Posted on: February 29th, 2008 Boy Scouts, not the Church, needed to Fight Cultural Nihilism?

In recommending Texas Governor Rick Perry’s new book in defense of the Boy Scouts, Newt Gingrich writes that Perry “makes the case for why Scouting is more important than ever in combating the nihilistic forces of our culture and shaping young lives into service-oriented leaders.”

Scouting as the response to nihilism, however, is not compelling. Scouting has no body politic, it has no economic discipline of sharing, and most importantly it has no narrative of death (and resurrection).

One reason I love Radical Orthodoxy is that it is willing to meet nihilism on its own turf. It admits that, apart from Christianity’s original ontology of harmonious peace (rooted in the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), there is no way to keep people from imposing a violent hegemony over others in our pluralistic culture.

Does Boy Scouts presuppose and affirm this understanding of creation, of the true nature of God’s world? I don’t think so.

When it comes to countering our culture’s forces of nihilism, Boy Scouts is scotch tape at best, and nostalgic, ghetto-izing power politics at worst.

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Posted on: February 28th, 2008 George Herbert, John Cotton, & the Public, Visible Character of the Church

For one of my classes at ETSS, I am reading John Wall’s edition of The Classics of Western Spirituality volume devoted to 17th Century “country parson” and mystical poet George Hebert.

One of the most noteworthy marks of Herbert’s spirituality, and indeed his ministry as a parish priest in Bemerton, is its public nature. As A.M. Allchin points out in his introduction to the volume, “The Country Parson is a man of the Church, the public and visible sign of God’s presence in the world.” (6)

Allchin and other Herbert scholars apply this principle to the way Herbert conceived of and practiced the discipline of daily devotion. For Herbert, the backbone and center of daily discipline is the use of the Daily Office from the Anglican prayer book. This, though, is not merely private, since it often takes place within a small gathered community (perhaps a family or a couple of friends) and also since the Daily Office is woven together in all kinds of ways with the other public services of the church’s gathered worship, including Holy Eucharist.

Allchin rightly points out that the public character of Herbert’s conception of daily devotion (which he faithfully modeled to his parish community in Bemerton) stands in stark contrast to the prevailing religious ethos which was beginning to dominate 17th century Stuart England.

Puritan Calvinists, stressing the importance of divine election as the true test of Church membership, encouraged individuals to evaluate their lives for signs of divine favor. The fragmenting results of such an emphasis are visible throughout England in the seventeenth century. For instance, John Cotton, the Puritan rector of Saint Botolph’s Church in Boston, England, for twenty years before he emigrated to America to become the minister at the First Church of Boston, Massachusetts, overtly rejected the claims of the visible congregation to be the true Church; instead, he stressed the authenticity of the invisible company of the elect and formed a separate “church” within his parish, made up of those who could meet his standards for inclusion.” (8)

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Posted on: February 24th, 2008 Thoughts on Preaching (Jn 4: Woman at the Well)

John 4 is probably my favorite story in the whole Bible. Truly, this story is (as the church fathers described the Gospel of John) a puddle that a small child can wade in, and at the same time an ocean that an elephant can swim — or drown! — in.

John 4, the story of the woman at the well, is the Gospel lesson for this morning, the third Sunday in Lent, based on the Revised Common Lectionary. (You can listen to my sermons, and those of our pastor John Ratliff, here.)

Here is my little sermon outline so far, though I do hope to preach this “narrativally,” and not so much like a bullet-point lecture.

Opening Question: “Why is this woman alone?” First, because she is excluded from her community in every possible sense (racially, gender-wise, socially, morally, theologically). Second, nobody wants to be with her (why would they, given all of that?) and she does not want to be with anyone (she feels the shame of exclusion). This is why, at “the sixth hour,” when the sun is directly overhead and there are no shadows, she is alone at the well performing a task which in that day was never done alone (drawing water).

Note: what might be viewed as evil in her life God was using for good. Just like Mary Magdelen, who was so mentally tormented and tortured that Mk 16:9 says that she had “seven demons” cast out of her. Only til you lose everything can you really find Jesus. Only then can he find you. You will never find the one thing til you lose everything.

Then I am going to look at three images which are intensely prominent in John’s Gospel, which are huge in this story as well.

