Reading Gagnon: Here We Go [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

Robert A. J. Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, has impressive academic credentials: a B.A. from Dartmouth, M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity, and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. But I have seen few scholarly works written by one author that is as impressive as his massive work, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (2001). (All page references are to this book.)

And by impressive work, I mean the entire book is 520 pages long — and it would have been longer, if the extensive discursive footnotes had not been printed smaller font. The list of abbreviations used in the book for ancient texts, journal titles, and major reference works is eleven pages long. The twenty-five page index listing his references to 472 different contemporary authors (by my count) and to numerous ancient texts. I was surprised that the book lacks a bibliography, but it probably would have added at least 30 more pages to the length of the book.

Robert Gagnon

Given the magnitude of the book, it is obvious that Gagnon is more than a little concerned with the growing tolerance for homosexual practice both in society and in the church. Acceptance of homosexual practice is not only a threat to “intellectual integrity [and] free speech,” but also threatens to make “a potentially irreversible change in the morality of mainline denominations … in this vital area of sexual ethics” (p. 35).

Gagnon is writing to offer a comprehensive, exhaustive, and definitive account of the biblical and theological message that homosexual practice is a sin. It should be the “go-to” book for anyone interested in defending the sin of homosexual practice against those who would “reinterpret” scripture or offer theological justifications for tolerance of LGBTQ practices.

Throughout the book, Gagnon is careful to distinguish between homosexual orientation and homosexual practice. According to him, the Bible has little interest in sexual urges as such, but with what one does with those urges (p. 38). This distinction permits him to show compassion and love toward the person with same-sex attraction or orientation (since having homosexual attraction is not a sin), while strongly condemning those who act on that attraction (since engaging in homosexual practice is a sin; see pp. 35-36, 489-93).

As the subtitle of the book suggests, Gagnon intends to establish that the biblical texts unequivocally regard same-sex intercourse as a sin, and he wants to refute all theological arguments and interpretations that would override the unequivocal authority of the Bible on this matter (p. 37).

This post will focus on Gagnon’s discussion of the biblical evidence.
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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 hills-church.org.

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.

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Awaken Yourself…To a Free Book!

This post is part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book, an interview with the authors, and for responses from the editors.

Publishing is not dead. At least not as measured by the books that arrive on my doorstep every day to review and blurb. (Or maybe these publishers are all sending me books purely for my own edification. Bahahaha!)

About a lot of these books, I think: the folks who read my blog would probably like this. Some of those I get around to reviewing, and others get added to piles (with the best of intentions). Well, one came in the mail recently that I really do think will appeal to many of you. It’s Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation by David Benner.

Benner is a psychologist and spiritual director. In this book, he uses that expertise to examine mysticism, and to ultimately propose that mystical union with the Divine is possible. This isn’t a new proposal in Christianity, to be sure, but Benner’s book is significant for those of us who are drawn to mysticism but are also chastened by our training in the sciences. He writes,

Any awakening is, in effect, a response to an awareness of realities beyond our present self-organization. Such awareness of of these realities calls us to redefine and realign our self in relationship to transcendent realities that exist beyond our present awareness.

Patheos has a copy of this excellent book to give away. Anyone who signs up for my email list (or updates or confirms their subscription) will be entered to win. You can do that here. I’ll draw a name at random on the Monday after Easter.

[UPDATE: The book was won by Michelle Colon -- Congrats!]

Too Late for Emergent?

Bill Walker has a very thoughtful post that is only partly about my new book on the atonement. More importantly, he has some excellent reflections on the theology — or lack thereof — of the emergent movement:

Over the past five years or so there seems to have been a climax and subsequent decline in optimism and enthusiasm surrounding the Emergent Church conversation.  Of course those on the conservative evangelical side have always dismissed the movement as heterodox and a return to theological liberalism, but even some of the more sympathetic critics that often describe themselves as “missional” have expressed concern about a lack of theological leadership.  There’s been no shortage of deconstruction and even ecclesial innovation amid this group, but the common question remains: what is it exactly that so-called emergents believe?

Be sure to read the rest: Bill Walker | Blog.


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