Reading Gagnon: Two More Prejudices [Scot]

This week, Scot Miller is blogging about Robert Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, which many readers of this blog are sure will convince Scot and me that we’re wrong about the gays. -TJ

In my first post about reading Gagnon, I wanted to be clear about the prejudices I brought to my reading. The first prejudice was that fidelity to the biblical message is important to me. Here are two more of my prejudices:

Second: I am aware that the Bible can be misread in dangerous ways. The denomination in which I was saved and educated and ordained — the Southern Baptist Convention (or whatever it wants to call itself now) — was founded in 1845 because Baptist slave-holders in the South wanted both to be foreign missionaries and to keep their slaves. While Baptists in the North objected to appointing slave-holding missionaries, the Southern Baptists defended the practice of slavery by appealing to the Bible.

In a recent editorial, my former Church History professor Bill J. Leonard, gives an example of Southern Baptist rhetoric about slavery:

In an 1822 address to the South Carolina legislature, Baptist pastor Richard Furman insisted: “Had the holding of slaves been a moral evil, it cannot be supposed, that the inspired Apostles, who feared no the faces of men, … would have tolerated it for a moment, in the Christian Church….” The biblical writers, Furman said, let the master/slave relationship “remain untouched, as being lawful and right.”

He concluded: “In proving this subject justifiable by Scriptural authority, its morality is also proved; for the Divine Law never sanctions immoral actions.” “Biblical defenses” of slavery flourished throughout the antebellum South.

Southern Baptists could defend the practice of slavery by appealing directly to the plain sense of scriptures like Ephesians 6:5-6: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”

Southern Baptists could defend the practice of slavery by asking the abolitionists, “Where is the scriptural condemnation of slavery? Where does the Bible advocate the abolition of slavery?” Southern Baptists knew that there is no such scripture, and they could accuse the abolitionists of being unfaithful and disobedient to God’s plan as revealed in the Bible. The slave-holders, not the abolitionists, were those truly faithful to the Bible.

Southern Baptists were wrong. [Read more…]

Reading Gagnon: Getting Ready [Scot]

This week, Scot Miller is blogging about Robert Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, which many readers of this blog are sure will convince Scot and me that we’re wrong about the gays. -TJ

To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of Robert A. J. Gagnon until I read a comment on Tony’s blog giving credit to Gagnon for presenting “overwhelming evidence of the Bible’s unequivocal opposition to homosexual behavior.”

I have since discovered that Tony’s commentator is not alone in his praise of Gagnon. In fact, so many people seem to appeal to Gagnon in defense of the traditional notion that homosexual practice is a sin that Tony thought that someone should address Gagnon’s magnum opus, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (2001).

Since regular readers of Tony’s blog know that Tony has many books to read on his desk and his bedside and his easy chair, he asked me to review Gagnon’s book.

First of all, Tony and I would like to thank Rev. Joseph Hedden, Jr., pastor of Emmanuel Reformed Church of the United Church of Christ in Export, PA, for letting me borrow his copy of Gagnon’s book. Pastor Hedden is a gentleman and a scholar and a generous soul for lending me a book which he purchased for $39. (I took very good care of the book, Joseph, and I promise to return it as soon as I’m finished blogging about it.) Please check out Pastor Hedden’s blog at

Before I launch into my review of Gagnon (I hope to post five more times about the book), I think it’s important for me to disclose how I am approaching Gagnon’s book.

In his classic work, Truth and Method (2nd rev. ed), Hans Georg-Gadamer argues that understanding requires developing an awareness of one’s biases, that “all understanding inevitably involves some prejudice” because prejudice is inescapable (Truth and Method, p. 270).

Each of us begins in a particular place at a particular time with particular assumptions. It is part of the human condition that we already bring these fore-understandings and anticipatory judgments to every act of interpretation.

So having a prejudice isn’t necessarily bad; indeed, Gadamer rejects the idea that prejudice something necessarily negative, for one can have good prejudices, like the prejudice to be open to the meaning of a text.

The problem is when one is unaware of one’s prejudices and substitutes one’s own prejudice for understanding the object of interpretation. So it is always important to be aware of one’s situation in approaching the text. (If you’re interested, Andrew Crome of the University of Manchester has a helpful discussion of Gadamer and Prejudice in Interpretation.)

I would like to disclose three of my prejudices I brought to my reading of Gagnon. Since this post is already too long, I’ll offer the first of my prejudices in this post, and two other prejudices in my next post.

