Archive for April, 2017

Did Peter write 1 Peter?

April 21, 2017

If you’re unfamiliar with the world of critical scholarship, which takes for granted that the author of 1 and 2 Peter writes pseudonymously, this question may seem ridiculous. But for people like me, a late convert to theologically conservative evangelicalism, who holds the authority of scripture in highest esteem, I feel compelled to grapple with it. After all, I no longer believe that pseudonymous writing was ethically O.K. in the ancient world. (Skeptical New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman is right to hammer his progressive Christian colleagues on this point!)

But once you ask on what basis critical scholars believe that Peter didn’t write the letters attributed to him (as you may ask about the disputed letters of Paul, viz. Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus), the evidence is unconvincing.

Remember: From the earliest time, the Church believed that these letters were written by Peter. His authorship was never disputed. Why do we know so much more than the Church Fathers did? They were no dummies (to say the least). For all we know about the Greek language and the Greco-Roman world, any educated person living within a few generations of Jesus knew much more.

Not to mention that most of what we clergy know about the Greek language and Greco-Roman culture is second- or third-hand, anyway. Most of us can’t read Greek. Even if we can, we haven’t done any original research. Yet we’re confident that we know—on the basis of nuances of Greek language and Greco-Roman culture—that Peter didn’t write his letters, or Paul didn’t write some of his! It’s laughable, when you think about it!

Not to mention that the Church Fathers either knew the apostles or knew people who knew them. They had access to living memories of the apostles in a way that modern scholars don’t.

I had a professor of church history who made this point: He argued that most of us can reach back in time about 200 years through the memories of people we know. For example, my grandmother—my mother’s mother—died in 1987. She was born around the turn of the century. If I had the foresight, I could have interviewed my grandmother about memories of her grandmother, who could have shared with my grandmother memories of her grandmother—who was born in the middle of the 18th century. So even though I was born in 1970, I could have, with a little effort, accessed memories from 1770.

(While we’re on the subject, did you know that grandchildren of John Tyler, the tenth president of the United States, are still living? That blows my mind!)

My point is, we have every reason to trust that the Church Fathers were correct in believing that Peter wrote the two letters attributed to him. They knew more about it than we do today! Otherwise, how are we not falling victim to chronological snobbery?

Regardless, Peter Davids, author of Eerdmans’s New International Commentary on 1 Peter, wrote some helpful words on the subject that don’t depend on the authority of the Fathers. One reason, he says, that many scholars reject Petrine authorship is that the author sounds too much like Paul. “Peter” (forgive the scare quotes) uses phrases that Paul uses. “Peter” emphasizes themes that Paul emphasizes. “Peter” writes to churches with which Paul was better acquainted. To this, Davids writes the following:

If this work is so Pauline and if the area of the recipients was so Pauline, why would a pseudonymous author not attribute it to Paul? After all, Paul, unlike Peter, was known for his letter writing. Furthermore, many of the same scholars who reject the Petrine authorship of 1 Peter point to the Pastoral Epistles and other Pauline works as being pseudonymous. If Pauline pseudepigrapha was this common, since 1 Peter has such a Pauline tone one must justify why such an author would not attribute his work to Paul.[1]

Besides, one good reason for the similarity to Paul is Peter’s reference in 1 Peter 5:12 to Silvanus, a known associate of Paul:

[T]he reference to Silvanus in 1 Pet. 5:12 may be the best clue we have, for he is probably the same associate of Paul mentioned elsewhere (2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1). If Peter were indeed in Rome, one could well imagine his hearing of localized persecution in the provinces, in areas in which he may or may not have traveled. Peter may have been in prison by that time, or have seen the storm clouds gather about him in Rome. It is quite possible that he received the news, not through his own contacts, but though Silvanus and his contacts. In any case, the letter suggests that he authorized Silvanus to write in his name…

How much Peter personally had to do with the letter is unknown. For example, if he were in prison, he may not have had the freedom to write and receive guests that Paul did, for Paul was able to live in a hired house (Acts 28:16, 30). He may simply have been moved by compassion and apostolic insight to request Silvanus to send an encouraging letter to a group of suffering Christians about whom he had heard, mentioning to them those Christians in Rome such as Mark, whose names would presumably mean something to the believers in Asia Minor. He may have given detailed instructions and later reviewed the letter (perhaps even writing the closing paragraph with his own hand, as was normal Greek custom, 2 Thess. 3:17), or he may have never seen it, having given only the briefest of instructions. But the letter was written, written in the style in which Silvanus was accustomed to writing, that is, Paul’s, written with whatever he knew of Peter’s teaching and ideas, and attributed to Peter as it should have been.[2]

Granted, there’s much speculation here. But unless you’re already predisposed to doubt the inspiration of scripture, this speculation seems far more reasonable than believing that an inspired author of documents that (we believe) the Holy Spirit preserved in what is now our New Testament was lying.

1. Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 5.

2. Ibid., 6-7.

“Waterloo sunset’s fine”

April 19, 2017

As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.

– Song of Solomon 2:2

During my quiet times recently, I’ve been reading the Song of Solomon. This poem, among other things, celebrates erotic love between husband and wife without blushing. But notice I said “among other things”: traditionally, the Church (alongside Judaism) has also interpreted it as a celebration of God’s love for his people. This interpretation is completely in keeping the Bible’s many references to Israel and the Church as “the bride” or wife, with God (or Jesus) as the bridegroom or husband.

This interpretation has fallen out of favor over past hundred years or so as belief in the inspiration of the Bible has waned. Once you accept, however, that God has given us the exact Bible that he wanted us to have (which isn’t hard to do), it’s easy to accept that the Song of Solomon, in addition to describing erotic love between a man and woman, also describes God’s love for his people.

That being the case, think about what this means: God, like the man in the poem, wants you, desires you, is passionately committed to making you his own. For this to be true, we need to throw out that medieval nonsense about God’s impassibility—that God is incapable of feeling emotion—and embrace the full-blooded, biblical belief in God’s passionate love for us. As Roger Olson, among others, has argued, if God doesn’t experience emotion, then entire books of the Bible, like Hosea, make no sense.

At the risk of understatement, God not only loves you, he also likes you. Do you believe it? Or is this so self-evidently true that it doesn’t need to be said?

I don’t think so. In my own life, I fall into this trap in which I believe that God loves me—because of course that’s what God has to do—because of the Cross; thanks to Jesus, God has no choice but to “put up with me,” even though I’m a miserable sinner who fails him time and again.

Does this ring a bell with anyone else?

But suppose the Song of Solomon is true: God loves us like the man loves the woman in that poem. What are our sins compared to that? We all know (I hope) what it’s like to fall in love and have our love returned: in the eyes of our beloved, we are perfect—or at least perfect enough. Theologically speaking, isn’t this what Christ’s imputed righteousness means? There’s a sense in which we Christians are perfect in God’s eyes.

Here’s where this hits home with me: I am an ambitious person, and my ambition has not served me well. In fact, it’s harmed me badly. Since I was a child, I’ve wanted to achieve things, objectively speaking, of which other people will have no choice but to stand up and take notice. They will recognize me, appreciate me, praise me. “If only you accomplish this, Brent, then you will be somebody. Then you will be accepted. Then you will be loved.”

Of course, whenever I get what I think I need, I’m never satisfied.

But suppose the Song of Solomon is true: to say the least, I don’t need anything from anyone other than the One whose love for me is true. I have nothing to prove to him. Whether I succeed or fail, his love for me is undiminished. My value to him isn’t based on what I accomplish.

A thousand love songs other than the Song of Solomon express this truth, but nearly my favorite is “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks. It’s the story of lovers Terry and Julie, who, the narrator observes, need absolutely nothing other than their beloved: “But they don’t need no friends/ As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset/ They are in Paradise.”

Dear Lord, let me fall in love with you the way you have fallen in love with me.

Good Friday Sermon 2017: “Jesus, Remember Me”

April 15, 2017

left: “Scary Lucy”; right: the new improved Lucy statue

I preached the following sermon last night, April 14, 2017, at Hampton United Methodist Church’s Good Friday service.

Sermon Text: Luke 23:32-56

Last August, the mayor of Celeron, New York, unveiled a bronze statue to honor hometown hero Lucille Ball on the occasion of her 105th birthday. Which sounds great. What town wouldn’t be proud to honor an actress and comedian as funny and accomplished as Lucy herself with a statue in the town square? And it’s a lovely statue. Looks just like the Lucy I remember from reruns of I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show.

