My last video provoked this response on Facebook. My reply is too long for Facebook so is posted here.
First the original criticism:
“‘For 2000 years the church has rejected those who want Christianity to the social establishment.’ That is an astonishing statement. I should be interested to see how it could be defended against the church’s historical record. He quotes Wilberforce as an example of the church standing against the social establishment, and at the same time points out that Wilberforce was standing against the ecclesiastical establishment too. You can’t have it both ways. I doubt anyone with a high regard for scripture would allow the simple equation of ‘the ecclesiastical establishment’ with ‘the church’ but there is surely a problem of circular argument here. Disagreeing with fellow believers’ interpretation of Scripture, even with the interpretations of believers and thinkers of the stature of Pannenberg, is not the same as rejecting the authority of scripture. Refusing to see the stark divide between the Christian and the Secular which contemporary conservatives constantly hark on about is not rejecting the authority of scripture. Many progressives take the stance they do because they believe that on particular issues their position is more biblical, not less biblical, than the traditional conservative view. Let’s at least try to be clear on the different polarities involved here: one of those polarities is between ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’. Neither side makes its case well by wholesale identification of the other with the worst of those who take or can be given the other’s label.”
My response is:
The good news is that I still have the ability to do something ‘astonishing’, Although what I said was that for 2000 years the church had rejected those who want Christianity to accommodate to the social establishment. It’s also good to know that I’m not the only one afflicted by the dreaded typo.
The bad news is that the commenter seems unable to grasp the Kuyperian distinction between the institutional church and the organic church; the ecclesiastical structures and the living stones. That there is often conflict between the institutional church and the organic church is not circular reasoning it is a simple fact of historical record.
Ecclesiastical history stretching over 2000 years teaches us that the institutional church being made up of fallen human beings, no matter how well intentioned, becomes a power bloc and all too frequently takes the colouring of the other established power blocs surrounding it. Just as Christians have the task of influencing the surrounding culture so we have been warned about the temptation and danger of accepting the surrounding culture.
As for the interpretation of Scripture it is undeniable that some leading self described ‘progressive’ Christians take the position that the revelation they see in fallen nature is superior to that in Scripture.
This is done not only by the usual suspects such as bishops Richard Holloway and John Spong, but they are representative of a strand of progressive thought. Holloway, one time episcopal bishop of Edinburgh and leader of the Scottish episcopalians and progressive icon, said on the subject of homosexuality that the Bible condemned homosexual behaviour and that the Bible was wrong. Bishop Spong in the USA likewise declares the Bible was ‘quite simply wrong’.
This is at least straightforward in contrast to those who indulge in the most convoluted exegetical gymnastics in an attempt to make the Bible say what the Bible doesn’t say. Just as early explorers searched vainly for the North West Passage so some search for biblical approval of homosexuality. Certainly some progressives like John Boswell of Yale attempt to argue on exegetical grounds that the Bible does not condemn homosexual practices and even approves of them. In Boswell’s case he argued not just that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship but also Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and Ashpenaz. When this strand of thought doesn’t rely on claiming we have ‘mistranslated’ the Bible it usually descends into special pleading regarding the biblical text, as we find in Karen Lebaqz who argues that what is condemned is temple prostitution.
A third alternative is that of noted New Testament scholar Walter Wink, some of whose work I value, and who cannot be considered amongst ‘the worst’ of progressives. Wink acknowledged regarding the references to homosexuality in Paul’s writings that: ‘all of which unequivocally condemn homosexual behaviour’, and ‘Whatever the rationale for their formulation, however, the texts leave no room for manoeuvring’. One would be justified in saying this is pretty much in agreement with Pannenberg’s ‘unequivocal witness of Scripture’.
Wink, however, decides to reject the ‘unequivocal’ biblical prohibition on homosexual activity and declares, after discussing biblical views on the contended area of sexual morality that, ‘The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic.’ This ‘No problem here’ response, like the previous two alternatives, would seem to many people to be a rejection of the authority of Scripture in an area of primary importance to human beings
Whatever their methodology there is no doubting the sincerity of many progressives in their determination to normalise homosexual practice. But being sincere is not the same as being right.
The biblical statements about homosexuality cannot be relativised as the expressions of a cultural situation that today is simply outdated. As I argued in the original post the biblical witnesses from the outset, like their descendants throughout history, deliberately opposed the assumptions of their cultural environment in the name of faith in the God of Israel.