Jim West’s Inconsistent Christianity

Jim West has posted some of his views on homosexuality from time to time, including posts which are so ridiculously illogical as to be bizarre.

But when he says that someone who disagrees with him isn’t a Christian, he’s gone too far.

The irony is that Jim embraces the work of historical minimalists with respect to ancient Israel – people whose historical conclusions lead them to dismiss the factuality of much of the material that conservative Christians assume to be historical.

It is completely inconsistent for him to then say that someone  is not a Christian because they – on the basis of Biblical principles of inclusiveness, fidelity, and love – accept gays and lesbians as human beings made in the image of God and as in no way inferior to heterosexuals.

Jim West’s own stance on many matters reflects the acknowledgment that our thinking cannot and should not simply mirror what Christians have thought in the past.

I just wish he’d adopt that stance consistently.

 

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  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    I don’t think Bob Cargill is a Christian (correct me if I’m wrong), so Occidentalis probably isn’t wrong about that.
    I have always been astonished by Occidentalis’s hypocrisy on the matter of Biblical authority.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dan.ortiz.54 Dan Ortiz

      What is Occidentalis?

      • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

        A euphemism.

        • http://www.facebook.com/dan.ortiz.54 Dan Ortiz

          Oh I see…. of JW….

    • Nick
      • http://www.facebook.com/dan.ortiz.54 Dan Ortiz

        I’m sure he isn’t…. maybe a theist

      • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

        “Dr. Cargill was raised as a Christian and attended the University Church of Christ while he resided in Malibu, CA. He has stated that Christian insistence upon the “inerrancy and infallibility” of the Bible and a literal interpretation of the biblical text is greatly harming modern Christianity. He does not view stories of a biblical six-day creation and a Great Flood as historical.”

        and

        “huh?
        [Are you still a Christian?]
        yes. depends on who you ask.
        [Do you still believe the deity of Abraham is real?]
        probably not, unless defined less specifically.
        [What about all the other thousands of gods man has claimed to be real?]
        probably not, unless described more generally.
        [Why don’t you treat Yahweh the same way you do Vishnu or Xenu?]
        who says i don’t?”
        are not reassuring to me. Bob has been known to like videos of NonStampCollector.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          He was a Christian, and he definitely is a blogger, so why not just ask him how he self-identifies now? People change sometimes.

          • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

            According to the New York Times
            ““I said this person should be compelled to answer the published criticisms of his work at his Ph.D. defense,” Raphael Golb said. Some of the e-mail messages suggested that Mr. Cargill, who describes himself as agnostic, was a fundamentalist Christian and an anti-Semite.”
            http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/nyregion/online-battle-over-ancient-scrolls-spawns-real-world-consequences.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

            • Dorothy King

              I’m Jewish and in my dealings with Cargill I have never experienced anti-Semitism – it’s an easy accusation to make when a Christian criticises a Jew, but … let’s just say Golb does not seem to be a credible witness

              • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

                I know Golb isn’t a credible witness. The New York Times is, however. I have bolded the relevant portion of my comment.

        • Nick

          Sounds like he rejects the Old Testament as the writings of men. Perhaps he’s a Marcionite?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            He would say the same about the New Testament, I am fairly certain. Again, I would hate to have people guessing my religious views rather than asking me, so I would encourage you to ask Bob and see whether he has something he is happy to say on this topic.

            • Nick

              You’re right. I should have kept silent. Sorry.

              I tend to reflexively respond when I see someone’s Christianity being questioned. But, I dunno the guy so it’s not really any of my business.

              • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                I don’t think it is a bad instinct, and I didn’t mean to suggest that you should keep silent! I just think that it is better to ask someone and see if there is a “definitive” answer they are willing to give, rather than debate their view while they look on. I’m pretty sure Bob has read at least some of these comments! :-)

                • Robert Cargill

                  that’s not a bad idea. and thanx to pithom for the invitation.

                  so tell me: where in matthew 25, when the king is separating the sheep from the goats, does it list church attendance, proper position on same-sex marriage, or even belief in the existence of god in the list of reasons given by the king for admission into the kingdom.

                  where in this passage (matt 25:31-46) does it even mention doing these deeds in the name of jesus?

                  what is more important: proper action or proper belief?

                  i say action. lived life is superior to believed life, and i’m not even from missouri.

                  kind and just deeds are not means to an end; they are ends in themselves. we should not do kind things so we can get something in return (like a hypothetical star in a hypothetical crown in a hypothetical heaven). rather, we should do what is right because it is the right thing to do, understanding ‘right’ as that which builds up self and neighbor and community, and makes others’ lives a little brighter.

                  if we take care of each other, the afterlife will take care of itself. and if there is none, then we still lived a great life, and our children will speak highly of us at the city gates. and if there is, then all the better.

                  stop arguing about life after death and start living the one before it. live it well. be merciful. be fair. and love one another.

                  however you define that, that’s what i am.

