The Table Podcast

An Atheist, Gay Activist Discovers Jesus

In this episode, Dr. Darrell L. Bock and David Bennett discuss his journey to faith and same-sex sexuality in the Church.

Timecodes
00:15
Bennett’s background in writing A War of Loves
04:04
Bennett’s journey to Christian faith
12:12
Two definitions of love
21:58
Love, repentance, and celibacy
27:08
Defining terms related to same-sex sexuality in the Church
34:16
The relationships of one’s past and present identity
39:47
Respectfully engaging with homosexual people
45:17
How to balance conviction and compassion
Resources A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus A War of Loves Web site
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to the table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Culture Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary.

And my guest is David Bennett, who actually we’ve probably – you’re a veteran of foreign wars is the way I like to refer to it. You’ve done the table with us several times.

David Bennett
Yes.
Darrell Bock
You’ve done it present; you’ve done it over Skype. I think you’ve done it about every way possible.
David Bennett
I’m just a big fan, Darrell.
Darrell Bock
Well, we’re just pleased to have you. And our discussion here is the whole area of 005. And David has just written a book – I don’t know if I can grab a copy –
David Bennett
Sure.
Darrell Bock
It’s titled A War of Loves. The forward is by N. T. Wright, who I know as Tom.
David Bennett
Yeah, me, too.
Darrell Bock
And The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus – the subtitle is intriguing enough. Published by Zondervan, just out. And we’re gonna talk a little bit about this and why you wrote it, et cetera.

So, let’s back up and talk about this now for those of you who are familiar with you as one of our guests, they’ll know the story. But we need to review it for people who are just joining us, perhaps, for the first time. Talk a little bit about how you got to writing this book.

David Bennett
So, there are lots of different pieces that came together for me to write it. But the first one was I have always known from the Lord Jesus, since I was saved, that He wanted to use my writing gifts. And so, partially through my walk with Jesus, I would say that’s the primary thing, that there was a time where I felt like He didn’t want me to share that testimony yet and was hiding me and keeping me and building my character.

And then there was a time where I came on the team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. I was doing a lot of speaking and telling this testimony, the story, but there was a need to give someone something and to be able to encapsulate all these very important aspects of how I came to the place I’m now at as a celibate, same-sex attracted, gay, Christian.

So, I wanted to be able to give people the story in an encapsulated form so that they could really go away and think through it for themselves. And I needed a book like that, you know, in my journey. And Wesley Hill wrote Washed and Waiting, and that book was that for me. So, I wanted this to be a kind of version of that for other people.

The other reason I wrote it was also, you know, Nabeel Qureshi, he said to me – before he passed away from cancer, he said, “David, you’re gonna help much – many more people enter the kingdom of God by writing a book than you ever will through speaking.”

And so, it’s partly the mode in which I needed to get this story out there. And I believe there’s a message in it as well for the church today and how we cannot just reach the LGBTQI community for Christ, but also create church contacts in which people can actually flourish. And I think that’s the second step of the apologetic we need is not just working out our theology or our ethics, but actually working out the practical reality of living it.

Darrell Bock
The relational part of it.
David Bennett
Bodied church lives where there’s actually a network of community that could mean that there are pathways of flourishing for people who might be celibate, or pastoral strategies for people who might – God might lead into a mixed orientation marriage. So, the kind of nitty-gritty of it as well. I think we need to see apologetically that actually lived out and flourishing as well in our culture.
Darrell Bock
So, let’s back up here ’cause we’ve assumed the writing of the book, which assumes your story, which assumes people know your story. So, you talked about testimony and giving a testimony. I take it that the testimonies were about your experience and what you had been through, and that that’s what you’ve been doing with Ravi Zacharias Ministries is to speak into this area.

So, can we – this is a difficult question – can you encapsulate, in a couple of minutes, kinda what that storyline is?

David Bennett
So, the storyline is I was raised in an agnostic-atheist home. My mother became a Christian about three years into – you know, before I was saved at the age of 19. And so, there was this very strong sense in which I said to my mother, “You have to choose between the delusion in your head and the real God.” Sorry, “The delusion in your head and your real son standing right in front of you.”

So, there is this activist mentality that I really imbibed from a young age that Christianity was the reason that people like myself didn’t have our rights and couldn’t live a life of flourishing. And then when I was 19 – 18-19, I ended up having a debate with my uncle where he actually predicted my salvation. He said, “David will be saved in three months time.”

Three months later, after that Christmas lunchtime table talk with my – debate with my uncle, I ended up encountering Jesus Christ in a pub in the gay quarter of Sydney. And that completely turned my life upside down. And just the bare fact that God was real. You know?

Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
David Bennett
And then there was this long path, after that, of reconciling my faith in sexuality. And finally, three years later, dedicating my life to Christ in the vocation of celibacy in Strasbourg, France.

So, this book tracks the whole story, gives you the background, the details, and right into the theology and apologetics that’s needed now.

Darrell Bock
Now, I remember when we talked about this in Australia, just the two of us when we were out just visiting with each other at one point, that there was one part of the story – of this story that really captured my attention and that was this gal who said simply, “Can I pray for you?”
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
I think that introduces kind of the relational bit that I think we want to focus on. So, talk a little bit about that – where you were at that part of the story and what that move meant to you in terms of your total journey.
David Bennett
I think the thing that was really fantastic about this girl in the pub, this filmmaker, is that she didn’t really look at me as any different. She just considered me as a human being who needed God like anyone else, and that God would kind of work that out with me. So, she wasn’t kinda like, “Oh, no, he’s gay,” or – she just, “Oh, okay, but have you experienced the love of God?”

