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The Bible, Pilling and Changing One’s Mind

03d0469c90e00a22d17ae6.L._V168583209_SX200_My friend and former colleague David Runcorn has written a reflection on the use of the Bible in relation to the issue of same-sex relations, and it is available on the Fulcrum website. In many ways, it functions as a methodological justification for his contribution in an appendix to the Pilling report.

As ever, David writes lucidly with spiritual insight and pastoral sensitivity, and he helpfully concludes each section with a ‘note to self’ on the pastoral and hermeneutical issues:

Note to self: I am part of this journey too. Whatever ‘straight’ means in this context it never means straight-forward!

Note to self: strength of conviction is no guarantee that I am right. I will live with conviction but hold my ‘certainties’ with respectful suspicion. Others have thought my thoughts before me – and they too knew they were right….

Some of these offer perceptive and self-aware observations about the process of interpreting the Bible. But as they go on, I think David inadvertently says some extraordinary things, and I believe there are some significant problems with the way he deploys these in relation the current debate.

Closed Hermeneutic?

His article starts with the example of Apartheid South Africa, where confidence in what the Bible was saying depending on living in a socially closed world, immune from critical reflection from alternative communities with different perspectives.

Apartheid means ‘the state of being apart’ (not unlike the word ‘Pharisee’). To a significant degree this became a theological as well as social reality in South Africa. Faith and ethics were founded on the hermeneutics of a closed world.

He goes on to cite Richard Burridge’s Inclusive Ethics:

For Burridge their stories stand as a warning ‘to those who wish to use Biblical narratives as a guide for the ethical behaviour today’ and against searching the Bible for rules or commands to apply to complex contemporary issues. Indeed this ‘may even call this entire approach to the Bible of looking for models for today into question’

This is an important issue: the process of interpretation needs critical reflection from the whole range of possible perspectives. But it strikes me as an odd place to start in relation to this debate. I am sure there are ‘traditionalist’ churches which are socially closed, but that is not the case for most of the people and places that I know. Indeed, it would be hard to have maintained closed boundaries over the last 20 years or so. For one thing, even a medium-sized congregation will have perhaps 2-300 people amongst the immediate family and close friends of those attending, so statistically there are likely to be several families with members identifying as gay or experiencing same-sex attraction.

For another, all the main proponents that I know have gone out of their way to engage with contrary views—as in the dialogue between Andrew Goddard and Giles Goddard on Fulcrum. Last November I attended a seminar where Robert Gagnon, a key advocate for the ‘traditional’ position, presented a paper at the Queer Hermeneutics seminar at SBL engaging in person with William Loader, an advocate of the ‘revisionist’ position. This is hardly a closed hermeneutic!

The role of Jesus

David’s next section makes an impassioned plea that we move beyond the polarities in this current debate, moving beyond a simple and perhaps simplistic understanding of right and wrong. He is speaking here from his pastoral heart, but it also links this to the New Testament.

Then and now there are ways of being scrupulously ‘biblical’ that lead away from Christ.

Because the “conservative” side of the argument tends to focus on specific biblical texts, it is often the case that the “liberal” discussion features Jesus more prominently—in particular, his table fellowship with sinners and his opposition to legalism. But the question here is, which Jesus are we thinking about? Very often in these discussions, Jesus can look like a liberated, relaxed modern figure who isn’t hung up with sexual mores—in other words, he looks very much like us. But the Jesus of the gospels, read in their historical context, looks rather different.

Note to self: Christian ethics is not for reducing to right or wrong choices. It is about primarily about what story I wish to be part of. My choices will flow from that.

Here I think David, and with him Craig Uffman whom he quotes, is misunderstanding the nature of ‘virtue’ ethics. It’s very clear that Jesus, and Paul, and the whole of the New Testament, are concerned about the formation of virtuous character. But such virtuous characters act in certain ways, and this is part of what Jesus means when he talks about “by their fruit you shall know them”.

I agree with David Runcorn that the sexuality debate is often too simplistic. But if we want to end up with an ethic which avoids all binary opposition, all polarisation into right and wrong, then we’re going to have to move a long way from Jesus’ teaching in the gospels.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt 7.13–14)

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 7.21)

These challenges don’t just cut both ways, they cut every way you could possibly imagine! And no one side in this discussion can hijack Jesus’ teaching here. But the gospels leave us with the awkward reality that the Jesus they testify to was able both to welcome and eat with sinners, and still adhere to the strictest code of sexual ethics.”Liberals” have been good at the former, “conservatives” have been good at the latter, but only Jesus appears to manage both.