I. water: we see a movement from subsistence to life-giving abundance, from well (v6) to spring (v15).

II. spirit (which is both Hebrew and Greek is the same word as “wind” and / or “breath.” (All correct pneumatology begins with this observation.) In John water is never alone: it is always coupled with spirit. If you read about water in John, look around, and you will find “spirit” nearby. This means the Holy Spirit, and in a real sense this life-giving water is precisely the Holy Spirit which Jesus gives to the church on the day of Pentecost (John’s version of Pentecost is 20:19-23 when be breathes of the disciples and says, “Receive the HS.”). Also, spirit, like water, is a fluid, and there is something about fluids which, gives them, as opposed to solids (think of a rock) a certain “sovereignty.” They flow, and seemingly of their own accord. “The wind blows where it will,” Jn 3:8. Like a branch flowing in a river, the initiative is with the fluid, not with the branch. The water initiates and does the carries. The branch in a sense is acted upon. So we see a movement here from static to fluid or dynamic.

III. Life. From tenuous to transformative. Wells can get clogged up but springs cannot be held down. They will overcome any amount of gunk you throw at them. Jesus moves this woman from a state of being interested only in physical water (like the people in chapter 6 who are interested only in filling their bellies — 6:26) to becoming a holistic sharer for others. There is a movement from physical to holistic and from self-seeking to others-sharing. At first, she just wants to avoid dying of dehydration, but by the time Jesus is finished with he she rushes back to the community to share her new-found wealth, her new found well spring of life (which is Christ). Note: she did not have to be coaxed, prodded, or externally motivated to do this (did she stop by the bookstore on the way back to her villiage to pick up a copy of Evangelism Explosion or “The Four Spiritual Laws?” No: instead she told her story. Those things would have only stifled that!

“Eternal life” (v14) is not unending life lived in the eternal state. No: it is the indestructible, uncloggable life of a spring. But not just that, it is “eonic life.” Life of the God’s new eon. It brings about a new world.

This is the point of the “sowing and reaping” part of this story. Look at what this eonic life does: it brings about the transformation of the world. We see it beginning to happen in this woman’s life and in the life of her village.

C losing Question: “How did this happen?” Where did she get that boldness? Answer: verse 16. See, why did Jesus, out of the blue, say: “Go get your husband.” Is he changing the subject? No: he saw that she was alone and immediately had the suspicion (as any case-wise counselor or pastor in that day would have) that her social isolation was the result of something having to do with … men.

How does this happen? Through liberation. She was in bondage. She was drinking from some other well, which had become her false hope, her addiction, and Jesus set her free.

He said to her, “Woman, go get your husband.”

He says to you, “Christian, go get your ….” Your what? “Christian, go get your bank account. Go get your social life where you’re in the inner circle . Go get your children. Go get your stainless reputaton.”

Go get them and do two things with them. Compare them to me (the quality of life they give you), and see that they don’t stack up to real abundant life. And then, lay them at my feet. I will raise them back up. I will give them back to you, but now in a way that is healthy, now in a way that facilitates your new divine, abundant life with me.

Jesus puts his finger right on the issue, right on the pulse of her heart, and what does she do? She repents. How do we know this? B/c look at what she does! She runs back to her villiage. What? They very people who excluded her? The very people who did not want to be with her … and with whom she did not want to be. (You see, repentance is social and public.)

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Posted on: February 20th, 2008 Bp. Tom Wright blogs about “Sharia row”

The Bishop of Durham has commented on this riveting controversy, which I began to blog about herehere.

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Posted on: February 19th, 2008 The Episcopal Church & Discipline

Phil Turner in this article, which was also an article in First Things, rightly states:

The Episcopal sermon, at its most fulsome, begins with a statement to the effect that the incarnation is to be understood as merely a manifestation of divine love. From this starting point, several conclusions are drawn. The first is that God is love pure and simple. Thus, one is to see in Christ’s death no judgment upon the human condition. Rather, one is to see an affirmation of creation and the persons we are. The life and death of Jesus reveal the fact that God accepts and affirms us.”

Question: is it possible to fully affirm the historic church’s understanding of the trinity and the incarnation, and to love and embrace the eucharist and baptism, and still to think this way? If so, then what else is needed, in addition to these things, in order for the church to be healthy? My answer (and apparently Dr. Turner agrees, based on his article): church discipline, which rightly understood is included in the very nature of the sacraments of baptism and holy eucharist.