And I think that question is probably not a question that’s really at the forefront of the Church’s mission at the moment, to try to reach the world. It’s often, “Well, you need to behave before you believe.” But actually, it really should be belong, believe, behave. You know?

Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
David Bennett
And that’s out of that acceptance and love of God and the community of the Church that one is then able to believe, and then that one is then able to behave according to the gospel and the Good News.
Darrell Bock
So, you guys were – just to fill it out a little bit – so, you guys were visiting in a pub, and you were having this discussion about God, et cetera, and she basically asked if she could pray for you, and that struck you?
David Bennett
Yeah, I think that the question, “Have you experienced the love of God,” completely stopped me in my tracks. Because I kinda had this idea that God was just a concept in a book that people were living up to, but not like a real living being.

And so, when she asked me, “Have you experienced the love of God as a postmodern,” it was like, “[Gasp] There’s an experience here?” You know?

Darrell Bock
Yeah.
David Bennett
Like, “Ooh.” You know?
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
David Bennett
“Hello, you’re speaking my language now.” You know?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
David Bennett
“I want to have an experience.” You know?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
David Bennett
And so – but obviously there’s obviously another part of me that was like, “Get away from this crazy fundamentalist.” You know?
Darrell Bock
Mmm, mmm.
David Bennett
So, there was definitely a war of loves that started in that moment between old self and the new self. You know?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
David Bennett
That God’s grace was already on me and working in me.

So, then, when she said that, I was kind of disarmed, and there was also the aspect of her making a film about people who were just mentally disabled or had Down syndrome, et cetera, and that really spoke to me.

Darrell Bock
So, there was an authenticity to her that you knew about before she’d even asked the question that also had opened up the door for saying, “Maybe this fundamentalist isn’t as crazy as I thought.”
David Bennett
Yeah.
David Bennett
And then when she prayed for me, I was like, “Yeah, she’s a fundamentalist.”
David Bennett
“In the name of Jesus, by the blood of the Lamb.” You know?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
David Bennett
You’re like, “Oh, wow.” You know? You know.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah.
David Bennett
Yeah. And so, there was this interesting paradox that I detected on the surface of, “How could she believe this religion that’s so oppressive to my community and yet do such good and be a source of love?” This just did not compute.

So, I think that that is really the apologetic that we want to be talking about. You know, we always say, “Love is the greatest apologetic.”

Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
David Bennett
And we might say that in a kind of trite way, but do we actually practice it? Do we actually offer that love and embody that love? And it’s a love – that’s one of the other things that I talk about in the thesis of the book is the LGBTQI community will often say, “Love is love,” or, you know – and really, the thesis behind that is that love is God.
So, what I think love is is the truly transcendent thing instead of love is revealed to me. God is love. So, not that love is God, but that God is love and that there are these two definitions of love
one that starts in the human experience, but the other that actually starts with God’s self-revelation in Jesus.

And I’m wanting to say it’s God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit is where we have to start our identity as Christians. That should be the ultimate identity that we have as Christians.

So, I had to discover that, though. I actually had to have that revealed to me, and it was through her love and her compassion that I was able to.

One thing that Jesus has really been speaking to me about recently is that the healing and saving power of God flows through compassion. So, if we don’t have compassion for others, it doesn’t matter how true or right we are, that power of grace is not gonna reach people through us; we’ve become bigoted, brittle, and we don’t please the Father.

But when we have the truth in us and His Word abiding in us, and we have this deep well of compassion that comes from experiencing the love of God, then we can reach all the people that supposedly can’t be reached by God.

Darrell Bock
Yeah. We say something very similar, that this well is full of compassion; it’s also full of the experience of what it means to participate in God’s grace and forgiveness.
David Bennett
Absolutely.
Darrell Bock
And in this relating part of how we live out our convictions is actually extremely important. That we can know the right thing, but if we deliver it improperly or poorly, we’re actually still wrong.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And so, that’s an important part of what we’re gonna do. I want to talk about the metaphor that you’re weaving in the title A War of Loves. And what I’m hearing in what you’re saying to me is is that there are two kinds of ways that love is being defined.
David Bennett
That’s right.
Darrell Bock
And then I’m also hearing within your story that there was this kind of war going on within you at the same time. So, it’s like there are two layers to this. There’s the layer of thinking through what love actually is and where it comes from and how I should think about it and define it –
David Bennett
Yes.
Darrell Bock
– but then there also is this conflict that was going on internally within you.
David Bennett
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
So, let’s take them one at a time. It’s more dynamic than that, but we – that conversation will make no sense. So, let’s talk about – let’s talk first about the definition of love that you’re wrestling with, and the way in which you see love, and the way in which love is kind of competing itself.
And let me set it up this way
there’s a message that I do called “What is Forgiveness of Sins For?”
David Bennett
Yes.
Darrell Bock
And it opens with the words from a very famous song called “What’s It All About, Alfie?” M-kay?
David Bennett
[Laughs]
Darrell Bock
Which is from Burt Bacharach, and he’s basically – and he says this in the words, and unbeliever, trying to make sense out of life. And he lands in a place in which he says, “Well, basically, it’s all about love.”

