Archive for January, 2014

God cares who wins the Super Bowl

January 31, 2014
God cares about this play that Manning is calling.

God cares about this play that Manning is calling.

While you’re watching the Super Bowl this Sunday, remind yourself of this deep theological truth:

God cares who wins the Super Bowl.

In fact, God cares deeply about every player on both teams. God cares about both teams’ coaches, trainers, equipment managers, doctors, owners, and cheerleaders. God cares about the referees. In short, God cares. He cares more passionately than anyone on the field, or on the sidelines, or watching at home or at the sports bar.

If something matters to the people on the field, or on the sidelines, or watching at home or at the sports bar, it matters to God.

Granted, many Christians resist this idea. Like Mark Sandlin, a blogger for Sojourners magazine. Just last week, in his list of 10 things Christians shouldn’t say, he complained about Christians who said that they “must be living right” when, for example, they find a desirable parking spot near the entrance of a store (although I’ve never heard someone say this in a sincere way).

These are the same folks who ask God to help them win sporting events. I hate to burst the bubble, but God doesn’t care which team wins…

Really? God doesn’t care? Then I would ask Sandlin if God cares about the job he’s doing at Sojourners, or if God cares whether or not Sojourners exists at all. Why would that matter to God? Sojourners magazine isn’t curing cancer, putting an end to malaria, or solving the crisis in South Sudan. Why should God care about something so trivial as a blog post? Or even someone who makes his living by writing things like blog posts?

So here are these NFL players, pouring their hearts, minds, energy, and skill into this job they do, which they will soon be doing on the most prominent stage on the planet—and literally risking their health and wellbeing while doing it. But God doesn’t care?

You see my point: It’s almost as if we’re saying, “God is too big to be concerned with things like Super Bowls as long as children are starving in North Korea.” But saying that God is “too big” is just another way of saying God is too small: as if every moment God spends helping Peyton Manning convert a third-and-long is one less moment that God has to devote to the non-trivial problems of the world.

As if God isn’t sustaining all of Creation into existence at this moment! As if God isn’t more intimately involved in the minutest details of Marshawn Lynch’s training regimen than Lynch could ever be himself!

The Deists were wrong, remember?

Our God isn’t the great watchmaker in the sky who set the universe in motion and then went to sleep. We Christians believe in a God who is both transcendent (above and beyond this world of time an space) and immanent (closer to us than we are to ourselves). That means that God isn’t one thing among other things in the universe: he is entirely other. Therefore, no one is competing for God’s attention. He can hear and respond to everyone’s prayers—no matter how big or small.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to William Lane Craig. He’s one of the smartest Christians I know, a world-class philosopher and one of the foremost Christian apologists. Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, Christianity Today asked Craig about God and football. I recommend the whole interview but here are some interesting excerpts:

Recent polls have found at least a quarter of Americans pray for sports teams, and that number is even higher among evangelicals. As a theologian, what do these stats tell you?

I think it shows how deeply committed they are to their teams that they would feel compelled to pray about it! In fact, it’s almost irresistible for someone who is on a team to pray that God would help him to do a good job and to win and to prevail. I don’t think that there’s anything the matter with that type of prayer, so long as one adds the caveat, nevertheless “not my will, but thy will be done.”…

Peyton Manning is a Christian, but he says he doesn’t pray to win games. He said, “I pray to keep both teams injury free, and personally, that I use whatever talent I have to the best of my ability.” Is it wrong or should we feel bad for praying for a win?

No, I think it’s fine for Christian athletes to pray about those things so long as they understand, as I say, that the person on the other team is also praying, and that some of these prayers will go unanswered in the providence of God. Ultimately, one is submitting oneself to God’s providence, but I see nothing the matter with praying for the outcome of these things. They’re not a matter of indifference to God. God cares about these little things, so it’s appropriate…

As football fans prepare for the big game, what thought would you want to leave them with?

I think the overriding thing I want to say is God’s providence rules all of life, even down to the smallest details. Nothing happens without either God’s direct will or at least his permission of that event. That includes every fumble, every catch, every run. All of these things are in the providence of God, and therefore, we should not think that these things are a matter of indifference. These are of importance to God as well even though they seem trivial.

“To cheapen the grace of God that always comes with blood on it”

January 31, 2014

plantingaMy sermon this Sunday, whose text is James 1:13-18, focuses on sin and temptation. On the last page of his book about sin, Neal Plantinga warns against overemphasizing sin at the expense of grace. “To concentrate on our rebellion… is to forget that the center of the Christian religion is not our sin but our Savior. To speak of sin without grace is to minimize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, and the hope of Shalom.”