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Posted on: February 19th, 2008 God’s Acceptance or God’s Redemption? Phil Turner on the Episcopal Church

Phil Turner, here, argues that the current malaise of the Episcopal Church is not simply about morality, but rather about theology, the “working theology” of a church which is not so much found in the church’s official documents, books, and creeds as much as, for example, from the Sunday pulpit, week in and week out. Turner writes:

For those who view the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops and its General Convention from the out­side, many of their recent actions may seem to repre­sent a denial of something fundamental to the Chris­tian Way of life. But for many inside the Episcopal Church, the equation of the Gospel and social justice constitutes a primary expression of Christian truth. This isn’t an ethical divide about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It’s a theological chasm – one that separates those who hold a theology of divine acceptance from those who hold a theology of divine redemption.”

Acceptance versus redemption. What a wonderful way to put it. Anyone who has been in a real relationship knows that true friendship, true love, involves much more than mere acceptance. It involves things like confrontation and admonition. It involves honest pleas for change in behavior and attitude. Such is the love of God for us. Which is why God’s relationship with his church and his world is best thought of as redemption, not mere acceptance.

And what is most encouraging to me is that two of the men who have taught me this more than anyone else are currently serving as global leaders of the worldwide Anglican communion. Their names are Tom Wright and Rowan Williams, and both would heartily agree with Phil Turner’s diagnosis of the Episcopal Church’s current malady.

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Posted on: February 15th, 2008 CS Lewis on Richard Hooker

Thanks to Jeff Myers for pointing out this quotation:

Hooker had never heard of a religion called Anglicanism. He would
never have dreamed of trying to ‘convert’ any foreigner to the Church
of England. It was to him obvious that a German or Italian would not
belong to the Church of England, just as an Ephesian or Galatian would not have belonged to the Church of Corinth. Hooker is never seeking for ‘the true Church’, never crying, like Donne, ‘Show me deare Christ, thy spouse.’ For him no such problem existed. If by ‘the
church’ you mean the mystical church (which is partly in Heaven) then, of course, no man can identify her. But if you mean the visible
Church, then we all know her. She is ‘a sensibly known company’ of
all those throughout the world who profess one Lord, one Faith, one
Baptism (III.i.3)” (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, 454).”

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Posted on: February 14th, 2008 Hooker’s Defence of Anglican Ecclesiastical Order

How does Hooker defend church order against those who would say, for example, that the church ought not to have bishops since they are not explicitly taught in Scripture? By arguing that the social order of the church is oriented toward “the chief end of man:” society with and in God.

Hooker’s understanding of this social order is rooted in the following:

1. Thomistic teleology: the law of reason dictates that a creature incline to something “which they may be” or to their highest good. The highest good for man is society with God.
2. Reformed emphasis on the the radical “Creator / creature distinction:” the finite cannot contain the infinite. It follows from this that the flesh Christ took on or inhabited must remain fully human.
3. Putting these two together, Hooker argues that the hypostatic union, properly understood as resisting either the Nestorian or the Eutychian (read: “Lutheran,” with its articulation of the man Jesus’ omnipresence, a la Martin Chemnitz) tendencies, achieves our (humanity’s) membership in the divine society.
4. This leads to a special importance for the body of Christ, especially since it is Christ’s flesh which is the locus of his solidarity with us. Hence Scripture’s emphasis on this which is then massively developed in the history of the church (primarily in her understanding and practice of the Eucharist). It is not the case that we simply become Christ, but one may rightly speak of our “bodily consubstantiation” with his, or, better: his with ours.

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Posted on: February 14th, 2008 Richard Hooker

I am really thankful for this opportunity to delve into Hooker at ETSS. I am starting to see his relevance for many of the things I grappling with (Federal Vision / New Perspective type issues; the social nature of the faith; the right use of Scripture; the Greek speaking church fathers; etc.). A part of me is thinking, “Why focus on so much on ancient Greek speaking Easterners when we have (English speaking) Hooker?” That’s not to say that we should not read the Greek fathers, but maybe we should, to a great extent, let Hooker interpret them for us.

His Laws is mainly an argument against the “Puritans” (in this case, names like Travers and Cartwright) who said “Scripture alone is the rule of all things which in this life may be done by men.” In the Laws he is defending a certain ecclesial — and actually cosmic — liturgical order of things, including organizational features of the church not explicitly or directly authorized in Scripture (ie, we are talking about, among other things, bishops).

He has many key themes and distinctions, but none is more important than his emphasis on society. For Hooker, the chief end of man is to enjoy — with and in the Triune God and other people — the society of God.