Now the Bible has no such league table of sins. Nor would homosexuality would be at the top if it did – attracting so relatively little attention compared to other moral issues.

No indeed, and the only really plausible explanation for this is that there was no possibility for Jesus or for Paul that same sex relations (put in any context) could be seen as ethically acceptable.

‘In seeking to follow Jesus, we are called not merely to obey his ethical ‘strenuous commands’ in the pursuit of holiness but also to imitate his deeds and his words, which call his hearers to merciful and loving acceptance of everyone, including and especially those whom some consider to be sinners, without preconditions.’

I am not sure who David is quoting here, but this seems a very strange way of reading the gospels to me. “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1.15) seems to have a fairly clear precondition. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8.11) includes a strenuous demand for a change of life. To keep company with Jesus does not simply mean to be accepted as we are, it means also being prepared for radical transformation. This is true whatever our views of our own sexuality.

Ordinary reading

David’s section on the Word in Community is a plea for us to take notice of ordinary readers of Scripture. Again, I think there is an important hermeneutical principle here, and I have learned much by simply asking others what they see in a text. Just as the Reformation took a stand against the mediation of truth through the priesthood, we too need to question power plays involved in the mediation of the truth of Scripture by authority figures. But we cannot  discern the truth by simply aggregating the views of readers. If that were so, Jesus would have said ‘Facebook will set you free.’

There has, in fact, been quite a lot of research done on both ordinary theology and ordinary hermeneutics, that is, the way that members of congregations in churches actually read and make sense of the Bible. Some of the conclusions are quite startling. Jeff Astley, in his Grove booklet P 110 Taking Ordinary Theology Seriously,  discovers that many ordinary Anglicans do not believe in the divinity of Christ, as expressed in the gospels and the creeds, neither do they believe that in any objective sense Jesus death has “saved” us. (Interestingly, this was more prevalent in “liberal” churches, much less the case in “evangelical” churches.) What is Astley’s response to this?

Should we not acknowledge this ‘multi-dimensional’ nature of Christian belief? And therefore the multi-dimensional nature of the person and work of Christ? This perspective would permit many christologies and soteriologies, and this may be a strength rather than a weakness in the church.

Faced by the evidence of the ordinary theology of other people, the reaction of many of us (not only clergy) is to strive to amend it. With a little more humility, and a lot more patient theological listening, might we not come to feel that—sometimes, at least—another’s theology can correct our own?

In other words, ‘orthodox’ understandings of who Jesus is and what he does are not shared by many in the pews, and they can be a barrier to admitting people into membership of the church. So the obvious thing to do is to abandon them—or at the very least be highly flexible.

We do need to listen to “ordinary theology”, but we also need to do something more.

Note to self: my neighbour’s story must be received as I would receive Christ. It is their personal ‘holy scripture’. 

As a plea for serious respect of those we encounter, David is making an important pastoral statement here. But as an expression of the interaction between scripture and experience, this is really quite extraordinary. It suggests that we need to take a radical reader response approach to Scripture; its only meaning is the meaning I construct from it. This position actually silences Scripture; it prevents us hearing the Word of God as something that comes to us from beyond ourselves and beyond our experience.

Mission and fruitfulness

I found the section on mission the oddest part of David’s whole argument, and the least coherent. Perhaps we should indeed consider using the ‘Gamaliel’ test on this whole issue:

‘For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God’ (Acts 5.38–39).

The slight difficulty here is that, both globally and nationally, this would suggest we should be ‘traditional’ on the question of same-sex relations. It is consistently the case that the churches advocating traditional morality are the ones who are seeing more growth or less decline than churches of other theological traditions. The church in Sweden has become almost invisible; in the US, the Episcopal Church is miniscule compared with more conservative denominations. You can see one or two pointers to this within the new research on church growth and the recent articles in the Church Times. But little attention is drawn to it; this is not even a politically correct thing to mention within the Church of England! And David’s own story supports this. It seems unlikely that he would have come to faith within the tradition that he now espouses. I am not here, in fact, advocating the Gamaliel test; but if we do advocate it, we need to follow through.

