A church in Raleigh, NC, is gearing up for a vote on November 20 to decide if it will stop holding “state-sanctioned marriages” on their property. According to an article in Raleigh’s News & Observer, the deacon council at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church drafted a marriage equality statement in response to pastor Nancy Petty’s conscientious objection to endorsing marriages involving a state license for heterosexual couples while the state forbids same-sex marriage. Brooks Wicker, the co-chair of the deacon council stated,
For us, it’s very much a civil rights issue. It’s in keeping with our tradition of trying to live into the gospel, treating everyone justly and fairly.
On Nov 20, the congregation will hold a vote to determine the future of marriage ceremonies at the church. While this may seem unusual, Pullen Memorial is no stranger to the unusual in Baptist life. The church began embracing the “social gospel” and ecumenism in the 1930’s. In 1950, Harry Emerson Fosdick delivered the dedication sermon for their new sanctuary. In 1992, the church endorsed “unqualified acceptance” of gay and lesbian members. This move ultimately led to their ouster from the Raleigh Baptist Association, Baptist State Convention of NC, and Southern Baptist Convention.
Now the church stands on the cusp of eliminating marriage ceremonies for the foreseeable future from their practice. Petty, a self-professed lesbian, told the congregation that endorsing state-sanctioned marriages for heterosexuals was a burden on her conscience, and the church responded by bringing it up for a vote.
The real question here is whether or not God gets a vote in this matter. Wicker noted that he believed it was in keeping with the church’s tradition of living “into the gospel,” but I believe he has the direction wrong. It appears that “living into the gospel” is a way of adding cultural biases to the gospel. He sees gay-marriage as a civil right that needs to be affirmed by the gospel and that our lives change the gospel. However, Scripture suggests that we need the gospel to live in us and allow it to change us. Rather than living into the gospel, I want the gospel to live in me.
So what should we make of this vote? I think it is fairly clear from their history and current trajectory that Pullen Memorial will vote to cease all marriages until same-sex marriage is legalized by the state of NC. The unfortunate part of the vote is that a church will most likely vote contrary to Scripture. From the institution of the first marriage in Genesis 2, God has made it clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. In Genesis 2:22–24, we read:
The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
Throughout the rest of Scripture, every reference to marriage is always between a man and a woman. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, homosexual activity is clearly condemned (called an abomination), and that condemnation is repeated in Romans 1:24–32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. Scripture makes it very clear that homosexual activity is against nature and against God’s intended design. Attempting to dignify it by placing the label of “marriage” on it simply flies in the face of what God intended for marriage as well.
So will God get a vote at Pullen Memorial? Let’s think about this—theology is not governed by democracy. Majority vote does not decide what truth is. God gets the only vote that matters, and he has already cast the deciding vote on this issue. Marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman. It is designed to last a lifetime. No church vote can change that. If Pullen Memorial wants to be on the side of God, they will change their stand on homosexual marriage. If they don’t, then they aren’t really attempting to be a church in submission to Christ and his Word. They might as well change their name to Pullen Memorial Social Club.
Josh Shaffer, “Church puts civil marriage rites to vote,” News & Observer, November 11, 2011.
I would like to thank my friend, Randy Mann, for bringing this article to my attention. Check out his website at www.randymann.net.
19 thoughts on “Church to Vote on Continuing Heterosexual Marriage Ceremonies”
The only clue that marriage happens here at all is the word “wife” which isn’t actually the original Hebrew word–it’s “isshaw” from “shaw”–woman from man. We assume this is marriage, but it’s never stated–there’s no ceremony, no proclamation of sanctity and marriage from YHWH–only from Adam.
Also, Scripture does not deride homosexual activity–even the infamous clobber verses of Leviticus speak only of male-to-male activities. Female-to-female activities are not spoken of which means those relationships (including the one of the noble Pastor you deride here) are not spoken of at all.
Lastly, grandstanding for truth and the gospel may sound good for those who agree with you, but it’s perhaps the most Baptist and simultaneously un-Baptist thing you can do. No Baptist can call another church anything less than a church. That’s the beauty of autonomy. Enforcing doctrinal homogeneity is a terribly un-Baptist thing to do.
Your points are not without merit, but we see in Ephesians 5:22-33 and Matthew 19:3-9 that both Paul and Jesus interpret the Gen 2:22-24 passage as marriage. Unless you are willing to dismiss Jesus’ and Paul’s interpretation of Scripture, then you have to recognize that marriage is in fact instituted in the garden of Eden at Genesis 2.
As for your second point, the verses in Leviticus do not speak to lesbian behavior; however, Romans 1:26-27 does in fact specifically address lesbian behavior. In Rom 1:26-27, Paul writes, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” Before you dismiss this as merely pederasty (as some have done), there is no historical evidence of any type of female pederasty. Thus, Paul specifically calls lesbian behavior a degrading passion, unnatural, and indecent.
