Have You Even Read Paul?

Have You Even Read Paul? December 21, 2013

Fred Clark has a post that starts off being about the whole Duck Dynasty hullabaloo, but in the process focuses on the character of Paul’s letters and the nature of prooftexting. Here’s my favorite part:

Quoting Paul to defend exclusion is like quoting Tony Soprano to defend pacifism. Maybe you can find something Tony said that you can pluck out of context to make it sound like it might support that. And then you can ignore everything else Tony ever said or did and just elevate that one isolated phrase, repeating it over and over until you’ve convinced yourself that it means the opposite of everything Tony Soprano represents.

But that’s just stupid. Yeah, that’s my scholarly, seminary-trained assessment of clobbering with clobber-texts. It’s stupid. It’s illiterate hackwork that comes from treating the Bible as raw material to be mined for ammunition to fight whatever battle it was you had already decided you wanted to fight.

Clobber-text clobberers are the biblical equivalent of the Head-crusher from that old Kids in the Hall sketch. They imagine they’re doing something powerful and meaningful, but none of it actually matters — it’s a meaningless act that has no effect on the reality it pretends to be reshaping. It’s a delusion based on distorted perspective. Hold your thumb and finger right next to your eye and then squint and they’ll appear huge and powerful. You can do the same thing with your clobber-text, but that’s just as silly, and just as meaningless.

Click through to read the rest. I love that I could understand his point even though I’ve never watched Duck Dynasty, or The Sopranos, or Kids in the Hall.


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  • Peter Kirby

    This must be the NT equivalent of “do you even lift bro?”

  • $51751848

    Wow, how much misreading can you pack into one sentence? Nowhere did Phil Robertson defend white supremacy. What he did was claim that he never witnessed any mistreatment of blacks pre-Jim Crow. While this is a shockingly ignorant statement, it is light years from claiming that whites are the superior race, especially since he calls himself ‘white trash’ that worked alongside the blacks hoeing cotton for other farmers. In fact he puts himself exactly on their level. And the only comparison he makes between homosexuals and terrorists (and drunks, which he acknowledges he once was himself) is that both equally need the Gospel. Nowhere does he say that the two activities are similar in terms of the damage they cause, or level of heinousness, or anything like that. And where is he getting the phrase “terrorists who practice bestiality” from? Phil nowhere makes that connection in his remarks. And while he focuses on the sexual aspect of homosexuality that doesn’t make sense to him, it is a wild, ridiculous extrapolation, not dissimilar to what he claims conservatives do with the relevant biblical passages, to conclude that he reduces all women to “a vagina.” The way he treats his devoted wife on the show, and the way the other men in the Robertson treat their wives, blasts that heinous slander out of the water.

    Is it the progressive Christian way to so thoroughly mangle the views and character of people you disagree with?

    As for the familiar charge of proof-texting, there are two things that need to be said here:

    1) It may be true that Christians who haven’t professionally studied the Bible quote verses out of context as a way of summarily proving or disproving a contested doctrine, but this is not the case with scholars like Richard Hays or Wesley Hill (who is gay himself), who are very careful to sift the various texts within the framework of a carefully argued hermeneutic in order to derive a holistic biblical understanding of human sexuality. The former’s The Moral Vision of the New Testament in particular can in no way be dismissed as prooftexting.

    2) The summary dismissal of any and all prooftexting ignores the fact that in many cases in literary criticism there are in fact particularly salient passages that provide an interpretive key for the whole text, where the author’s overall meaning comes through particularly clearly and provides clues for how the meaning of disputed passages should be perceived.

    • TrevorN

      “In fact he puts himself exactly on their level.”
      Ka-ching. So… “white trash” is on the same level as “black”. Not “black trash”. Tell me why you haven’t just outed yourself as a “shockingly ignorant” racist as well.

      • $51751848

        The very words of mine you quote as describing his comments should be enough for any decent person.

        • Ian

          They are enough. But not for the reasons you think. Trevor’s point was sound as far as I can see.

      • Straw Man

        I’m pretty sure that’s precisely what “white trash” is supposed to mean. It implies that whites are normally not trash and, by implication, that non-whites are trash by default. Decades ago in college I explained to a Nigerian woman that I’m considered “white trash,” and in northern cities at least, “white trash” are basically white people from black neighborhoods.