And I saw an interview in which he said, “Of all the lyrics that I’ve written, and of all the awards that I’ve won writing music, these are the lyrics I’m most proud of.”

David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And I call it – I describe it as a cry from the public square, that sometimes when we look at musical lyrics, we can see someone being very transparent about what they’re wrestling with.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And in the midst of that transparency, you see either what they’re hoping for or what they’re longing for or whatever. And that song does that. And the thing that struck me about it was is that his answer’s in the right bucket, if I can say it that way. You know, love is obviously a very important part of what we get to experience that elevates life, but it’s also very undefined.
David Bennett
Yes. And I think that that – exactly, that ambiguity was actually something that drove me towards the question of God in my own story. And there’s the famous apologetic of desire from C. S. Lewis, “If I find in myself some – the desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, then I know that I was made for another world.”

And so, I think that’s exactly your point that – but the definition of love that we have without God’s self-revelation, it’s just kind of porous. It’s amorphous. What is it? And you’re ever chasing it. I mean I think that that’s – like all the music I listened to before I became a Christian was full of that kind of yearning but then failure.

Darrell Bock
And it’s fleeting in the sense that it’s so built upon, if I can say it this way, the emotional side of the experience, or the nature of the experience – you could say it either way –
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– that it moves and shifts, and it doesn’t have – you said “porous.” I think that’s a great way to describe it. I would see it as almost – there’s an instability to it.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And so, even though it’s pursued and longed for and you get glimpses of it, it just – it doesn’t work. So, that’s one kind of love, where we just kind of have love out there, and it’s all by itself.

It’s like – and now I’m really gonna date myself – there was an old – anyone over 50 is gonna get this illustration; anyone under 50’s gotta look it up – but there used to be this old wallpaper thing that used to have LOVE – and it was L-O-V-E, and then there were all these funny colors behind it. But, of course, what jumped out at you was the word “LOVE.” L-O-V-E – it was done that way; it wasn’t written like a word.

And that’s kinda the way I feel about this kind of love. It’s out there, and it’s colorful; it’s attractive, but in the end –

Darrell Bock
– it comes short. Okay? So, that’s one kind of love.

And that’s the world – that tends to be the love the way the world talks about it, and it’s very – a very self-defining kind of love that emanates out of what I am drawn to.

But you’re talking about a different kind of love.

David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
So, what kind of love are you talking about?
David Bennett
So, Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about how we all have this self-enforced ideology. He calls it our own logos. So, God had to send His counter Logos to contradict our word, our logos, our ideology of what reality/existence/love is. And that it’s only in the sending of Jesus that that’s broken open.

So, when Peter’s there with Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane, and he tries to stop Jesus from going to the cross – “It’s not the Messiah that I signed up for” – you know?

Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
David Bennett
Like, “Where’s this mighty Messiah?”
Darrell Bock
“You’re not taking my Messiah to suffer.”
David Bennett
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
Right, yeah, yeah, yeah.
David Bennett
His definition of what a Messiah should look like. Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Now, I used to think that that was so mean. I mean, “Gosh, he’s just wanting to protect Your life, Jesus. Give him a break.” But actually, it was the most compassionate thing God could have said to Peter, because it broke open his ideology of what everything should be like so that he could see the true and living God before him in Jesus.

And so, I think that that’s something of what I needed and what we all need is we all have this idea of what love should be, what our life should turn out to be, how we should be. But actually, God needs to break that open with His love and His power and His truth in Jesus so that we can truly know Him. ‘Cause that’s the greatest good, and that’s actually what love is in the first place.

So, that’s a bit of a fancy way of putting it. But we need God to come in and contradict some of the ways we think reality should be.

Darrell Bock
So, the – and we’re tracking down the same track – so, let me use this picture.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
I say that what happens is – and we were talking about this first love that we were talking about a minute ago, where we do the defining – the arrow, and the attention, and the origin, and the rootage for that love is very much residing in me, and the arrow’s very much pointed at me.
David Bennett
Internal, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Internally. And what Scripture does with that arrow is it takes these huge arms, grabs the point of that arrow and pushes it [groans] the other way. And not only that, not only does it push it the other way, but it doesn’t start here; it comes from above, and it flows through me out the other way.
David Bennett
Out.
Darrell Bock
And so – and that is – that is, in one metaphorical picture, the struggle of spirituality.
David Bennett
Absolutely.
Darrell Bock
That you – rather than letting everything be defined on the way you see it and the way you want to control it and the way you do it, you’re actually listening to what it is God is doing and saying. You’re responding to the Spirit that is within you.
David Bennett
Yes.
Darrell Bock
You’re letting Him direct you outward. You see that the model is the way in which Christ came to serve. And it actually is the exact counter reverse of much of what the way culture teaches us to respond in the most generic kinds of ways.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And it ends up being genuine love.
David Bennett
Exactly. And then once you’ve tasted that love, you’re kind of spoiled for the ordinary.
Darrell Bock
[Laughs]
David Bennett
You know, I say to my gay, liberal friends, “You’re just as boring as the conservatives. You’re just as signed up to this idol of romantic love. I’m bored. I’ve met God. Let’s move – let’s just – let’s fling wide those heavenly gates. Let’s open our moral imagination to a greater horizon.”

I think that’s kinda the hot cry behind my book is I feel like we shut ourselves down into fighting over this idol of marriage, which is really our in curved view of what love should be, and we’re all fighting over it.

