A Final Word about the “Gay Wedding Cake” Issue

I simply don’t have time to moderate scores of messages every day. Whenever I touch on “gay” issues people who normally never come here flood my comment box with arguments pro and con. It’s obviously a very controversial issue. But what bothers me is that even when I BEG people to stick to the issue I raised they don’t. The issue was the free exercise of religious conscience based on membership in a church that has a clear doctrinal standard about a certain behavior (not identity).

Most people who engage in this debate simply fail to recognize a distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior. To me and many (probably most) religious people there is a difference between identity (what a person cannot help being) and behavior (what a person can avoid doing.

This is the end of this round of the discussion. I BEG you to read my most recent post about John Piper and respond. If you have no interest in that and are ONLY interested in debating the “gay wedding cake” issue, you’ll just have to wait. Don’t waste your time writing a comment; I won’t post it–either pro or con. The discussion is now closed.

Back to Calvinism/Arminianism….

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  • RJS

    Scot,
    With respect to Deuteronomy 22 – I think that the traditional practice of the church here indicates a redemptive trend, but not in line with any of Webb’s 18 criteria as you’ve summarized. Rather the trend is an assumption that rules not specifically reinforced in the NT are of the old covenant and thus no longer binding. They are neither cultural nor transcultural – but rather were brought to an end, a conclusion, by the new covenant. So why don’t I do these things? Because I was never taught to do these things. Christian law has not traditionally used these as guidelines, at least as far as I know.
    Is there a good NT passage you would use in this analysis?
    An interesting thought though – were many of these commands already softened as cultural with escape clauses, by the time of the NT? It seems that the treatment of Mary within the Jewish community indicates that this might be the case.

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

    Scot, I’m glad this material from Webb can get out to more people. I do buy into the redemptive trend and movement, from the seeds sown to the full fruit and glory of the kingdom of God in Christ, in its fullness. I think Scripture is moving Israel and humankind in that direction. Both through the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant. In the New is the already/not yet coming into play. So that freedom in Christ is present, for example, but it takes time for it to be seen in the ending of masters/slaves. And all is moving towards- and this should be the aim of our communities of faith- the goal of the unity in Christ that is the new creation. Something like that, is the way I see it now.

  • Percival

    As a cross-cultural worker in the middle east, I find this issue to be of great relevance. And with respect to RJS’s comment, I don’t think we can just say that these commands were brought to an end because they were not restated in the NT. On the contrary, it seems that unless Jesus or the apostles issued a statement on them, we should assume that they remain. Remain, not as binding on us as new covenant people, but binding in the sense that they still have a message for us today. There must be some principles at play that are relevant even to new covenant people. Some statements of the Messiah, such as, “It is not what goes into the mouth that pollutes a man, but that which comes out” are radical to a middle easterner both then and now. My question is, do we, and to what extent, as followers of this radical messiah have the same authority to slice, flip, and recook the OT and the Law as our Lord did? This is a real question for me, and my Christian tradition does a very incomplete job of this. Many real and important questions remain especially as we take the message of the Kingdom to other cultures. I think many of us get tense and nervous whenever our preachers start their sermon by saying, “Please open your bibles with me to the Old Testament to the book of …”
    But “all scripture” is inspired AND useful, but how?

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

    Percival,
    Thanks for your point and we need your perspective. But, let me push back on the “criterion” you use: if it is not done away with, it remains.
    I’m not so sure of that one: just Deut 22’s texts don’t fit into that. Nothing about clothing — that I know of — in the NT.

  • Mark Eberly

    Interesting stuff. I will look forward to reading more to make sure that I understand the direction and to reflect more on how my criteria corresponds with with Webb’s categories.
    Nothing about clothing — that I know of — in the NT.
    How about Matthew 6? Would Jesus be saying to us that worrying about the mixing of materials is not very important compared to seeking the Kingdom (I’m conflating both passages to interpret Dt. 22)? Then again, why would God be opposed to the Hebrew people to mixing cloth? What culturally was happening that this caused such a problem? Would this mean that I shouldn’t wear any kind of “blend”? Then again, I have always suspected that polyester is sinful in God’s eyes? :)
    In ChristMark

