Not an end to silence but a rant

I have been more silent than every before here on 42. There are simply not enough hours in the day and other things are taking priority. It is not something I expect to change in the near future.

However, I wanted to link to a discussion over Evangelicalism, Gender and Sexuality. I have written extensive comments on a The Simpler Pastor: Book Review: Losing My Religion?

I urge you to read the original post and comments, but I have decided to reproduce my comments here as the layout of nested comments makes them hard to read in the original (plus by including them here they are more subject to the authority of my community):

My first comment:


"Absolutely but where did the unthinking or uncritical come from? You only have to read some of the evangelical scholarship around today to realise that those charges just can’t stick."


Having argued with some of the "evangelical" community on gender and sexuality issues for a number of years I think you are missing the point here.

a) The number of Evangelicals willing to engage in critical thinking on these issues is close to vanishingly small.

b) The number of Evangelicals willing to trot out proof texts, anger and aggression on this issues is huge.

c) I know many women who have articulated the response they have got from trying to engage with many Evangelicals on issues of power and gender. Evangelicals do not come out of this well at all.

d) Your response to Lynch "Having stripped Scripture of authority" is a common refrain. One I have frequently heard from people who live by proof texts and refuse to engage in any real way with the complexities of Holy Scripture. It is frequently used as a way of dismissing people and is typical of the lack of Evangelicals willing and able to do a) above coupled with the aggressive uses of Alpha male stereotypes of right & wrong and the use of power.

e) I find the way you glibly reject the argument of the Hermeneutic Circle a concern. I have seen many Evangelical men show a lamentable lack of (and often even a disdain for) self-awareness. Rejecting the influence of our own experiences on how we interpret Scripture is a visible indication that the writer is not self-aware nor able to reflect on the dynamics of the relationship with Scripture and with other people.

Without having read the book yet I would say that sadly my experience supports the notion that Lynch has hit a number of nails squarely on the head.

My second comment in reply to this:


"However, in your response you seem to imply that I'm guilty of all your complaints? Perhaps, for the benefit of those like me unable or unwilling to engage with critical thinking you could be clear?"

Sorry, I thought I was clear by using the quote at the top that I am referring to "evangelical scholarship" in general and "Evangelicals" as a group, not you specifically.

Personally, I use the Wesleyan quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience) in that order and done as a community. So Scripture should always be the top authority. Yet because I do not accept the modern way of adding to the definition the idea of inerrancy I am told I do not accept the authority of Scripture.

I do not believe that anyone can come to scripture except through the lenses of their Tradition, Reason, Experience and community. We cannot pretend to be entirely objective yet this is so often what the hard edged (for want of a better term) Evangelicals do.

AKM Adam addresses this issue very well in "Faithful Interpretation: Reading the Bible in a Postmodern World" where he talks about the Christian Community as the place that validates whether a reading of Scripture is orthodox or not. I like this quote from the back cover:

For as Adam rightly reminds us, for that community called church, the practice of reading the Bible is not primarily about 'getting it right,' but about being transformed into a more faithful embodiment of the gospel.

As for the critical thinking, just one example: Please point me to somewhere where a "hard edged" Evangelical wrestles properly with the texts from Leviticus on homosexuality and while doing so critically looks at the whole of Leviticus and addresses the logic behind the inconsistent application of that book today.

Trotting out proof texts, anger and aggression while sadly a fault of evangelicals is not their fault alone, nor is the lack of critical thinking a purely evangelical fault.


Agreed. But it seems to me that the impact of these faults is far more dramatic in the hard edged evangelical community. We see that in appalling articles about wives needing to endure abuse for a season, in hateful treatment of people whose sexuality is rejected, in the way critics (especially women and homosexuals) are ignored or attacked. We see it in the eagerness to describe people as heretics, blasphemers and consign them to hell.

For me there is a two pronged attack on my self-identification as an Evangelical. 

First, there are the continual attacks by those who are seeking to redefine the understanding of Evangelical in a far narrower and stricter sense (on issues such as inerrancy, only Penal Substitution as a model of Atonement, male headship).

Secondly, there is the desire to not be associated with the hateful comments and actions towards others (particularly women and homosexuals).