Finally, I am all for autonomy of the local church–if not, I wouldn’t be a Baptist. However, a “church” is a local body of believers who submit themselves to God’s Word. In this situation, Pullen Memorial is going against the clear teaching of Scripture (if you don’t believe it is clear, you need to look at your hermeneutic). The fact that they are planning to vote against what Scripture says reveals that they are submitting themselves to another authority–cultural biases in this case. Baptists have long held to the authority of Scripture; therefore, it is still very Baptist to call those who claim to be one of us to remain faithful to the Word we hold dear. Sorry if you find that un-Baptist–I merely find it biblical.
I appreciate you engaging my response. I would split a few hairs with you, but those are largely textual issues. The “natural function” is simply procreation–Augustine argued that and it’s safe to say Paul only understood and spoke of it in that term–as such, its quite a jump to assume women were with women, and not engaging in other “unnatural” acts–which perhaps may have merely been sex without the intention of procreation, which Paul at other points seems to reject.
What I will take exception with is your definition of church. The “local body of believers who submit themselves to the authority of God’s Word” This is the language that troubles me most ans simply furthers the divide between biblicists and folks like Pullen and myself. You cannot produce evidence from Scripture itself that shows the first Christian churches had “the word of God” to submit themselves to! As such, the arguments are circuitous–what “Scriptures” does Paul mean in 2 Timothy 3:16? The one he is writing, even at that moment? the Gospels that have yet to be written? It is academically (and I think spiritually) dishonest to assume that these first churches were committed to “submitting themselves to the authority of the word of God” and doubtless you would not question their legitimacy–probably even Corinth and Galatia, which had far larger issues than welcoming, loving and affirming homosexuals. What they submitted themselves to was the person of Jesus. they wrestled and struggled to articulate what that meant, resulting in schism and disagreements among themselves–even as we do.
What frightens me most is the tendency I see among more conservative Christians (particularly SBC Baptists) to exalt the Bible as the authority for faith and practice and not Jesus. That is not (and has never been) the teaching of Christ’s church. I hate to troll and comment here but find it necessary on occasion to take exception and remind (or perhaps expose for the first time for some) that these questions are simply not as easily answered as you and many others assume. Hopefully this is apparent as the criteria you outline for what the church is/was/should be means that even the first churches weren’t “biblical” either.
I don’t consider you to be trolling, so please feel free to comment whenever you wish. You are correct that there is a great divide between us.
As for your interpretation of Rom 1, I find the idea that Paul only had in mind procreation interesting. How did procreation happen? Well, of course, through sexual activity. If you are going to buy Augustine’s interpretation here, then are you also willing to go with his entire understanding of sex? He believed that sex was evil and sinful. Procreation was the only good thing that came from sex, and that made sex a necessary evil. I doubt you want to go down that road. The “in the same way” of verse 27 shows that Paul viewed it to be the exact same problem in verse 26 as verse 27 women committing indecent acts with women and men with men. Even if it was merely procreation in mind, that means Paul is still calling the sexual act between two members of the same sex indecent. In fact, he would call all sex that did not result in procreation indecent according to your logic. Your logic then fails to make the point you seem to wish to defend.
I think at the very least, the early church was attempting to be governed by the Word they had–the Hebrew Scriptures. Is this not what was in play in Act 17:11 when the Bereans were searching the Scriptures daily to verify Paul and Silas’ teaching. Second, they followed the teaching of the apostles–Acts 2:42. This would have been verbal until the time the apostles wrote them down. At that point, the teaching could spread further and more consistently. With the epistles, it is not as if we are waiting 300 years for them to come on the scene (unless you don’t hold to apostolic authorship). In 2 Peter 3:14-16, Peter (one of the apostles) places Scriptural authority on the writings of Paul. Therefore, he is calling them to obey and submit to Paul’s letters and the “rest of Scripture.”
Finally, this brings us to the question of Jesus or the Bible as the authority for faith and practice. What if I grant you that Jesus is the authority of faith and practice (something I am willing to do)? Where do you learn about Jesus? How do you know what Jesus taught? By what mechanism has God chosen to preserve the revelation of Jesus to future generations? The answer to that question is: The Bible. We biblicists follow the teaching of Jesus as revealed in Scripture. Thus, Scripture points us to Christ through the Prophets (OT), the words and direct teaching of Jesus (Gospels), and the teachings of the apostles (rest of NT). If by Jesus being the authority you mean what you feel has been revealed to you personally, then we can multiply examples of people who claim special revelation that neither you nor I would hold to be true. Thus, Scripture is the primary means by which we understand Jesus and his teachings.