But…

Unfortunately, this was not the town’s first attempt at honoring the local legend. Several years earlier, the town unveiled a statue that came to be known as “Scary Lucy.” And this statue looked nothing like her, as you can see from this photo. Can you imagine? After all she had accomplished… Few Hollywood entertainers, whether men or women, accomplished more in their careers than Lucille Ball—and this is what she has to show for it? This is how she’ll be remembered? I’m sure Lucy herself would say, “Thanks, but no thanks!”

Well… At least the town of Celeron, New York, finally made it right.

Yet we want to be remembered… I remember Kim, a beautiful young woman who was a classmate of mine at Henderson High School. I won’t dare say her last name for fear of embarrassing her. But I remember an evening in May of 1988—the night of the “Miss Henderson” Pageant. Kim was a contestant in the pageant. And during the question-and-answer portion of the program, she was asked the following question: “What do you hope your legacy will be?” What do you hope your legacy will be? Great question. And poor Kim, her face froze. She had the proverbial “deer in the headlights” look, as it became clear that she had no idea what the word “legacy” meant! Read the rest of this entry »

Maundy Thursday Sermon 2017

April 13, 2017

In tonight’s Maundy Thursday service, I preached a series of three short homilies on scripture related to this night. While I read the scripture for each homily, some of our youth acted it out. The following is my original manuscript of these homilies.

Homily 1 Text: John 13:1-20

Belle (Emma Watson) dancing with the Beast.

Last weekend, I saw Disney’s new live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Somehow, watching flesh-and-blood human beings act out the story—as opposed to cartoon characters—brought home to me just how beastly the beast’s behavior was toward Belle. Think about it: The Beast, whom the audience quickly ends up rooting for, was literally holding a young woman captive in his castle—trying to make her fall in love with him. Because only the giving and receiving of love will undo the curse of the enchantress who turned this vain, uncaring, self-centered prince into a beast in the first place.

It’s as if the Beast were saying, “You better love me or else—or else I’ll never let you out of this prison!” It’s insane… It’s so wrong! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 04-02-17: “The Unpardonable Sin”

April 13, 2017

We need to hear Jesus’ warning in today’s scripture: We can commit a sin that will permanently, eternally exclude us from God’s kingdom and send us to hell. What is it? How can we be sure we haven’t committed it? How can we be sure we won’t commit it? This sermon will answer these questions.

Sermon Text: Matthew 12:22-32

I worked at Kroger when I was in high school. I worked alongside a young man named Elbert who was the first Pentecostal Christian I ever knew. More than any other Christian tradition, Pentecostals tend to place a greater emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, on miracles, on spiritual gifts—especially the gift of speaking in tongues. Many Pentecostals will even say that other Christians haven’t received the gift of the Holy Spirit unless or until they give evidence of having received the Spirit—which, to them, means speaking in tongues.

As much as I respect Pentecostals—and trust me, if I’m ever in some life-threatening situation, I want a Pentecostal praying for me, because they pray as if they mean business; they pray expecting results. But as much as I respect Pentecostals, this widespread Pentecostal doctrine that says we’ve only received the Holy Spirit if we speak in tongues is deeply unbiblical. After all, the main issue that Paul speaks against in 1 Corinthians is the moral superiority that some of the Corinthian Christians feel toward other Christians in the church who, unlike them, don’t possess more extravagant spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues. Paul says that all true believers have spiritual gifts—and they’re all important in the body of Christ. This controversy inspired him to write the most beautiful love poem in the ancient world: 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Anyway, it was through Elbert that I first became aware of the fact that there are Christians who worry about whether or not they’ve committed the so-called unpardonable sin that Jesus mentions in today’s scripture: what Jesus refers to as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” Elbert explained to me that he didn’t grow up Pentecostal, and he used to make fun of Pentecostals. He made fun of the idea that they spoke in tongues—that there was anything more to it than just incoherent babble. And he said to me, “I just hope that before my conversion I never blasphemed the Holy Spirit.” I said, “What are you talking about?” And he referred me to today’s scripture. He was afraid that by making fun of the gift of speaking in tongues he might have inadvertently “spoke a word against the Holy Spirit,” and thus committed the unpardonable sin. Read the rest of this entry »

“Welcome to the human race”

April 12, 2017

Recently, a clergy friend posted on Facebook a complaint about what he perceived to be a hypocritical lapse in compassion on the part of our denomination and its leaders. I don’t know if his complaint is justified or not. What matters for my purpose is the way the comments section spiraled out of control, with both sides pointing fingers at the other: “Who are you to talk? You’re not doing enough to solve the problem!” “No, you’re not doing enough!” That sort of thing.

