Redemptive Trend: Response to Grudem

Last week I posted a basic summary of Grudem’s response to the redemptive trend hermeneutic or the redemptive movement hermeneutic (RMH). This week I want to offer a response to Grudem, and I welcome your comments.
Overall I think Grudem fairly describes Webb’s RMH; I wouldn’t describe him always the same way and at times Grudem uses language that is a bit slanted, but I think Grudem has been fair-minded. But, I have serious concerns about Grudem’s response.
My overall comment is this: instead of saying Webb’s “principles cast all of the NT’s ethical commands into doubt” (65), I would contend that Webb has actually articulated an understanding of how Christians have sought to apply the Bible in changing contexts. Webb’s proposal is a first offer; he’s a pioneer in articulating these things. What we need is folks to walk with him, talk with him, and converse on this very subject so we can refine, support, eliminate, and add to his criteria. I would contend that this is a very good evangelical book and one that the evangelical community needs to engage with serious rigor. I’m not saying I agree with everything. I’m saying Webb has sought to articulate the strategies we all use as we seek to bring the Bible into our world. To accuse this book of sliding down the slippery slope to liberalism is to label it instead of engaging it.

Further observations:
First, it is a well-known fact that Webb and Grudem have gone toe-to-toe about this and Webb, I think, has reasonably argued that his “ultimate ethic” is derived from the Bible and it is not a “not-yet-revealed” ethic that Webb fashions in his own mind. So, when Grudem speaks of Webb’s “better ethic” I think Webb has shown that his “better” is drawn from the Bible. Webb’s RMH, in other words, stops with the Bible in Webb’s own understanding.
Second, Grudem has narrowed the meaning of “evangelical.” I know many evangelicals who do not agree with what Grudem says all evangelicals have believed in this chp. His definition of “evangelical” is part of the current trend to narrow that meaning to something other than the quadrilateral of evangelicalism: Bible, cross, conversion, and activism (see David Bebbington’s book The Dominance of Evangelicalism).
Third, most importantly, Webb is not asking ethical statements in the Bible to go through his 18 criteria system and only those that survive will be practiced by Christians today. This must be understood, and I don’t think Grudem accepts this: Webb’s 18 criteria are an attempt to make explicit what Christians, in one way or another, in some ages more than others, do when they attempt to live the Bible out in our world.
It is unfair to Webb to think everyone has to master the 18 criteria in order to know how to live. Instead, Webb is making explicit what Christians do. Webb’s 18 criteria are the sorts of moves Christians make when they deal with texts like Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and to a lesser extent the NT.
This means Grudem’s scare tactics on pp. 70-71, when he plays out just how many will be qualified to tell us how to live as Christians today — almost no one — is unfair to Webb’s intent. I haven’t talked to William Webb about this, but I suspect he would say that his 18 criteria are actual moves made by lay folks who are untrained. Even if they are not conscious of the moves they are making, they do these things themselves. If Webb wouldn’t say that, I will: in my experience I have heard nearly every one of these moves as the way Christians think when they think about whether or not to follow some of the Bible’s statements.
Open up pp. 14-15 of this book, give it to a Sunday School class, ask folks if they follow these things, ask why and why not, and then start recording answers. If you listen hard enough and to enough folks, you just might get all 18 criteria.
Fourth, Grudem opens the door to each of the 18 criteria on p. 73. On that page, Grudem posits two criteria of his own, and I argue they are too general to be useful and really do open to each of the 18 criteria Webb articulates:
Criteria one:
“Most evangelicals (including me) believe we are under the moral authority of the NT and are obligated to obey its commands when we are in the same situation as that addressed in the NT command (such as a parent, a child, a person contemplating a divorce, a church selecting elders or deacons, a church preparing to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, a husband, a wife, and so forth).”
Criteria two:
“When there is no exact modern equivalent to some aspect of a command (such as ‘honor the emperor’ in 1 Pet. 2:17), we are still obligated to obey the command, but we do so by applying it to situations that are essentially similar.”
On criteria one the problem is obvious: what does “same situation” require? There is very little today that is the “same” as the 1st Century Roman or Jewish context. How much the “same” does it have to be? What about “almost the same”? Who is going to tell us what is the “same” and what is not? I think this criteria is open to the same accusations Grudem levels against Webb.
On criteria two the problem is even more obvious: What does “applying” mean? Is not the application process one that requires knowledge of the Bible, its context, its historical contexts for each author and book, and then some awareness of those historical codes and how the Bible works in that historical context? And then some knowledge of our modern world so that we can find something that is the “same” or “essentially similar”? Are we not back to the same problem? And what does “essentially similar” mean? And how do we determine what is “essentially similar”? Is it not by using criteria not unlike those in Webb? I think so.
By not spelling out what “applying” actually involves, what we run the risk of doing is simply continuing on with what we are comfortable with and without ever reflecting seriously on what we are actually doing. Let me give an analogy: Grudem and I both taught syntax at Trinity; we spelled out all the kinds of genitives and aorists. Instead of saying “aorist,” we spelled them out. Webb, instead of saying “applying,” has spelled them all out.
On the matter of slavery and the RMH, Grudem says this: “Most evangelical interpreters say that the Bible does not command or encourage or endorse slavery, but rather tells Christians who were slaves how they should conduct themselves, and also gives principles that would modify and ultimately lead to the abolition of slavery (1 Cor. 7:21-22; Gal. 3:28; Philem. 16, 21…).” The italicized words (my own italics), as I read them, are precisely what Webb means by the RMH. (On slavery, Mark Noll’s book actually shows that the evangelical Christians of the 19th Century did not all agree; but I can’t tell if Grudem means evangelicals today or always. It sure makes a difference on this one.)
In other words, Grudem has in fact opened the door to some kind of redemptive movement hermeneutic with his two criteria, some kind of (refined) skill needed in moving the Bible from that world into our world.
Finally, I register my disagreement on Grudem’s “slippery slope” argument. I have said before on this blog that I think nearly always the slippery slope accusation is dangerous. It is rhetorically effective for many; it often successfully labels someone a liberal (or leaning in that direction); but it is rarely a logical course of action. It works like this for Grudem (p. 28):
1. Abandon inerrancy.
2. Endorse ordaining women.
3. Abandon headship of males.
4. Exclude clergy who are opposed to women’s ordination.
5. Approve homosexuality as morally valid in some cases.
6. Approve homosexual ordination.
7. Ordain homosexuals to high leadership in denominations.
This is a “predictable” sequence (28) though only the Epicopals have done so. (Which means to me it is not all that predicatable, since there are plenty in #1 who aren’t in #7.)
I do not dispute this is the case for the Episcopalian Church in the USA; I don’t know that it is a logical process so much as an entire cluster of commitments, one of which would be a view of the Bible quite different than that of Grudem. I think, however, there is a lack of appreciation for (1) the many Episcopals who do not follow most (even any) of this and (2) for the lack of logical necessity between these steps. In other words, some don’t believe in inerrancy and still don’t endorse women’s ordination; some don’t believe in inerrancy and still believe in male headship. Conversely, some believe in inerrancy and still believe in some of the other numbers. There is no slipperly slope here. Not all those in the Episcopal Church agree with women’s ordination. Some make these moves from step to step; some don’t. That the latter happens proves that this is actually not a slippery slope that once one gets on that person will fall headlong down the path into the pit.
This sort of slope is actually a mental construct that some choose to believe. I don’t. We could easily make one that leads from accepting male headship to male abuse of women — and I am loath to bring this up because I find it obnoxious and illogical. But, the slippery slope mentality needs to be debunked for what it is: at best a sometimes-slope, almost never slippery, never necessary, and always a path taken by people who have chosen to go down that road for any number of reasons.
I go on record here in saying I think Webb’s book is a good one, the kind of book we need more of and not one that deserves to be pushed aside by sticking the “liberal” label or the “slippery-slope-toward-liberalism” label on its cover, preventing those who most need it from a careful read.

