Brandon Ambrosino has declared Jesus was wrong about homosexuality and he has used C.S. Lewis’ words to support his case. The problem is Ambrosino is wrong about Lewis (and Jesus).
While the Liberty University graduate is a gifted writer and has laudably defended Christian orthodoxy in the past, Ambrosino’s being gay and believing that homosexuality is morally acceptable places him in conflict with the words of Scripture.
Unlike many other gay affirming Christian writers, Ambrosino does not attempt to force a completely misguided foreign understanding on the text to make it say Jesus would approve of gay marriage. He calls that “revisionist hermeneutics” and flatly dismisses all of those efforts as “silly.”
He believes Jesus was clearly opposed to homosexuality, but, Ambrosino says, Jesus was wrong.
There will be numerous Christian writers and theologians who will dismantle Ambrosino’s arguments much more skillfully than myself. But I did want to respond to his assertions for two reasons—this type of reasoning will increasingly take root among Christians who are not exposed to many of the counterarguments (or church history) and Ambrosino horribly mangles C.S. Lewis quotes to provide rationale for his belief in a fallible Jesus.
Here is the section of his article that quotes C.S. Lewis and is relevant to our discussion.
Orthodoxy also doesn’t require us to believe that Jesus was right about everything. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Jesus was horribly mistaken about the end of the world. In an essay titled “The World’s Last Night,” C.S. Lewis helps us understand the limitations that Jesus was working with:
He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else. [Matthew 24:34] is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of it should come the statement, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man….” The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grown side by side. … The facts then are these: that Jesus professed himself (in some sense) ignorant, and within a moment showed that he really was so.
And lest, by some theological leap, we try to interpret Jesus’ failed prediction as some sort of attempt at appearing human (rather than evidence of actually being human), Lewis offers this warning:
It would be difficult, and, to me, repellent, to suppose that Jesus never asked a genuine question, that is, a question to which he did not know the answer. That would make of his humanity something so unlike ours as scarcely to deserve the name. I find it easier to believe that when he said, “Who touched me?” he really wanted to know.
Based on these two examples alone—Jesus’ question and his thoughts about the world’s end—it’s safe to conclude that Jesus didn’t know everything.
After reading Ambrosino’s quotation of Lewis, I did what everyone should do when they read what seem like out of context quotes. I went and read the original essay from the published collection The World’s Last Night and Other Essays.
As an aside, that’s a great little book of essays which I have referenced several times on this blog. I’ve talked about “Religion and Rocketry” as well as “The Efficacy of Prayer.” It also includes “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”—a short follow-up to The Screwtape Letters.
“The World’s Last Night” is a fantastic essay in it’s own right, just not for what Ambrosino used it. When you understand Lewis’ purpose for writing that particular piece, it makes particularly ironic the quotation of it in a defense for a modern progressive view of sexuality.
In this essay, Lewis was responding to a modern (in his time) objection to the Second Coming of Christ. He takes special care to address those who seek to single out certain doctrines of Jesus’ to reject (specifically the Second Coming in this essay), while trying to hold on to other teachings.
First, here is Lewis directly before the sections Ambrosino quoted discussing the “gentler form” of dismissing Jesus’ claims about his return.
The gentler form, used more probably by a modernist, would be like this: “Every great man is partly of his own age and partly for all time. What matters in his work is always that which transcends his age, not that which he shared with a thousand forgotten contemporaries. We value Shakespeare for the glory of his language and his knowledge of the human heart, which were his own; not for his belief in witches or the divine right of kings, or his failure to take a daily bath. So with Jesus. His belief in a speedy and catastrophic end to history belongs to him not as a great teacher but as a first-century Palestinian peasant. It was one of his inevitable limitations, best forgotten. We must concentrate on what distinguished him from other first-century Palestinian peasants, on his moral and social teaching.”
As an argument against the reality of the Second Coming this seems to me to beg the question at issue. When we propose to ignore in a great man’s teaching those doctrines which it has in common with the thought of his age, we seem to be assuming that the thought of his age was erroneous. When we select for serious consideration those doctrines which “transcend” the thought of his own age and are “for all time” we are assuming that the thought of our age is correct: for of course by thoughts which transcend the great man’s age we really mean thoughts that agree with ours.
