I have been engaging with the Newfrontiers Church again on the issue of equality. See The Pink Pamphlet: Soul Survivor’s Position on Women in Leadership | Theology Matters | Newfrontiers UK.
I suspect that my approach to the issue is probably as frustrating to Newfrontiers people. I get repeated requests from them to jump straight into biblical exegesis. However, I feel that is unhelpful and for several reasons.
Firstly, there is the problem of the hermeneutic circle.
Simplistically that recognises that there is no independent starting point when we approach Scripture. We come to Scripture and have interpret it from where we are now and that influences how we understand Scripture – if you like we are not and cannot be bias free. However, we would hope and expect that engaging with Scripture will change us and our views somewhat so that next time we come to Scripture we do so from a slightly different viewpoint.
This process has no end (hence Hermeneutic Circle).
When Newfrontiers and I approach the Bible on a issue such as equality we do so from very different positions and with very different experiences. These change the way we then understand what we read just as all that we have read of Scripture in the past has already changed who we are as we approach this time.
In a situation where we know our views differ so greatly and where neither Newfrontiers nor I can come to Scripture bias free it seems to me that it is best to spend some effort exploring the issues before approaching Scripture so that when we do so we can have a little more understanding of these biases and where we are each coming from.
Secondly, (and of course this is related to the first) I am deeply unhappy with approaching Scripture looking for verses and interpretations of verses to support a particular point. At it's worst these becomes a proof text battle where each side hits the other over the head with individual "clobber" verses and in the process the Bible is reduced to a club rather than the word of God. I find this irreverent and ineffective. Sadly, it is very hard to avoid this in discussions such as this where Andrew Wilson has already responded using a verse based approach to a paper written elsewhere.
Thirdly, I much prefer a wider view and approach to Scripture. As I read Scripture I want to be explicitly reflecting on how this relates to my whole model (understanding) of God. Too often you can work at the detail level and then when you look up suddenly realise that what you have ended up with is in conflict with your understanding of who God is and how God works. Sadly, very often people do not evaluate their conclusions in this way and sometimes this leads them to make some very odd claims.
Related to this is my great concern about taking verses from Scripture out of context. The phrase "a text without a context is a pretext" is rightly a popular one. Yet the danger is that if you that start with individual verses the context becomes a bolt on and molds to your purposes. At that point the pretext is shaping the context.
Fourthly, I am unashamedly a follower of Jesus. That aligns me with what some describe as a "red letter Christian". In other words when I am reflecting on Scripture I give more weight, more priority to the words of Jesus than anything else. It does not mean I restrict the Bible to only the words of Jesus but it does mean that everything is tested against the teaching, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I again find this puts me into conflict with the Newfrontiers approach which tends to put more focus on the writing of Paul.
So what is my approach?
The most important individual tool for me in using the Bible is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. That means I explore an issue using 4 sources which in priority order are
So the highest authority is given to Scripture but my understanding is explored by relating it to all the others. A key element of this approach that was assumed in the past but with our society needs to be handled explicitly is that this process is not individualistic but done as and in community. My understanding needs to be mediated by the Christian Community that I am a part of (and the more that is connected into wider Christian Communities the better).
In a way the Wesleyan Quadrilateral fits well with my understanding of the Hermeneutic Circle. Using the elements of tradition, reason and experience allows me to explore in a deliberate way what affects the way I approach Scripture. Far better to be be aware of these than ignore them.
However, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is not the only approach I take to Scripture. It can easily be too intellectual and so it is important to me to balance this with other ways of approaching Scripture such as through worship or meditation.
Hopefully this first post sets the scene for why I appear to Newfrontiers to be slow to use Scripture when I want to challenge a their views on gender and equality.