But the opposite problem—grace without sin—is far more prevalent in the church circles in which I run. That’s why I especially appreciate this last paragraph of his book:

But to speak of grace without sin is surely no better. To do this is to trivialize the cross of Jesus Christ, to skate past all the struggling by good people down the ages to forgive, accept, and rehabilitate sinners, including themselves, and therefore to cheapen the grace of God that always comes to us with blood on it. What had we thought the ripping and writhing in Golgotha were all about? To speak of grace without looking squarely at these realities, without painfully honest acknowledgment of our own sin and its effects, is to shrink grace to mere embellishment of the music of creation, to shrink it down to a mere grace note. In short, for the Christian church… to ignore, euphemize, or otherwise mute the lethal reality of sin is to cut the nerve of the gospel. For the sober truth is that without full disclosure on sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally uninteresting.[†]

No: I’d rather join the struggle of the saints before me to “forgive, accept, and rehabilitate sinners,” including—always including—myself. We live in an age in which many people, in order to perceive the beauty of the gospel, need to be reawakened to the ugliness of their sins.

Even writing that last sentence feels deeply countercultural, if not downright unkind, but—sorry—you can’t have one without the other.

Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 199.

Sermon 01-26-14: “When the Going Gets Tough”

January 31, 2014

practically_perfect

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his younger half-brother James did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God. But James had dramatic change of heart: not only did he become a believer, in the year 62 he even gave his life for that belief. What caused the change in James’s life? The resurrection. As I discuss in this sermon, the resurrection changed everything for James. It ought to change everything for us.

Sermon Text: James 1:1-12

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

As I indicated in my children’s sermon, we know for sure that during Jesus’ earthly ministry, James was not a believer in his big brother. In Mark chapter 3, Mark tells us that after Jesus became famous around Galilee for his teaching, preaching, and healing, James, along with his other siblings, and his mother Mary, believed that Jesus had gone “out of his mind.”[1] Elsewhere, in John’s gospel, James and his brothers try to convince Jesus to go to Jerusalem and prove that he was the Messiah. Because, John says, “Not even his brothers believed in him.”[2]

And you might ask, “How is it possible that James wouldn’t believe that his older brother was the Messiah, the Son of God, and God in the flesh?” Can you imagine, your own flesh-and-bloodnot believing in you? Can you imagine?

Well… If you actually have brothers or sisters, of course you can! Read the rest of this entry »

Just because they’re clichés doesn’t mean they aren’t true

January 29, 2014

I’m not a fan of reciting platitudes, so maybe I would avoid saying these ten things, too. But that doesn’t mean that these platitudes aren’t mostly true, despite what Sojourner‘s Mark Sandlin says.

Take #8 on Sandlin’s list: “God never gives us more than we can handle.” How is that not true? I just preached last Sunday on James 1:1-12, in which James tells us to “count it nothing but joy” when we suffer any kind of trial. I assume any means “any.” Or what about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:3: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

“God won’t give you more than you can handle” seems like an accurate enough paraphrase of this scripture, right?

Sandlin writes, “Ever tried saying this to a person contemplating suicide? No? Well, of course not.”

Well, yes… We have to discern whether it would be pastoral helpful to say this to someone in the midst of suffering. But it’s still true, whether we say it or not.

Or what about #10? “Everything happens for a reason.” Sandlin writes:

Implied in this is a very specific understanding of how God interacts with the world. Specifically, it says God directs all things. So, mass murders? God had a reason for that senseless act of violence. Stubbing your toe on the door frame? I guess God wanted to smite your toe.

This way of seeing God turns us all into puppets — God’s little play things who really have no freewill. Do you truly think a god needs toys? If so, do you really think we’re the best toys God could make to play with?

I disagree: God does direct all things. This is clear on nearly every page of the Bible. God can direct all things, however, without at the same overriding human free will. So mass murders happen because people make evil choices under the influence of the devil. Perish the thought that this is God’s will! Every time someone commits mass murder, however, God had the power to stop it but chooses not to. We may even have prayed about it, and he didn’t grant us our petition. Why?

Unless we believe that God is capricious, it isn’t wrong to say that God let this evil thing happen for a reason.

Granted, in the old days of polytheism or even Manichaean dualism, these questions were easier to deal with. You had good gods and bad gods, forces for good and forces for evil: which one “wins” in any particular instance would be anyone’s guess. 