I am constantly torn between 

a) wanting to continue to stand for the historical understanding of Evangelical eg from Bebbington (biblicism; crucicentrism; conversionism; activism) and present this as an alternative to the hard edged Evangelicalism that is so loudly proclaimed.

b) recognising that Evangelical is not understood  in the same way today and that I am being aligned with people who do not accept or respect me and who have no interest in working with me.

I know many faithful Evangelicals in the old understanding who have been driven away from identifying themselves as Evangelical and I find it very sad but completely understandable.

Sorry to be so wordy.

I then have 4 comments replying to this:

My third comment:

That is a lot for a narrow reply column :-)

Anyway, I'll jump around your questions a bit to an order that feels logical to me:

So coming back to say, homosexuality in the church, the burden of proof is to show how this understanding is a better one, a more faithful one to scripture, and if remaining within say the evangelical tradition, how this is the more 'evangelical' view.

I think this highlights a significant difference of approach. I don't expect all evangelicals to move to my viewpoint. I do expect there to be a willingness to not exclude people because their understanding is a little different to my own. I do expect holders of different views to show respect for each others. I do expect all views to aim for Christ like treatment of those they consider sinners (that would include eating with them and while challenging them also not condemning them).

So I do not claim a "more evangelical" view but another evangelical view.

Sadly the harder Evangelicals are unwilling to consider this. Remember the statement of the so called "Together for the Gospel" on gender which accused those who do not interpret scripture in the same way as them as "damaging the gospel".

Sadly dialogue is difficult when one group start by rejecting others so harshly.

[more to come]


My fourth comment:


 the current key debate validity of non-celibate gay relationships as examples

This is not the current key debate for me with Evangelicals. You are right I do support the rights of gays. However, the key debate with many Evangelicals for me has to be the 50% of the population they exclude on the basis of gender rather than the 10% of gays that they exclude on the basis of sexuality (especially as 1/2 the gays are already excluded  because of their gender).

The exclusion by gender involves a many stepped process of failing to allow scripture to speak. Typically those excluding women from equality mistreat scripture in the following ways:

- ignores the 1st creation story in Genesis 1 where both women and men are created in the image of God

- ignores the Hebrew neuter gender of Adam in the early parts of the 2nd creation story (the human is created and later God takes part of the human and we then have Adam and Eve (male and female).

- claims that Eve is inferior as she is simply a helpmate ignoring that the word is use of God as well so can hardly be a subordinate role.

- ignores the women in positions of leadership in Scripture. Deborah & Priscilla being a classic examples

- create manipulative arguments to avoid the plain meaning of Scripture eg to claim Junia in Romans 16 is either not a woman or not outstanding among the apostles

- create bogus translation theories (eg representative generics by Wayne Grudem) to falsely challenge gender accurate translations

- ignore the evidence from translation experts who give good examples of words such as adelphos, pater, aner and ish all not being limited to men only (or even only limited to men and women as there are also examples referring to women only)

- manipulate a single verse 1 Tim 2:12 that has no other support in Scripture to ban all women from leadership

I agree that women as equals is a change from the tradition as it has been for many centuries (although there is strong evidence that women were treated as equals in the very early days of the church in a very counter cultural way).

However, the evidence in scripture for this change is very significant and it does not rely on re-interpreting it in the light of our experience (although the experience of Churches who have accepted women as equals and opened every role to them does suggest very strongly that the Holy Spirit welcomes the inclusion of women and showers them with gifts). It does rely on looking at our traditions based on a critical examination of the actual scriptural evidence which requires us to admit our traditions have got things wrong in this area, just as we got things wrong about slavery in the past.

Scripture is being abused to protect power for men and those doing the abuse are always the first to accuse others of not taking scripture seriously.

Many who refuse to accept the authority of Scripture over tradition and their experience in this area are trying to claim people like me, who are trying to submit to scripture, reject it's authority and damage the gospel.


My fith comment:


Also how would you define your Christian community who challenges or validates our reading of Scripture? Is is simply the local church, our wider denomination, our theological heritage, the history of the broader church over the last 2000 years?

I guess the key thing is accountability. 

For example I blog in my own name. My blog is read by members of the Churches I serve and by my Superintendent minister and beyond them I am formally accountable to the Methodist Church for what I write. I am an elected member of the Methodist Council and so that also places a level of accountability for my representation of the Church. That means I accept the Methodist Code of Conduct relating to the use of Social Media.