                  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.ortiz.54 Dan Ortiz

                    Technically that will be a Jedi Knight then Bob,
                    On a serious note, I fully feel for you that so many people want to judge you on the basis of a label. It must get really tiring I bet.
                    Kudos on speaking up.

                  • Robert Cargill
                  • Nick

                    Well, at any rate, I’m sure you’re closer to the Kingdom of God than I am.

                    I do agree, there will be many who come from east and west who did not believe as I did in this life.

                • Nick

                  Thanks :) I know you didn’t mean to suggest that.

  • Eric

    Reason #219 I quit reading West’ blog years ago.

    • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

      I don’t read his blog, either. I don’t want his garbage clogging up my RSS feed.

  • archaeologist

    Cargill, Mcgrath, Watts, West are all false teachers and far from being Christian.

    • Just Sayin’

      Better them than the con on-the-run Little Honey David Tee-Tee.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dan.ortiz.54 Dan Ortiz

      David Tee, is this you? I have heard so much about you…. It is like meeting a celebrity really… I hear you are wanted by the American Government? …. what did you do?…. I mean, what DIDN’T you do?…. Did you pretend to be someone you are not or something? Never mind. Perhaps when you clear your name, as I’m sure you are capable of doing, then you can tell us how you know more about the Bible, archaeology and science then the four “Horsemen” you mentioned above…. you know…. the ones with letters behind their (real) names?… anyway gotta run….. ooopsss… not that I am on the run or something.

      • archaeologist

        it is amazing how people, who do not like the truth, find a way to attack, lie and insult the messenger. Jesus and the disciples spoke of false teachers and of those who didn’t want sound doctrine and your attempts to hurt someone simply prove you are in that group they spoke about.
        none of those 4 live like Jesus did which the Bible teaches believers are to do.

        • Ian

          “Jesus and the disciples spoke of false teachers and of those who didn’t want sound doctrine”

          How wonderfully ironic. You couldn’t have parodied that better if you tried

          “the word ‘christian’ means ‘christ-like’ and i do not see you west, mcgrath, cargill or watts being Christ-like–do you” – yes, indeed. As someone who’s consistently lied about himself, this is such a delicious irony, Doctor Tee. That you can’t see it, makes it doubly so.

          • Joshua Smith

            Please, Doctor Tee was Honey’s father. Call him “Mister Tee.”

            • Just Sayin’

              Little Honey’s theology is more advanced than Mister Tee’s!

  • Ian

    As the moderate middle moves (which it is doing at phenomenal speed) the choice is to move with them, or to stay and cast your lot with the resolute extreme. Jim will either change with the rest of humanity, or his words will become more bitter and vicious. Once this process begins it is self reinforcing. Stronger words lead to a stronger linking of one’s identity with the issue, which leads to increasing radicalization and a higher cost in integrity to changing one’s position.

    It is very likely you’ll see other of Jim’s positions become more conservative, as he severes the ties of his self-conception with folks like you, and constructs his identity with those true Christians who remain firm on this issue.

    Jim is not the only pastor in this position. It is damaging and destructive, but ultimately the growth of justice has never been characterised by easy or painless change.

    • Ian

      I wrote this comment, then deleted it after reading Jim’s post again more carefully. Unfortunately now it appears (to me) as anonymous. I want to be clear I do not post criticism anonymously, but I did intend to withdraw this comment.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        How odd! Do you want me to delete it, or leave it with your retraction? I can do either, as you prefer, but thought I had better ask first lest I create still more confusion! If I delete the original comment, I’ll delete these comments responding to it to. Just let me know!

        • Ian

          Its fine to leave it. Thanks for the offer though.

  • Kevin

    James – I find your statement “….. that
    our thinking cannot and should not simply mirror what Christians have
    thought in the past” interesting – some things are obvious, ie. slavery, pre-modern science etc — can you suggest a book that would address this line of thinking from a progressive perspective in more detail

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      One that quickly comes to mind is Keith Ward’s What the Bible Really Teaches.

  • Joshua Smith

    James, thanks for this post. I regularly read Jim West’s blog (heck, I read Al Mohler’s blog—”know thine enemy,” right? Not saying West is an “enemy,” though), and I often agree with a lot of what he posts. It’s important to remember that we all fall under the same massive umbrella that is Christianity, and share a certain measure of kinship in that regard. However, this particular subject is one on which West and I emphatically disagree.