I was like, “Maybe just for a moment, let’s take our hands off that and look at the greater horizon of God’s love.”

Darrell Bock
Which is important because sometimes what happens in the marriage discussion is the single person gets completely left out of the equation. It’s almost like they’re a non-person.
David Bennett
Well, they’re living for the greater – often, not always – they’re often a sign of that greater horizon of God’s love in Jesus. And they’re saying, “I’m gonna live for that, and that’s sufficient for me.”
Darrell Bock
Right. And that’s 1 Corinthians 7. So –
David Bennett
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
So, we’re in this conversation in which we’re trying to really reorder and make sure our priorities are right relationally, and this does it.

So, the war of loves, at one level, is this competition between this kind of amorphous, porous love that – where the arrow is self-directed mostly, and an outward-looking, flowing love that flows out of the love of God and out of the relational love that God has within Himself to and through us out to others. So, that’s one war going on.

David Bennett
That’s exactly it.
Darrell Bock
And then the other – the other war that is going on is – I take it – was your own personal battle in the midst of this transition.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Talk a little bit about that, and then I’m gonna tell you where I’m going so you can kinda know where we’re headed. You used three adjectives to describe yourself earlier. So, I’m gonna go through them one at a time eventually. So, it’s okay?
David Bennett
[Chuckle] Yes.
Darrell Bock
So, we have a full portrait. So, first let’s talking about the loves.
David Bennett
The loves. Well, there’s so many levels of this. The first one, I’d say – so, we’d like to put God first – is the wrestle between the Spirit of God and my flesh, as the Bible puts it, or the old man, or the old – I mean we use the word “identity,” but that can also be a bit clunky. But that old vestige of who I once was. Now I’m born again, and I’m a new man.

And so, the actual process of salvation leading to sanctification, where I could offer my buddy up as a living sacrifice freely. But there was a big war over my body and whether I would really offer it up or not. And so, that all is the first kind of three to four years of my walk with Christ. People often say to me, “But, you know, repentance.”

And I was like, “Yeah, the repentance started then, but it finished three or four years later when I changed my views on sexuality and gave my body to Christ and had gone through sanctification.” So, that’s the first level, I would say.

And the second level was a real war over kind of how I would live my life and what I would be defined by. And so, the war of identity
what is your ultimate identity? The thing is you can be celibate; you can live a Christian life.

You know, there’s the whole thing of John Wesley talks about the “almost Christian.” You can do celibacy out of kind of a moral duty because you should instead of living that celibacy out of a self-gift to God. So, that would be the other level of the war of loves. Am I doing it out of law, or am I doing it out of grace that then fulfills the law? You know? So, that would be the other level.

Darrell Bock
Interesting. So, I’m a little bit at a loss as to which direction to go next, ’cause I got two ideas in my head.
David Bennett
[Laughs] I have that problem all the time with this topic, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So, you talk about the fact that repentance is really a start and not a finish. Let’s develop that a little bit. So, let’s develop that a little bit. So, you – I take it your point here is is that what the repentance expressed was a desire to go a certain way.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
But then there’s the actual day-to-day execution of that desire which is a whole nother layer to work through.
David Bennett
Yes, exactly. I think we have to then walk out our repentance. And human beings, we’re fickle; we’re broken; we’re fallen. And so, we don’t always do that very well. But though a righteous man falls seven times, each time the Lord lifts Him up. So, I experienced that. But the number seven also having a sense of the idea that God’s leading that person to a completion.

And there was a kind of completion moment for me, but I needed to fall seven times and then some more before I really found the path of righteousness – that narrow path of Jesus where I was living my vocation of celibacy out in a way that wasn’t about trying to look good or be right or please a Christian culture, but actually it was in response to God’s love and grace. That’s so important because you can have bad celibacy like you can have bad marriage – a bad Christian marriage; you can have bad Christian celibacy.

So, learning the deeper way and sacred calling of that celibacy was really, really vital for me, and it’s meant that I’ve been able to flourish and have joy and not feel like I’m kind of this sad person that’s just celibate. My life’s full of goodness –

Darrell Bock
So, it’s not suffering celibacy; it’s –
David Bennett
There’s suffering, but it’s – it leads to glory instead of just suffering. You know? It’s like we participate in the sufferings of Christ so that we may participate in His glory. So, yeah, it’s – and this is what I’ve been studying at Oxford through Sarah Coakley and other theologians is this what is called a “truly Christian asceticism,” where there’s a false asceticism – like I’m trying to do this in my own effort and striving to look strong morally.

And then there’s a Christian asceticism that’s like through my weakness God is strong, and I give this up for a greater good. And that’s been a fascinating journey of looking at the two different kinds of self-denial, the kind of counterfeit one and the real Christian one.