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  • http://www.communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted Gossard

    Good and helpful, Scot. Thanks. I’m going to share this with some of my interested friends at RBC Ministries.

  • James Petticrew

    I belong to the church of the Nazarene and have some problems with our denomination but it does seem that if the Episcopal church in the States is evidence for Grumden of a “slippery slope” we are evidence that the slip down the slope is not inevitable. We have been ordaining women for near a century and have recently elected one to the highest level of leadership in our church however we seem as far from endorse homosexuality as any so called “fundamentalist” denomination. Of course as Wesleyans we are well used to attempts to define us out of the evangelical camp.

  • http://www.wheatlandmission.com paulhill

    Thanks for this post, Scot. I think your point that Webb is pioneer in this area is an important one. His book has opened up a new conversation in the broader conversation of women in the church. It is a sane, humble, and deeply insightful look at the subject that gives due respect to Scripture.
    Also, your point that Webb is making explicit the implicit hermeneutic of so many Christians is great. I suspect that even those who are complementarian-hierarchialists utilize an RMH type hermeneutic but simply not the the length which Webb does. Webb makes this point in his book.
    Thanks again for taking on this book. I think it will be one of the more important ones in this important debate.

  • Beth

    A very trivial linguistic comment: I know how completely counterintuitive this fact is, but “Episcopal” is an *adjective*; “Episcopalian” is the noun denoting a member of the denomination. “Only Episcopalians have done so… this is the case for the Episcopal Church in the USA.”

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Beth,
    I’m increasingly hearing “Episcopals” — it still strikes me as odd.
    Any Episcopals out there wanting to speak up?

  • Dan Reid

    Scot,
    Does Wayne ever label Webb as “liberal” or is he saying Webb’s approach (perhaps even unwittingly) paves the way toward liberalism? I’ve only read portions of the book, and that was a few months ago. But my impression is that it’s the latter.
    Dan

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Dan,
    Thanks for this. I slightly edited to make it clear that Grudem’s book palpably places Webb’s book on the slippery slope toward liberalism but does not explicitly call Webb a liberal. I think his readers may well do so, though.