  • http://blogicalinks.wordpress.com Cheryl

    Scot,
    As you know, I’m no student of theology in a formal sense, don’t know the Biblical languages, haven’t studied ancient cultures, etc. But I am in the very large majority of Christians in that regard.
    So I’d like to ask a question about the larger implication of Webb’s (or any other scholar’s) criterion for applying to scripture texts.
    If it is wise to be filter scripture through these kinds of questions in order to arrive at a reasonably accurate idea of the meaning and application (knowing even then, people will differ in their conclusions), how in the world is the average Christian supposed to do this?! And if it’s left up to the pastors to understand/convey all of this because they have the time and the training to apply such criterion, how does that fit in to the need for personal Bible study, especially in the Protestant faith traditions? If we trust others to do our preliminary exegesis for us, don’t we run the risk of being persuaded more by the most charismatic speaker, rather than perhaps the most knowledgeable?
    How does all this work together for the “common” Christian?

  • http://beyondwordsworth.com Beyond Words

    Our view of Scripture definitely shapes our ability to see God’s redemptive work throughout history. I think the skepticism and defensiveness some people display toward a term like “redemptive trend” is based on fear that it means something humanistic or postmodern and relativistic— a fear mitigated, I think, by a richer understanding, through the narrative scope of Scripture, of how God is redeeming his people and all of creation.
    That’s what seems to be polarizing many of the current debates in Christendom—not just concerning gender roles, but also views on justification, eschatology, peace and justice issues and even the nature of salvation itself.
    Bear with me, and I hope I don’t sound too harsh or too long-winded. I’m writing this with a heavy heart after realizing afresh—through something that happened just last night—how these issues are impacting young people growing up in the church today.
    Could losing the narrative scope of Scripture have truncated God’s redeeming story into a tortured systematic theology?
    I teach 9th and 10th grade girls in our youth group, which functions under the umbrella of Christian education, not just “fun.” Last night we began a study on the Gospel of John, entitled “Knowing God.”
    This study is one I revised from some source material given to me by another church leader. After much prayer, I intentionally included a lot of narrative history to give a richer context to Jesus’ seven “I AM” statements in that Gospel.
    I learned last night that these girls, raised in the church—even the pastor’s daughter—had no idea what had happened to Israel between the Exodus and the first century C.E. When I tried to explain a major theme in the Gospels—how Jesus came to bring God’s people out of exile— they didn’t understand what that meant in terms of Israel’s history.
    They’ve been taught all their lives that salvation means believing in Jesus, going to heaven, and living a morally pure life based on obedience to Scripture. But they don’t know the whole story of Scripture. They’re struggling to obey something they don’t understand.

  • http://blogicalinks.wordpress.com Cheryl

    Oops! Delete the word “be” from the first line in the first paragraph.

  • http://blogicalinks.wordpress.com Cheryl

    Arrghh. I mean the THIRD paragraph.

  • Larry

    Two issues:
    1. The danger of “redemptive trends” is that it goes beyond the Scripture that God inspired. It assumes, without secure basis, what God would do in a case, even if it is contrary to what God said to do.
    A cessationist (who believes that all special, direct revelation has ceased) is less able to use a redemptive hermeneutic than a non-cessationist. A non-cessationist can theoretically go beyond the written word on the basis of words of prophecy or knowledge that further the trajectory. I think they do that illegitimately, since I am a cessationist, but that’s a different story.
    Suffice it to say that I find Webb’s redemptive hermeneutic scheme as insufficient and illegitimate.
    2. The example of Deut 22 (or any Law passage) is not an issue of redemptive trends, but of revelation. The NT declares that we are not longer under the Law. The Law was the Law of the nation of Israel. We, the church, are not under the Laws of Israel, any more than citizens of one nation are under the laws of another nation. The Law of Israel is parallel to the laws of the US, Canada, England, or any other nation. Since we are not the nation of Israel as defined in the OT Law, we are not under that Law. Gal 3, Romans in several places, as well as other places make this clear.

  • http://beyondwordsworth.com Beyond Words

    Hey, Larry, interesting thoughts. I wonder if the kind of prophecy you’re talking about is “false” prophecy. If so, then I agree with you.
    When I look at Scripture, I don’t see any true prophetic word that contradicts other scripture or principles of scripture–and positing a further trajectory needs to be consistent with the whole story of what God is doing.
    Do you agree that prophecy is not given to proclaim something outside of Scripture, but to call God’s people to get back in line with what God is doing to redeem his people and creation as revealed in Scripture? The efficacy of prophecy is in calling people to repent of straying from him and to follow him in the new and unexpected ways he works through his people in every generation.
    Even though the foundation of the church has been laid, we still need prophetic voices to keep us from wandering into the wilderness and missing what God is doing IMHO.