        At the time I tried to argue that this made me an “honorary black,” but I didn’t appreciate the difference that I benefit from white privilege to the extent that I can speak standard English and adopt the manners of a higher social class, which I do.

  • Herro

    Do you agree with his view, i.e. that it’s absurd to think that Paul would “exclude”?

    This passage seems rather “pro-exlusion”:

    >….but as it is, I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat. (1Cor 5:11)

    Is this really true?

    >…because there’s no way you could read Acts and read Paul’s letters and then still somehow decide that Paul has got your back when you’re trying to exclude people.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      So, do “inclusivist” arguments necessarily extend to any and all of those who persistently and even proudly practice behaviors prohibited by those closest to Jesus? Specious arguments and spurious data seem all too prevalent in these kinds of controversies. All the best to all in Christ.

      • You mean people who are clearly filled with hatred and bigotry towards others and with self-righteousness and pride? Yes, even they are included. They are invited to experience a grace that will transform their lives. But that isn’t the same as simply excluding them. Because they are not merely others in whom we see such sins more clearly, but all of us.

        • Richard Worden Wilson

          Inappropriate emotions, motives, attitudes, and character traits need God’s grace and transformation, of course, and discipleship necessarily happens WITHIN the church.

          My point was trying to be this: if inclusion of all within the church without regard to unrepentant beliefs or practices is the new rule then we have abandoned any attempt to maintain the kind of gatherings of God’s people modeled in the Bible. Exclusion on the basis of some criteria is necessary as followers of Jesus–inclusive Paul (and John, et. al.) knew that and practiced it (Matt 18:15ff, 1 Timothy 5:19, 1 Corinthians 5:13, 2 John 11, etc.). Arguments that imply there are no criteria for exclusion, or those that avoid dealing with whether a particular behavior fits the biblical criteria for church discipline and possible exclusion, are not helpful nor respectful of those who take those criteria seriously.

          BTW, I’ve been disciplined with grace in one church (I admit I’m heterodox) and excluded inappropriately (un-biblically) from another, so I’m no stranger to the problems involved in the practices and processes of biblical church discipline.

  • George

    So then 1 Cor 6:9-10 must be a non-Pauline interpolation:

    “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

    For someone to try to paint Paul as some sort of modern progressive inclusivist is laughable and simply reflects an effort to craft the apostle in one’s own image.

    • Not at all. Progressive Christian inclusivism is all about bringing people together across divides of race, gender, nationality, and opinion to combat things like idolatry and slander and theft and swindling and infidelity. But we do so, as Jesus taught us, by focusing on humble repentance and self examination rather than standing in judgment over others. I take it you don’t actually know any progressive Christians?

      • George

        Did Paul stand in judgment over others? It sure sounds like he’s saying that certain people “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Stop trying to make this about me, and try to focus on the subject of your original post – Paul. And I know hundreds of “progressive Christians,” and have been actively involved at self-described “progressive” and “inclusive” churches for many years. Sorry to burst your bubble.

        • In a much calmer letter, Paul wrote, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” And so there are certainly problems with turning all Paul’s statements into a coherent and unified system.

          I’m glad you know hundreds of progressive Christians. Perhaps you should ask them what they stand for, and how it relates to what they think Paul stood for?

          • George

            And of course Romans 14:4 is addressing matters of “opinion” (cf. 14:1), not matters pertaining to what Paul considers to be “sinful” behavior, as is clearly the case in 1 Cor 6. Again, you’re throwing out red herrings to avoid the fact that Paul excluded many from the kingdom on the basis of what he considered to be their sinful ways of living. It’s plainly obvious that Paul is tolerant of differences of “opinion” (e.g., Rom 14), but not when it comes to things he deems sinful (e.g., 1 Cor 5-6).

            So take another example from the same context I previously mentioned:

            “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.
            But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
            What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.'” (1 Cor 5:9-13)

            Please explain whether you agree or disagree with Paul’s exclusionary views in 1 Cor 6. Do you exclude those Paul excludes, or do you think that Paul is mistaken in his views, either entirely or in part?

          • I am confused. Every time I point out Paul’s inclusiveness, you respond as though I had said that Paul was unconcerned with morality. Why is that? Are you trying to change the subject, or are you misunderstanding what I am saying?

  • Chris Attaway is also among the many to chime in on this topic: http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/duck-dynasty-and-true-christians/