  • RJS

    Scot,
    The slippery slope argument – in all directions and on most issues – is in essence an argument to avoid engagement, avoid discussion, and avoid thought or action, for fear of where it might lead. This is troubling because it leads to as much error as it prevents, and it sets up unnecessary barriers. On the other hand we all apply this argument unconsciously, much like we apply Webb’s criteria. Human psychology is a complex and poorly understood subject, but most of us would agree that people often fall into sinful and addictive behaviors, not in one giant leap, but through a series of small steps that break down inhibitions and barriers. The same may apply to ideas and worldview – theology. Where does one draw the line and how?

  • http://blogicalinks.wordpress.com Cheryl

    Frankly, I’d rather be on the slip ‘n slide toward liberalism, than I had the slope toward irrelevancy.
    1. Maintain inerrancy.
    2. Exclude the ordination of women.
    3. Bless only the headship of males.
    4. Allow only clergy who are opposed to women’s ordination.
    5. Disapprove homosexuality as predetermining someone’s heart.
    6. Approve only men who have formed God into their image of their limited understanding.
    7. Sit back and congratulate yourselves on your inclusion in the Pharisee club.
    I’m not attacking Grudem personally. It’s just a tongue-in-cheek way to point out that the other side of the “slope” is fraught with a different kind of danger. And like you said, one point does not necessarily follow another.

  • http://danbrennan.typepad.com Dan Brennan

    Scot,
    Thanks for your insighful analysis of the two different approaches. The slippery slope not only includes the rational component of logical progression and sequence but the emotional component (fear of losing control, fear of yielding to spiritual and unconscious forces beyond our immediate grasp, etc.) feed off each other, as you already know. From my part of the world, another description of the emerging conversation, could be described as those who are reacting to so many slippery slope arguments across Christian theology and practice.
    Thanks for the conversation.

  • http://paulineperspectivesoldnewfresh.blogspot.com/ Matthew D. Montonini

    Scot,
    Great stuff! I see this going on also with the TNIV.

  • http://www.mattproctor.blogspot.com Matt Proctor

    hmm . . .
    I think it sounds silly of Webb to ever believe that there is a “better ethic” than the one outlined in Scripture. Slavery of the kind implemented in America was never condoned in Scripture. Everyone knows slavery was not a similar practice in the 1st century (the 1st century was way more humanitarian) as it was in America. America’s form of slavery was never biblical and it was sin that kept it in practice. People did not need the redemptive trend to move away from that former practice; they needed obedience to the words of Scripture. Similarly, we don’t need a redemptive hermeneutic to understand the role of men and women. Scripture has painted a beautiful picture. Cruel patriarchy cannot be justified from Scripture, but a Christ-like husband and Church-like wife can. Why would someone try to find better words, practices and metaphors than those used by the Holy Spirit?

  • Rob

    Thanks Scot. I just received Webb’s book, and plan to work my way through it over the next few weeks. I really like what I hear about it so far, so it should be an elightening exercise.

  • Matthew

    Thanks Scot. I appreciate the example of engaging a book instead of labelling it.
    My church experience in my youth commonly involved using labels and slippery slopes to reject anything outside of a small circle. This can go to the extreme of, “I don’t need to read it – I already know it’s bad!”
    I am less comfortable with Webb’s stated method than you, but I believe you are correct in calling Webb a pioneer; one who is verbalizing what is actually being done under the surface.

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    Matt, do you believe that polygamy is wrong, not just for church leaders, but for the church or world at large? If so, how have you created a ‘better’ ethic than that clearly created by Scripture? It’s this process that Scot and Webb are trying to discuss, and it’s one that we all employ without realizing it.

  • http://johnmortensen.com/dregs Linda Mortensen

    RJS #8 – “Human psychology is a complex and poorly understood subject, but most of us would agree that people often fall into sinful and addictive behaviors, not in one giant leap, but through a series of small steps that break down inhibitions and barriers. The same may apply to ideas and worldview – theology. Where does one draw the line and how?”
    I have the same question. However, breaking down inhibitions and barriers is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is a very good thing, both when applied to behavior and theology. I guess the best answer I have for now is that this is where wisdom that embraces a more developed intellectual, moral, spiritual, and emotional character is crucial: in other words, a more holistic maturity. But it would be nice if there were some clear cut principles to help with this. Drat! Another area where things aren’t spelled out!

  • Rick L in Tx

    Cheryl in #9 – brilliant!
    Matt in #13, weren’t there plenty of Bible-believing Christians in 1600s to 1863 who clearly interpreted the Bible in a way that allowed them to support and participate in slavery? It seems like chronological snobbery to simply dismiss that. Our individual hermeneutical and interpretational principles tend to be invisible to ourselves, and those of others seem blatantly obvious. SO I don’t think webb is being “silly” trying to come up with a better ethic. He is doing what the abolitionists were doing in the 1800s – trying to understand the ethic that is there.