What struck me is how fervently both sides were arguing that the other side was wrong. I wanted to say, “Guys, can’t you see that both sides are wrong, that you’re all hypocrites—that we’re all hypocrites? None of us is very good at loving our neighbor or being compassionate.”

I remember sitting in a therapist’s office once, confiding in him about a dark episode in my life about which I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. He listened sympathetically, shrugged, and said, “Welcome to the human race.”

Welcome to the human race.

Exactly. We are all miserable sinners. I am. You are. Or haven’t you noticed?

Anne Kennedy has, and she wrote a fine blog post about it yesterday. She said that PepsiCo and United Airlines performed a great service for us last week.

Why? you ask. Well, think about it this way. Part of having technology and ease of lifestyle and a first world context where things basically work is the ridiculous idea that maybe human beings are good. When you’re walking down a shiny grocery aisle picking up the things that you want to eat that aren’t going to kill you, and then you go through the line where you can not only easily get change, you can even get change for a big fat bill without having to argue with the check out person about how that’s impossible, you might be inclined to go home and think that you are good and the grocery people are good and all the people are good. But see, that’s just not true. People are bad. The Pepsi Ad and the United Ugliness show all of us how bad we really are…

See, what’s so beautiful about these two fantastic moments is that they illumine that we are bad and stupid even when (sometimes especially when) we are trying to be good and awesome. Pepsi did not wake up that auspicious morning and say to itself in its tinny multimillion dollar voice, ‘How can I literally offend every single person in the world today?’ They said, ‘How can we get people to buy this gross sugary drink thereby increasing our shareholder whatchamacallit and making all people love us more.” They were trying to do a nice thing.

Likewise, all the people working at United didn’t wake up and think, ‘You know what would be great? Publicly shaming and humiliating and abusing a person who paid us more money than we’re worth for a product we’re not that great at delivering anyway!’…

Finally, bringing her focus back to Holy Week and Good Friday, she writes:

And so God… is able to take all our ‘good intentions’ which lead us directly into the lap of humiliating evil, to bring about the best good ever, which is the salvation of humanity from itself and all its ‘good works’ and ‘good intentions.’ (Sorry about all the scare quotes.)

 

“Don’t you forget about me”

April 7, 2017

William Temple, the mid-twentieth century Archbishop of Canterbury, said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.”

Inasmuch as this is true, my “religion” is what other people think of me. Years ago, in my first job out of college, I worked with a successful salesman named Alec. One time he told me that he didn’t care nearly as much about his commission checks as he did about being recognized for his accomplishments.

At the time, given how small my own commission checks were, I thought he was nuts. Now I know exactly what he means!

I’ve made an idol out of recognition. I desperately crave the adoration and praise of others. And when I perceive that my “standing” before others is threatened in some way, I fall apart. (Notice I say “perceive,” because it doesn’t have to be based in reality.) I spend so much of my “solitude” obsessing over other people’s opinions of me.

Even a couple of weeks ago on Facebook, some high school classmates announced a thirtieth-year class reunion next year. Alongside the announcement, someone posted a video (captured from an old VHS tape) of the Henderson High School class of 1988: scenes of classmates goofing off and making faces in hallways, classrooms, breezeways, and the cafeteria. My classmates look like extras from The Breakfast Club. They’re all young and beautiful.

Then there’s me. I’m in it—for a moment. And in that moment, I was by myself.

I promise my internal monologue while watching this video sounded something like this: Why are you by yourself, Brent? Where are your friends? Did you have any friends? You’re only in this video because you got in the way of the camera. Were you a loser? Surely when people see you in this video, that’s what they’re thinking. And what must they think of you now? What do you have to show for yourself these past 30 years? If you go to the reunion—as if anyone wants to see you there, anyway—are you finally going to lose that last ten pounds?

This is just one small episode in my life. But God help me, these sorts of monologues happen all the time!

