Reading Gagnon: What Went Wrong [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 have really tried to be charitable to Gagnon’s book in my blog posts. Maybe I’ve been too charitable, since Gagnon doesn’t just “overstate” the conclusions in his biblical exegesis. He relentless forces all of the evidence into arguments that seem intended to annihilate even the possibility of an alternative interpretation.

It is more difficult for me to be charitable with his fifth chapter, however. In this last chapter — about one-third of his book — Gagnon attempts to refute as many arguments as he can think of which attempt to “override the Bible’s authority” by appealing to “general theological principles or contemporary scientific knowledge and experience” (p. 37).

While the first four chapters of Gagnon’s book could be read as an important contribution to biblical scholarship on homosexuality and sexual ethics, I’m afraid that the last chapter reads more like partisan talking points that can be used to attack and dismiss interpretations which differ with Gagnon’s particular interpretation of the Bible. Instead of seriously engaging the theological and modern scientific challenges to the Bible’s apparent position on homosexual practice, Gagnon’s mind is clearly made up, and he will come up with any argument he can, good or bad, to defend what he already thinks.
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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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