How would you define Jesus as the authority for faith and practice apart from it coming from the Bible?
I can understand based on my response how it would seem that I was contradicting myself. I think Paul is condemning sexual activity that does not lead to (or is expressed for the purpose of) procreation. My invoking Augustine was to say that’s his point, not mine, but I agree with his reading of Paul on this issue, though it is one with which I do not agree. This is perceptibly to you, a rejection of Scripture–a difference that I can and will acknowledge, though I do not consider it in that way–which puts me among the ecclesial anathema of Pullen and countless others to the perspective you have thus outlined. I’m not convinced “in the same way”–“omion” is supported in lesbian love as you assert. Paul’s feelings towards women and procreation are pretty explicit in Romans and elsewhere and there is no assertion in any of his writings that women would act with and against other women–it is always from the male perspective and is much more likely and logically meant to refer to non-procreative sex.
I would bring in the experience factor, or, at the very least, an effort to use establish Jesus’ own words and teachings as the hermeneutic for reading all Scripture. To me, that’s Christian faith–living, modeling, striving to be like Jesus–using Scripture for guidance and study, but recognizing Christ is the lens through which Scripture is to be read. This is why the Levitical arguments against homosexuality never abide for me. Were we all to live by that our wives would be put out of the house once a month and at the first signs of mold we’d have to burn the house down. “But we are under Christ, not the law” I often hear biblicists counter. That’s fine, but concede Leviticus and let’s not associate this “abomination” with what we experience in our modern context.
The logic you laid out for that which you follow seems tight–and I concede the Gospels are our best understanding of Jesus–but more difficult questions linger–how many demoniacs did Jesus cast the “Legion” of demons out of? one, as in Mark, or two, as in Matthew? Who’s lying? And if there were two exorcisms, why are they so similar? Perhaps you have reply for this, but the very fact that the contradiction exists fundamentally undermines the factual reliability of the text–one can’t say “It’s all literally true” when there are multiple accounts of the same event, which may be 99% similar, but still differ on details. Clearly someone heard God wrong.
This is my larger issue with biblicism–that it fails to acknowledge these differences. It forces ministers like me (and probably folks like those at Pullen Memorial) to take an atheist apologetic to help those who encounter such doubts and are pushed out of the conservative waters from whence they came to help them re-construct genuine faith. I find the presumption that all truth can be known through Jesus, in this life, to be untenable and ultimately idolatrous. God is no longer the object of adoration, but the pursuit of “rightness.”
The problem is making sense of this Bible is not simple business, nor is it easy. There are theological and textual problems on every page of Scripture. I most hear my biblicist friends say “But if you erode Scripture, then what faith do you have?” If I were deconstructing that, I would say that is worshiping the Bible and not the God behind the Bible. Admittedly, we are unlikely to find agreement on this issue–I just feel as though it is worth noting at point that there are dedicated, committed followers of Jesus who do not hold up the certain understanding of truth that you deem sovereign. And it is good for me to know that I no more have that truth cornered than anyone else. I hope that people continue to realize that it is possible to have genuine faith in Jesus even when others would think you wrong or misguided–and I would add that is true from my perspective. I appreciate the grace with which you’ve engaged this conversation and don’t doubt your sincerity or your faith. I simply hope to give voice to a different journey toward that same Savior.
At the risk of getting shredded, here goes. My take is this, you believe the bible to be inerrant and infallible, or you don’t. If you think it has errors, then perhaps you should look for something that fits your world view. As near as I can tell, the bible has been checked, compared, analyzed and put thru the wringer for nearly 2000 years now. To best of my knowledge, there are over 5200 original manuscripts of the new testament. I believe God had kept his word true since He first gave it to the writers. The words and concepts in my mind are clear and simple.
I took a look at 1Cor6 9:11, using the English Majority Text, the Literal Interpretation, the King James and the Good News Bible. All 4 used nearly the same words. The message I received was the same from each translation. I found no hairs that needed to be split.
I am not any sort of biblical scholar. I’m just a member of the church trying to follow the Lord as best I can. I accept the Bible as written. If I have questions, I ask my pastor. The Bible is the conduit from the mind of God to the mind of man.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, I still don’t see how your interpretation of Rom 1 is any different in your last response. You said that you agree with Augustine but you do not agree with Augustine. That may have been a typo, but it appears circular at this point. Ultimately, your logic that Paul was speaking about non-procreative sexual intercourse (what he was condemning) would lead you to speak against all sex that does not lead to procreation. If that is what you intend, then I would hope you are consistent and speak against all heterosexual sex that is non-procreative. I am just not willing to go there.
