Stanley Fish on Defending a Sacred Text

Earlier this week, I wrote about Chuck Colson. Colson, in his 2006 attack on the emergent church movement, wrote negatively about literary critic and commentator Stanley Fish, saying,

The arguments of some emerging church leaders, I fear, draw us perilously close to the trap set by postmodern deconstructionist Stanley Fish. Defending himself after his sympathetic statements about the 9/11 terrorists boomeranged, Fish claimed that postmodernists don’t really deny the existence of truth. He said there is simply no “independent standard of objectivity.” So truth can’t be proved to others; therefore, it can’t be known—a verbal sleight of hand.

Fish is a favorite of mine. He is so, in large part, because he often does not say and write what you expect him to say and write. He is unpredictable (not an attribute of Colson’s). Last week, his post at NY Times, for instance, takes liberals to the woodshed for poo-pooing those of us who put stock in a sacred text. Money quote:

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Reading Gagnon: Tony’s Wrap-Up

Last week, Scot Miller blogged 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. Here’s my summary of Scot’s posts. -TJ

Day One: Hermeneutics Is King

Scot made the Gadamerian move of proclaiming his prejudices up front. In other words, how one reads the Bible vis-á-vis homosexual practice has everything to do with hermeneutics, and hermeneutics has everything to do, according to Gadamer, with what prejudgements one brings to the task. Scot claims his, which is a great benefit to readers. Gagnon, alas, does not. Here’s Scot’s first prejudice:

First: Fidelity to the biblical message is important to me. I am a Christian, and how I understand God and salvation and sin and grace have been mediated to me through the Bible. I am interested in the Bible as a participant, not as a detached observer.

Day Two: Let’s Claim Some More Prejudices

In fact, Scot thinks that hermeneutical prejudices are so important — and I agree with him — that he spent another post explicating his. They are:

Second: I am aware that the Bible can be misread in dangerous ways.

Third: I am better trained as a philosopher than I am a biblical scholar.

If you don’t see what’s coming, it’s this: Scot claims his prejudices, Gagnon does not. Thus, readers can read Scot’s posts with these in mind, and they can judge his conclusions with this knowledge. Gagnon’s entire posture in his tome is one of absolute certainty — he writes as though he is capable of complete objectivity. He objectively looks at the evidence in the Bible, and objectively determines that homosexual practice is definitively rejected.

But, of course, Gagnon is not objective. As Scot makes clear in his later posts, Gagnon’s blindness to his own prejudices is the fatal flaw in his book. He bends all evidence — even scientific evidence — to his pre-determined conclusions.

Day Three: Gagnon Is Not an Inerrantist

Scot expresses appreciation for Gagnon’s biblical hermeneutic. Gagnon doesn’t, for instance, think that the Pentateuch was written by Moses. He acknowledges deutero-Pauline authorship of some epistles. In the end, Scot has a beneficent conclusion:

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Reading Gagnon: Morality and Sin [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

I should probably quit while I’m ahead, but I would like to offer a final post on Gagon’s book before I shut up.

Again, thanks to 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. I’ll return your copy in the mail next week!

Am I absolutely certain that same-sex intercourse is not a sin when the Bible apparently says it’s a sin? Why shouldn’t I defer to the “clear” statements and commands in the Bible? Who am I to judge God’s word?

I’m not absolutely certain about moral matters in general, since moral reasoning is not like reasoning in mathematics or logic. (About the only absolute moral principles I can think of are very specific, like, “Rape is wrong.”) While I’m convinced that some moral principles and values are objective, the moral conclusions we reach are never certain, and require ongoing reflection and re-examination. So while I’m no moral skeptic, I think it’s important that we have good reasons for our moral judgments.

At a minimum, I think that good moral reasons are determined within the community of moral agents who have to live together. Moral people may disagree between themselves, but we can all provide reasons for why we act morally as we do.

Then we need to ask whether our reasons are really good or not, whether they can stand up or not. As Paul said in 1 Thess. 5:20-21, “Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

So while I could be mistaken, I’m highly confident that the biological sex of the participants is irrelevant to the question of whether intercourse is morally good or bad. Heterosexual intercourse is neither inherently good nor bad, and the same is true for same-sex intercourse. Intercourse may be sinful when someone uses deception or coercion or violence, but it’s hard to see how the biology the participants is relevant.
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A Better Atonement: Jesus Died for This

This week, as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter, we’ve have a post every morning about the atonement. And I’ve curated streams on Storify and Tumbler, both tracking atonement. You can read all of the posts, and my past posts on this topic, here.

Before I conclude, let me express my thanks. This blog has picked up many new readers over the past month, as I’ve written my way through my thoughts on the atonement. I welcome you here, and I appreciate your comments (and tweets, FB posts, and blog posts). I also appreciate the favorable reviews of my ebook, A Better Atonement. Some of that book appeared originally on this blog, and some of it is exclusive to the book. This, my concluding post on the topic (for now), is not in the book.

Some have wondered why I am consumed with this topic. My brothers and sisters more liberal than I state that they figured this out long ago, and that I just making too much of Jesus’ death. One, John Vest, writes,

I titled this post “Ockham’s Atonement” not because William of Ockham had a theory of the atonement (that I’m aware of). Rather, I’m suggesting an approach to Jesus’ death that applies Ockham’s Razora simpler explanation is better than a more complex oneJesus died because he was executed by the powers he threatened. To suggest anything else is to overlay this fact of history with unnecessary theological speculation.

Am I just too evangelical, looking as I am for cosmic import and redemption in the death of at Galilean peasant two millennia ago?
I think not.