But monotheism introduces an interesting “problem,” if you want to call it that. We believe that one God ultimately takes responsibility for good and evil. When evil happens, it isn’t his will, but it’s also not beyond his providential care to redeem.

Honestly, my favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:28. If that’s true, then I can’t see, logically, how “everything happens for a reason” isn’t also true.

I could go on to other items on the list, but you get the idea. As it is, I only agree wholeheartedly with Sandlin on numbers 6 and 9. What do you think?

No theory of the cross should make us the “good guys”

January 28, 2014

I’ve been outspoken on this blog and in sermons over the past few years about my support for the good, old-fashioned “penal substitution” theory of atonement. It argues that on the cross Jesus suffered the penalty for our sins, dying our death and experiencing our hell—in our place, so that we wouldn’t have to: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Indeed, when I hear “In Christ Alone,” I want to hear the couplet: “And on the cross where Jesus died/ The wrath of God was satisfied.” That sounds like great news to me.

In the last Billy Graham television special, Christian hip-hop artist LaCrae put it like this: “Jesus lived the life that we couldn’t live and died the death we deserved to die.” That sounds exactly right to me. I’ve used that in sermons since then.

Still, to say that I believe in penal substitution isn’t to say that I believe that that theory exhausts the full meaning of the cross. By all means, throw in some Christus Victor and even a dash of Abelardian Moral Example (because it does move us by the power of love it demonstrates).

I’m with C.S. Lewis who said that it’s less important to know how the cross reconciles us to God than to know that it does. And, I would add, it’s important to know that whatever the cross means, it means that something objective has happened that takes away our sins, and it doesn’t simply depend on our subjective response to it. Because if it depends on my response (aside from saying “yes” to the gift of forgiveness that it affords), I’m in trouble.

So for my brothers and sisters who object to penal substitution (usually because they object to some caricature of it as “cosmic child abuse”), I would ask them to at least agree with me that the cross represents something objective. I don’t know of a better alternative to penal substitution that makes more sense of the full scope of scripture.

In this blog post, Scot McKnight puts his finger on one interesting problem with the Moral Example theory and its variants (so popular in mainline Protestant circles):

But the Abelardian and Girardian have an oft-missed sinister side, even if you may object to my saying so. In these theories we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death. We end up being the good guys, the victims, while the bad guys — Roman and Jewish leaders, the gutless disciples, the whole damned human race — are the ones who put him there. We, on the other hand, know better. We’re innocent, they’re guilty.

We are not the authorities, pockmarked as they are by injustice; we are for justice, and we see Jesus as suffering a colossal injustice. We tell a story in which we side with Jesus against the world and against the sinners and against the perpetrators of injustice. We thereby become guiltless and just. The opposite of what the cross’s message teaches. We end up where the Holocaust perpetrators were: we see in the leaders those who killed God. But not us, we are on Jesus’ side. We find Jesus as our model for sacrifice for justice. He becomes a moral example — not against us but as one of us.

Such approaches mask their inner reality: self-righteousness.

To use the words of Francis Spufford, in Unapologetic, we make the crucifixion scene “a story about a special shiny person, whose side we’re all on as we listen, being abused by especially evil persons.” He says such an approach to the crucifixion scene is no longer about Jesus being crucified but Jesus being crucified. He’s innocent, we know it, and we’re for him. Cheer the just man on, folks, cheer him on! Raise a toast for justice as activists for justice!

But the cross contains another message: that we, each of us, because we are sinners and hate to be confronted with the utter sickness that stains us, are the ones who put him there. To read that narrative well is to see ourselves as complicit in the condemnation of the innocent man.

The only “theories” of the cross that make any sense of the cross then are theories that begin right here: I am guilty of that death.

HUMC Youth Retreat 2014 video

January 27, 2014

We showed the following video in our worship services yesterday. It’s a slightly longer version of the video I posted here last week. I hope it will give you an idea of the amazing youth group we have at Hampton UMC. I am proud to be the pastor of these young people.

The song featured in the video, “Love Is Everywhere I Go,” is by Sam Phillips from her outstanding 2001 album, Fan Dance.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, provides evidence for resurrection

January 24, 2014
Detail from Doug Powell's Resurrection iWitness (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012).

Detail from Doug Powell’s Resurrection iWitness (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012).