Darrell Bock
M-kay. A little sidebar here for people. David is Australian, who is doing his doctoral work at Oxford currently.
David Bennett
Yes.
Darrell Bock
So, you’ve heard the name Sydney, and you’ve heard the name Oxford. So, that’s where those pieces fit in. Let’s go back to the self-description used earlier, ’cause this triggers controversy for some people.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
I think I got all the pieces. You said you were a celibate, same-sex-oriented, gay, Christian. Okay? So, I think I got the three categories right. So – and I take it all the pieces are important, and the order is important. So, let’s go through them one at a time.
David Bennett
Well, it’s interesting in this. So, the first thing I’d say is like on a foundation stone is I only mean the word “gay” in a very specific sense. I think the word “gay” – the reason I say – slash – same-sex attracted – is because when I say that, some Christians might think that that means I’m sexually active or I’m seeking to live out in a gay relationship. And that’s precisely not what I mean by it. I mean –
Darrell Bock
That’s why “celibate” is first.
David Bennett
Celibate first, exactly, or at least attached somewhere.
Darrell Bock
Right, right, right.
David Bennett
However it gets written out. Sometimes it gets written in the wrong order, but I would prefer it that way. And so, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable to call myself just a gay Christian.
Darrell Bock
Uh-huh.
David Bennett
I feel like that’s too undefined, a bit like love is love. You know?
Darrell Bock
Right.
David Bennett
But what I do mean by that word is that my sexual orientation is entirely independent of my sexual ethic. So, I think what people don’t understand is just because you’re gay or same-sex attracted does not mean you have to go and have a gay marriage. Why those two joined – you know, I can be gay and choose to follow Jesus and submit that to Him and live that out in obedience through grace and through celibacy, or if God gives me the grace, through mixed-orientation marriage.
Darrell Bock
And that’s what you mean by mixed orientation is a mixed-orientation marriage. This is good ’cause we’re getting defined terms we’ve been using. A mixed-orientation marriage is a marriage in which you marry a heterosexual partner, if I can say it that way, even though you’re same-sex attracted.
David Bennett
Yeah, and a woman, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, right, right.
David Bennett
That’s important.
Darrell Bock
Just to make that – yeah, to make that very, very clear.
David Bennett
And I have friends who have experienced that grace – you know, that are gay or same-sex attracted. So, I think what we’re seeing as a shift in the definition of a popular-level view of what it means to be gay, a prophetic witness to that community and saying, “There’s another way to live this out, that it can be –
Darrell Bock
And the reason it’s important – this is the heart of the conversation I want to get to – the reason this is important to put all those adjectives there is to communicate to someone who’s only same-sex attracted, that I share and understand part of your experience.
David Bennett
Mm-hmm. I think, though, also for me – I mean this is a more subjective reason – is that being a gay activist, I’ve been in the gay world, and I’ve seen that it’s not all evil and terrible and licentious and – you know? – the “gay lifestyle” as people say. And I get what they mean by that.

But there isn’t really – there’s a whole lot of people who are just human, trying to work out life in this community that are loved of God, and not everything is just evil, sinful, and bad. There are good things that exist in the gay community. You know?

Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
David Bennett
But that being said, of course, there’s ideals and beliefs and values that I completely disagree with, and I want to be able to enter that community and join that conversation at the table. And the word “gay” gives me a capacity to do that.
Darrell Bock
And same-sex attracted helps as well.
David Bennett
With the Christian community that maybe doesn’t feel comfortable with the word “gay” because of their experience of maybe being persecuted or treated terribly, or they think gay means a certain thing, like you’re definitely sexually active or –
Darrell Bock
Right. In fact, Mark Yarhouse talks about this, that when you hear terms like “same-sex attracted” or “gay,” you’ve got to think about the different ways in which that term can be used. There’s the person who may be inclined that way but hasn’t done anything. There’s the person who’s maybe has had a single experience that has caused them to use that terminology. And then there’s the person who’s kinda all in.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And that those are actually three very different levels and three different – very different levels to be aware of that people, when they’re using the term – and perhaps using it sloppily, you can’t distinguish between. But it’s important to be able to distinguish between those layers.
David Bennett
And I’ve also had people from the gay world say to me, “You’re not really gay because you don’t adopt these certain sets of beliefs or values.”
Darrell Bock
Uh-huh.
David Bennett
And I’m really wanting to say, “No, that’s not the definition of gay. The definition of gay is just your sexual orientation.”
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
David Bennett
So, that’s a live conversation that I probably don’t want people to get too tangled in ’cause it’s complicated. But I think that we are called to go out there and be a Jew to a Jew, a Greek to a Greek. Paul used his Roman citizenship to reach Rome. You know?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
David Bennett
I see this as an opportunity for witness and an opportunity to boast in my weakness, that God didn’t – isn’t using me in spite of my weakness as a – in same-sex attraction, but precisely through it.
Darrell Bock
And the trump card, if I can say it this way, is the celibate at the start and the Christian at the end.
David Bennett
Absolutely. And that Christian’s the noun. I think we have to think syntactically. In French, you put the adjectives after the noun, which I would prefer. So, you’d say chrétien, celibate gay. But in our – you’d say – you know, you don’t say Christian, celibate, gay; you say, celibate, gay, Christian, ’cause that how we put adjectives together.

So, it’s not an ordering. It’s not, “Oh, first is my celibacy, second is me being gay or same-sex attracted, and third is Christian. No, Christian is the noun. Jesus is my ultimate identity. But this is the other point I want to make. This is an anthropological point, that when we’re saved, we’re not erased. That God is transforming the old creation into a new creation instead of destroying – like yes, we’re crucified, but that old body that died is the site that the resurrection takes place in and is revivified into a completely new creature.

So, I’m in the now-but-not-yet tension of that transformation. I do not believe that gay is gonna be an eternal.