He presupposes a traditional view of the atonement which includes the idea (listen for overtones of NT Wright here) that Christ offered himself for the forgiveness of sins. (Let me just say that, when it comes to the atonement, that is good enough for me right there. And I have felt this way for about a decade, ever since I read something along these lines by CS Lewis about how no “one theory” about how the atonement works ought to be absolutized, and I distinctly remember disagreeing with RC Sproul on this.)

It does seem to me that Hooker, with his upfront emphasis on society (divine and human, of course), implies something that NT Wright implies: soteriology is really ecclesiology.

Atonement is not where the action is for Hooker, relying as he does on the Fathers. The action is in the divine society and our participation in it.

I want to write so much more, but Ellie Bay is starting to cry.

Suffice to say that Hooker is opposing the Puritans, who want simply to “go back to Scripture” by relying more on the Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy, which, in turn, rely upon Scripture. (So Hooker is explicitly relying on both tradition and scripture.) It is a different sort of argument.

One last point: it seems to me that Hooker is a really good blend of Calvinist / Reformed thought (Creator / creature distinction: “the finite cannot contain the infinite”) and Thomism (teleology: obeying the teleological law of our nature is a necessary condition for true society).

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Posted on: February 10th, 2008 Welcome, Ellie Bay!

Welcome, Eleanor Bay Boulter (born Wed., Feb. 5, 2008), to God’s world, to Christ’s church, and to our family!


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Posted on: February 10th, 2008 Archbishop of Canterbury & Sharia (preliminary thoughts)

For background on this issue see this article, and also see Jon Barlow’s blog post (and don’t overlook the insightful comments).

While on the one hand Rowan is far from “calling for the introduction of sharia into British law,” it is true that he is suggesting, and beginning to articulate in public, a different kind of politics, and alternative politics which is rooted in the political theology of Radical Orthodoxy.

Some thoughts:

1. When it comes to the larger culture, the church has two vocations: to convert, and / or to suffer as martyr. Great wisdom is required to discern when and how to apply these two vocations.
2. England, like the US, is no longer a Christian nation. (Actually, it is debatable if the US, unlike England, ever was a Christian nation in any meaningful sense.) Modern England is a modern nation state which participates in the grand Enlightenment political project of privatizing religion in the name of creating a public space for diversity and tolerance. This, however, presupposes an ontology of original violence (in radical opposition to the Christian ontology of original, edenic peace) and actually serves as a mechanism for the state to tyrannize and control the public according to its own needs.
3. The archbishop’s suggestion of an eventual recognition of sharia in the UK (a nation which, like its neighbor France, is increasingly populated by Middle Eastern people, many of whom are Muslims) is a slight move to undermine the hegemony of the modern nation state. This is a state, remember, which plunged itself into the “Iraq War” in an alleged claim to be fighting forces of evil, a claim which grows more dubious with every passing day. (Note: Archbishop Rowan did not “call for” the inclusion of sharia into the British legal system; he merely said that such a development is inevitable, suggesting that such an inevitable development would be a good thing.)
4. This is not to sanction sharia in every sense, or to deny that it itself sometimes legitimates violence against women, etc. Rather, what is going on here is an attempt to give a religious community the right to practice its politics, to bind itself together, publicly and without domination by the modern nation state.
5. What, then, of cultural Christianity and its dominance in the West? Two things to keep in mind: first Williams does not consider the modern nation state of England to be Christian in any meaningful sense, and, secondly, he senses that it is time in the West for the Church to let go of secular power and to begin to practice her second calling, that of martyrdom.

For credible detailed analysis of his comments, see this.

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Posted on: February 8th, 2008 Hightower Nails it: Google & the Bottom Line

Once again Austin Chronicle columnist Jim Hightower, here, has provided useful and penetrating insight into the issues of the day, this time on our culture’s obsessive absolutization of the “bottom line” at the expense of everything else. I especially like the last two paragraphs:

Corporate idealism is practically an oxymoron in this era, with big investors considering the bottom line to be the only line and demanding a constant flow of ever-higher profits. On the rare occasion when the flower of idealism does bloom within the corporate ranks, you can bet that Wall Street’s investment barons will rush forth and try to stomp it to death.

This is why a new initiative by Google Inc. is so important – not only on the merits of what the company executives are attempting but also to show that idealism can and should be central to the corporate mission, even adding to the all-holy bottom line.