  • Gavin Pendel

    re:7. While Grudem would not call Webb a liberal, he has (in the past) questioned Webb’s Christian faith. I am not wanting to attack Grudem, but recount an actual event that occurred at the ETS Annual Meeting in San Antonio (2004), Webb presented a paper in response to Grudem (part of the problem is that Grudem had misrepresented and misconstrued Webb’s RMH and then proceeded to argue against it, so this was Webb’s paper of clarification)
    and at the end affirmed his allegiance to the Christian faith. He then asked Grudem to shake his hand as a sign of Christian and academic brotherhood, which Grudem refused to do. Watching that session was intriguing and it reminded me that doing theology is not devoid of emotion. It is a passionate and sometimes emotional endeavour.

  • Joel Scandrett

    Scot, great stuff. Keep it up!
    Beth is right. I, for better or worse, am an “Episcopalian” (though I increasingly eschew the term in favor of “Anglican”). No self-respecting “Episcopalian” would ever use the term “Episcopal” as a noun. Of course, without the capital “E,” any number of Christians would be considered “episcopals”: Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Wesleyans, etc.
    My suspicion is that those using the term “Episcopals” aren’t “Episcopalians.” Be sure to correct them next time! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11314036 Bryan L

    Gavin in #18 – That’s sad to hear. Did this happen in front of everyone? What was the response by the people watching? It’s hard to believe that something like that would happen at such a widely attendended event by someone so well known in Evangelical scholarship.
    Matt in #12 – How do you know how humanitarian slavery in the 1st century was? It sounds like it was pretty horrible to me. Would you advocate slavery of the 1st century as biblical justifiable today since you think it’s more humanitarian?
    Just curious.
    Great post Scot. It’s hard to sum up a book like Webbs and I hope people take the time to read it in it’s entirety, especially the critics.
    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  • Brad

    On criteria one the problem is obvious: what does “same situation” require? There is very little today that is the “same” as the 1st Century Roman or Jewish context. How much the “same” does it have to be? What about “almost the same”?
    I would say that we today are essentially the same as the 1st Century Roman or Jew. If the Scriptures are directed to the submission of the creature to the Creator by enlightening the creature of his need for a new heart, a changed mind and an awakened soul in order to submit to the Creator, then you would need to prove that we are all that different today from those yesteryear. Sure, our hearts, minds and souls are impacted by culture, but our nature is the same today as it was then. The essential problem that I see here is that while culture may change, our Lord doesn’t:
    “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” -Hebrews 13:8
    The assertions I see from Webb (more subtlety) and others encroach upon on the truths of Scripture and subconsciously make truth subservient to human experience. These also seem far too quick to deny the testing of new assertions based on whether they reasonably hold together or not in light of Scripture, all for the sake of making them more palatable to a culture that by nature will never accept them at face value, but will accept them should the Scriptures be taught to acquiesce to its values.

  • Brad

    Frankly, I’d rather be on the slip ‘n slide toward liberalism, than I had the slope toward irrelevancy.
    #9, How would you define true relevancy? Cultural relevancy? The Lord I assume you serve, died after nearly everyone had left him. Even John, who watched at the foot of Christ’s cross, fled along with the other 10, the night before. Jesus was abandoned by his followers during his earthly ministry (John 6:66), and Paul writes of his abandonment in his letters. Tradition holds that the apostles were forsook, lived in obscurity and were abandoned before they were martyred. So what importance exactly do you place on relevancy concerning a follower of Jesus Christ?

  • http://blogicalinks.wordpress.com Cheryl

    #22 Brad,
    I was not implying that scripture is irrelevant; I was speaking about our lives becoming irrelevant. I mean that people can take scripture and orthodoxy and theology and whatever, and wrestle passionately with getting each and every part “just right,” and so narrowly limiting, that it ends up excluding practically everyone. Only the Pharisees (the most scrupulous “keepers/understanders of the scripture”) belong in that exclusive circle. Jesus himself said they’d missed the whole spirit of scripture.
    If we worked so passionately with the “doing” of God’s work as we do with figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong, we’d be a mighty force for good. If we’re not “doing” the work, then all our theology—right or wrong—is irrelevant.
    So my point was that our lives as Christians are relevant/irrelevant inasmuch as we allow the spirit of the scriptures to affect the world. For me personally, a liberal view of scripture and other people’s understanding of it is more closely aligned to the spirit. The conservative view seems to focus on laws, exclusivity, and the scary thought that someone who has a view other than your own MIGHT be “right.”
    That has been my own experience with religion, and of course, it shapes my views.

  • steve

    scot-
    Thanks for engaging this book by Webb; I also believe it to be an important contribution to the conversation, though I admit, it has been “messing” with me since the moment I picked it up!