Getting back to Temple’s point: How much happier would I be if my religion were properly centered not on the false god of “what other people think of me” but on the God whose opinion of me never changes. He couldn’t think more highly of me. And no one and nothing can take away his esteem.

My head knows this, but my heart forgets.

Having Christian convictions doesn’t mean we have God “100 percent figured out”

April 7, 2017

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about Dr. Howell.

He only appears to offer one reply per commenter, so he didn’t reply to my second comment. But in response to another dissenter, who also challenged him on scripture, he refused to take the bait. Instead, he wrote the following:

I guess I keep hoping that readers will join me in the faithful posture that we don’t have God 100% figured out just yet, that however much we know, we’ve missed something, so we have learning and growth ahead and this might be the time. Doesn’t imply an outcome, just a dream of something besides defensiveness and fault-finding on both sides.

This sounds nice at first. He’s right: none of us has God “100 percent figured out”—not even close! We are finite and fallible. We see through a glass darkly. By all means! So Dr. Howell’s comment seems humble. And what kind of jerk must be to be so presumptuous—so arrogant—to think that I do have God 100 percent figured out? People with strong convictions on this issue must think they have God 100 percent figured out!

But not so fast…

Dr. Howell’s implication is obviously false. To believe that we know something about God isn’t the same as believing that we we know everything about God. Indeed, classic Christian theology teaches that God is unknowable apart from what God has chosen to reveal to us. And how does God reveal himself? The primary way is through his holy Word, the Bible. This is, in fact, the only infallible way that any of us possesses.

Progressives like to interject at this point that the Word of God is Jesus, not the Bible, but that’s a false choice. Yes, Jesus is the Word of God, and he is the perfect revelation of God. But everything we know for sure about Jesus—given that he ascended to heaven and now reigns at the right hand of the Father—we know from the Word of God that is the Bible. If someone has received a “revelation” about Jesus that contradicts what’s revealed about him in scripture (cf. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons) we rightly reject it.

So as I said in my original comment to him, there’s no getting around it: if the different sides to this conflict in the UMC are going to listen to one another, which Dr. Howell says he wants to do, we need to talk about what we believe about the Bible. This, I suspect, will be the heart of the division in our denomination.

God wants us to make wise decisions, but he can redeem even foolish ones

April 6, 2017

doRecently, I had a conversation with a friend who was mulling over a major life decision. He sensed that God was calling him to change his career, but it wasn’t clear. He said, “I wish I could know for sure if this is what the Lord wants me to do.”

As I listened, I became newly sympathetic with a complaint made by theologian Phillip Cary. In his book Good News for Anxious Christians, he says that over the past few generations a novel idea has entered the mainstream of evangelical Christian thought: that the primary means by which we hear God speak to us is not through studying the scriptures, reflecting on them, and letting them guide our decisions, but by discerning a “voice” or intuition inside our heart and believing that it comes from God. Cary insists that it doesn’t.

The practice of listening for God’s voice in your heart has only recently displaced Scripture as the most important way, in the view of most evangelicals, that God reveals himself to us… The idea… was that when you have a big decision to make—say, about marriage or your career—then you are supposed to seek guidance from God (good idea!) and the key way to do that is by listening to how he’s speaking in your heart (bad idea!).[†]

While I have no reason to doubt that Cary fairly represents the evangelical tradition, I can’t go all the way with him: Doesn’t God guide us in our decision making—even through intuitions or dreams? And if we refer to this guidance as God’s “voice,” I have no problem with that—so long as we don’t believe that whatever God “tells” us this way is equal in authority to God’s Word.

But I agree with him that we put unneeded pressure on ourselves if we expect to hear this “voice” (sorry for all the scare quotes) every time we have an important decision to make. Like Cary says, God gave us the gifts of our minds and wisdom to reason things through. We are not wrong to use them! In fact, let’s trust that God will guide us as we do so.

Besides, the most important and perhaps least appreciated way that God guides us is through providence. Providence is the doctrine that says that God is always guiding us through everything that happens in our lives and the world. God is always at work through circumstances in our lives, both good and bad.

Do you see how God’s providence takes the pressure off—at least a little? Getting back to my friend’s dilemma, there isn’t necessarily one right choice that he needs to make, otherwise he is “out of God’s will” unless or until he corrects his mistake and gets back on the path that God chose for him. God is infinitely resourceful: not that God doesn’t want us to make wise decisions in the first place, but God can redeem even foolish ones. If my friend makes a poor choice and regrets the decision, guess what? God will bring good even out of that choice.