Google honchos, alarmed by the rising cost of energy and appalled by the environmental and human costs of our continuing reliance on fossil fuels, have announced a major corporate investment in clean energy. They plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to hire engineers and other experts to develop solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable-energy sources. The Internet giant’s goal is not merely to generate clean, cheap renewables for itself but to advance the whole alternative energy industry so it can produce massive amounts for all. It’s a goal the company believes can be achieved in years rather than decades.

Good for them! However, Wall Street is aghast that Google is pursuing such an idealistic goal rather than just using those millions to fatten its short-term stock price. As one market analyst grumped, “My first reaction when I read about this was, ‘Is this a joke?'”

No, you’re the joke. The idea that a few corporate executives would dare look beyond their own bottom lines ought to be cheered, not jeered. And while Google’s investment won’t produce a short-term profit, it can help expand a socially beneficial green industry – and that’s ultimately good for Google … and even for all businesses.

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Posted on: February 4th, 2008 _Catholicism_ (VII): Doctrines of Evasion & the Role of Time

After a long break from de Lubac, I am picking him up again, turning now to “Part Two” of Catholicism. If Part One was about how the Christian Faith is inherently and irreducibly social or corporate, then Part Two is about how it is, in a rigorously analogous way, historical, or intermingled with the created, temporal order. “… in close connection with the social character of dogma there is another character, equally essential, and that is the historic.” (141)

The point is the radically historical nature of Christianity. “For what, outside Christianity, do we witness whenever a religious movement arises above the domain of sense and effectively transcends the limit of nationality? In every case, though appearances may differ considerably, the basis is the same: an individualist doctrine of escape.”

The examples of individualist religious escape strategies abound: ancient Greek philosophy in which, for example, Plato regards the soul as “in itself a principle superior to the world”; neoplatonism in which Plotinus recommends the “flight of the alone to the Alone” and in which Porphery advocates “the withdrawal of the soul”; the religious philosophies of India; and Buddhism whose “only God is escape.” (137 – 138)

For the Christian faith, however, “the course of history is indeed a reality…. It possesses a certain density and fecundity.” Aniquity’s meaningless cycles of rebirth “have now been exploded,” de Lubac quotes Augustine as writing (de Civitate Dei lib. 12, c. 20, n. 4). This is “the triumphant cry of the Christian to whom God the creator and savior has been revealed” (142). The divine Will and plan of God brings the human race to maturity.

All history and historical development is being providentially guided, by God’s two hands of Word and Spirit, to its predestined end: new heavens and new earth (143 – 144).

This affects the Christian call to flee the world. For, like the ancient and Eastern doctrines of evasion, such a call it does indeed make, but now with “a quite different meaning and with another emphasis:” whatever is real about earthly and temporal things is a “summons to look beyond them. Time is vanity only for one who, using it unnaturally, desires to establish himself in it.” (144) Herein lies the secret of all true Christian asceticism.

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Posted on: February 3rd, 2008 Taking Jesus to the Streets of the City

Watch this video, a meditation in practical sacramentology, from the Catholic Diocese of New York, and be challenged. (If you’re like me, you might want to have a box of tissues handy.)

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Posted on: February 2nd, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (IV): Living the Text (the Church as a Community Suffering with the Creation)

The fourth and final “step” in Hays’ interpretive process for ethics is “living the text.”

“In the midst of a culture that worships self-gratification, and in a church that often preaches a false Jesus who panders to our desires, those who seeks the narrow way of obedience have a powerful word to speak.” (403)

Hays charts some initial trajectories for this “narrow way” by asking and answering seven questions:

1. Should the church support civil rights for homosexuals? Yes. “… Christians should not single out homosexual persons for malicious discriminatory treatment: insofar as we have done so in the past we must repent and instead seek to live out the gospel of reconciliation.” (400)

2. Can homosexual persons be members of the Christian church? This, Hays insists, is rather like asking if envious persons can be members of the church. Not only “can they be” (and hence they should be admitted), but they already are. Hays writes, “If they are not welcome, I will have to walk out the door along with them, leaving in the sanctuary only those entitled to cast the first stone.”

This means that we in the covenant community must “find ways to live to live within the church in a situation of serious moral disagreement while still respecting one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.” Further, Hays insists, there are much more important issues for the church to start drawing lines in the dirt over including violence and materialism (about which the Bible has much more to say than this issue, as we have seen).