The scandal of the first Christian church before the watching world was that it was radically including in its expression of human relationships…

… though of course the one exception to this was on the question of sexual ethics…

…The irony is that today the scandal of the church in the Western world is reversed.  Resistance to…the acceptance of faithful same-sex relationships is experienced as an excluding sexual ethic. To many in our society it is offensive…

Indeed it is, and when we reflect that the period when the church was a scandal and offence to society was its period of greatest growth in all of history, we are left with a dilemma.

Trajectory

To my mind, the argument about “trajectory” is the most muddled. David cites his former colleague in Bristol, who went on to be Bishop of Bolton, David Gillett:

‘For me this process of interpretation has led to significant changes in belief and attitude, most clearly in five main areas –

Creation and Evolution
Divorce and remarriage
Other religions
Women in Leadership
Same-sex attraction and partnerships.

For me, as for many others, this process is so closely linked throughout that it is important to look at the last one as part of a continuous hermeneutical development.’

pi_16269But this assumes that the shape of the issue, and the nature of the debate, in each case is the same, or at least, has strong parallels. Even a cursory exploration of the questions shows that this is simply not the case. The question of science and faith is much more to do with understandings of philosophy and modernity than it has to do with changes in the way the Bible was read, as is explained clearly here. Dick France demonstrated long ago that the hermeneutical issues on women’s leadership are of a completely different configuration from the issues in relation to same-sex unions. On these other issues, Scripture speaks in a nuanced, ambivalent and multivocal way. On same-sex unions, when it does speak it is unequivocal and univocal. This is not to suggest that that settles the pastoral or missional question simpliciter, but it demonstrates that the parallels mentioned are more imagined than real.

I did have an online conversation about this with David Gillett. How, I asked, could it be a question of ‘trajectory’ when the direction of the Bible from OT to NT was more restrictive and not less. Ah, it is not about trajectory, but about the inclusion principle. And who do we look to as exemplars of this? Jesus and Paul—who both reinforced ‘traditional’ Jewish ethics in this area, Jesus in his condemnation of ‘immoralities’ (not just ‘adultery’) (Mark 7.21) and Paul in Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6.

On Being Wrong

David concludes:

These are very challenging times and complex issues. The wisdom we need for these days will be hard won.  But the transforming gift of the gospel is never found in the security of being right. It is actually revealed in the joy of being wrong.  In fact it is essential that we are wrong! Our narrow vision, our tribal agendas, our lesser securities, our limited understandings, must be constantly broken open by divine grace.

I entirely agree with David in this comment. And of course it means that he must be open to admit his own conviction is mistaken. Given that this is not about a simple ‘live and let live’, but actually, as we can see above, raises central issues of how we read the Bible, how we encounter God as ‘other’, the nature of discipleship and transformation, then I sincerely hope he is wrong. And the fact that the issues listed by Gillett did not raise the same questions in the same way further sets this issue apart.

Reading his piece did make me think of someone looking down the well of history, and at the bottom seeing, not the Jesus and gospel of the New Testament—but his own, bearded, postmodern face looking back. Lack of certainty is not the answer to this debate. Somehow or other, the Jesus of the gospels manages to combine absolute certainty and confidence in the message of the kingdom, with an unparalleled warmth and humility. It is this Jesus we need to focus on as we continue to debate, and this Jesus we need to emulate, in both his confidence and his humility.

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27 Responses to The Bible, Pilling and Changing One’s Mind

  1. Chris Bishop February 7, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    This is a terrific post! One of the best articulated arguments to the inclusive relativism pervading some areas of evangelicalism that I have read.

    Looking down the post-modern well indeed..