This Sunday I’m beginning my sermon series on the Letter of James, the younger brother (technically, half-brother) of Jesus, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem during the time when Peter and Paul were traveling the world with the gospel.

We know for sure that James was not a believer during Jesus’ lifetime. He, along with his mother and other siblings, believed that Jesus had gone “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21-22, 31-35). The Gospel of John also reports the skepticism of James and his brothers (John 7:1-9).

According to Paul, however, the resurrected Jesus appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15:7), and James became not only a believer but a leader in the church at Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19, Acts 15:13-21), as also confirmed by both church sources and the historian Josephus (in an undisputed, independent reference to the historicity of Jesus, by the way).

We also know for sure that James was martyred: After religious authorities gave him the opportunity to renounce his faith and disperse Jesus’ followers—the Jewish Christians would listen to James, they reasoned, since he was Jesus’ own brother—James instead bore witness to Christ. As a result, he was thrown from the highest pinnacle of the Temple Mount and then clubbed to death.

Doug Powell asks a pertinent question in Resurrection iWitness: “What would it take for you to believe your brother was god incarnate?”

james2

Similarly, in one of his sermons on James, pastor Tim Keller invites us to think about the natural sibling rivalry that must have existed between Jesus and his little brother. After all, we can’t hide anything from our siblings. They know us better than anyone. Siblings are the ones who often write the gossipy tell-all books when their brother or sister makes it big. Because only they know the person behind the facade.

Yet, in spite of all this, James believed that Jesus was God’s Son, the Messiah, Lord and God.

It’s worth asking: What would explain this dramatic turnaround in James’s outlook—such that he was even willing to die an excruciating death for his convictions?

One thing would: He believed his brother was resurrected.

bishop-tom-computerIn his scholarly tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T. Wright offers another piece of evidence for the resurrection: the fact that the early church didn’t anoint James as Jesus’ messianic successor after Jesus’ death.

Again, even a small amount of disciplined historical imagination will paint the scene. Jesus of Nazareth had been a great leader. Most considered him a prophet, many the Messiah. But the Romans caught him and killed him, the way they did with so many would-be prophets and Messiahs. Just as John the Baptist’s movement faded into comparative obscurity with John’s imprisonment and death, with the speculation about John’s role within various eschatological scenarios being transferred to his slightly younger cousin, so one can easily imagine Jesus’ movement fading into comparative obscurity after his execution, with the spotlight now turning on his somewhat younger brother. The younger brother turns out to be a great leader: devout, a fine teacher, well respected by other devout Jews. What more could one want? But nobody ever dreamed of saying that James was the Messiah. He was simply known as the the brother of ‘Jesus the Messiah’. At this point the argument runs in parallel with the famous Sherlock Holmes story that hinges on the dog doing something remarkable in the night—or rather on the fact that the dog did not do anything in the night, though it had every reason to do so, thus revealing the fact that the dog must have recognized the intruder. If we suppose that Jesus of Nazareth had simply been executed as a messianic pretender, and that his younger brother had become a strong and powerful leader among his former followers over the next thirty years, someone would have been bound, given the climate of the times, to suggest that James himself was the Messiah. But nobody ever did.[†]

N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis:Fortress, 2003), 561-2.

Another bad argument for gay marriage

January 23, 2014

Let me preface this post by saying that I don’t enjoy writing about homosexuality. I say, along with Paul, that I am the worst of sinners who is constantly in need of God’s saving and forgiving grace. I don’t intend to place myself above gay and lesbian Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction. I have misdirected desires of my own, and I fall into sin. I feel nothing but compassion for my fellow sinners.

But my denomination is in the midst of a civil war over the question of whether or not homosexual behavior is a sin—and, consequently, whether we should “marry” homosexuals or ordain non-celibate homosexuals. Whether I choose to blog about it or not, my fellow clergy are blogging about it and arguing about it. Since I wasn’t kidding when I affirmed my belief in the doctrines of our church—not to mention when I answered questions directly on the subject during the ordination process—I feel defensive when so many of my fellow clergy are clamoring for change.

I believe passionately in the authority of scripture, and, for me, nothing less than faithfulness to God is at stake in the question. I say that as someone who didn’t always believe so strongly in scripture’s authority. In fact, I was happily liberal on the question of homosexuality when I was in seminary. But I changed. If I did so because of some latent homophobia, I’m unaware of it. For me, my conversion on the subject of the Bible and homosexuality was a matter of thinking it through rather than feeling it through.

