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The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

May 7, 2024

A clever book in the 1980s titled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is both correct, and incorrect, simultaneously. The same can be said about the notion that all I ever needed to know about theology I learned in Sunday school. Or seminary. The truth is, we learned foundational principles, key Bible verses and, hopefully, sound hermeneutical guardrails which help shape a lifetime of discipleship. The real work, though, is when theology presses into real life issues requiring fresh contextualization and application. The issue of gender and sexuality in the 21st century is a case in point.

These are complex issues effecting at least one relationship of virtually every person I engage today, and we need more than just a couple of Bible verses to guide our response. Every evangelical I know is asking me the same basic question: “How do I respond to this person I love who says he or she is betraying God’s design for their body?” My initial answer is always, “Tell me more about the person and your relationship with them!”

The Charis Symposium began as three Charis pastors who wanted to add intellectual rigor to our Fellowship, while not repeating the embarrassing schisms of our past. Our aspirations were met, albeit in an unexpected way, when Adam Copenhaver, Tim Sprankle, and myself were tasked with giving the Fellowship a set of tools for thinking more deeply and Christianly about these variegated and fluid topics surrounding the Church’s response to LGBTQ+ issues. We needed fresh eyes on the unchanging biblical text and more recent secondary literature in order to help our Fellowship maintain fidelity to the text of Scripture while not forsaking the heart of Jesus. The truth is, Jesus was a magnet for broken—even sexually broken—sinners. The Church, sadly, has collectively acted more like a sledge hammer toward people “groaning” in their bodies (Rom. 8:22,23; 2 Cor. 5:2–4).

The summer of 2023 concludes the Charis Symposium three-year study of the topic of gender and sexuality with practical responses to these emotional issues. Though the stampede of LGBTQ+ conversations of today weren’t as intense as when any of us were in Sunday school or seminary, the tools we gained there have given us fresh eyes for inquiry as we’ve analyzed what the text says exegetically (2021), theologically (2022), and now pastorally for our congregations (2023).

We’ve held ourselves to a high standard. Our entire growing team of contributors want to communicate with thoughtful, irenic, and constructive conversation, which means we remember we’re always talking about someone’s child, parent, neighbor, sibling, or friend.

We’re proud of the coalition we’re building that is far from uniform in many ways, but is built on trust and mutual gratitude for each other. Though we have read, thought about, and been asked far more questions about these topics than we ever desired, we’re glad to be used as vessels in this way as pastors who love Jesus, love people, love the Scriptures, and love our Fellowship. And we’re grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with a team of other like-minded sharp thinkers in our Fellowship who share our ideals.

As we seek to offer practical counsel in our final year of studying gender and sexuality, we build upon the framework of the past two years. No, the Bible has not changed. But the way we interact with our culture’s changing values and people caught in the maelstrom of sexual and gender identity issues requires thoughtful discourse. We need more conviction about God’s grand design for human flourishing and fewer diatribes about what we are against. We need more empathy toward humans groaning in their bodies and less self-righteousness. We need repentance for ways we’ve hurt others with our tone and less nostalgia for the “good ‘ole days.” We seek to do these things by the grace of God, for the glory of God.

The majority of the original work written and presented by Charis contributors over the past three years is currently being compiled into a volume that will be available as both a print edition and a digital resource by mid-July 2024 [updated as of April 2024]. The spirit of the work is intended to enrich, equip, and exhort our Fellowship to think beyond mere proof-texts and listen to a broader array of evangelical voices than just the familiar, loud ones. We hope we are modeling a more winsome approach to these complicated issues that are not going away anytime soon. We press on, knowing that none of us can effectively “make disciples” in this decade and beyond in the West if we avoid engaging with these uncomfortable issues. 

Does the Charis Symposium claim to have the final word on these issues? Not at all. We are pastors who love the flocks entrusted to us. We read, and think, and collaborate with other pastors, professors, and missionaries with sharp minds. We seek a band of brothers and sisters who will help us think more holistically and act more kindly toward the confused of our day regarding gender and sexuality. We pray. We preach. We counsel people. We field questions from others about these issues. We humbly receive constructive feedback. We offer whatever insights we have accumulated to others. We worship Christ by exercising our minds in service to God. And in the end, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Written by Jeremy Wike for the Year in Review 2022–2023. Jeremy is the husband to Tonya, and father to Emma, Isaiah, Hudson, Evie, and Elliott. He has served as Senior Pastor at Community of Hope GBC in Columbia City, Ind., for 13 years. He serves as part of the Executive Team for the Charis Symposium.

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