Next, let’s deal with the issue of experience. I teach ethics. If I were to base my ethics on personal experience, I could justify almost anything. However, someone else could use his personal experience to justify the exact opposite and lead to a totally different system of ethics. It would then be my experience vs. his experience. Which one wins out? If you do not have a better epistemological foundation than experience, then ethics is relative. The same holds true tor hermeneutics. If your hermeneutic is built on experience, you can reach any interpretation of Scripture you want. In fact, this is exactly what Joseph Smith did with the Mormons. His experience told him that the Christian church had lost the truth and needed to be reformed. The result of his pursuit was the Book of Mormon, which he claimed came from divine revelation. If experience is your standard, you have no means to claim that the Mormon interpretation of God and Jesus is any less true than yours.
Dealing with Leviticus and other OT texts, the particular ones I cited are affirmed in the NT (in the new covenant) in Rom 1, 1 Cor 6, and 1 Tim 1. If they are affirmed in the NT, then they cannot be dismissed in the OT. But even if I were to grant you the fact that the Holiness Code of Lev has no bearing, you still have to deal with the NT texts.
As for the idea that there are “theological and textual errors on every page of Scripture,” I think you are blowing it out of proportion. I have studied OT and NT textual criticism. Yes, there are textual variants throughout the copies of Scripture that we have. However, the overwhelming majority of those are so minor (misspelled words in an occasional manuscript) that they have no bearing whatsoever on the meaning of the text. Most variants can be explained when looking at all the manuscript evidence and seeing that significant variants or problems are extremely rare.
In response to your statement about how biblicists respond about eroding Scripture, I want to take it in a slightly different direction. Rather than merely eroding faith, I want to ask how you know the Jesus you worship is real if Scripture is unreliable. Before you go down the road of experience, remember that your local Mormon missionary will tell you that you can know the Book of Mormon is true based on the warm feeling in your heart that comes when reading it (i.e., experience).
Finally, I assume you have been using the term biblicist in a pejorative sense to speak about me and others who believe like me. However, I want to thank you for assigning that label to me because “biblicist” is a label I proudly wear.
Evan I don’t want to beat dead horses either, but I’ll try to be as plain as possible.
I think Paul was against all non-procreative sex. I do not personally believe this, but I think Paul did. Augustine interpreted Paul this way. I do not agree with Augustine on this matter, but I was trying to say “this isn’t my idea-others have read Paul this way.” I don’t agree with Paul. This may seem like rejecting Scripture but I think Paul was biased and misogynistic. He was brilliant, but not without his own shortcomings.
As for the experience analogy, I have no problem with what you say here. I’m a Joseph Fletcher guy when it comes to ethics–which I’m sure is problematic for you, but it should explain my view of experience. You used the Mormon analogy, so I’ll chase that one (and it brings me back to an “atheist apologetic”).
How is Joseph Smith claiming inspiration any different from you (or anyone else in Christian history) claiming the inspiration for 66 disparate books by widely varied authors written over thousands of years? What ostensible, physical or rational proof could should convince an unbelieving public that your writers were actually inspired but Smith was a deluded madman. Harold Bloom wrote a great book a number of years ago called “The American Religion”. There are flaws in his approach as he’s a literary critic and not an historian or a theologian, but his thesis is that Southern Baptists and Mormons are peculiarly American religious expressions that have a great deal in common with one another and ultimately owe their existence to the unique cultural climate of America.
As for your dismissal of textual variants I get it–Bible isn’t/wasn’t your discipline. However your blithe dismissal of them reflects what is for me a frustrating aspect of biblicists. Textual criticism is presented, but often as a straw person and the arguments and critiques that it makes are summarily dismissed and the assumption is that some conservative Bible scholar out there has already written about it and if someone (like me) pushed you hard enough on it you could find that article and win the argument. It’s simply not the case–and, I might add, the reason the majority of both SBL and AAR would be considered “liberal” by biblicists. Education and exposure does not resolve these issues, it opens bigger mysteries, which brings me back to Paul.
What I like of Paul–where my heart is warmed because of my experience (because he expresses the same experience of God himself and I identify with it, which is, I think, the core of religious faith)–is where Paul says “This is a great mystery”, “We see through a glass darkly” “We know in part and we prophesy in part”. There is a great humility (which doesn’t always come easy for Paul) in acknowledging that speaking of God is fraught with difficulties and trials, but it is supremely worth the effort. I find comfort in that.
I do not mean “biblicist” pejoratively–I mean it as the most accurate term I can think of. You may claim it as a badge of honor and that’s fine. The only hint of irony I can find (or have otherwise intended) is only now as I consider the unwillingness of many biblicists to grapple with textual variants. My question about Matthew or Mark lying was left curiously unanswered, but I can think of more substantial questions then the “minor variants” you cite. Is Jesus restoring the woman caught in adultery apocryphal? Is the longer ending of Mark’s gospel–the part where we’re told that we can pick up snakes and not die, or eat poison and still live? They are both later additions. In all honesty, I love John 8, but I would readily lose the longer ending of Mark–but they are both later additions. This is a tension and contradiction I live with and one that all who look to Scripture must wrestle with–including those who claim to follow nothing but (their reading of) the Bible.