  • Brad

    If we’re not “doing” the work, then all our theology—right or wrong—is irrelevant.
    and…
    So my point was that our lives as Christians are relevant/irrelevant inasmuch as we allow the spirit of the scriptures to affect the world.
    True. And if we are “doing the work” that isn’t according to the truth, this too is just as irrelevant. We are to be truth seekers just as fervently as “truth doers” and if the truth does not lie in us and that truth is not in harmony with the Scriptures then we have no reason to call ourselves followers of Jesus at all.
    The conservative view seems to focus on laws, exclusivity, and the scary thought that someone who has a view other than your own MIGHT be “right.”
    No argument here. But the liberal view seems to assert that the idea of testing one’s own salvation against the plain assertions of the Gospel and being humble and submissive to these assertions is rarely if ever right.
    The Pharisees held to the “spirit of the scriptures” and even crafted several laws and rules according to their own whims, as did the relatively liberal Herodians – who also sought to kill Jesus along with the Pharisees(Mark 3:6, 12:13).

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Gavin,
    I’m a little uncomfortable with this kind of personal information; not because that information is not valuable but because I have no way to confirm it since I wasn’t here. Any one there?

  • http://blogicalinks.wordpress.com Cheryl

    #25 Brad,
    First, while truth might be found in scripture about God, scripture is NOT God. God is not fully understandable to any of us. Period.
    Second, even if you say you are following the Truth of scripture, how can you claim to know that you have understood it exactly right, exactly as God intended for you to understand it? There have been godly men and women—proven to be godly by their attitudes, deeds, and live—who have come down on very different sides of the scripture as it relates to culture issues, religion, etc. Rather than saying that one is right, and then, by necessity, the other is wrong, perhaps they are both “right” and both reflecting different facets of something bigger and more amazing than we can possibly know!
    When it gets down to it, I will answer only to God for what I did with what I understood. If I’ve included too many people under a liberal theology that’s heavy on grace, love, and mysteries about Truth, then so be it.

  • Jim Hoover

    Scot,
    As an Episcopalian (not an “Episcopal”) and member of the Episcopal Church, let me encourage the standard usage. The American Heritage Dictionary doesn’t list “Episcopal” as a noun yet, and a simple Google search will give you 1.2 million hits for “Episcopalian” and only 94,400 for “Episcopal,” the first of which laments the ignorance of a religious journalist trying to write about “Episcopals”!
    On a more serious note, let me thank you for attacking the slippery-slope argument. Grudem’s book “Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?” is simply one non sequitur after another. It examines only evidence that fits his slippery-slope narrative and ignores all the contrary evidence. It assumes causality where none exists, and yet it perpetuates his agenda by innuendo.

  • Brad

    First, while truth might be found in scripture about God, scripture is NOT God.
    Of course, it’s not God, Cheryl, but it is the very word of God, it is as the writer says:
    “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” -Heb. 4:12
    The word of God is the only reason you are here for the Creator spoke this universe, including us, into being and this word is the reason you even know about Jesus today.
    God is not fully understandable to any of us. Period.
    Wow, that’s a rather absolute statement, but this is true and I’ve said this here before. But those who know God understand enough of God to pass the following test:
    This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:2-3
    Second, even if you say you are following the Truth of scripture, how can you claim to know that you have understood it exactly right, exactly as God intended for you to understand it?
    Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. – 1 John 3:18-20
    …perhaps they are both “right” and both reflecting different facets of something bigger and more amazing than we can possibly know!
    And if they both agree with the Scriptures this would be true, but if they are mutually exculsive then you have an issue to resolve and what you use to resolve it is my greatest concern.
    This word is the reason you are here for the Creator spoke this universe, including us, into being and this word is the reason you even know about Jesus today.
    When it gets down to it, I will answer only to God for what I did with what I understood. If I’ve included too many people under a liberal theology that’s heavy on grace, love, and mysteries about Truth, then so be it.
    The Pharisees never understood Jesus and yet Christ told them that they would die in their sin and be judged according to their works unless they repented, the same is true for us as well.

  • Gavin Pendel

    Scot, I posted the comment because it happened in a public setting of a paper being presented. I would never comment on something that cannot be verified or that is gossip/hearsay. It happened in front of a room full of people gathered to engage in “doing theology”. Again, I’m not trying to attack Grudem or side with Webb, but its always interesting to see how things occur in live presentation. Perhaps that is one of the great advantages of meetings like the ETS because it gives us context and realism. Doing theology is not merely words on a page, it is a three-dimensional, human endeavour that is alive and invigorating. Someone once said, “Let us wrestle and let us wrestle well.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11314036 Bryan L