[Read more…]

Hooray for (most of) the comments

First, I’d like to thank Tony Jones for giving me the opportunity to do some guest-blogging during his absence. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been thinking about starting my own blog for quite some time, but I never got around to doing anything about it. Now that I’ve blogged for a few days, maybe I’ll think about exploring the possibility that I might, one day, some time in the future, start my own blog. Maybe.

Second, I’d like to thank everyone for their comments and questions. I actually like engaging other people in debates and questions. Without respectful dialog, I’m afraid most of my ideas would come out half-baked. The comments often gave me the opportunity to clarify what I meant (and my ideas need a lot of clarifying). Maybe some of my thoughts are now more fully baked.

It seems to me that people read and respond to blogs for two main reasons (and I’ll just ignore spammers): they either tend to agree or to disagree with the blogger’s perspective. If you agree with a blogger, you look for confirmation of what you already believe. It’s comforting to know that you’re not the only person on the planet who thinks like you do. On the other hand, if you disagree with a blogger, I suppose you could be learning what the “opposition” is thinking, or you could comment to try to get the blogger to change her mind, or you could just publicly disagree with the blogger in order to testify to the truth (as you understand it). I suppose it’s comforting to know that you are the prophet announcing the truth to a people about to suffer judgment. I think Jonah felt the same way when he prophesied against Nineveh. (While these comments seem more appropriate to religious blogs, it’s pretty clear when partisans on political blogs act like prophets against their political opponents.)

It’s easy to dismiss the comments which merely disagree with a blogger’s perspective. After all, it’s pretty clear when someone attacks the blogger instead of what the blogger wrote. (I can certainly appreciate why some blogs monitor comments before they are posted.) These comments really amount to saying, “You don’t share my perspective and I don’t like it.” Such comments say much more about the person making the comment than anything enlightening about the topic of the blog. (By the way, for those of you who enjoy throwing bombs: you may not want to know what your comments say about you….)

On the other hand, some people raise serious, heart-felt objections, and try to explain why the blogger is mistaken. These comments give everyone the chance to clarify what they believe. It is unlikely that anyone’s minds will be changed, but I don’t really think that’s the point. (If I remember correctly, Robert Nozick pointed out that nothing can force someone to accept a “strong” or “powerful” or even “knock-down” argument. People ignore good arguments all the time. Alas, even the strongest, most powerful argument can’t set up reverberations in someone’s brain so that rejecting the argument would make that person’s head explode. But I digress….) The benefit of public discourse in blog comments occurs when somebody makes progress in clarifying her or his thinking. And that can’t be a bad thing.

So hooray for (most of) the comments. Vive la différence!

A Journey to Progressive Christianity

I wasn’t always a religious liberal/progressive. I grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist home, was born again when I was 9 during a city-wide revival, and felt the call to ministry when I was 14. I longed for a deepening and consistent relationship with God, but I couldn’t maintain the euphoria of religious ecstacy which I experienced at youth camps, retreats, choir tours, and mission trips. So I decided I needed to read and study more, seeking the depth of understanding which would last beyond an emotional roller-coaster spirituality.

I would learn about the second coming of Christ from Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHay (decades before the Left Behind series). I would learn about defending the faith from Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict. But I was blown away by the philosophical and cultural analysis of Francis Schaeffer in The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, and How Should we Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. I wanted to be just like Francis Schaeffer and help our culture recover the absolute truth of Christianity which had been lost in cultural relativism and nihilism.

I went to a small church related university to become equipped in the faith so that (in my mind) I could carry on the work of Schaeffer. Instead, horror of horrors, I was educated rather than indoctrinated. I was taught to think and ask questions. And by following Paul’s admonition to “test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21), my spiritual pilgrimage has taken me to a place where I find myself in the camp of the liberals and progressives (and perhaps the emergent church).

If my 17-year-old self were to meet me today, I’m not sure he would like what he sees. He’d probably think I’ve abandoned the faith (if I ever had faith), that I’ve rejected the authority of scripture, and that I’ve substituted human reason in place of accepting the revelation. If I could talk to my 17-year-old self, I would say that I still believe that God is at work in my life, but maybe not in the same way that a 17-year-old understands. I would tell him that I still experience the authority of scripture, but I don’t find that authority in the words of scripture, but in the Event to whom scripture testifies. And I would say that I have not substituted human reason for revelation, but realize that I can only understand the revelation in human, fallible, finite ways, and that it is a mistake to think that anyone’s theology is every entirely adequate to express the revelation of the Infinite.

But above all, I would tell my gnostic-leaning 17-year-old self, it’s more important to be a true follower of Christ and actually act in Christlike ways than it is to have what you think is the correct theology. Ideas matter, but real, living human beings matter more. Don’t forget Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 13:1-3:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love I gain nothing.