I appreciate your spirit and willingness to enter the conversation. I would say that a part of the problem is that a great deal of what I’ve said here as examples are things most ministers (including myself) don’t learn until we get to college or seminary. Then when we do, it forces a crisis of faith because we feel “Why didn’t someone tell me this at my church growing up?” In most cases, we”re told to forget about this stuff and not bring it up–just go pastor the churches, serve the people. I get the logic of it on one level–standing up on Sunday and talking about why there are a different number of demoniacs in the Gospels is more likely to upset people than it is to soothe them. Honestly, I can’t bear that–I feel like we’ve got a responsibility to tell the whole story, so I’ve tried to do that in my life and ministry. It’s gotten me into hot water a few times, but for the most part people are just shocked that no one ever trusted them enough to tell them.
That being said, I’m grateful that you care enough to study and pursue truth on your own and I genuinely believe that when we seek we find. All the best on your journey of faith.
Thanks for making clear your position on Rom 1. If I may repeat it for my own clarity, you believe Paul was speaking of non-procreative sex, but you do not agree with Paul because you believe he was biased and misogynistic. That certainly clears up what you have written about Rom 1 and identifies your overall hermeneutic (which is consistent with your situational ethic). From these words, it appears that you have placed yourself in the position of arbiter of truth. You get to determine if something recorded in the Bible is true or not. The same goes for your ethic because you determine what is the “most loving thing to do” based on the situation. Ultimately, the only ground for determining truth is your experience, your thoughts, or those of your “community.” Since this is your approach, you should not be disturbed by my conclusions about Scripture. If you are consistent in your beliefs, you should be fine with someone reaching a totally different conclusion than you because their own experience may be completely different. However, by the fact that you are arguing for your position and against mine, it reveals that you believe your position is correct and mine is wrong. Therefore, you have to appeal to an authority beyond experience; otherwise, you would be saying that your position is no more true or correct than mine. Since you don’t say that, you reveal the weakness in your own hermeneutic and ethic.
What ostensible proof could I give for inspiration vs. the Mormons? Time does not permit to go into everything, but let me give you the highlights, starting with the transmission of Scripture. We have thousands of manuscripts dating back to a few generations of the originals–more so than any ancient piece of literature. The original manuscripts were written by eyewitnesses (or recorded their testimonies) during the lifetimes of other eyewitnesses would could have denied everything that was written and proved it to be a farce; however, they did not. Scripture records historical events that are corroborated by archaeology and extra-biblical historical texts (the Mormons have none of this–ask one of them about their archaeological discoveries). The fact that from the earliest writings in church history there was a consensus that the teachings of the prophets and apostles were from God shows that this is not an American invention. Finally (though I am prepared for your complete dismissal of this point), the internal consistency of Scripture written by a multiplicity of authors shows that someone other than humans must have been at work in it from the beginning–I believe that person to be God.
You are correct to note that Biblical Studies were not the focus on my PhD work; instead, I studied (and now teach) ethics. However, the focus of my MDiv work was Biblical Studies studying under men such as Andreas Kostenberger and John Sailhamer. Even liberal scholars would acknowledge the quality of their scholarship. I do not dismiss textual variants as a whole. I would actually agree with the shorter ending of Mark and the spurious nature of John 8 (learned about those from Kostenberger and how to evaluate the textual evidence involved). I did not address your question of whether Matthew or Mark was lying because I figured you already knew I wouldn’t agree with that assessment. When we have pericopes in the synoptics that appear to be the same event but have different details, we have a couple of different options. They could be two similar events (but not the same) that are recorded. Remember, Jesus ministered for three years, but the gospels do not record every event. Second, they could be the same event recorded from a different perspective. That does not mean either one is lying–it speaks to the human element of the events that different people see things from a different perspective. This does not make Scripture untrue or cause one to be lying.
Getting back to the heart of the matter, it is clear that you place yourself (or your community) as the arbiter of truth. This is an epistemologically weak starting point. The only consistent conclusion for you to hold about others who disagree with you is that they have reached their conclusion based on their own experience. If their experience is just as valid as yours, you have no choice but to accept their positions as “just as true” as yours. The problem comes when they directly contradict your position.Two statements that deny each other cannot both be true. Back to our Rom 1 example. You say Paul condemns non-procreative sex. You disagree and say that non-procreative sex is acceptable. You and Paul cannot both be right because you contradict one another. However, based on your understanding of truth as based in experience, you cannot be any more true than Paul because his “experience” says that his position is right just as your experience says your position is right. You cannot both be right; therefore, you have no choice but to appeal to a higher, objective authority. You appeal to your own experience as that higher authority, but hopefully you see that such an appeal is spurious, insincere, and inconsistent with the very hermeneutic you claim to employ.