It means that I read enough to know when I am being orthodox (and when my critics are not), it means that I read varying viewpoints and try to fairly evaluate the special skills, qualifications, experience and biases of others.

It means that I don't consider only the views of my own Church or my own culture,

It means I am wary of redefining Christianity in ways that exclude saints of previous generations.


My sixth comment:


current key debate validity of non-celibate gay relationships as examples, if I recall right you are supportive that the church affirm their validity. 

I have studied the key "clobber" texts closely. My understanding is that this is highly complex and the standard hard Evangelical position does not properly address  the complexity and is far too simplistic.

Key problems are:

a) The way verses about Homosexuality are lifted from a holiness code that we otherwise ignore and without recognising this hypocrisy. 

b) The inability to recognise that there is a huge gulf between the modern understanding of a loving, long term, partnership between two equals of the same gender and the original text (the use of homosexual in some translations is a key hindrance as it is very unlikely that the writers meant what we understand by the word and realistically we do not always know what they did mean).

c) The unwillingness to deal properly with what it means to be created in the image of God and be created gay. We continually lose sight of the individual person, created by God, loved by God & for whom Christ died

d) The way the issue of intersex is totally ignored in favour of a simplistic binary state (male or female) rather than the spectrum that is reality. 

e) The focus on one "sin" as being so much more important than all others. Where is the focus on greed? Or for that matter on adultery? Or on the failure to love our enemies? Or the lack of justice for the poor? Jesus actually spoke on these issues yet this one is made more important.

f) The way the total silence on the issue in the gospels is ignored. How can be something that is not touched on at all by Jesus (unless you take J John's interpretation of the healing of the Centurions servant) be so critical?

g) The way that media lies and hype are misused, the lies about gay men and paedophilia is a good example.

h) The way the hurt caused to individuals is ignored. How can ignoring the impact of  what we teach on individuals not be subject to the 2nd greatest commandment?

i) The lack of willingness to consider the practical implications of what we teach. How much has the lack of support for stable, loving, long term, committed single sex relationships by the Church ended up driving people into a culture of casual sexual relationships. Without offering recognition of same sex relationships I cannot challenge gay people to lives of celibacy outside marriage & fidelity within as I do to heterosexual people.

j) The lack of willingness to recognise the fruits of the spirit in gay people and their calling by God. Experience shows that God accepts, loves, equips and calls gay people to all kinds of roles as disciples. I totally agree with Lynch if he says this should challenge us to look again at Scripture to see if we have interpreted it correctly. That is precisely what the Wesleyan Quadrilateral requires.

I still wrestle with the texts, they are difficult and they are absolutely not as clear as many pretend. But a one tine minister of mine liked to remind me that it is better to be loving than to be right.

k) Every time we have interpreted the Bible to say some people are not equal and do not have equal rights time has proved us wrong (slavery, apartheid, gender). To make such a huge deal of segregation in an issue with so little Biblical witness is a very brave position to take.

Just a few of my thoughts.


3 thoughts on “Not an end to silence but a rant

  1. Chris H

    I haven’t read the original link but there is plenty in your comments to make me think. I come from an evangelical background although I don’t necessarily go along with all things evangelical. It’s good to have such points and reasoning highlighted.

  2. Peter Kirk

    Dave, I don’t think you are being fair to the considerable number of evangelicals, like myself, who have engaged in critical thinking on these issues, concerning what the Bible teaches and how this should be applied in the modern world. Many of us, but not all, have come to the conclusion that there should be no barrier to women in leadership in the church and the home. Some, but not so many, have concluded that there is nothing wrong with homosexual practice within a committed relationship. We are not all sexist homophobic fundamentalists as you seem to suggest.
    (My comment copied from The Simple Pastor)

  3. Dave

    I have tried to be clear that I addressing the “hard Evangelical position”, in other words the Evangelicals who take a hard line on issues such as gender and sexuality and who eagerly condemn those who disagree with them.
    The so called “Together for the Gospel” statement is a good example where you and IU are condemned as damaging the gospel for our views on gender.
    It seems to me that these “hard” evangelicals are the ones who drive Gordon Lynch and many others out of Evangelicalism.
    The “hard” evangelicals are aggressive in proclaiming that their views are the only acceptable ones. We both know that you are not in that group and that you also speak out about them.


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