    • Rev Peter Kane April 4, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

      Ian, I was really pleased to come across this post. Having read the two appendices to the Pilling Report, I was rather concerned about the approach David Runcorn was taking in his contribution, in contrast to what I believe is a very sound and well-presented offering by Bishop Keith Sinclair. Many of the points you make are those which occurred to me when reading David’s article. In particular, I was intrigued by his raising of the slavery issue. When I spent a year at Wycliffe Hall, I undertook a lengthy piece of research on slavery in the Pauline writings, in which I argued that the nature of the Gospel is such that the early Christians were compelled to move in a direction which would eventually see the demise of slavery in Christian civilisation. By a careful exegesis of the relevant texts, I attempted to demonstrate that, contrary to what might be the case on the surface, the Pauline approach is rather more ‘radical’ than one might at first imagine. One of my underlying motives for exploring the issue of slavery in the NT is precisely because of what in my opinion is a rather ‘sloppy’ thinking which goes like this: ‘if the NT fails to condemn slavery and we now know this to be wrong, then why should we trust what the NT texts say about homosexual practice.’
      So thank you once again for an excellent critique of David’s article.
      Peter

      • Ian Paul April 7, 2014 at 10:41 am #

        Thanks Peter. Fascinating to hear of your study on slavery. And of course Tom Wright makes an extended argument along these lines at the beginning of his magnum opus on Paul.

        Did you see that Rachel Held Evans, the US blogger, is rehearsing the slavery parallel again?

  2. James Byron February 7, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    The attempt to separate different kinds of revisionism is fascinating, and begs the question of motive.

    The NT clearly prohibits women from holding authority, or from speaking in church: if anything, the trajectory from the Hebrew Bible is one of increased restriction. But for some reason, revision on the role of women (and slavery, and divorce) is *so* different from revision of homophobia.

    This has nothing to do with hermeneutics or exegesis. It’s social. Put bluntly, sexism, slaveholding, and condemnation of divorcees are still less socially acceptable than homophobia.

    This is fast changing thanks to increased visibility. As more Christians get to know gay people, and witness to the fact that gay relationships are just like straight relationships, opinions will shift. It happened with divorce already. As it became more common, as opposing it carried a cost, Christians stopped. Most people find it hard to condemn someone to their face, especially without reason beyond “because the Bible says so.”

    “What Paul really meant was …”

  3. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    James, I am interested in your ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ deployed to discern my motive, because that is an easy way to ignore the actual content of what I say. I find this happens quite often. Note that I have *not* done the same with those with whom I disagree, but actually engaged with their arguments.

    You could only say ‘The NT clearly prohibits women from holding authority’ if you have failed to read the texts, such as 1 Cor 7.4 ‘A woman exercises authority over her husband’s body’ or 1 Cor 11.10 ‘a woman should have authority over her head’ or 1 Cor 12.6 where all (men and women) receive and exercise spiritual gifts, or Acts 21.9 where women prophesy (see also Acts 2.17), or Rom 16.2 where Phoebe is a leader in the church and in fact has been a leader to many including Paul, and Rom 16.7 Junia has been an apostle of good standing, or Acts 18.26 where Priscilla corrects Apollos.

    Of course, there are texts which appear to say the opposite, but that is exactly the point. There are no such contradictory texts in relation to same-sex relations. So the two issues are quite distinct in terms of debate.

    My motivation is to read the texts aright, and seek that my life and the life of the church is shaped by them; it is not to try and score cheap points and dodge the argument by questioning someone’s motives.

  4. James Byron February 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    If the argument for women’s ministry rests on biblical contradictions, it undoes biblical inerrancy, which in turn does for Paul’s (unexplained) condemnation of homosexuality. We can simply say that Paul was wrong about gay people as he (or whoever forged his lines) was wrong about women.

    I can’t speak for your motive, and I take you at your word. Much about our motives (mine included) lies in our unconscious.

    The real issue isn’t what the Bible says, but the framework through which we view it, especially when that framework is a corporate one, imposed on everyone within a church. I’m perfectly willing to admit that you’re right about the canon’s uniform negativity to homosexuality. As I don’t share your views on revelation, I just say that Paul was wrong. If churches allow their members to agree to disagree in opinion and behavior, we could all move on from this.

  5. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    James, I don;’t really know your background, and I don’t want to be rude (honestly!) but comments like ‘If the argument for women’s ministry rests on biblical contradictions, it undoes biblical inerrancy’ are just absurdly simplistic.

    I am not sure whether this is your view, or whether this is what you attribute to others. But it is nonsense, and if this is the level of thinking about how we read scripture, it demonstrates exactly where the problem lies in this whole debate.