Darrell Bock
When I get into this discussion –
Darrell Bock
– I remind people that Paul, even as an apostle, in the pastorals, towards the end of life said, “I am the chief of sinners.” And so, he never forgets where he came from and who he is apart from Christ and why he needs Christ.
David Bennett
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
And so, this is part of that same conversation.
David Bennett
Absolutely.
Darrell Bock
I want to go back to something that I dropped earlier, because we went this way, and come to it, and that’s the imagery of the old and new man. Because one way that we talked about the imagery of the old and new man is this – the internal struggle of the now-not yet as you’ve very graphically described it. And I think most people, when they think of old and new man, think about old and new man as an individualized description of internal psychology.
David Bennett
That’s good.
Darrell Bock
Or internal anthropology.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
But there’s another way the Bible uses the term, and I have in mind here the descriptions in Ephesians 2, Ephesians 4, and Colossians 3, where the text says, “In the new man there’s no barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.” And the joke that I make about this is when I go into the doctor, and I say, “Doc, I’m sick,” and he does his analysis of – does my blood work.

And so, he doesn’t come back to me and say, “You know, Darrell, your problem is you got too many barbarians and Scythians inside of you. And if we can just get the balance right, you’ll be okay.”

That’s not an individualized image; that’s a corporate image. That’s an image about who I identify with, and who I’m connected to, and who I’m interacting with. So, part of this conversation is about thinking through who and what I identify with and what I connect to so that when I respond Christianly, I am aligning myself to being a part of the new man, the new community, and the community that I represent.

David Bennett
Yes.
Darrell Bock
And reflecting Him in that activity.

I used to have an old joke – this goes back to a conversation my sister-in-law had with my wife years ago. Right after we were married, she took all her less-than-100 percent cotton shirts – anything that had any polyester in it – handed it to my poor sister, ’cause – my poor wife, who’s her sister – ’cause at the time we were seminary students, and she was feeling sorry for us ’cause seminary students don’t make a lot of money.

And she said, “I only wear Ralph Lauren polo t-shirts. I only wear 100 percent cotton,” and then handed her all these mixed shirts. And my joke was, “She just made a very theological statement.” M-kay?

David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Because she’s saying, “I see myself in a certain way, and I wear certain clothes as a result, to reinforce the way I see myself and what I think I represent by wearing those clothes.”
David Bennett
Yes.
Darrell Bock
“And certain things don’t fit with that identity.”
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And that’s the corporate identity, the old man and new man, the way Scripture sees it. We’re supposed to ourselves as part of this community that God has called to holiness and to living in a way that is honoring Him and reflects His character.

And so, as a result, certain things should be – and I’m saying this carefully – should be separated from that identity. And that’s another way in which the old man and new man works.

David Bennett
Absolutely. Well, I think that’s true. I mean when – if you looked at the way I live my life now, it’s definitely – it’s identified with the local church. You know? And it’s in the local church. But as an evangelist, I’m sent from the local church into the world to relate to it.
Darrell Bock
Exactly.
David Bennett
And I think one of – that’s why we need both of those, because if we just have one, I think we’re tempted towards making our old man somehow too – elevating that too much instead of using it as a way to witness to that new identity, which is what I’m trying to do.
Darrell Bock
And out of that new identity.
David Bennett
And out of that new identity, exactly.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So, yeah, it’s – my joke is, again, talking about the Great Commission – I’m full of jokes today – it doesn’t say, “Go into the Church and make disciples.”
David Bennett
No.
Darrell Bock
It says, “Go into the world and make disciples.” So, there’s this representation part of what’s going on.
David Bennett
And if you look at – just quickly, if you look at how radical Paul was to his brothers and sisters in Jerusalem – I mean that’s one of the things that motivates me is that Paul was looked down on, wasn’t valued. His apostolic identity was being attacked all the time because he believed Gentiles didn’t need to obey certain –
Darrell Bock
Didn’t need to become Jews in order to become Christians.
David Bennett
They didn’t need to become Jews to become Christians.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
David Bennett
And that’s where I don’t think they’re equivalent with the sexuality conversation, but I think there is an element of that that we need to retain in this conversation that – especially for me being reached in a pub, there’s a very deep connection I feel with the apostle Paul because he was abnormally born. He wasn’t saved in a church, da-da-da – you know?
Darrell Bock
Right, right.
David Bennett
Kinda happened out there, and God was doing this new thing, and everyone didn’t know how to –
Darrell Bock
He got caught.
David Bennett
He got –
David Bennett
Got seized.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
David Bennett
But he’s still identified with the Church. Everything he did was to bless the Jerusalem church. And I think that’s a really interesting story just to think about in our modern day conversation about sexuality is that God is gonna move, and there’s gonna be some of those who come out of – like me, I think I’m just one of many. Actually, there’s so many more people that are gonna be born into the kingdom.

So, the question as the Church is, “How do we welcome the Pauls?” But also, maybe, yeah, the tension between the Paul and the Peter, I suppose. Yeah.

