I Don’t Understand Jim West

I Don’t Understand Jim West August 7, 2012

There are plenty of things that I do understand about Jim West.

He has no feelings – I know this because after I made a jibe at him, he told me himself, “If I had feelings they’d be hurt.”

And so really what I’m saying is that I understand that he has a sharp wit, and some people take certain things he says too seriously – while others assume he’s kidding even when he’s serious.

I also understand that Jim can get grumpy.

And so when I say that I don’t understand Jim West, it is not because I do not understand why he would censor Ian’s comments, as Ian has discussed on his blog, Irreducible Complexity. Grumpy people do that.

What baffles me is that Jim wrote in a comment on his blog, apparently in all seriousness,

i do well to adhere to the clear teaching of scripture rather than align myself with a viewpoint that is tendentious and has no scriptural foundation.

This is coming from someone who is an outspoken defender of Biblical minimalists, not to mention other more mainstream scholars who have called into question the historicity of many complete narratives and a still larger number of narrative details in the Bible.

If one accepts that the Bible is not history in the modern sense, and even treats as “dilettantes” those who challenge scholarship in an attempt to defend the literal historical truthfulness of the entire Bible, then why would that same person insist on adhering to “the clear teaching of scripture”?

That’s what I don’t understand about Jim West.

I also don’t understand his fascination with depravity and people at Wal-Mart. But what I mentioned above puzzles me even more.

Obviously it is possible to challenge the notion that so-called “traditional marriage” is “the clear teaching of scripture” when many of us think that “traditional marriage” as found in Scripture is not the institution as practiced by the vast majority of Americans. But that is a separate issue. Even if a particular view of marriage or of same-sex relations were “the clear teaching of scripture,” if one is open to the possibility of Scripture being wrong, then why assume that it isn’t at this particular point?


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  • Paul D.

    As far as I can tell, Jim West is the merger (hypostatic union?) of two people: one, an intelligent, critical Bible scholar and minimalist who also has compassionate and progressive political ideas; and two, a curmudgeonly fundamentalist Calvinist theologian and Internet troll who hates atheists and homosexuals. The fact that he seems to be doing an ironic Stephen Colbert schtick much of the time doesn’t make it easy to tell which hat he’s wearing. (Though that pink fedora suits him nicely.)

    He may have just as much to offer the world of psychiatry as the world of Biblical studies.

    • Tom Verenna

      To be fair to Jim, he would argue that he doesn’t hate atheists or homosexuals. He doesn’t agree with same-sex marriage and he differentiates between atheists and what he calls ‘angry atheists’. While he still thinks all atheists are fools and are going to hell, he tolerates certain ones and despises others. I don’t agree with everything Jim says, but he is a genuinely nice guy and he often says brilliant things.

      • Paul D.

        I don’t mean to malign him… I’d probably like the hell out of him in real life, and he is often brilliant as you say, but his Internet persona is not always what I would consider a loving, Christian individual. (Not saying I’m a saint either.)

  • Jeremiah

    What I find baffling is that he is gentle and by all indications kind when in person, but on the internet he is a complete ass. Seems a bit δίψυχος.

  • Dan Ortiz

    I all honestly If you (not you James but generic you) get offended by what Jim says, then it is down to taking his writings literalistic, which again is indicative of the reader not the writer.
    I haven’t met Jim and probably never will, but even with the language barrier I can see what he us trying to do, a reincarnation of Zwingli comes to mind.
    Regarding the homosexuality issue, his biggest beef is with the “gay police”, and having to be told what to do and think. This is a pretty standard american attitude to be honest, nothing particular about that. Being a gay marriage supporter myself, I agree with Jim that people should not be made to change their views by peer pressure and/or legal action. Gay marriage will happen there is no doubt about that, but it will be common place not in 5 or 10 years but 20 years from now. Yes, the law shouldn’t be used to criminalize it, but it shouldn’t also be used criminalize those who oppose it.
    Regarding the “atheist” comment below, I find that a little bizarre since Jim probably has more atheist/non-christian friends than Christian friends. Pink does suit him though….

  • Daniel Owens

    I think the same can be said for you, Dr. McGrath. On one hand you clearly have a grasp of many of the complex issues in NT studies (your excellently perceptive Only True God is a shining example). Yet you misrepresent traditional Christians by saying they desire to adhere to the ‘biblical’ view of marriage. You know that by ‘biblical’ they mean the NT version. Yet you continue to say they are not reading the Bible right. I have always wondered why you would do this? But, then I remember, I do it too I just am not perceptive enough, or humble enough, to know when I do it. Mr. Zwingli Rediv. is unique, for sure, but I think you fit the bill in the same way.

    • Well, it is American conservative Christians themselves who use the phrases “Biblical marriage” and “Biblical principles.” If they mean “New Testament marriage” they should say so! 🙂 But even if they did, I would make many of the same points, since the NT only begins the process of changing how marriage is thought of. The version of Jesus’ saying which suggested that a man could commit adultery against his wife involved a radical redefition of how women and marriage were understood. So too did his prohibition of divorce. And so the mentioning of those two together hopefully highlights that, if contemporary marriage is an outgrowth of principles found in the NT, it is selectively so. If I ever hear a Christian group seeking to make divorce illegal, and not only same-sex marriage, I may not agree with them (I’m a Baptist and so committed to the separation of church and state) but I will at least applaud their consistency. But when they do not take that hardline stance on what Jesus actually emphasized more, then it is clear that they are picking and choosing and using their supposedly Biblical platform for political and other ends.

      • Daniel Owens

        Pt. 1: I agree that this view is problematic but, I think you forget that your studies and your logic (which I am not saying that I disagree with) does not correlate with their study or logic. As for their use of metonymy, you know, I know you do :), what thought they are trying to communicate and therefore they did say it.

      • Daniel Owens

        Pt. 2: Oh, and you know, the statement you made, “the NT only begins the process of changing how marriage is thought of” is blasphemy amongst conservatives. I mean, I almost got kicked out of my seminary, DTS, for saying that Jesus was adopted as Son in Mark.

        • I understand that, but my impression is that Jim West is not a conservative when it comes to Biblical studies. But perhaps I am beginning to understand. Perhaps his appreciation for Bultmann reflects his having severed the link between Biblical studies and theology, ethics, and other such fields. And so he is then able to be completely open to whatever historical criticism comes up with, precisely because it will not affect his beliefs or practices.

          If so, then he would do better not to talk about “the plain teaching of Scripture” because that is not really what drives his stance.

          OK, this has been helpful. Perhaps Jim West will offer his own comments (and of course some sort of rebuke) to let me know if I am on the right track…

  • Maybe the problem (aside from Jim’s manners online) is that people do not fit into neat categories like they should, that we are all complex, and that the liberal/conservative divide has proven to be unhelpful once more.