    I do think you are quite entitled to say ‘Paul was wrong’, and many revisionists do–I think this position has integrity, as I point out in this post: http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/the-bible-and-the-gay-debate/

    But this can never be the view of the C of E, since it is founded on the scriptures.

  6. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    Thanks Chris B for the comment. Do pass it on!!

  7. Mark Bratton February 8, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    But what was the convincing shift in exegetical debate that led Christian theology to reinterpret the clear biblical and patristic injunctions against usury? There was none. For complex reasons a shift in public consciousness and moral ecology occurred at the cusp of the 16th century in Europe and the biblical and theological tradition reinterpreted accordingly. What we need to explore are the structures of these shifts and the way they frame understanding. I believe that the move away from the traditional hetero-normative interpretation of human sexuality isn’t due to biblical illiteracy so much as a shift of comparable significance.

  8. Gill Kimber February 8, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    I have long thought that this whole debate is constantly dealing with the ‘wrong’ issues. It has seemed to me for a long time that the discussion is about holiness. Our problem is that the different ‘parties’ draw their holiness lines in the sand at different points. It is the spaces between these ‘lines’ that throws up all the discussion.

    I wholeheartedly endorse your final paragraph!

  9. Peter Waddell February 8, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Er…. Hold on: surely contradictory texts on the question of female leadership do undermine the doctrine of biblical inerrancy? Not perhaps biblical inspiration, and not even the traditional Anglican way of reading Scripture, but certainly inerrancy (at least as that term is normally deployed both casually and technically)? I’m not sure much hangs on the question, since you don’t have to be an inerrant-ist (to coin an ugly word) say – correctly – that the overall thrust of Scripture is hostile to same sex relations. But Ian, do you seriously want to defend ‘inerrancy’ and if so in what sense are you defining the term?

    (Heads-up: if you say ‘eye’ the next question is going to be about 1 Sam 15 – the text which above all makes it impossible for me to say the Bible is the Word of God in any but the most carefully qualified sense: the kind of sense which in most conversations renders it simply more straightforward and honest to say that actually, it isn’t).

    You are on good sound historical ground when you say the CoE is founded on the Scriptures, in that lots of people have said his and it is probably what the Articles say (don’t have them to hand right now). But theologically, fundamentally, it’s not true is it? What we are actually founded upon is relationship to Jesus Christ, which plays out as a life involving worship, prayer, scripture, service, theological reflection, conversation. As I said on another thread, the Church preceded the Scripture: it was Christians involved in the life I’ve described who wrote the Scriptures, so the life was obviously there first! And the life has a dynamic, developing impetus of its own which while it must never cease engaging with Scripture is not eternally bound either to the judgements of particular scriptural authors, or indeed to their common ‘take for granteds’ (such as gay sex is wrong, or that ‘religion’ outside Israel/ the Church is at best wild confusion and spiritual blindness, or the violent character of God … not just the OT, as the book of Revelation shows…).

    …and the crying four year old now summons me.

  10. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

    Gill, thanks. I think my comment about Jesus’ ability to both welcome all comers and yet maintain the strictest elements of the law in relation to sexual ethics are pertinent, aren’t they?

  11. Robert Gagnon February 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    Ian, thanks for this excellent piece. I am only a bit surprised that Fulcrum would publish such a theologically (and logically) unsound article as this one produced by David Runcorn. Fulcrum should at least be committed to reasonable and informed discussion. Statements like the following are manifestly absurd and reflect surprising ignorance of the witness of Jesus and the NT generally (as you nicely showed): “Christian ethics is not for reducing to right or wrong choices. It is about primarily about what story I wish to be part of. My choices will flow from that” and “[Jesus’] words … call his hearers to merciful and loving acceptance of everyone, including and especially those whom some consider to be sinners, without preconditions.”

    That NT ethics (to say nothing of OT ethics) does not affirm that there are right and wrong choices for a host of behaviors, and repeatedly so, or that Jesus does not put any “preconditions” on inclusion among his followers is ‘manifestly absurd’ because one need only crack open the NT at almost place to discover that these claims are false. One might as well argue that Jesus never pronounced judgment on anyone (nearly half of his sayings in the Synoptic Gospels contain judgment motifs) or that Paul didn’t warn his converts that a transformed life was a necessary (though non-meritorious) prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom of God (Paul did so, repeatedly, in nearly all his letters, to say nothing of author of Hebrews, John of Patmos in Revelation, the Johannine letters, James, and two epistles of “Peter”). For a collection of Jesus’ judgment sayings in the Synoptic Gospels, minus distinctive Matthean texts (where judgment sayings are 2-3 times more common) see pp. 7-12 of this online piece: http://www.robgagnon.net/Reviews/homoWinkRejoinder.pdf

  12. Peter Waddell February 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    If the 7.08 comment re. Jesus, inclusivity and sexual ethics was meant in response to mine re inerrancy …. Then, no, sorry, I don’t see the pertinence. Please expand….