Darrell Bock
So, let me ask you this question – ’cause we’re running out of time – ’cause we’ve talked a lot about your own personal story, your own interaction. I want to turn the discussion now to thinking about what advice would you give to people? Because I think – I think lots of people, who I’ve had conversations with ever since we started doing these podcasts, and particularly as we’ve done many, many podcasts on this particular topic – I mean we have sliced it and diced it from about every angle possible.
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And here’s the typical thing that I hear. “I moved into a new neighborhood,” or, “I’ve been in my neighborhood a long time, and I just realized that someone down the street is gay or that there’s a gay couple, and I’m trying to figure out how do I interact and relate to them?” The question communicates a huge loss of orientation about how to think about doing the engagement. What advice would you give?
David Bennett
So, the first thing I say is that God is present in the world. So, God’s already aware of this gay couple. God knows every hair on their head, what they’re up to. He’s aware. So, just really realize you have a good partner to reach them with.
Darrell Bock
And that’s a point to make to help them relax a little bit. Right?
David Bennett
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
David Bennett
I think I – early on in my Christian walk, I thought God didn’t know things that I knew because of my experience.
David Bennett
It’s like, “No, God really knows about that. He’s an expert.”
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
David Bennett
So, first of all, pray. Listen to the Lord. Try to see – access His heart for those people so that you’re not judging them or looking down on them or thinking, “I’m holier and better and they’re evil sinners,” and this kind of dualism, but actually be aware of your own weakness your own way that you were saved firsthand.
Darrell Bock
So, that’s the well of compassion and grace that we talked about earlier, that if you recognize where you yourself came from and that God reached out to you when your back was turned to God, that’s actually not a bad starting place to think about you how you were like –
David Bennett
Really good one. I sometimes think of Jesus with the woman at the well that – I feel like He must have been ministering out of His own temptation life, that He Himself was tempted, and that He knew that the living waters were the solution, and that He really wanted to give this woman that solution, ’cause she’s been looking every other place but that. You know?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
David Bennett
And so, I think trying to have that in your mind of, “What is it that this gay couple is really seeking?” Luther said, you know, “Often it’s the people who are going to all the wrong places that are actually closer to God, but they’re just worshiping – they’re more passionate worshipers than the people in the pews; they just don’t have the right object for their adoration and for their devotion.”

So, think of someone – like I often, with my gay friends or people from different horizons, I just talk about how awesome God is and how much I love Him and what – the beautiful satisfaction I find in worshiping Him. And they’re just like, “What?” You know?

David Bennett
I really – and it’s like, “What do you mean? There’s something else that’s a pleasure or satisfaction that I can get that’s better than what I have?” And that’s attractive to them. It’s like a positive moral vision of life that they’ve never seen before. And then they become curious.

And then you’re like, “Wow, Jesus.” And you can present the gospel. And you haven’t even broached the topic of homosexuality or sexuality yet.

Darrell Bock
That’s right. You’re just talking about life.
David Bennett
You’re just pointing to a higher transcendence than to the one that they’ve signed up for. So, really, the idolatrous, heterosexual couple down the road should be as concerning to you as the gay couple. [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
Right, right, right.
David Bennett
You know? And how can you lead them into a higher life with God?
Darrell Bock
Okay. So, the subtle point that you’ve just made is is that sometimes we create this hierarchy of levels of seriousness of sin, and in the process negate the fact that we’re all sinners and we’re surrounded.
David Bennett
[Laughs]
Darrell Bock
And in the midst of that, everyone has needs for God. Their needs might be in different places, but they’re there. And so, that also ratchets down a little bit of the pressure ’cause we tend to treat this as an exceptional or other category from the stuff we say in our heads we’re used to dealing with.
David Bennett
The other thing is don’t fall into the trap of reducing someone down to that. So, I think the other trap there is, “Oh, they’re gay,” [mrrrrrp] and all they see them as is that –
Darrell Bock
That’s the only lens you see.
David Bennett
– instead of, “Hi, Johnny, nice to meet you; you’re a human being like me.” I see them as God sees them, not as reduced by the sexual orientation but as a full – someone that God deeply loves, that God deeply wants to save if they don’t know him.

Then you might have the gay Christian married couple down the road. That could be another situation. What do you do then? Well, they already kind of believe in God and Jesus and stuff, and that’s a trickier one ’cause they’ll probably have an opinion. They’ll probably have studied Scripture. And that’s where you need to say – you know, might be a bit more prepared apologetically.

But, again, just keep pointing to that there’s a greater life in Christ that maybe they’re not experiencing. You know?

Darrell Bock
M-kay. And you – this second example surfaces the next question I wanted to ask – probably the last thing we’ll have time for – which is how do you balance where you’re convictions are with relating to someone whose convictions aren’t where your convictions are?
David Bennett
Yeah, and I think that there’s, first of all, being really good at agreeing – at disagreeing agreeably. Are you good at that? Just practice it, you know, maybe with your husband or your best friend, and just get them to say something that really, really –
Darrell Bock
Hopefully you’re good at – reasonably good with your spouse or you got a problem. Go ahead, yeah.
David Bennett
[Laughs] I know. Well – exactly. Well, so, maybe it’ll be advantageous on other levels. But, you know, be really good at that, be really good at not being threatened by someone else’s other opinion. “Oh, okay, you think that. Oh, that’s interesting. You know, I’ve always thought about it this way,” or – you know? And just don’t be threatened. Don’t get your hackles up – you know?
Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
David Bennett
And you’re ready for – to pounce. To just be like, “Okay, I could understand why they might think that, but” – you know? – “and in my conversation with them, I’m going to continually be a source of truth and love to the point where maybe, down the line, there’ll be permission to speak into that and hopefully lead them closer to the truth.
Darrell Bock
And the way that’s gonna take you to that place probably is by although in every other area relating to them in very healthy ways and very positive ways that – where you build enough trust that the person can say, “You know? I think I can trust this person with this conversation.”
David Bennett
Can I bring up one example that’s really hard just quickly before we end?
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
David Bennett
What if that person is teaching others doctrine?
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Now, that is –
David Bennett
Darrell, what do you do then? Can you help me?
Darrell Bock
Okay. I’m supposed to be asking the questions.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Well, I think you – you know, this is the challenge of the Church. The challenge of the Church is how does it get its message for what it believes in out well. And I have a line that I use that goes something like this: we used to be able to say, in this culture, “It’s true because it’s in the Bible.” Now we have to say, “It’s in the Bible because it’s true.” It’s not the same thing.
David Bennett
Yeah, that’s really good.
Darrell Bock
And so, I have to ask myself the question, “Why is it that God says that heterosexual marriage is better? Why is it that God says a monogamous relationship is better?” You know, just go through the list and ask yourself, “What is it about the way God has ordered the world that makes that a more appropriate, effective efficient, honoring way to live?”
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
And, in the midst of asking those questions, to say, “When you teach something contrary to that, you are demeaning what the quality of life that people are designed to have in one way or another.”