At the same time however, the church must challenge all her members to repent and be conformed not to the world but to Christ. For the person of homosexual orientation this includes the call to resist the temptation to form personal identity over sex alone or even primarily.

Hays also points out that persons who uphold the traditional position have an obligation to continue to hold everyone to the same standard of sexual morality: chastity within heterosexual marriage, or celibacy.

3. Is it Christianly appropriate for Christians who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation to continue to participate in same-sex erotic activity? No, especially in light of the fact that “the only person who was entitled to cast the first stone said, ‘Go and sin no more.’ It is no more appropriate for homosexual Christians to persist in homosexual activity than for heterosexual Christians to persist in fornication or adultery…. Despite the smooth illusions perpetuated by mass culture in the United States, sexual gratification is not a sacred right, and celibacy is not a fate worse than death.” (401)

4. Should the church sanction and bless homosexual unions? No.

5. Does this mean that persons of homosexual orientation are subject to a blanket imposition of celibacy in a way qualitatively different from persons of heterosexual orientation? This is a penetrating and difficult question to which Hays shows great sensitivity. Homosexuals are left “in precisely the same situation as the heterosexual who would like to marry but cannot find an appropriate partner (and there are many such): summoned to a difficult, costly obedience, while “groaning” for the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:32). Anyone who does not recognize this as a description of authentic Christian existence has never struggled seriously with the imperatives of the gospel, which challenge and frustrate our ‘natural’ impulses in countless ways.” Our hope, Hays goes on to show, is in the glorious future of the new heavens and new earth, and our resurrection bodies within them. Thus our hope is decidedly eschatological. (402)

I would add that, here again, the example of Gary is important.

6. Should homosexual Christians expect to change their orientation? In the new heavens and new earth, Hays suggests, “yes,” but not necessarily before then. And yet, Gary was granted a new sense of “not considering [himself] a homosexual” (his words, quoted by Hays on 403), and so we can hope and pray. But, to be sure, the ‘not yet’ of the gospel does indeed loom large, as it does with all our sins and weaknesses.

7. Should persons of homosexual orientation be ordained? In its (rather high-profile) discussion of this question, the church, sadly in Hays’ opinion, has suggested a double-standard for clergy and laity; “it would be far better to articulate a single set of moral norms which apply to all of Jesus’ followers.” And far from imposing a special requirement in this area (after all, are there such special requirements in other areas?), “such matters are left to the discernment of the bodies charged with examining candidates for ordination; these bodies must determine wither the individual candidate has the gifts and graces requisite for ministry. In any event, a person of homosexual orientation seeking to live a life of disciplined abstinence would clearly be an appropriate candidate for ordination.” (403)

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Posted on: February 1st, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (III): Hermeneutics (Responding to the NT’s Witness Against Homosexuality), cont’d

Turning to a consideration of (various things he associates with) reason, Hays discusses three areas: arguments of nature (genetic predisposition) versus nurture or culture, argumentation from statistics, and argument from experience.

He points out that, even if conclusive, undisputed evidence were to emerge that there is a genetic predisposition to homosexual orientation, this would have few implications for Christian ethics. In fact, he argues, “we need not take sides in the debates of nature versus culture” since, as Hays points out earlier in his material, “actions do not necessarily have to be “voluntary” to be sinful before God” (though I would insist, along with the counselors from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, associated with Westminster Theological Seminary, that human brokenness which stems from sources other than “free volitional decision” such as physiological addiction, clinically diagnosable impairments such as Alzheimer’s and A.D.D., and indeed genetic predisposition, while not legitimizing behavior with the Bible describes as sin, do in fact call for a different, more compassionate and patient approach to counseling).

I would also add that a robust theological anthropology which acknowledges that sin and brokenness have wreaked havoc not just on our souls but also on our bodies might actually predict or expect sins to be deeply tied to bodily impairment. As the doctrine of total depravity teaches, there is no part, aspect, or dimension of the human person which is not marred and twisted by the fall.

Turning to statistical data, Hays is correct summarily to dismiss any argument which would seek to legitimate homosexual activity on the basis of statistics: “If Paul were shown the poll results, he would reply sadly, ‘Indeed, the power of sin is rampant in the world.’”