    So thank you for being willing to call West out without being hyper-critical (as others have been), and for being one of the few progressive evangelical scholarly bloggers who has the guts to say something other than “Well, it’s really not the government’s place…”

    • archaeologist

      There is no massive umbrella called Christianity. God has defined who is a christian and who isn’t and most of those who call themselves a christian are not. there isonly 1 truth and most people reject that in favor of their alternate ideas and theories.
      the bible says to live as Jesus lived and most people who call themselves christian do not do so. jesus did not teach nor believe in a progressive creation so all progressive christians need to change their views.
      the word ‘christian’ means ‘christ-like’ and i do not see you west, mcgrath, cargill or watts being Christ-like–do you?

      • Joshua Smith

        Hi Little Honey Tee Tee, I’m Joshua, the Everyday Revolutionary. Now we’ve met. Know thine enemy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dan.ortiz.54 Dan Ortiz

        How do you know what Jesus believed about creation? Did he quote Gen 1 literally? or even take it literally? Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it but I rather make an informed observation than making stuff up. If you don’t like West, Mcgrath, Watts (who doesn’t like Watts), or Cargill and don’t accept their opinions, why do you humiliate yourself in arguing with them?

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephenjbedard Stephen J. Bedard

    While I agree with your criticism of inconsistency, I find your description of West’s view of homosexuality interesting. I see any sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman as being sinful according to the Bible. At the same time, I would say I “accept gays and lesbians as human beings made in the image of God and as in no way inferior to heterosexuals.” Would this be considered inconsistent?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      On the one hand, I find adopting a stance that says that those attracted to someone of the same gender is not allowed to marry that person, and so must either remain alone or marry someone of a gender they are not attracted to, problematic.

      But my point about inconsistency is that West denies that the Bible is authoritative when it comes to details about the history of Israel, and so it isn’t clear why or on what basis he insists that it is authoritative with regard to sexual ethics. Perhaps he could make a case – I’m not saying that’s impossible. But to simply say “Because the Bible says, and it is authoritative” when that is not a view he holds consistently is problematic, as it seems we agree.

      • http://www.facebook.com/stephenjbedard Stephen J. Bedard

        I agree with what you are saying about West. We are on the same page there. What i thought was interesting was how you worded his position. I think I can see homosexual activity as sinful (as is pre-marital and extra-marital sex among heterosexuals) without denying that homosexuals are created in the image of God or claiming that they are inferior to heterosexuals.

        As for denying a person with same-sex attraction the right to act on that attraction, there are a number of things that could be said. One is that it is none of the church’s business what people outside the church do. As for homosexuals within the church, I see no promises within the Bible that any of us has the absolute right to act on whatever we feel. That is not an attack on homosexuality but an observation that it never seems to be God’s priority to give us what we feel like having.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          We do, however, find enshrined in the Bible principles such as that it is not good for a human being to be alone. Indeed, it seems to be the defining element in the mythical story in Genesis about the origin of marriage. And yet there are those who claim that the Bible is important to them, yet for whom this central principle about marriage is made subservient to other passages. This isn’t about having an absolute right to act on what we feel. It is about having a right not to share one’s life with a person to whom one has committed oneself to be faithful, and have that commitment respected in law in the same way that the comparable commitment of others is.

          • http://www.facebook.com/stephenjbedard Stephen J. Bedard

            I actually have no problem with same-sex marriage being recognized by law. It is none of my business what other people do. But to be fair to the Genesis account, the specific answer to the problem of not being alone is the joining of man and woman. In context, the maleness and femaleness is very important. The story is much more than attraction and being able to act on that attraction. I’m not trying to promote an anti-gay agenda. However, as someone who takes the Bible seriously (i’m not suggesting you don’t), I can’t get past what I see as the Bible teaching that a sexual relationship is to be between a married man and woman. The only way I could move beyond this position is take the stand that morality should be determined by current social standards rather than biblical teachings. I understand that there are Christians who are either happy reinterpreting the Bible our concluding the Bible is simply wrong. I am not prepared for either move. Having said that, nor am I interested in pushing my interpretation in the courts. People are free to do as they please.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              I don’t see the maleness and femaleness as essential. It is essential if you are going to tell a story about two first people and not also have them be the two last people. :-) But the story is clearly symbolic (as Jesus’ own interpretation of it also emphasizes) of the fact that human beings find another person and experience that person as though they were our long lost other half, even though they are not literally such. And so I find problematic any approach to the text which does not do justice to the fact that some people, made in the image of God, have that experience towards someone of the same gender.


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