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

    Scot,
    I think my overall problem with these criteria is their number and complexity. Maybe as I review them a few more times, they’ll become less cumbersome to me. I also would like to ground any such criteria more directly in Jesus or the NT writers, since they deal with so much of the relationship between the two covenants. For example, Jesus himself lays the groundwork for, if not finishes completely, the removal of the food laws and all the regulations concerning the Temple system. He changes murder, adultery, divorce. No small things, as reform goes. Paul hits these and circumcision and others head on. Moreover, Acts and the other letters of Paul describe for us even more fully how the New Covenant works vis a vis the old–sexual immorality, greed, festivals, the role of the Spirit, etc. Despite all this, I know that some issues remain. But on the basis of Paul’s letters and the issues in Acts, I tend to view, with RJS and Larry, that the New Covenant demolished all the ‘rules’ as such, with a relative few modified ‘reinstatements’ that the NT writers make explicit, not least of which being the Jesus Creed. I tend to have an ‘all rules are gone; many values remain’ from the OT approach. The New Covenant seems to take an ‘opt in’ approach to the old testament ‘rules’ (as opposed to an ‘opt out’ relationship that Percival mentioned). I guess what I’m thinking is that I prefer to stick with a ‘Jesus first’, ‘rest of NT second’ lens for scripture. I know this doesn’t resolve all issues, but it answers a lot of them re: the OT, including the Deut. text you mentioned.
    Regarding Larry’s point re: non-cessationists, I have to disagree that non cessationist theology is more open to the trend approach to scripture. For the exact reason that I came to embrace the gifts, I am suspicious of the trend approach. Complicated arguments/theologies based on a few vague passages that have the result of making whole explicit sections of the NT (not the OT) inapplicable today are suspicious to me. (There’s a criteria!) For that reason, I place a heavy burden on trend and cessationist arguments alike, though, to be honest, the burden is much higher for cessationists given the priority and depth the NT gives to miraculous practice as opposed to male/female issues. Further, no charismatic that I know accepts any ‘revelation’ today that contradicts scripture as a valid revelation from God. Larry, I hope you realize how much this is the norm in non-cessationist circles. It is no more difficult to apply scripture to prophecy and words of wisdom than teaching, and that’s what all charismatics that I know do. As a perfect example, Scot is going to deal with Wayne Grudem’s critique of trends. He is one of the foremost critics of the trend approach and is not a cessationist.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.blogspot.com John Frye

    I think we need to be careful comparing scholars/pastors against “ordinary” folk. It’s not that neat. The very English Bibles we use are the result of many dedicated scholars.
    I was at a large pastors conference. Thousands of pastors were being trained by the key speaker. He boldly proclaimed that it was *God’s will* for the Levitical purity laws governing sexual relations in marrige to be obeyed by New Covenant believers. This was taught as absolute truth even in the face of the fact that whenever the Apostle Paul (a former Pharisee of the Pharisees)addresses sexual issues in the Christian community, he never quotes Leviticus! There is a HUGE ignorance in the USAmerican evangelical church about the continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. I am grateful for Webb’s ponderous work on these issues because without him (even if we disagree with him in places), he saves us from the Galatian heresy and other stupid interpretations.

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

    I’m in and out of my office at school all day but I just saw your note and want to respond to one element. I agree, 18 criteria is off-putting — until I spent time with them and came to this conclusion:
    If you sat 100 Christians in a room, read those Bible verses from pp. 14-15, and then asked them why or why they do not practice them, I’m willing to lay down the odds that you’d get a list about this long and about this complex.
    The complexity is the reality; it isn’t simple for my students to read Leviticus and say “This is God’s Word, huh? Then why do we wear clothing with mixed threads?” We are dealing with a Bible that 3000 years old (and some think older than that); to bring that into our world isn’t simple.
    What I will do next time I teach this class is schedule this assignment: give the 18 criteria and ask them to rank them without Webb’s “persuasive” etc groupings. I’d like to see where folks put things. But, my students — 18-20 years olds — are beginning to see the wisdom of the complexity. It takes some time to gather them into our heads with clarity, but when done I think they are the ones we use. And sometimes we disagree with what is cultural and not, but these are the categories I think we use.
    The category of Jesus first isn’t so simple either. And the New Covenant blowing things away didn’t work for Paul: with the Jews he was probably avoiding pork; in Greece he may have tossed a shrimp on the barbie the first time. How, we want to ask, do we make such decisions?

