS: Article 11 perhaps tries to soften it a bit by saying,
WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.
WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his image-bearers as male and female.
DR. CRAIG: You are right, it does try to add a kind of qualifier to that earlier article saying, We disagree with you on this. We think you are wrong, but nevertheless we are going to treat you with love and respect despite that disagreement. This is something frankly that our culture does not understand. Our culture does not understand the notion of saying, “I disagree fundamentally with what you say, and yet I am going to treat you with love and respect.” It has the view that if someone disagrees with you on some important issue then you are justified in vilifying and attacking that person personally, maybe even physically and violently as we've seen in recent days. So this is an important article, I think, about how we disagree on issues.
KEVIN HARRIS: There are three more articles.
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.
DR. CRAIG: I like what this article says. There is both pardon and power. The alliteration there is very nice. There is pardon from God – forgiveness for wrongdoing, and there is power to avoid it. I think that for many today they would deny that there is power to avoid this. They would say, This is the way I am. This is the way I was made. I can't help it. This article denies that. It says that there is not only forgiveness for wrongdoing but God does have the ability to give you the power to live a pure and Christ-honoring life.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let me ask if you noticed something about this entire statement before we read the final two. This is a statement of Christian faith and practice – or an attempt to hold the Christian church (those who are followers of Jesus) to what they believe that the Scripture teaches. It is not a treatise on society at large – this is not a secular document in other words.
DR. CRAIG: I think you are absolutely right. That is so important to understand. You notice there is nothing in this that would say, for example, that same-sex marriage should not be legal in the United States. This document is entirely consistent with saying that marriages could be legally recognized under the United States Constitution by secular government or society. This is a statement for the church about how a Christian should view these things.
KEVIN HARRIS: If you want to know – if you as a non-Christian or a secularist or fellow countryman – want to know what we believe as Christians, we are trying to clarify it for you.
DR. CRAIG: Right. There is no attempt here to impose these values on other people, on society, on our system of laws. This is a statement, as you say, of practice and belief for the evangelical church.
KEVIN HARRIS: But if you read the Internet, it is like all this intense reaction against this from political voices who would say, They are trying to set up a theocracy. The mayor of Nashville denounced this statement. Does she want to engage in a theological discussion? Is that what she is saying? What is it that you . . . do you deny this theologically?
DR. CRAIG: Which of these affirmations do you deny; which of these denials do you affirm? Get specific. They will never do that.
KEVIN HARRIS: And if you want to get into a biblical discussion, well, OK. All right, Mayor. What are your biblical parameters then? But it is treated like this is some kind of a political or secular document.
DR. CRAIG: Our media has never been known for its intellectual acuity in being able to discern issues properly.
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.
DR. CRAIG: I think that one is fairly clear. You are not to conceive of yourself in a way that would deny the link between your biological sex and your self-conceived gender.
KEVIN HARRIS: The final article:
WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.
WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. A general theological statement of the sufficiency of Christ's atonement.
KEVIN HARRIS: Synopsis, then, of this? I will say this. Don't you think this is thorough as much as a very complex issue can be? It is pretty concise.
DR. CRAIG: I thought the statement was fair. It was irenic. It was clear and well-thought through. For that reason I felt that I could put my signature on it.
 Total Running Time: 29:42 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)