  13. Chris Bishop February 8, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    Runcorn seems to basing his assertions on a ‘generous evangelical orthodoxy’ in which biblical truth is personally interpreted and leaves room for wide variation in moral praxis in which dispute is possible and can be lived with.

    Yet surely there has to be some biblical truth that is objective or everyone will do what is right in their own eyes. So my question to Runcorn would be: which interpretations of biblical doctrine are indisputable and which are not? And if not, then why not?
    Is everything up for personal interpretation?

    The revisionist argument for homosexuality rests largely on modern notions of equality and inclusiveness and appeals to wider themes of love and tolerance. It also tries to argue its case from a cultural perspective.

    Webb in his book Slaves, Women, & Homosexuals argues for a ‘Redemptive Hermeneutic’ in which he argues that in the Bible, ‘truth’ which is culturally conditioned is capable of modification as opposed to truth which is culturally invariant. In the case of women and slaves then he shows that Scripture moves to a progressive modification of their role. In the case of homosexuals then the trajectory is totally in the opposite direction. In fact it gets stricter and more prohibitive as we go from the Old Testamant to the New.

    The prominent Baptist Steve Chalke for whom I would imagine that Runcorn might find much in common, has made a similar argument for a progressive modification for homosexuals along the same lines as woman and slaves.

    The odd thing about Chalke assertions is that he uses Webb’s book to justify his case, selectively ignoring the fact that by the same token, Webb shows that you cannot apply the same argument to homosexual! This is just shallow and poor exegesis on Chalke’s part,

    Like Chalke, Runcorn is pastorally driven in his piece, giving it perhaps higher priority than any objective truth. Now there may be some argument for that, but as a piece of reasoned thinking from Scripture then it simply does not stand up.

  14. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    Peter, no it was to Gill! Now clarified…

  15. James Byron February 8, 2014 at 11:04 pm #

    As Peter Waddell so rightly says, the presence of biblical contradictions (and “contradictory texts” is Ian’s phrase, not mine) is incompatible with the doctrine of inerrancy.

    What I said may be simplistic, or it may not, that’s by the by: is it wrong? If it is, on what basis? How can an inerrant canon of scripture contradict itself?

    Isn’t that a category error?

  16. Ian Paul February 10, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    James, I am guessing you are writing from the States. Inerrancy is not so important here. I do subscribe to it. Interestingly, inerrantists don’t seem to think that ‘apparently’ contradictory texts undermine this, but since I am not an inerrantist I’m not all that bothered.

    The ‘apparently’ contradictory texts don’t undermine my understanding of Scripture as ‘God-breathed’ and authoritative for all matters of faith and Christian living…but anyway that is slightly off topic. If you are interested in the texts on women, I refer to you my extensive blog posts on that.

  17. James Byron February 11, 2014 at 12:05 am #

    Authority without inerrancy is even more of a tangle: how can a “revealed” source contain errors? How do we discern them? Why, by human judgment. (Alleged) objective truth discovered by subjective judgment is self-defeating.

    The texts on women are usually explained away by the “trajectory” hermeneutic you referenced in your blog post. As many NT texts are among the most restrictive in scripture, this fails even on its own, already confused, terms.

    We don’t actually hold different positions: we both pick and choose from the canon. I just state it plainly.

  18. Ian Paul February 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    ‘Authority without inerrancy is even more of a tangle:’ James, you really need to spend some time away from the States. This is the mainstream position amongst UK evangelicals.

    Nope, I am not picking and choosing, as you might know if you read my posts. I am very happy to engage in sensible discussion, but this reaches a dead end every time you simply assert something about my position which isn’t true but suits your argument.