  • My 2 cents

    RJS: I really don’t want to distract from this discussion, but I wondered if you could define for me “Christian law” as you have used it here.

  • RJS

    My 2 cents,
    I was thinking about legal codes claiming to be explicitly Christian – in a manner similar to the Islamic Law coming up so frequently in the news these days. I don’t know of any wide spread legal codes that would follow the letter of the Levitical laws for example. But perhaps an historian out there will correct me here.

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

    Thanks for posting this summary – it will be a good resource to have.

  • Matthew

    John Frye,
    …he saves us from the Galatian heresy…
    I am curious – how so?

  • Matthew

    hmmm – I’ll try formatting it this way:
    “he saves us from the Galatian heresy and other stupid interpretations”
    I am curious – how so?

  • http://www.godhungry.org Jim Martin

    Scot,
    Glad you posted this. You are right. I need to print this one. I am going to have to think through several of these when I have more time. But what I appreciate about your blog is that you make me think.

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

    Scot,
    I agree with your conclusion about the variety of responses you’d get from 100 Christians–and I look forward to hearing about the results of your assignment whenever you do it. Also, I’m going to spend some time with the exercise you recommend, just to get more familiar with my own lens(es) if nothing else.
    I’m a tax lawyer by training, so I am very familiar with complexity! And I realize sometimes it’s necessary or inevitable. But I don’t equate complexity with mystery, though I know they’re related. In addition to that, I tend to look for the heart and ultimate purpose(s) of things to guide me, especially in Christianity, and I think (hope) that I do so because of Jesus’ and Paul’s example and teaching. I also believe, and hope, that the vast bulk of our faith is easier to grasp than to follow, by design (again, hopefully based on Jesus’ words and the NT examples, and something true about God and how he chooses to relate to us). I will be rethinking these and other lenses to see if/how much they’re justified, though.
    That being said, having a variety of common confusion/ignorance in Christians doesn’t mean that the thing God is doing is necessarily complex. We may just find the thing God is doing to be disturbing, and complicated theories are the result. For example, I’d say the variety of reactions I get from my 20-22 year old students to Jesus’ teachings on money is also very wide. But it’s not because Jesus’ or the NT’s teachings on the subject are that complex. They’re startlingly straight forward. It’s because those teachings are threatening to a favorite idol, in my opinion. Theologies (necessarily complex) to protect our money from Jesus’ teachings were destined to appear as an outgrowth of our loyalty to cash, even within the Church. I feel like that happens with a lot of God’s activities that make us uncomfortable.
    Finally, too, your example with Paul and pork is exactly, to me, a good working ‘precedent’ for what our freedom in Christ allows us to do in pursuit of his purposes (another way I approach scripture). To me, that story and the related teachings add clarity and simplicity, not complexity, to our current task, but I may be misunderstanding you. Lots of good stuff here, though. Too much for this forum. Thanks for the conversation/thinking starter. I’ll be looking at my lenses as a result.

  • Larry

    Scot,
    A couple of responses if I might.
    First, on sitting down 100 people and asking for a reason, is that really a good way to do theology? Might all that reveal is that our churches are doing a bad job of teaching and preaching the truth of God?
    Second, on the complexity of “mixed garments,” doesn’t that go back to the Law issue? I don’t think that is all that controversial, to be honest. Perhaps I am naive. But that seems pretty clear.
    Lastly, on Paul with Jews and not eating pork, wasn’t that an issue of Paul willingly limiting himself from doing something he had every right to do, but chose not to in order to not offend those with a conscience not yet trained in Christian liberty?
    So I wonder, out loud, if we are not conflating some issues and making it more complex than it really has to be.

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

    Larry,
    Thanks.
    On the “First.” I guess I wasn’t even thinking of that being a way to do theology. What I was saying (or trying to say) was that if you took 100 these are the sorts of arguments you’d get and they’d probably cover the spectrum of how theologians think.
    Mixed garments: I hear you saying Law out, Gospel in. I’m not quite sure it is that simple; parts of the Law are preserved.
    Yes, your Lastly is right. Paul’s logic is making the gospel no more offensive than necessary and adapting presentation to context. I think Paul may well believe what Jesus taught — or what Mark added in Mark 7:19. But, application varied from context to context.