I reckon that since I don’t have half the alphabet following my name, I’m not capable of discerning the Truth on my own, I’ll just drop out of this. Think I’ll go Catholic. They have priests to explain things to me. No thought required there. Good plan??
My wrong assumptions included the idea that the Bible presented the Truth in clear and simple language. I also assumed the average joe could read the thing and understand what was said. Apparently that’s not the case.
I’ll leave the semantics to you guys.
1 Cor 6
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, (English Majority Text)
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, (KJV)
Do I need to go to someone with an advanced degree to get the meaning of those verses?
I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. Y’all know the context here.
What do you get from this?
There’s a lot here, but I’ll try and deal with it as clearly and succinctly as I know how.
Yes, that places me (or I would prefer to say my community) as arbiter of truth. I can and will readily acknowledge that. You have done the exact same thing. You are appealing not to a text, but to an understanding and interpretation of that text–one you have outlined here in your progression through the Hebrew Bible, NT and apostles/disciples. That is an interpretive take–and my main beef with biblicists. It’s like saying “I believe the Bible” but not acknowledging that others (including myself) do too, we just read it differently than you do. Someone once said “You could read it literally, but I’d prefer to read it seriously”. That’s a snarky way to put it, but it reveals a deeper truth–the text is (and always has been polyvalent) and for some reason folks on a certain side of the argument–perhaps not yourself but those who have espoused similar views to what you express here–have refused to admit that.
You mistake my “arguing” as an appeal to a higher truth. What I am asking for here is some humility–acknowledging there are other ways to read Scripture–ways that may fall far beyond your understandings of orthodoxy. I have no problem believing your truth is true for you and is efficacious in a religious sense–but what I cannot abide is using it as a platform for criticizing and belittling the Christian faith of a people and a church you do not know. Would you believe in a God you have not experienced? Have you ever appealed to your own salvation experience in a conversation with another person? Or only quoted Scriptures you have interpreted to be “true”? It’s nice to talk logic and try and eliminate experience from the philosophical conversation, but its inextricable for every evangelical I know, and I’m assuming that’s true for you as well.
I appreciate your taking a shot at the demoniacs, and yes, two incidents is one to explain it–it just seems unlikely–I mean, twice that Jesus would go to the same place, encounter legions of demons, cast them into a herd of swine and those swine drown–I mean, it could happen I suppose. (as could Jesus feeding 5,000 then another 4,000 under the same circumstances a chapter later). Yes, Kostenberger is aware of these discrepancies and has done some good work–but to that response I would say “what else you got?” The double event doesn’t seem logical–you said there were other options, so I’m game to hear them.
I’m not sure how you handle this one in your coursework, but the working definition of ethics as I understand and have received it (and as Gushee and Stassen have asserted) is not “choosing right from wrong” but choosing between opposing goods or opposing evils. There are a plurality of “rights”. Simply put, I don’t contradict my hermeneutic as you assert because I am not making an exclusive truthclaim–I am simply saying to those who would read your blog that there other truthclaims and I think we’re all well served to examine all of them and evaluate where we choose to place our faith. Funny, for most people the arbiter of that as a personal profession of faith–which is best called, I believe, a religious experience.
Evan and I will undoubtedly differ on our interpretation of the text. It’s a tough one, but as Evan alludes to in an earlier comment, my reading of this passage assumes pederasty–meaning male prostitution–as well as “philia” which can alternatively be viewed as “boy-love” (think pedophilia), The Greek text is unclear, so there’s healthy debate as to what Paul was getting at here–as is evidenced by my belief that Paul was speaking of deviant sexual behavior beyond the boundaries of a committed monogamous relationship and Evan’s insistence that he was not and that “homosexuals” and “effeminate” are good translations.
I don’t want you to be dissuaded from reading and interpreting the Bible as best you can on your own, but yes, you’re right to think these texts are more complicated than is often presented–which is my beef with a lot of American Christianity. For too long the evangelical church has relied on preachers and pastors to give you the tools to read and interpret Scripture while most have found a few moral sermons they just repeat to an already converted audience.
The best advice I can give you is, if you’re not sure keep reading–read past the stuff you agree with and the stuff you don’t. Read all of it, and trust the Spirit. All the best on the journey!
@Trey, I am content in my understanding. I accept the bible as written at its face value. I don’t believe that God intended it to be so complicated that it requires special education to learn and put into practice. Having said that, when we meet our maker face to face, we will know THE TRUTH. I wish you the best in your journey.