Hays rightly sees advocates of homosexuality in the church have by far their most formidable case “when the appeal to the authority of experience.” “There are individuals who live in stable, loving homosexual relationships and claim to experience grace – rather than the wrath – of God.” Then Hays asks several pointed questions:

How are such claims to be assessed? Was Paul wrong? Or are such experiential claims simply another manifestation of the self-deception he describes? Or, besides these irreconcilable alternatives, should we entertain the possible emergence of new realities which Paul could not have anticipated? Does the practice that Paul condemns correspond exactly to the experience of homosexual relations that exists in the present time?” (398)

I must say that I find Hays’ point here especially compelling in light of Paul’s teaching in I Cor 13 where he enjoins a new law of love on the community and instructs us to “hope all things, truust all things, believe all things.” As my wife and I have discussed countless times over the years, this “covenantal epistemology” teaches us to resist the temptation to be suspicious of (the) other(s), and instead to listen and to trust and to believe and to hope. This is true (as any couple who has been through good marriage counseling will tell you) for the covenant community of marriage, and it is true for the covenant community of the church (ie, the Eucharistic community). If there are brothers and sisters within the church who bear witness to healthy experiences of homosexual behavior, we must listen to them in a 1 Corinthians-kind-of-way.

And yet, there is much more to be said than just this, and Hays says it.

For one thing, we should allow gay experience to critique gay experience. In other words, the voices of those like Gary, “who struggle with homosexual desires and find them a hindrance to living lives committed to the service of God” (399) must be fully appreciated.

Further, Hays takes the “covenantal epistemology” of discerning what is good and true though the voices of the community seriously enough to admit that, if one day a strong consensus in the (global?) church should emerge that homosexuality is possible to practice faithfully in the covenant community, then that consensus would become normative.

(This is hugely important in my mind, and this kind of reasoning highlights the importance of the church as prerequisite for truth, 1 Tim 3:15. Sadly I find that many evangelical – and even Reformed – American Christians are lost on this point.)

Has the church ever so dramatically reversed her position on such an issue (especially one as pressing as this)? Indeed she has, and Scripture records it. And, significantly enough, it was experience which provoked the church, in grappling over the inclusion of Gentiles (qua Gentiles) in the covenant community, essentially to say, “We now see that we had previously overlooked something in the Scriptures.” Not only is this deep grappling on the part of the apostolic church recorded in Paul’s dense argumentation in texts such as Romans and Galatians, but “we see the rudiments of such a reflective process in Acts 10:34-35, where Peter begins his speech to Cornelius by alluding to Deuteronomy 10:17-18 and Psalm 15:1-2 in order to confess that ‘God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’”

As can readily be seen, huge differences exist between the reversal of the apostolic church and the reversal which proponents of homosexual acceptance are proposing. And yet, we must admit, the experience of believers should prompt a deeper investigation into Scripture. When this occurred in the apostolic church, manifold textual indications were discerned which did in fact reveal that, now, at that present time, God was in fact doing something new, and new light was truly breaking onto the covenant community.

Especially in light of the scant and univocal Biblical material regarding homosexuality, Hays is right to argue that, until such an unlikely phenomenon occurs again in the (global) church, “we must affirm that … marriage between man and woman is the normative form for human sexual fulfillment, and homosexuality is one among many tragic signs that we are a broken people, alienated from God’s loving purpose.” (400)

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Posted on: February 1st, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (III): Hermeneutics (Responding to the NT’s Witness Against Homosexuality)

Hays in this section emphasizes the lack of rules prohibiting homosexuality in the NT. Instead what we have is principles, and these principles are not enough to ground an ethics in and by themselves, and therefore they require a deeper hermeneutic rigor.

For example, from Rom 1 we can infer the principle that humans should “acknowledge and honor God as creator.” But apart from a certain (moral) “order of creation” which specifies that, say, male-plus-female sexual relations are normative, this principle is not enough to prohibit homosexual activity for members of the Christian community.

Therefore, reasons Hays, we should look for neither rules nor principles in the NT to inform our ethics. Rather, we should appreciate and (assuming that the Bible is normative for the Christian life) submit to its symbolic construal of the world. In this symbolic world which Paul and others construe in the NT, homosexuality symbolizes man’s rebellion and ignorance which have resulted from Adam’s idolatry. “If we accept the authority of the NT, we will be taught to perceive homosexuality accordingly.” (396)

When we turn to tradition (which we should do in this hermeneutical quest, Hays apparently thinks), we find this perspective confirmed. If anything tradition probably has a more hardened disapproval for homosexuality than Scripture, since Scripture would lead us to view this vice as no worse than many others which are listed alongside it (1 Cor 6; 1 Tim 1).

