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Reading Gagnon: Tony’s Wrap-Up

Reading Gagnon: Tony’s Wrap-Up April 9, 2012

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:

Without a doubt, Gagnon makes a logically consistent and coherent argument that the biblical texts hold homosexual practice to be a sin. His argument is supported by knowledge of the ancient literature and languages, and he offers lengthy rebuttals to scholars who argue, for example, that the Bible is really concerned with the sin of abusive sexual practices by male temple prostitutes, and not the “loving relationship” of a same-sex couple.

Day Four: Overreaching

However, as coherent as Gagnon’s biblical hermeneutic is, he seems to leave the land of rationality with his conclusions about homosexual practice. That is, he finds points of complexity and nuance in other areas of biblical interpretation, but he affords no such gray area when it comes to his pet issue. For example, Scot writes,

Nevertheless, after making an eighteen-page argument with numerous comparisions of ancient texts, Gagnon claims, “It is self-evident, then, that the combination of terms,malakoi and arsenokoitai, are correctly understood in our contemporary context when they are applied to every conceivable type of same-sex intercourse” (p. 330). A claim like “2+2=4” may be self-evident; the translation of a pair of obscure ancient Greek words, not so much… especially if it is only self-evident after an eighteen-page argument.

Day Five: Jumping the Shark

Where Gagnon comes off the rails altogether is in the last chapter. Therein, he “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).”

And, according to Scot (and several commenters), Gagnon fails at this. And he fails big:

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.

Day Six: Theology Matters

Regardless of Scot’s protestations that he is more of a philosopher than a theologian, I think he’s done a great job of clearing ground for theological reflection on the issue of homosexual practice. His final post, I submit, is one that you MUST read. It it humble and important. He writes,

The question for believers is not finished by asking, “What did the Bible say?” This is at best a trivial question about a historical document. (And it is a naive question, for it disregards the fact that we cannot escape the historically conditioned prejudices we bring to the text. The historical question hides within it prejudices that can obscure the meaning of the text.) The more significant question for a believer is, “How am I to understand what the Bible says?” This question opens up the possibility of theological reflection.

He goes on to argue, convincingly, that his view of sin differs from Gagnon’s, and that both can be supported by scriptural evidence.

I’m telling you, read it.

In the final analysis, what do you think of Scot’s interaction with Gagnon’s book?

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