  • Percival

    Sorry, we go to bed when you get up so I lost the thread of conversation here, but I would like to respond to Scott.
    Scot said,
    “Thanks for your point and we need your perspective. But, let me push back on the “criterion” you use: if it is not done away with, it remains.”
    Actually, I was just trying to be a little provocative with that comment. However, isn’t it true that all of the Law remains -just as the tabernacle and the temple and the sacrifices remain – as illustrations of grace and holiness. They do mean something for us. They do have lessons for us. Certainly, everything was fullfilled in Christ and we have the law of love which superceeds all. It’s just that when it comes to explaining to someone why we eat pork and don’t stone adulteresses and wear mixed fabrics, etc. It seems like we are saying they had it all wrong back then, and the Beatles had it right, “All you need is love.”
    Honestly, when I read Dt. 22, my predominant emotional reaction is not, “Wow, look at God’s holiness and grace!” It’s “Wow, I’m glad we don’t have to follow that nonsense anymore.” There is a disconnect between our emotions and our theology.

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

    I’m often late in entering discussion, but I hope there are some who are still following this thread. While my comment and question do not follow the recent discussion, I would like to pose them anyway as I’ve just now made it to the conclusion of Webb’s book.
    I don’t see any real difference in complementary egalitarianism and ultra-soft patriarchy. Webb talks about symbolic honor to men present in ultra-soft patriarchy, but I don’t remember him giving any real examples of what this would look like in the church. Toward the end of the book he admits that it doesn’t really function any differently from complementary egalitarianism as far as office within the church but says it is present anyway. So what is the *practical* difference if there is any? What would it look like in the church? And do any churches practice this (u-s patriarchy)? Not that my experience encompasses all of our current Christian practice, but I have never seen anything other than what I would call patriarchalism (not ultra-soft) and complementary egalitarianism within the borders of the church. If someone else has seen the u-s patriarchy fleshed out, could you tell me what it looks like?
    (I will be with a bunch of young adolescent boys on a field trip most of the days so won’t be able to respond until later this afternoon.)

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

    Linda,
    I’m with you on this, but one might put it this way: u-s patriarchy might appear patriarchal because more males are in leadership, but there is no commitment to “males” being the ones designed for leadership? I don’t know.

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

    Scot,
    “…u-s patriarchy might appear patriarchal because more males are in leadership…” I think the word “appear” is interesting and would agree that this is what Webb is saying. It still leaves me with an “is it or isn’t it?” kind of feeling. It just seems that there is nothing of real substance that describes the differences between the two. Unless, of course, churches make a point of having more men in prominent leadership positions to fill the bill of qualifying as u-s patriarchalists. But then I would have to ask if those churches are acting out other forms of patriarchy instead. I wish Webb would have given specific examples regarding u-s patriarchy.
    Great book, though. I’m planning to lend it to a friend who has also been discouraged about the “hard” passages of scripture.

  • http://schooleyfiles.blogspot.com/ Keith Schooley

    On Percival’s comments (#3, 24) that the whole Law remains, but not as “law” but rather as “principles”: that’s ignoring the fact that in OT times these laws were expected to be obeyed. If we now relegate them to the status of “principles that teach us something,” that’s another way of saying we no longer consider them binding.
    I think Cheryl’s comment (#6) is quite apt: how is an ordinary layperson supposed to apply all these criteria? (The proof is that none of us in this thread actually did what Scot asked us to do–too many criteria applied to a too-complex passage.) Scot, you may be right that “the complexity is the reality” but a friend of mine, I think, has it right that whatever nice-sounding reasons we come up with, what we really do is this: stuff that strikes us as weird we think is cultural; stuff that strikes us as normal we think is transcultural; stuff in between we argue about.

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

    Keith,
    You’ve got it right: and William Webb took the “weird” and broke it down and then spelled out how we argue when we argue. Just listen to folks for awhile and you’ll hear his criteria come into focus.

  • BeckyR

    What I’ve understoof is that those things were about being spiritually clean, but we now are spiritually clean in Christ. voila.

  • http://www.somestrangeideas.com/2007/02/07/some-recent-reading/ Anonymous

    some recent reading at some strange ideas

    […] Extra Credit: Read some of Scot McKnight’s thoughts on Webb’s work. […]