Now here is Ambrosino directly after quoting Lewis.
Jesus and the scriptures that tell of his good news are products of their ancient environment. We can’t read the bible expecting to find a robust 21st-century cosmology any more than we can read the bible hoping to find an evolved anthropology or a position on the Confederate flag or the Pythagorean theorem. Or, for that matter, an elaborate position on human sexuality that takes into account all the advances the social sciences have made in the past few decades.
What the bible most decidedly is not is some type of handbook for navigating the 21st century. It is not God, nor should it be awarded godlike status. (To treat it as such is to break the second commandment.) Are there universal truths contained with the pages of the bible? Absolutely! Are many of those truths relevant in every age and culture, and binding to Christians everywhere? Definitely—loving your neighbor, forgiving your enemies, and looking out for the weak are obligations that Christ has put upon each person who that claims to follow him. Are there passages of Scripture that should be read as if they are describing historical events that actually transpired in this world? Of course—the physical resurrection of Jesus is a non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith.
Unless Ambrosino simply cherry-picked the quotes he used without actually reading the entire essay, I find it almost impossible to believe he did not notice the irony of his selective quotation.
In his desired defense of homosexual relationships, he has directly engaged in what Lewis termed “chronological snobbery” and dismantled in the very essay from which Ambrosino quoted.
Ambrosino wants to accept Jesus’ teaching on loving your neighbor and the like (because those are “truths relevant in every age and culture” or truths that “transcend” as Lewis mockingly puts it), but he refuses to accept Jesus’ teaching on sexual morality (because that is part of His “ancient environment” or, as Lewis’ gentler modernist says, it comes from his being “a first-century Palestinian peasant”).
For those who have read much Lewis, you know he had a different view of biblical inspiration than do most conservative evangelicals. But what you absolutely cannot do and be fair to Lewis’ writing, is quote him as if he ever was a proponent of progressive history—the idea that we are improving all the time, particularly morally.
In fact, the last essay you want to quote from if you want to make that point is “The World’s Last Night.” He spends the entire essay ripping that viewpoint to shreds. It’s the entire point of his essay. In fact, as if directly addressing Ambrosino’s arguments, Lewis writes:
For if we once accept the doctrine of the Incarnation, we must surely be very cautious in suggesting that any circumstances in the culture of first-century Palestine was a hampering or distorting influence upon his teaching.
Lewis’ point was that God, in His sovereignty, directly chose that time and place for Jesus to come to Earth. If living then and there would have limited Jesus in such a way that his teaching would have been faulty, God could (and would) have chosen a different (better) place.
That extends to His ideas on His Second Coming, as well as His teaching on sexual morality, regardless of what Ambrosino would like.
Later in the essay, Lewis says, “Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things—ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity.”
Ambrosino sums up his argument by appealing to this fear-casting out perfect love. “If the essence of Torah is love, as Jesus says it is, then committed gay relationships are hardly unbiblical.”
What he believes to be love casting off these fears of gay relationships, Lewis would say it is something different. Again, I don’t believe Ambrosino to be ignorant or stupid. I think he is a bright writer. But I think he is, in part, blinded by his presumption.
He wants Jesus to approve of his relationship, so he constructs a modern Jesus who will agree with him and uses Lewis’ writings to help him build the framework. The only problem as I said earlier, the real Jesus and the real Lewis would disagree with him.
If you care to read what C.S. Lewis said directly on homosexuality, you can read his attack on Christian hypocrisy on the issue in which his humility and concern for others shines through.
But you should also read his letter to a friend who came to Christ and was wondering what to say to his gay and lesbian friends. In it, he makes it clear where he stands on gay marriage:
Perhaps any homosexual who humbly accepts his cross and puts himself under Divine guidance will, however, be shown the way. I am sure that any attempt to evade it (e.g. by mock or quasi-marriage with a member of one’s own sex even if this does not lead to any carnal act) is the wrong way.
Though perhaps some, like Ambrosino, will come along in a few hundred years and explain to then modern readers how this was the 20th century England speaking and not the real C.S. Lewis, who would certainly support polygamy or efforts to wed your pet or personal computer or whatever the cause happened to be during that day.