@Evan, how’s life in Ft. Worth. Dr Akin is still getting it done on Wednesday nites…………
Life in Fort Worth is good. We need a little bit more rain these days after the drought, but we enjoy it. Hope all is well in the Cross Roads area.
I agree with you. I believe you can read the text and find its meaning. There are some texts that are confusing and require more thorough study, but for the most part, you and anyone else can read the text and know what it means. The interpretation I espouse of Rom 1 (and of 1 Cor 6:9-11 which you brought up) are the simple, straightforward meaning. Trey is bringing in cultural biases and presuppositions that Paul was incorrect in what he wrote. According to such logic, all of the Bible could be dismissed. That is certainly not what I am proposing.
I’ll try to take these one at a time. I am glad to hear that you admit my truth claim is as valid as your truth claim. That at least allows for some further discussion. In a previous reply, I proposed how you have made an exclusive truth claim by calling Paul’s biblical claim false. You said Paul was wrong. That means you make a truth claim that excludes another. However, your community-based epistemology cannot make that claim. You simply have to say your truth claim is different than Paul’s, and therefore, Paul’s writing is not inspired by God because God cannot be wrong. The problem with this discussion is that I am coming from the presupposition that all of Scripture is inspired and you are not. That will make any discussions on Scripture difficult because we see Scripture fundamentally differently. Your snarky quote does not really accomplish anything because it creates a false dichotomy between reading the Bible literally and seriously. Why can’t reading the Bible literally be a serious approach. We read other texts literally, and no one says such an approach is not serious. As you speak of humility, such a statement drips with arrogance.
Have I appealed to my salvation experience in a conversation? Yes, I have. Do I appeal to it as authoritative? No, I do not. I filter my experience through what Scripture says. If my experience contradicts Scripture, then my experience is not true. My experience of salvation, however, is in keeping with what is recorded in Scripture. I was confronted with my sin and called to repentance (as w see throughout Acts). I recognized that I could not save myself and that salvation is a gift (Eph 2:8-9). Then, I called on the Lord, confessed him with my mouth and believed that God raised him from the dead (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 15). Now of course, much of that Scriptural filter is based on the writings of Paul, in which you have placed little confidence. I pray that at least those sections of Scripture you see as inspired and authoritative for understanding what salvation is. If not, I would be intrigued to hear what you believe salvation to be.
As for ethics, I do teach that ethics is ultimately a part of one’s worldview whereby one makes determinations between right and wrong, good and evil. Though I have Stassen and Gushee’s book, I have not read enough of it to have their theory of ethics down, but it sounds as if you are proposing a modified Aristotelian approach–looking for the golden mean between two extremes. However, it sounds as if there are just good and evil at the extremes in your view so ultimately there is a choice between good and evil (opposing goods and opposing evils). If there is evil on one pole, then there has to be a line where one has crossed from good to evil. Certainly, there may be times when multiple “good” options are available, but there also seems to be the option of evil. Let’s work in the real world for a second. I’m driving home on the interstate and someone cuts me off. I have a few different good options and evil options. I can just let it roll off my back and be thankful there was not a wreck. I can get a little worried for other drivers on the road and try to warn them. I can even get a little frustrated, but recognizing it, calm down and move on. On the other hand, there are evil options. I can speed up and ram him. I can make an obscene gesture while I wear out the horn on my car. I can even stew in anger without acting out. All of these would be evil options (including the last if you believe God calls unrighteous anger a sin). At some point, the line crossed from good to evil. Applying this to the issue we have been addressing, both the OT and NT call homosexuality a sin. In order for you to view homosexuality along the continuum of good choices, you have to dismiss or reinterpret the literal, straightforward, plain meaning of Scripture (of course this is where our conversations diverge because you do not view Scripture that way). I know you will disagree with me here, but I stand in the overwhelming tradition of interpretation throughout church history of this position. Being in the minority for you is not necessarily a bad thing, but you need to recognize that most interpreters throughout history disagree with you and the burden of proof lies with you since you go against the pain reading of Scripture. In addition, those who reach the same conclusion you do get there by vastly different means. I have read extensively those who attempt to support homosexuality from Scripture and have found that the best arguments against various interpretations of Rom 1, 1 Cor 6, 1 Tim 1, Lev 18 and 20, Gen 19, etc are supporters of homosexuality because none are satisfied with each others’ arguments.
My final question for you is what hope do you give to people in your congregation when you tell them that parts of Scripture is not true? You mentioned that you have gotten in hot water in the past. Did you offer some hope that was based in Scripture or merely in one’s experience?