And you do that – you do that as directly, as clearly, and as compassionately as you can, but you make the point. And so, I think you’re right. When someone is teaching that, that can’t be ignored because that is opening – that’s inviting people to walk down in a direction that’s – that in the end your arguing actually does the person damage, and you’re trying to help a person.

So – but it – but the hard part is learning how to do it in a way that communicates the concern that you have for people in the midst of trying to make the correction.

David Bennett
Yes.
Darrell Bock
And that – I think that just takes a lot of work, ’cause our tendency is to either want to win the debate or something like that.
David Bennett
The other thing is trying to get that person – I mean I often thought about this is how do I – how am I able to invite them into the life of the Spirit where there might be something that’s blocking them, that’s actually way deeper than even this question?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and that – to that I think actually our earlier conversation applies. I often say to people, “When you meet someone whose background is completely different than your own, and you know their worldview is completely different than your own, the first thing I want to do is get what I call a spiritual GPS on that person.”
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
You want to ask a lot of questions. You want them to tell their life story. You want to sit back and listen. You want to put your doctrinal and heresy meter on mute. M-kay?
David Bennett
[Laughs] Yeah.
Darrell Bock
You can’t do away with it, but you want to –
David Bennett
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
– you want to save it for later. You’re not hearing the person respond to you, and your first response is, “What am I gonna do to rebut the thing that I just heard.” That’s – you’re not going there. What you’re gonna do is you’re trying to get a map to understand what’s driving this person. What are they looking for? What are they living for? Those kinds of things.

And you’re looking for something in that search, quest, and self-revelation, if they’ve trusted you enough to do that. ‘Cause if they do that, they’re communicating a level of trust to you that you want to honor and respect. And you – what door will they open into which the gospel might speak?

David Bennett
Yes. And that’s exactly – I mean I was at a university with a gay activist at a interfaith dialogue about gay marriage. And in this conversation, everyone was like, “Yeah, I’m happy with gay marriage,” from all the different faiths.

And it came to me, and I was like, “Well, I’m actually a celibate, same-sex attracted – slash – gay, Christian. And no, I’m not for gay marriage in the Church at all. I think it’s not right.” And then I explained why.

And I presented the gospel, and I talked about the Triune God of love who made male and female to reflect diversity within unity and embodied that in male and female, and that this is deeply important to Him – not to oppress or condemn LGBTQI people from – it didn’t have that in mind, but to delineate that diversity within unity that is shown within His own nature as the God of love.

And so, I said that, and the gay activist kinda looked at me, and he said, “Huh. I suppose sex does get a bit old after a while.”

And I said, “Well, honey, worship doesn’t.”

David Bennett
And so, I was like, “That was good. Where did that come from?” You know? And again, the Holy Spirit giving me the words to say. But again, pointing to that higher form of transcendence, I really think, for me, that is one of the most – the biggest tools that I have –
Darrell Bock
Paint a different picture of what life ought to be about.
David Bennett
– that worship never gets old. That you think you’re gonna find transcendence in the sexual desire, but actually, you’re gonna find something far greater, more beautiful in worshiping God that will last.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Well, that’s a great place for us to land. So, thank you, David –
David Bennett
Thank you, Darrell, for having me.
Darrell Bock
– for coming here. It’s always a great conversation, and I really appreciate –
David Bennett
I really value it.
Darrell Bock
– you taking the time to do this with us. And we thank you for joining us on the table. Hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation, and hope you’ll join us again soon.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
David Bennett
David Bennett was raised in an agnostic home in Sydney, Australia. Believing he was disqualified from the love of God because of his sexuality, he saw Christianity as an enemy of freedom for LGBTQI people. Early experiences with prejudice and homophobia stirred his desire to become an anti-Christian gay activist and to look elsewhere for significance. Then Jesus came into his life in a highly unexpected way, leading him down a path he never would have imagined or predicted. In A War of Loves, David recounts his dramatic story, from early years exploring new age religions and French existentialism to his university life as an atheist. Following surprising encounters with God, he embarked on a journey of not only seeking to reconcile his faith and sexuality but of discovering a greater call to love God with all of oneself.
Public Square
Aug 20, 2019
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Did the Historical Jesus Claim to Be Divine? Classic In this classic episode, Mikel Del Rosario, Drs. Darrell Bock and Justin Bass discuss the historical Jesus, focusing on evidence for his claim to deity.
Bible
Aug 13, 2019
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How English Bibles are Made In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Douglas Moo discuss the realities and challenges of producing Bible translations.