The following interview is adapted from a Christian Worldview Thinking interview with Brett Kunkle on morality, and why it matters. The full audio interview is available here.
Summit: Do you think the reason we see Christians, regardless of age, not living up to the standard of morality is because what they think about God and the law is skewed? Have you seen that played out as you’ve trained and equipped youth?
Brett Kunkle: There are many different facets to the problem, but I do think the typical Christian doesn’t really have a strong knowledge of who God is. From God’s nature flows morality. We would say goodness comes from God’s good nature. In order to know more about goodness, we need to know God’s nature from the source. I think there’s a lot of talk about God being loving and gracious and merciful — and that’s all true and good and a huge part of the story — but that’s not the whole story about God. In Christianity, we often put the emphasis on what we might call “the soft virtues,” the love and kindness and mercy of God, at the expense of what some people call “the harder virtues,” like God’s justice, God’s holiness — those sorts of things. I think when we understand God’s holiness, it helps us understand the seriousness and gravity of morality. When we sin, we violate the holy commands of a holy God. That’s serious. We may not come out in church and say, “Yeah, I don’t take things seriously,” but we often act that way. We emphasize grace, grace, grace in the way we live, and that’s good — except when you do that at the expense of God’s holiness. We need to hold both of those doctrines together.
Brett, continuing in the subject of morality, we Christians sometimes use morality as a stick. We’re often known by the culture as the “no” religion, in some respects, because we say no so often. But that’s not what morality is about, right?
It’s not the whole story and that’s the problem. We can communicate that God’s moral laws and morality really amount to a list of no’s — don’t do this, don’t do that. That’s how we often communicate it, right? Don’t have sex before marriage. You shouldn’t be looking at porn. You shouldn’t be lusting. Don’t gossip. You shouldn’t be fill-in-the-blank, and we say no, no, no, no, no. Again, that’s an important part, but it’s not the whole story.
While God’s moral laws are often prohibitions against certain behaviors, scripture also paints a picture of “yes.” Look at Psalm 1. It shows a contrast between the person who walks in the way of wickedness and the person who walks in the way of righteousness. Those who are righteous are like a tree planted by streams. When God tells us to say no to this thing over here, he’s saying that because he wants us to actually say yes to something else, something better.
That’s the reason why I drive by 7/11 in the morning without stopping for coffee. I say no to 7/11’s coffee because I want to say yes to something better, like Peet’s Coffee or Starbucks or some local coffee shop or whatever your favorite coffee place is. I say no to 7/11 coffee because I want to say yes to something better and more rewarding.
In the same way, God wants us to say no to some things so we’re able to say yes to better things. When I talk to young people, I tell them God wants them to say no to the hook up culture and to say no to one night stands. Why does He want you to say no? Because he wants you to say yes to sexuality, to sexual intimacy within marriage, which is so much more beautiful and fulfilling and wonderful. Sometimes I think we’re afraid to appeal to self-interest like that, but God does. Self-interest is different than selfishness. Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself. Paul, in Philippians 2, says “look not only for your own interest but also for the interest of others.” Appropriate self-interest is OK, and in fact, it’s something we can appeal to. God wants you to experience sexuality. It’s his gift when it’s done His way. When you say yes to sex in the confines of marriage, it’s beautiful, it’s fulfilling, it’s safe, and it’s wonderful.
I think we as the church have to do a better job of painting the yeses for people, and especially for our young people. As a parent, it’s so easy to say no, no, no, no, and demand obedience. But to help our kids, especially as they get into junior high and high school, we need to help them understand that they’re saying no because God has something so much better and so much richer and so much more fulfilling. He’s got an amazing yes out here that he wants you to say yes to.
In this season, it feels like there’s so much to be discouraged about, especially in Washington with the Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision. It would be easy for us to tap out and hang it all up, but I think now is our time. If we’re living the yes, if we are those trees planted by streams of living water, people will notice, especially when everything else is looking so dark.
Christians are doom and gloom about same-sex marriage, and yes, it’s bad news, but it’s also an opportunity. One of our responses needs to be building this wonderful, positive marriage culture in the church so that the world sees an alternative, a yes. They picture us as yelling “no, no, no,” but we want them to see us in our local communities, in our local churches, in our neighborhoods, living out a picture of what marriage should be. We should be presenting the yes, not just the no, to same-sex marriage, cohabitation, affairs, adultery, and all the rest, because there’s a beautiful yes out here. This is where we as the church can really embody the truth.
Apologist Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director at Stand to Reason and a Summit faculty member. He regularly speaks to students at colleges, conferences, and churches across the country. For more information, visit StandtoReason.org.