    Brad,
    I’m not sure that what you mentioned in #22 has anything to do with relevancy or proves that Jesus or the Apostles were irrelevant. Jesus was incredibly relevant to the people he spoke to as were the Apostles. If he/they weren’t, then nobody would have found it important to listen to them or record their words, much less dedicate their lives to the truth they were revealing. Relevancy doesn’t have anything to do with whether people like you or not. It doesn’t have to do with whether you are accepted. It has to do with whether you are addressing the concerns that are important to people of your day (in areas such as religion, politics, spirituality, entertainment, philosophy, worldviews, current events and crisis). Jesus addressed the issues that were relevant to the people of his day in the language and symbols that they used. You can still be relevant and not be liked or be abandoned. Nobody would have crucified Jesus had he been irrelevant.
    Also I’m not sure what you are saying in #21. I don’t think anyone would argue with your first paragraph (to a certain extent). Your second paragraph though is so abstract that I’m having trouble figuring out what it looks like in the concrete. I’d be interested in seeing how you flesh it out and how you see it being applied in the real world. Thanks.
    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  • Brad

    I’m not sure that what you mentioned in #22 has anything to do with relevancy or proves that Jesus or the Apostles were irrelevant.
    I was trying to point out what they appeared to be from a purely natual, cultural, world perspective as relevancy from these is judged to have everything to do with being heard, considered and accepted. That said, I personally do not find the apostles or Christ irrelevant.
    RE: #21 – Bryan, I tackled this in Scot’s previous post on Webb.

  • http://blogicalinks.wordpress.com Cheryl

    #29 Brad,
    I’m hesitant to continue engaging you, so this is my last post in direct response, but you are welcomed to keep writing to me.
    What I am getting at is that IN MY VIEW, any theology which hinges its existence on the premise that it more fully or completely understands the totality of God more than another, leaves little room for dialogue, humility, compassion, and inclusion.
    You use scripture to prove the validity of scripture. It’s a cylical argument. I use scripture to inspire me to love others—love for people was placed in my heart by the spirit of God, not by scripture. If I get parts of scripture “wrong,” I can still love people. While I know I’m probably in the minority here, to me, orthopraxy in the spirit of scripture is more important than orthodoxy. John Lennon and 1 Corinthians 13 sum up my theology best…all you need is love.
    Case in point: You use 1 John 4:2-3 to say that the way to test if a spirit is from God is to see if they acknowledge that Jesus is God in the flesh… well, Matt. 8:29, Mr.1:24, and Lk.4:40-41 all indicate that demons acknowledged that Jesus was God incarnate. So, with this information, we either have 1) a scriptural discrepancy, or 2) this way of testing the spirits is not perfect, or 3) the demons are from God, or something else. In any case, I’m willing to admit that I might not know the real answer or understand the total truth the scriptures are trying to teach us in these apparently conflicting texts.
    When faced with scriptural dilemmas like this, my approach is to ask—does understanding this prevent me from loving God/others? If I answer”yes,” then I’d better figure it out to a certainty in my own heart, realizing that others might come to a different answer. If the answer is “no,” then it’s not something I feel compelled to “get right.”

  • Rick L in Tx

    Brad, your tone’s becoming argumentative.

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    To deal with Scot’s post more directly again, Grudem states “the Bible . . . gives principles that would modify and ultimately lead to the abolition of slavery.” Scot has said that this is exactly what Webb is saying the RTH is. Can someone who disagrees on that point tell me how Grudem’s ‘principles that modify and ultimately lead to the abolition of’ a practice that isn’t abolished biblically (such as polygamy) differ from Webb’s RTH? I am uncomfortable with Webb’s approach, but I don’t see the difference between Grudem’s principles and Webb’s RTH, especially in the area of polygamy. While I know that no one can speak for Grudem, I’d like to hear how anyone ‘abolishes’ polygamy as morally wrong without using something like Grudem’s principles or Webb’s RTH.