After commenting on tradition, Hays turns to “reason,” which I will review in a subsequent post.

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Posted on: February 1st, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (II): Synthesis (Homosexuality in Canonical Context), cont’d

Hays now applies his device of “community, cross, new creation” to this issue.

1. As for community, Hays does a masterful job of showing how Paul’s pastoral theology to the Corinthian church is an amplification of what we see in the holiness code of Lev 18, where we read in vv24-26,

Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for by all these practices the nations I am casting out have defiled themselves. Thus the land has become defiled; and I punished it for its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you.

Like Leviticus (one might say, “like Moses”), Paul’s concern in his letters to the Corinthian church is primarily one for the community. The following paragraph of Hays’ is so good I must quote it in full:

… Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to ‘glorify God in your body’ (1 Cor 6:20) grows out of his passionate concern, expressed repeatedly in 1 Corinthians, for the unity and sanctification of the community as a whole. Fornication with a prostitute is wrong, among other reasons, because ‘your bodies are members of Christ’ (6:15). Thus, to engage in sexual immorality defiles the body of Christ. Through baptism, Christians have entered a corporate whole whose health is at stake in the conduct of all its members. Sin is like an infection in the body; thus, moral action is not merely a matter of individual freedom and preference. ‘If one member suffers, all suffer’ (1 Cor 12:26) This line of argument is not applied specifically to every offense in the vice list, but it does not require a great leap of imagination to see that for Paul the church is analogous (though not identical) to Israel as portrayed in the holiness code [of Lev 18, emphasis mine]. That is the logic behind the demand that the Corinthian church expel the man engaged in a sexual relationship with his stepmother (5:1-13). A similar logic would certainly apply, within Paul’s frame of reference, to the malakoi and arsenoikotai of 1 Cor 6:9. The community of those who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ ought to have put such behaviors behind it. The NT never considers sexual conduct purely a matter of private concern between consenting adults. According to Paul, everything that we do as Christians, including our sexual practices, affects the whole body of Christ.”

Hays then rightly points out that this canonical discipline does not apply to the wider society, for which “the right to privacy may well be a useful principle for a secular political order.”

2. As for cross, there is an implicit and crucial connection between homosexuality and the cross in Romans. The human unrighteousness in Rom 1 is the condition that makes the cross (ie, the death of Christ) necessary (Rom 5:8). In addition, “[t]he human unrighteousness detailed in Rom 1 is answered by the righteousness of God, who puts forward Jesus to die for unrighteousness (Rom 3:23-25), enabling [us] to walk in newness of life.” (392)

Therefore, writes Hays, we can see the following two implications: first, “the wrath of God — manifested in God’s “giving up” of rebellious humanity to follow their own devices and desires — is not the last word.” The cross shows us that God loves us even while we are in rebellion “and the sacrificial death of his son is the depth of that love.” This is the logic of Paul’s “sting” operation in Rom 2:1ff, thinks Hays, that no one is sanctioned to condemn others for anything. “This has profound implications for how the Christian community ought to respond to persons of homosexual orientation. Even if some of their actions are contrary to God’s design, the cross models the way in which the community of faith ought to respond to them: not in condemnation, but in sacrificial service.” (393)

This is brilliant on Hays’ part, I must say. We are not to emulate the creator God in his wrathful condemnation, theologizes St. Paul, but rather, as ministers of reconciliation, we are to emulate the merciful love and welcoming invitation of Jesus, the saving, redeeming Lord.

Secondly, because the cross “marks the end of the old life under the power of sin (Rom 6:1-4) … no one is locked into the past or into a psychological or biological determinism.” Only “in light of this transforming power” the Gary’s of the world (let alone the Matt Boulter’s of the world) enter into the hope and change offered in the Christian life.

3. New Creation. The eschatological framework of Romans and the entire NT implies that Christians will still struggle with sin, struggle “to live faithfully in the present time…. Those who demand fulfillment now, as though it were a right or guarantee, are living in a state of adolescent illusion.” (393)

And then Hays makes a striking statement: “Consequently, in this time between the times, some may find disciplined abstinence the only viable alternative to disordered sexuality.”  (393) And then, “the art of eschatological moral discernment lies in working out how to live lives free from bondage to sin without presuming to be translated prematurely into a condition that is free from ‘the sufferings of the present time’ (Rom 8:18).”

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