Biblical Counseling & Dealing with Sexual Sins – Jim Berg & Jim Newcomer
Berg: Well, Jim, we just finished our conference, and you have been a speaker for that conference. We have looked at the topics of sexual sin, homosexuality, gender confusion, and that sort of thing. I wonder, as a pastor, if you could give a little overview of how you think the church is doing today, as opposed to say 15 or 20 years ago about this topic, and where we have grown as a church in biblical counseling. And then maybe we can talk about what still needs to be done.
Newcomer: Alright. Great questions. I, as a relatively young pastor, have to say that I’m very thrilled not only with what we’ve covered at this conference but also how the church is engaging in this conversation. I’ll say this—I think the church has grown over the past two or three decades to come to a good place in this conversation. We’ve grown in our understanding of Scripture and theology. In particular, I think the theology that has tempered us and equipped us is a clear understanding and application of the Beginning—Genesis one and of course the Fall in Genesis three. Because Creation was perfect, it was exactly as the Creator intended. It was very good, and then it was broken by sin. And so much was lost at that point. Here are some things come to my mind that were lost. One, a loss of clarity. The design was all marred, and lines were blurred. And this is one of the lines that was blurred. Second, there was a loss of dependence on God, because man had stepped out on his own to be his own king. So, there was a loss of dependence on God, a loss of clarity, and, thirdly, a loss of safety, because now there is chaos in Creation. Fourth there is a loss of how to make sense of everything. With those losses, the boundaries are gone, definitions are erased, and we are trying to make the best we can of the few decades we have.
So if the Fall really happened, as I see it did in Genesis, then Romans one definitely makes sense, because in Romans one a fallen world was described as God giving a culture and also individuals over in the same sequence. That’s a sexual revolution, then a homosexual revolution, and then it turns into all chaos there by the end of Romans chapter one, where you’re given over to all. The extremes are listed there by Paul at the end of Romans one. So, if the Fall happened as it did and if Romans one is an accurate playbook—and it is—we’ve known it all along because we’ve been doing exegetical work as a church. But I don’t know if we’ve always made clear connections. I know we haven’t because we haven’t been patient with things we don’t understand, as far as sins that people are struggling with. And we’re pretty harsh on those who struggle with things and feel gravity we don’t feel and understand.
We had to as a church make a better connection make a better connection with our exegesis and the headlines, so to speak. If we understand the fall, understand the loss, understand Romans one, then everything going on around us makes perfectly good sense. And what that did, I think, it tempered us from being impatient and even angry with the things we would say and the way we would chase them away or avoid them. We’d hide away as a church. Now, scripture frees us to actively pursue them because they are struggling with sin. But you know what? So are we! And though I can’t relate to the gravity of their sin and the constant pulling of that, I can sure relate to the pull of sin. As you say in Changed into His Image, we have designer lusts according to James one. Everyone is drawn away by his own unique lust. And though I now have to call on people that struggle with same-sex attraction or maybe even substance abuse, I can say you need to fight with every fiber of your strength in that direction. And while I don’t relate to that, I better be fighting just as hard something else. So, making the connection between Genesis and Romans and the headlines, I think, has tempered the church and even postured us not just to be patient but to freely pursue them because they need the gospel. they need rescue.
Jim Berg: Yes, absolutely. And I think as we have begun to deal with more and more of these issues that we haven’t struggled with ourselves and we look at why this isn’t an easy thing to move out of, whether sexual sin or addiction of any kind or homosexual desire, I think one thing that has become clear at the conference and increasing clear in the biblical counseling movement and conservative theology is a refresh in our understanding of the depths of the depravity of the human heart—of our hearts. Not just the people we look and say we don’t have that sin, but our hearts are just as depraved. And our sin nature is just as entrenched in all of us. It requires a more robust understanding of the sinful nature and a far more robust understanding of what repentance truly is. It’s not just an event; it has to become a lifestyle for every one of us, not just a homosexual whose desires hang on. My desires hang on and keep pulling the same direction all the time. Repentance has to become a way of life and not just an event. So, I think what the needs of our culture have done is shown us ourselves in new and fresh ways. As we look in the mirror, it has driven us to the Scriptures. And interestingly enough, the biggest help is coming from theologians and biblical counselors who spend a lot of time in the Puritan literature, because they really saw this in a way that we haven’t seen it. It’s been a refreshing change.
Jim, where do you think we can get better? What else does the church need to do?
Newcomer: Well, I think it’s not just pastors who need to make the connection between the text and the headlines. We need to equip our people to have the conversation. I even think it is wise in our congregation in the Detroit area that we are teaching our people the terms that the culture is using, even in this particular area of transgender behavior and things like that. We’re teaching our parents how to have that conversation with children that are old enough to enter into it, so that we’re not jarred by it. I mean we’ve been talking about those who struggle with substance abuse for a long time. We have an understanding of that, even our children and teenagers do. It’s time we have this conversation as well because the whole culture, from the political platforms to the entertainment industry even to the legal environment, are forcing us to have this conversation. So I think that pastors need to lead the way in equipping our people—sounds like Ephesians 4—to do this work of ministry. But it needs to be with an end game of a gospel proclamation because the Spirit of God is still granting faith and repentance to those who are lost and confused. So I think that’s one thing we can do—help our church frame this conversation so they can intentionally befriend people for the sake of the gospel. Also, I think we need to keep our church looking to the future because everything that is broken now is going to be restored in the future.
Berg: Amen. That’s wonderful. A passage that comes to mind is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. God has given us this inspired book for certain profitable exercises. We think of doctrine, where God is teaching us what is right. Reproof, where God is telling us where we’re wrong. It is from those two components, those two purposes in the Scriptures, that we get our ethics—what is right and wrong.
For a long time in church we have been fairly good in the ethics and declaring what is wrong and right. But the last two talk about ministry. The word of God is also profitable for correction—how to make these wrong things right. And then in instruction in righteousness—how do we live righteously from here on out. That is ministry. We need to continue to use the Word, not just for an ethical platform, which it is and everything starts there, but it also is profitable to equip every believer for effective ministry.
There’s much more to do in that equipping realm. As our families are more affected by this culture and even children and families in our churches are wondering about their own orientation and so forth, our parents need to be more and more alert. I think you’re right, we need to equip the church more in those areas. It’s exciting to see how these things are coming to the surface, and how it really is the old gospel themes that keep coming back as the methodology. That’s our goal at the Seminary, to equip people for today’s issues with the age-old theology that God has given us.
Thank you for joining us, Jim. I appreciate your part in the conference, equipping men. It’s been an exciting conference. Thank you for your part!