Of course, people who disagree with me say that they have scripture on their side, too. If so, I would love for them to use it more persuasively than in this particular argument, from today’s blog post by fellow UMC clergy Jason Micheli.

It goes something like this: Since many Christians are unfaithful to God’s Word when it comes to marriage and divorce, it’s therefore O.K. for Christians to be unfaithful to God’s Word when it comes to homosexual behavior. Or, more charitably: since we’ve reinterpreted scripture in relation to marriage and divorce, why can’t we reinterpret it in relation to homosexuality? As Samuel Wells puts it in this quotation from Micheli’s post.

There is virtually no justification in the New Testament for remarriage after divorce (Mark 10.11-12, 1 Corinthians 7.10-11)—in fact the New Testament has quite a lot more to say about divorce—and yet most Christian traditions have come to believe that remarriage is acceptable for many people.

It seems questionable then why we’re unwilling to adapt our understanding of scripture when it comes to homosexual persons when we’ve shown we’re willing to do so for divorced persons.

Would Wells or Micheli then argue that “most Christian traditions” are therefore right about marriage and divorce? Who could look at the divorce rate among Christians and imagine that this is O.K.—that we Christians haven’t gotten badly off course?

Besides, most Christian traditions still oppose divorce in most cases. What would Wells or Micheli have the church do? Excommunicate our parishioners who get one anyway? Some churches do that, of course, but I think it’s always appropriate for the church to extend grace to sinners (as in Matthew 18), even as we acknowledge that a specific behavior is sinful.

I’m not conceding, by the way, that divorce is always a sin. Jesus offers one exception for divorce (“sexual immorality”) and Paul adds another in 1 Corinthians 7:15. (But read his words in context.) I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to contradict Jesus. Instead, I believe we can harmonize Jesus and Paul to say that divorce, like war, is always a tragic consequence of human sin; it should be permitted only rarely—as an option of last resort; and grace should abound for sinners in the midst of it.

Anyway, I wrote the following response to Micheli’s post: (I mistakenly wrote as if the Wells quote were his, but I can only assume he endorses it.)

I’ve never understood this argument about divorce. The divorce rate among Christians is scandalous. By all means, the Church is being unfaithful to God’s Word. (Although there is biblically warranted divorce for Christians in some cases. You need to carry your 1 Corinthians 7 proof-text to verse 15 and add Matthew 5:32 to your Mark 10:11-12.)

But what does our failure regarding marriage and divorce prove about homosexual marriage? Logically, nothing at all. You seem to be arguing that if we’re unfaithful to God when it comes to marriage, it’s therefore O.K. to be unfaithful to God when it comes to gay marriage.

If homosexual behavior per se is sinful, this cannot be true. (Not to mention that there’s no such thing as gay marriage. Marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman.)

If you don’t think homosexual behavior is sinful, then say so. Explain why. Put forward that argument. Because this particular argument sucks.

N.T. Wright on God’s creation and Adam and Eve

January 23, 2014

Here’s a thoughtful post from Scot McKnight discussing a recent interview with N.T. Wright in which he’s asked the question: “Why would a God whose loving character is revealed in Jesus create us through a process of suffering and death, which evolution evidently is?”

Wright responds first by saying that suffering and death don’t seem to be a problem in the animal kingdom. Death is a natural process like the changing of the seasons. (I would add that without self-consciousness, animals are unable to worry about death the way we humans do. And isn’t that a large part of what makes human suffering so painful?) Moreover, suffering and death leading up to Adam and Eve are only a problem if we divorce evolution from God’s loving involvement in creation. We moderns or postmoderns have adopted an Epicurean worldview that says that this life is all there is; God is nowhere to be found; so we’d better enjoy life while we can.

According to such a worldview, death can only be an unwelcome intruder which destroys life’s meaning.

Over against that it seems to me, the Christian has to hang onto a biblical vision which is of a God who is both other than the world and strangely involved in the world. And the strange involvement of God in the world is precisely a loving involvement, which means that it isn’t simply a matter of God making a machine. It’s a matter of God’s generosity, of God letting be: Let there be light, let there be whales, let there be trees, humans, whatever. And when God let’s there be, there is a sense of God saying “Get on with it guys. I want you to be autonomous in that sense, not that you’re outside my world, not that you’re outside my love, but that I want you to be real creatures and not just puppets.” And so, all the sorts of questions we have rise out of that rather complicated but very important view of creation. The thing to hold on to is the generous love of God, that’s where it all comes down to.