Finally, you assume I know nothing of Pullen Memorial. What you do not know is that I lived in Raleigh for over 6 years. Pullen was a feature of Baptist life in Raleigh, so I do know of the church from personal experience.
I agree with the arrogance thing–and tried to acknowledge that perspective was limited and harsh, but I felt there’s a germ of truth to it–the presumption among biblicists is that one is either “for” the Bible or “against” it. That is a narrow interpretation (and a false dilemma fallacy, but it doesn’t tend to matter when the masses here it). I had a professor once who was one of the casualties of the Takeover/Resurgence who said “We lost when they asked ‘Do you believe the Bible?’ and we said ‘It’s complicated’.” No one like hearing that–I know it puts me and those who share my perspective in the minority–on an island. Hauerwas says that’s okay–the church is meant to be a persecuted minority. I think it’s worth saying that his thought, though it may bring temporary comfort, drips of the same sanctimony that I abhor in my biblicist friends, so I try not to stay there. The tension you acknowledge is a real one, a daily one for me–striving to understand and live the way of Jesus (which is oddly most easily articulated by the Wesleyan quadrilateral though I’ve never purported to be Wesleyan–but it is, I think, for me a good lens) while also understanding Jesus alone maintains himself as the gate, life, truth and way–which means my efforts at “rightness” ought to be humble enough to engage others on the path.
At the core of the issue of homosexuality is whether one perceives it to be sin. I, for one, do not. Furthermore, I am unconvinced that the New Testament condemns a monogamous homosexual relationship at any point. Though if it did, as you have rightly read me, I would not regard it as faith and practice for today. We all have our canon within a canon, and mine tends to be Jesus’ teachings, but that’s my bias. Yours is Paul, and that’s fine. Recently a close friend of mine said his perspective on homosexuality angers people on both sides of the issue within the church, which he then said was “all sexual activity beyond marriage was wrong, but that he affirmed and would gladly perform ceremonies for a homosexual couple. As succinct as it was, I found it expressed my own thoughts fairly clearly. Of course, this is labeling “sin” as you said in your ethical illustration. And yes, everyone makes some determination on every conscious decision or step–though the Hebrew Bible certainly speaks to the possible perception of that sin changing over time, or even God changing God’s own mind and repenting. For me, Tillich’s definition of Sin as a chaotic force in the world–rather than “sins” is quite helpful, but then, I’m not expecting you to take that jump with me.
The “hope” that you speak of I offer people is precisely not Scripture. It’s the God, revealed in Jesus, that is behind Scripture. I think as we’ve had this dialogue that should be apparent.
Trey, a couple thoughts here…
I don’t think Hauerwas’ comment counts in this context. Hauerwas was speaking of the church being the persecuted minority in the world. Unless you are claiming to be the church and people like me the world, then his statement has no bearing on this situation (and I do not think that is what you intended).
It is interesting that you bring up the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. That methodology actually supports my perspective more than yours. Of the four elements (Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience), Wesley considered Scripture to be primary and the only infallible, authoritative element of the quadrilateral. The other three legs of the Quadrilateral must be balanced. Experience cannot be used alone to interpret Scripture. Tradition and reason also play a role. In fact, most formulations of the quadrilateral (which was not even expressed by Wesley in that form and not developed until 1964) places experience in the third or fourth position. At the very least, experience never even rises to second unless it is a three way tie for second and is balanced/checked/corrected by the other two under the authority of Scripture. Again you come back to Jesus as the key to Scripture (and I am fine with that), I just ask where do you learn about Jesus and his teaching? If not the Bible, where? If it is the Bible, then Scripture becomes of utmost importance.
I am not sure where you get from having Jesus’ teachings as your “canon within a canon” to saying that even if Scripture did call homosexuality a sin it is no longer true today. Jesus never addressed homosexuality and never offered clarification on Lev 18 and 20 where Moses condemned it. Jesus also never condemned bestiality. Would you say that bestiality is not a sin any more either because Jesus never addressed it?
You assume that my “canon within the canon” is Paul. I never said that. In fact, I believe the writings of Paul, Peter, John, Moses, Isaiah, David, Solomon, etc to be just as true and authoritative as the teachings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. Why? Well, I believe all Scripture is inspired by God. That means God has given us the Scripture through his Holy Spirit using men. In fact, it is difficult for you to place any higher authority on Jesus’ teachings because they were recorded by the Gospel writers. Were they more inspired to transmit the words of Jesus than the other writers?
Sin as a chaotic force–no, I’m not willing to take that jump. Can you tell me where in Scripture that sin is ever described that way? I see throughout Scripture that sins are confronted by God–sometimes directly and sometimes through his messengers. I see sin entering the world through Adam, but it is much more than a chaotic force. It is a separation from God. It results in evil desires and behavior in mankind. It is so much more specific than a chaotic force.
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