Haven’t we all had experiences in our lives about which we say, “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, but I’m glad it happened to me”?

Providence means that, in a sense, wherever we are right now is where God wants us to be. Which means at every moment we can accomplish God’s will for us: which is, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us, to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2010), 2-3.

Please don’t patronize us, Dr. Howell

April 6, 2017

The Rev. Dr. James Howell, a United Methodist pastor and Duke Divinity School lecturer, published a popular blog post yesterday about sex, marriage, and sexual sin—the issues that threaten to split our denomination in 2019. He says that his post is “something of a final resort” as an appeal for unity, rather than division.

In response to it, I posted the following on Facebook:

While I appreciate Rev. Howell’s irenic tone here, I would have to “die on that same hill” with Talbot Davis, in part because the apostles in Acts 15 seemed willing to. Or else why include the caveat of verse 20 against porneia [Greek for “sexual immorality”]? And what did porneia mean to the apostles, and does it mean something different today and why?

But even to have that discussion involves exegesis and hermeneutics—and before long we’re knee-deep in a discussion about the authority of scripture. Still, Howell says we’re not really arguing theology. Really? It feels like we are. As much as Howell wants us to listen to one another, I don’t feel “listened to” when he says otherwise. In fact, I feel patronized. But enough about my feelings! Good arguments don’t depend on feelings. (Do they?)

He gives reasons why our disagreement isn’t over an “essential” of Christian faith. But surely he knows that “my side” has a counter argument. Why does he give no evidence that he’s heard it? If he has, surely he wouldn’t resort, for example, to an argument over the Articles of Religion, the General Rules, or Wesley’s sermons. What about the Bible? I don’t think anyone on my side will be persuaded apart from a biblical argument.

But Rev. Howell and I do agree on this: Essentials of the Christian faith are worth splitting over.

I also posted a similar comment on his blog. He wrote this in reply:

But can’t you feel your (and my, we all do it) selectivity? Exegesis couldn’t be clearer regarding what to do with our possessions, or with whom you eat dinner, or whether to accumulate pension funds, etc. We roundly ignore these items or rationalize, don’t we? But then on homosexuality we become literalists?

To which I wrote,

I’m confused, James. Are you saying that you believe the church’s traditional doctrine on sexuality is correct, but, since we fall short in all these other areas, we’re hypocrites to try to follow it?

By all means, the Law can only condemn us. And when it does, we fall on our knees and thank God for the cross of his Son Jesus. We don’t shrug and say something like, “My greed, or my hypocrisy, or my idolatry is no big deal.” It is a big deal; it will send us to hell apart from Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

So do we ignore or rationalize other ways in which we sin? I’m sure we do. We’re terrible sinners, after all. But inasmuch as we become aware of our sin, we repent. And as pastors we teach our flock to do the same.

Do you disagree? Have I misunderstood you?

I want to underscore one point I make above: Despite protests to the contrary, Dr. Howell hasn’t heard me—or people on “my side”—if he doesn’t understand why we believe these issues related to sex are essential to Christian faith. We make this argument from scripture—not from creeds, confessions, or founding documents of our denomination. If the Bible is our ultimate authority that guides faith and practice (which United Methodists say they believe), then it’s no use arguing from lesser authorities.

By the way, the same creeds, confessions, and founding documents that fail to mention sexual sin also fail to mention any number of sins about which Dr. Howell and Methodists on the left wing have also “become literalists.” By Dr. Howell’s logic, should we disregard the Bible’s teaching on immigrants, for example, because we ignore so many other “clear” teachings of scripture? I suspect he would say no.

Because of scripture, we believe that without repentance, the practice of homosexuality—alongside many other sins that all of us have committed—risks excluding us from God’s kingdom eternally. While I don’t expect Dr. Howell to agree with this conviction, I do expect him and my fellow United Methodists who disagree with “my side” to understand what’s at stake for us.

Please don’t patronize us by saying that we’re not really arguing theology or that matters pertaining to (nothing less than) eternal life or death aren’t “essential.”

If you believed what we believe about this or any other sin, you would agree that, in the interest of love, it is essential.