This seems exactly right to me. We want to say, “All this suffering and death is meaningless and wasteful.” But it’s not meaningless or wasteful if it’s being directed by God toward God’s good ends. Besides, if it had happened any other way, we wouldn’t be who we are. And don’t we like who we are? And all life, no matter how long or short, is good, and God loves his creatures. We humans weren’t around to enjoy dinosaurs, but God was.

Finally, I like the way Wright affirms the historicity of the first couple, Adam and Eve. He gives, I believe, an historically plausible explanation for them: that it doesn’t matter whether they were the first humans, or that there were other humans around. What mattered is that God called these two to a special task, just as he later called Noah or Abraham and Sarah.

What happens with Genesis 3; and I do think there is a historical correlate. OK, Genesis one, two, and three is wonderful picture language, but I do think there was a primal pair in a world of emerging hominids, that’s the way I read that. … But it seems to me that just as God called Abraham and Sarah out of a welter of wandering nations and said I’ve got a special purpose for you, the way that I see it is that God called one pair of hominids and said “OK, this place is a bit chaotic, you and I together, we’re going to have a project. We’re going to plant this garden and we’re going to go out from here and this is how it’s going to be.” So when Cain goes off he founds a city. Excuse me, who else is in the city? … And ancient Jewish readers knew this perfectly well, they knew that this was not the first ever humans or anything like them.

Why does Rachel Held Evans hate the Bible?

January 21, 2014

What? You say I’m being unfair to her? You say that there’s a better, more reasonable, more nuanced explanation for her disagreeing with me (and most of the universal Church) on the question of human sexuality than believing that she hates the Bible?

Ah, who cares? I’ll just frame her dissent from Christian orthodoxy in the worst possible light.

In doing so, I’m simply borrowing a page from the RHE Playbook.

Take, for instance, this very popular blog post from late last month, “Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony.” (I know it was popular because many of my liberal clergy colleagues on Facebook linked to it approvingly.) If you read her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, as I did (and blogged and preached about it), or have read her blog, as I have for the past four years, you’ll know what she’s up to.

She’s a gifted and funny writer who risks squandering her talent making the same argument over and over. Not that her many readers (if only I had her audience!) seem to mind.

And what’s her argument? In the form of a syllogism, it is the following (which I’m borrowing from Glenn Peoples, who isn’t speaking about Evans, but may as well be):

  1. If you interpret a biblical passage in a way that means that its instruction does apply to us today, then you are logically committed to thinking that all instructions that were ever given in the Bible apply to us today with equal force.
  2. Most evangelical Christians (not to mention most of the universal Church) interpret biblical passages that speak about sexual acts between members of the same sex apply to us today.
  3. Therefore most evangelical Christians are logically committed to thinking that all instructions that were ever given in the Bible apply to us today with equal force.

What’s wrong with this argument? The first premise.

Just because you think that a biblical instruction applies to us today doesn’t commit you to thinking that all instructions should apply today. You may instead have a principled reason for thinking that one instruction applies while another doesn’t. And your reason comes down to that 50-cent seminary word hermeneutics—the science of interpretation.

Now, to be clear: Rachel Held Evans knows this. She knows that everyone isn’t a biblical literalist—not even close! (Or is she willing to argue, say, that Pope Francis is also a biblical literalist?) By the end of Biblical Womanhood, she offers intelligible hermeneutical reasons why, for instance, Christians don’t think that Paul’s prohibition against women speaking in church applies today. And even in the “Gluttony” post, after ranting about shellfish, head coverings, and divorce, she says, “While there are certainly important hermeneutical and cultural issues at play, I can’t help but wonder if something more nefarious is also at work…”

Please tell us, Ms. Evans: what exactly are those “important hermeneutical and cultural issues”?

Cue crickets chirping.

In one blog post after another, she plays dumb on the issue of hermeneutics. And she’s not dumb.

Yet she continues to imply (even in her post yesterday) that people like me and the United Methodist Church who support the orthodox Christian position on homosexuality must be hypocritical Bible-thumping literalists. It drives me crazy.

(By the way, I’m using “literalist” the way Evans uses it. I believe in interpreting scripture literally, if and when the author intends to be taken that way. For example, I can interpret Paul’s words about women covering their heads literally, even while arguing against its universal application.)

I agree completely with Glenn Peoples that the classic (and misguided) arguments about slavery and shellfish don’t apply to the issue of homosexuality. I highly recommend that you read this post.