  • Brad

    Cheryl,
    What I am getting at is that IN MY VIEW, any theology which hinges its existence on the premise that it more fully or completely understands the totality of God more than another, leaves little room for dialogue, humility, compassion, and inclusion.
    What I’ve been trying to tell you is that this view is nonsensical because everyone operates under the assumption that their theology “hinges its existence on the premise that it more fully or completely understands the totality of God more than another” and you would do this even if you think you’re being more inclusive of others because that is a condition of your theology as well. The proof of this is that these too are inclined to be exclusive of those who think that this view defeats itself and is irrational, and already, your ending dialogue with me despite what you claim. But what you think or I think doesn’t matter unless it agrees with the truth.
    The Christian faith is exclusive:
    “I am the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6
    “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” – John 3:17-18
    These aren’t my words, they’re Christ’s and he repeats them in various ways throughout the Gospel.
    You use scripture to prove the validity of scripture. It’s a cylical argument.
    First, you can’t avoid your own reasoning. To say that your heart is what tells you that your heart is true is a cyclical argument that places you, not God, at the center of determining what is true or not. If your heart and the Scriptures do not agree, which will you ultimately believe? Which is more likely to be true in the face of uncertainty?
    Nevertheless, I wasn’t attempting to prove the Scriptures true to you using external evidence because I assumed that you already held them as true. The Scriptures are amazing if for no other reason as to their accuracy despite being handed down for centuries.
    Case in point: You use 1 John 4:2-3 to say that the way to test if a spirit is from God is to see if they acknowledge that Jesus is God in the flesh… well, Matt. 8:29, Mr.1:24, and Lk.4:40-41 all indicate that demons acknowledged that Jesus was God incarnate.
    You’ll note that I didn’t say that it was the only test, and in fact, I also provided another for you to consider in my last comment (John 3:18-20) which you seem to have ignored when writing your assertion that since the demons believe there is one God too that we cannot know the whole truth.
    But you asked about knowing truth, and so I gave the most basic truth and the starting point that must be acknowledged by a believer, and is in fact acknowledged by God’s chosen whether they are four years old or forty.
    But naturally, it is true that we can’t know God without the Spirit of God in us.
    When faced with scriptural dilemmas like this, my approach is to ask—does understanding this prevent me from loving God/others?
    While I see no truth dilemma in relation to your earlier contention here, your argument taken to extremes doesn’t prevent the atheist who is also a humanitarian from loving others and claiming to generally believe as you do either.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Scot,
    I’ve read Webb’s book but not Grudem’s so thanks for your recap. I certainly agree that Webb has made a helpful contribution in his work to identify the principles by which we derive from Scripture God’s moral imperatives for us here and now.
    I make two quick observations.
    1) I think that the real crunch comes in the application of the principles. Some years before Bill’s book, I read a paper at ETS (“Toward a Hermeneutic for Discerning Universal Moral Absolutes and Applying Them in Different Cultural Contexts”). The paper was too long for JETS, so only the principles for discerning appeared there. I did the work myself because I hoped to further the evangelical conversation regarding God’s intention for male and female roles, so I used that as my case for illustration. Naively, I hoped that if we could agree on the principles for identifying universal moral absolutes, we would reach similar conclusions about what God calls us to do now. Unfortunately, I have discovered, it is easier to gain agreement on the principles than it is on their application. That leads me to a second observation.
    2) I think that this whole process of figuring out what God is demanding of us today is a subset of the larger issue of contextualized theology. Steven Bevans, in his helpful book on models of contextualization, lays out models on a spectrum from context to revelation. The models spread out along that spectrum and each of us finds ourselves located somewhere along it. Gail and I read Bill’s book together and we appreciated his work on the hermeneutical principles but we were frequently made uncomfortable by what struck us as too heavy a weight on the contemporary context. At times, I felt that Bill normativized (hope that’s a word) contemporary North American culture unduly with the result that particular aspects of biblical moral prescription were automatically illegitimated by their failure to get through our cultural filter. (If you are listening Bill, I hope you won’t think this too harsh a critique, brother, but it is an impression that both Gail and I felt quite strongly at points.)
    I do think that Bill has provided a significant impetus to evangelical feminism (egalitarianism) that is more healthy than previous attempts to demonstrate that the New Testament did not limit women’s roles, even in its own context. Bill’s trajectory approach appears commonly now in the work of evangelical egalitarians (cf. the work of R. Longenecker, I. H. Marshall, Glen Scorgie, John Stackhouse etc.) and that gives credibility to its plausibility.
    (Barth was something of a pioneer on the trajectory approach to biblical ethics, I think, and Bloesch’s appropriation of the model in a more evangelical form is an interesting piece of work. Webb’s is a more conservative use of the concept and hence more likely to be influential among evangelicals. What fascinated me with Bloesch was how often I agreed with his ethical conclusions, even though I rejected his hermeneutic. Samuel Wells’ proposal that ethics is like improvisation in theatre is a very interesting application of a very similar approach, but it is closer to Barth than Webb in its perception of the specificity of biblical moral prescription. It is a wonderful read, though, and very stimulating in helpful ways.)
    The agenda before us now is twofold, I think: (1) to continue work on the formulation of the hermeneutical principles for contextualizing the moral instruction of Scripture and (2) to engage in careful analysis of how the agreed upon principles apply, so that we know what God requires of us today. I don’t expect consensus here, any more than I do between pacifists and just war theorists, Calvinists and Arminians, but I do think that the ongoing dialogue can be fruitful as we listen together and intently to hear God speak in Scripture.
    Your posts encourage this dialogue.

  • http://www.wearyofthemoon.typepad.com Darren Moore

    As a side note to Gavin’s comments, I was at Webb’s presentation in 2004 in San Antonio. It was a packed SRO room and frankly I probably bolted as soon as it was over to get to the next session but don’t recall that handshake issue. What I do recall was the most confrontational academic setting I have seen. It seemed to me from the “questions” Grudem asked after Webb’s paper that Grudem was there with an agenda — keep in mind that was squarely in the time frame of folks trying to kick members out over the Openness issue as well — just came across as mean-spirited.

  • http://www.danwilt.com Dan Wilt

    Engagement is the quickest way to conversation it seems. Thanks, Scott.