  19. Ian Paul February 11, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    Peter, briefly (to avoid comment bloat):

    1. I am not an inerrantist
    2. I don’t think scripture presents us with no problems.
    3. But neither do I believe in the perfectly knowledgeable reader. Some things are always going to present us problems, and sometimes we won’t be able to solve them.
    4. Yes, of course we are founded on Jesus, but the Articles assert that scripture is the reliable testimony to Jesus (I had a long discussion on FB about this recently…). So all other traditions about jesus are necessarily subordinate to this reliable witness
    5. I think the idea that Scripture proceeds from the church, so must submit to the church is mistaken historically and theologically. The church did not create the Scriptures; from among the writings these were discerned as reliable testimony to the work of God, so added to the existing Scriptures.
    6. all these things are a long way from the question at hand: what do the Scriptures say about same-sex relations?
    7. My argument is that Scripture is universally and univocally opposed to same-sex unions in a way which is unparalleled in other ethics issues, e.g. divorce, slavery, the leadership of women. I think the vast majority of scholarship recognises this.
    8. That means that the C of E ‘blessing’ same-sex unions would involve it doing something radically different in relation to Scripture than it has (formally) done before.
    Phew!

  20. James Byron February 11, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Ian Paul, how does erroneous revelation work? How does a person interpret it without selectivity?

    I’m aware that there’s plenty evangelicals (inside and outside the USA) who don’t run with biblical inerrancy. Popularity doesn’t, in itself, make for a strong position.

  21. Ian Paul February 11, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    Er, to reject ‘inerrancy’ does not mean to think God’s revelation is erroneous. And there was me thinking it was evangelicals who were obsessed with false binary oppositions…

  22. Peter Waddell February 11, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    Hello again Ian – I shall take the hint re. bloated comment sections and not write all that I could, but simply serve notice on what I think is the most fundamental point – your point 5:

    ‘..the idea that Scripture proceeds from the church, so must submit to the church is mistaken historically and theologically. The church did not create the Scriptures; from among the writings these were discerned as reliable testimony to the work of God, so added to the existing Scriptures.’

    I accept that what you have stated here is the classic Anglican self-understanding, but I think it’s just wrong. Historically, the church DID create the scriptures – as a matter of mere chronology, there was a worshipping community long before there was a written testimony. That worshipping community then had a long debate about what books to receive, not settling it definitively for about 300 years. Or have I misunderstood what you mean by saying that my view is ‘historically’ mistaken?

    There is also no clear theological priority to Scripture, I think. Rather, scripture has always been read through the ‘lens’ of the ongoing worshipping, reflective, missionary life of the church (summed up in the shorthand word ‘tradition’). Scripture ‘submits’ (to use your word) to tradition as much as vice-versa. For example, it only became ‘obvious’ to the church that Arianism (for non-geeks, if anybody normal reads this far: the belief that the Son is not fully divine) was unacceptable because the worshipping life of the church made no sense on its basis. As an interpretation of Scripture, however, it was fair enough – just as fair as Nicene orthodoxy. It only failed because Scripture was never read in isolation, but its interpretation was controlled by (‘submitted to’?) the tradition.

    The relevance to the same-sex debate is that if you accept my view, it then becomes a question of whether the tradition (the worshipping, reflective, missionary life of the church) can cope with this new thing without its foundation (the Gospel, summed up in the Creed) being destroyed. I think it can, which gets us back to the main thread.

    No need to respond to this one – but our disagreement here is pretty much the heart of the issue.

  23. James Byron February 11, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

    Ian, inerrancy means “without error.” What exactly is your position: that the canon is without error; or that not all the canon is God’s revelation?

    If it’s the latter, how do we sift the revelation and the non-revelation?

    • Ian Paul April 7, 2014 at 10:37 am #

      I think I know what it means to describe a car maintenance manual as ‘without errors’. But what does it mean to describe a poem as ‘without errors’?

  24. David Booth June 4, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    Hi Ian, only just stumbled on this post. Thank you for your wonderful response to the Fulcrum article which draws on Burridge’s thesis. You also mention Robert Gagnon’s paper interacting with William Loader. As an Aussie in Perth, where Loader resides, I would be very interested in any critical reviews of Loader’s revisionist exegesis. Is it possible to get a copy of that paper from SBL?

    Cheers,
    David

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