In my previous post, I explained why Jen Hatmaker does not understand contextualization. This was necessary because she and her interviewers use language that might mislead people about what is genuinely biblical contextualization. Fundamentally, her arguments are flawed because of an increasingly popular but superficial way of interpreting Scripture.
This post examines the specific passage she seems to use in order to justify her views on LGBTQ and same-sex marriage. I will first remind you of her comments explaining the turning point in her thinking. She said,
Basically, Jesus is like, “Ok, well, some things are hard to understand, some things are confusing, people are confusing; there’s conflict. When you are not sure, when there’s something, be it a relationship or a person or a doctrine, whatever, that feels ambiguous or it feels contentious or there’s tension around its interpretation, look to the fruit. Like the fruit is going to tell you the truth. Because ultimately, however you slice it, a good tree is going to bear good fruit and a bad tree is going to bear bad fruit. And there you go. There’s a clue….”
In her interview, she effectively defines “fruit” as one’s emotional response to another’s actions and opinions. At the very least, her usage is equivalent to consequence. For the moment, let’s set aside the problematic way she defines “fruit.”
What text does she use to support her perspective?
“You will recognize them by their fruits.”
Instead, consider the passage Hatmaker has in mind. It took me a bit to figure it out, but she appears to refer to Matt 7:15–20.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
According to Hatmaker, Jesus speaks about “contentious,” “confusing,” and “ambiguous” relationships or doctrines. She applies Jesus’ supposed message to a dispute among contemporary believers.
In fact, Jesus refers to “false prophets,” who are “ravenous wolves.” These “trees” will eventually be “cut down and thrown into the fire.” So, what does this mean? First, Jesus is talking about outsiders or non-believers. Second, these people will be who will be condemned. Context matters, so we ought to keep reading.
Jesus continues his point in the following sentences (Matt 7:21–23).
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Jesus’ comments clarify that he speaks of people who do not know him, thus who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. These “workers of lawlessness” even cast out demons! Such works at least sound like validating “fruit” according to Hatmaker’s broad usage. In reality, Jesus’ teaching on fruit explicitly helps his disciples identify deceivers who do not belong, not who should be included.
Someone might object by claiming that Hatmaker extracted a “principle.” However, the validity of a principle would depend on a similarity of context. Hatmaker addresses a far different set of circumstances that Jesus did in Matt 7. If she were to consistently apply Matt 7 to our context, she effectively implies that people who hold to traditional church teaching about LGBTQ issues are lawless, ravenous wolves, who will not enter the kingdom of heaven.*For a related passage, check our Deut 13:1–4, where a false prophet is identified by his message, not his actions.
Did Jesus bear “rotten” fruit?
A few chapters later, another passage presents a serious challenge to Hatmaker’s view of “fruit.” She says Christians who affirm a traditional position about LGBTQ overwhelmingly bear “rotten” fruit, such as:
broken families, folks kicked out of their churches, …. self-hatred, self-harm, and depression, crushing loneliness, separation from God self-imposed…
In essence, she claims the chaos caused by sin is an argument against the church speaking against homosexual behavior. That is, bad results apparently invalidate the actions that led to those results.
If so, then Jesus bore rotten fruit. In Matthew 10, he says,
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Jesus explicitly says he will cause “broken families.” Does Hatmaker then want us to reject Jesus?
Do emotions make right and wrong?
By analogy, suppose a parent places a restriction on a child, such as “Do not touch the stove” or “Don’t cross the street.” What if the child threw a major tantrum and did not want to have a relationship with the parents?
Does the child’s negative emotional response count as fruit that invalidates the parent’s restriction?
Why even use the Bible?
Popular speakers like Hatmaker and Rachel Evans illustrate a trend that should terrify people in the church. Christians increasingly lack basic exegetical (interpretive) skills and awareness of biblical theology (not merely systematic theology). Seminaries and churches stress doctrine to the gross neglect of more fundamental needs.
Thus, the church divides into theological factions without any recourse for genuine dialogue.
Simply reads the following quote from Rachel Held Evans,
“For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is nor a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We are all selective…. If you are looking for Bible verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them….
There are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not, What does it say? but What am I looking for?” (p. 296, A Year of Biblical Womanhood)
The last line is appalling. If I applied that standard to her own statement, then she would have to agree that the Bible supports slavery (if “what I’m looking for” is a statement from her affirming that idea). In reality, anyone who counts the Bible as sacred, the last thing we are allowed to be is selective.
Selective reading is the precise problem I try to address in One Gospel for All Nations. In contextualization, we don’t contend with the problem by yielding to it. Rather, we reject a mono-cultural perspective; Instead, we seek increasingly to gain a much broader perspective, one made up of viewpoints from around the world and throughout history.
Yes, we are all guilty of selective reading. But that does not mean we cannot attempt to limit the problem. It certainly does not mean we read the Bible with only our emotions and not our head.