  • http://rom116.blogspot.com Mark Grapengater

    My experience with Grudem’s slippery slope has been a true one, especially here in the ECC. I came to NPTS (in 2003) not fully understanding the theological environment. Immediately I was bombarded with the full-thrust of women in ministry, where as I’m more complementarian. It wasn’t until this past November that I was told that because of my stance on women in ministry, that I would not be recommended to ordered ministry in the Covenant. I can’t say how much further the ECC will go down the slope, but it seems they’re headed that way.

  • http://www.mytrueself.typepad.com Jennifer

    Mark,
    Just curious…when you enrolled at NPTS did you not understand that the Covenant fully supports women in ministry?

  • http://rom116.blogspot.com Mark Grapengater

    Jennifer,
    No, I didn’t. When I sat down with the then admissions person, all I got were vague answers of “we’re covenant” to any questions of theology. And since I did not grow up in the Covenant that was like describing purple to a person that’s color-blind. I wasn’t given any theological picture of what North Park was like.

  • http://www.mytrueself.typepad.com Jennifer

    Mark,
    Wow. And after you enrolled, and found out the Covenant fully supports women in ministry, you still wanted to be ordained? You didnt think that would be a problem?

  • http://rom116.blogspot.com Mark Grapengater

    Jennifer,
    My understanding of the Covenant was that it was in the non-essentials category. I was willing to continue to feel out the ECC and what they had to offer. As my call became more defined and as I became more annoyed with the staunch, and many times unfair, categorization of complementarians (and some events that you can read about on my blog), it became clear that the Covenant is not for me. In reality, the women in ministry is just one issue in many of why I’m not going ECC, but it seems to be the only one people care to talk about.

  • http://julieclawson.blogspot.com Julie Clawson

    I just find it so amusing that once again women are the one’s to blame for everything. Start treating women like people and you are on the slippery slope to everything evil and wrong in the world. It’s so fun to be a scapegoat…

  • http://blogicalinks.wordpress.com Cheryl

    #45, Julie,
    I think I can trump you in the arena of scapegoatedness… being a homosexual woman. We are the epitome of evil, you know.
    Grudem’s #2-4 were concerning women, but the pit at the bottom of the slope is reserved for homosexuals!
    (And no, I don’t want to turn this into a discussion about being gay! I’m just having fun with Julie.)

  • Sharon

    Scot,
    I read this book when it first came out and was challenged and delighted by it. I stopped reading it often, to wipe tears from my face, as I read someone attempting to give me a framework to live out scripture that made sense to me. I bought multiple copies and passed them out. To my dismay, I could not get anyone to engage in it with me in my conservative church setting, other than to dismiss it. I got moved up higher on the troublemaker list, and my heart broke a little more. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to hear thoughtful discussion in a safe setting on this significant book. I thank God for you and Webb!
    Sharon

  • Lisa

    Scot,
    So glad you have brought this gem up. I had Dr. Webb for 3 courses at seminary and this book was of course required reading for us all. It was a moment in my Christian life. I had been a missionary in the Muslim world among quite lovely, conservative Christians. (It was still a double patriarchal special..) This book helped spin much of that overly-patriarchal atmospheric junk (eg. doubts about the usefulness of women in church planting where there weren’t any men to witness, etc.) left in my mind on its own head. Dr. Webb himself never prompted any of us to resent patriarchialists (or their reasoning), but often pointed us to move from where we were on an issue towards the ultimate ethic. I still have question marks, but I respect that anyone attempted to even get this far in the grappling. Thanks for your bravery.

  • Patrick

    I’m an Episcopalian, too, and I also think the “slippery slope” rhetoric is easily abused. Each issue has to be considered on its merits, and I’m one of those who think faithful same-sex relationships are OK. However, I would agree that automatically extending the slave/woman analogy is the wrong, that is to say, intellectually and theologically lazy, way for liberals to go forward on this issue. Discernment is a much more complex process than that.

  • Allie

    Indeed, discernment is a tough process. I’m thankful to you, Scot, for your work and your willingness to engage these issues and questions in a friendly forum. I only pray that regardless of where we stand on any given issue, we can treat those with whom we disagree with grace and respect. That’s what’s important, I think.

  • http://bartramia.blogspot.com samlcarr

    Just a thought on the enumeration of the slippery slope sequence above. What is most striking to me about Grudem’s worst fears is that it is so far removed from matters at the heart of Jesus’s own concerns. Perhaps this is why we so badly need a revolution of some sort, be it emerging or otherwise!

  • http://charliedean.wordpress.com/2007/02/15/what-does-evangelical-mean-anymore/ Anonymous

    What does “Evangelical” mean anymore? « charlieDEAN’S Blog

    […] What does “Evangelical” mean anymore? February 15th, 2007 I was reading Scot McKnight’s blog this morning and he was responding to a criticism of Webb’s book by Wayne Grudem. Anyway, in his “further observations,” his second criticism of Grudem is that Grudem narrowly defines the term ‘evangelical,’ in order to say, basically, “all evangelical believe what I believe,” which then leaves the deduction…”if you don’t believe like me on this issue, you must not be an evangelical.” (my take, not McKnights, or Grudems direct statements.) […]