cjbanning: (Palm Sunday)
Responding to Scot Miller's response to Robert Gagnon's The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Scott R. Paeth writes:
For someone like Gagnon, [the Bible] seems to center faith precisely in presenting commands and propositions that, even if one is not a fundamentalist, one must accept as normative without qualification. [ . . . F]or me, understanding it not as a set of divinely ordained commands and norms, but as the very human story of how the community of faith comes to understand itself as related to God, in a very fallible and evolving way, is much truer to what one can actually read from the text.
I would locate my own approach as actually somewhere in between these two approaches--ideally a via media, but possibly just muddled thinking. I do consider the Bible to, generally speaking, not only contain all that is necessary for salvation (whatever that means!), but also to be normative to Christian practice and doctrine in a fairly direct way. That said, when I say "the Bible" I am speaking of
  1. a text which, by virtue of being a text, permits a wide range of hermeneutical freedom
  2. not, e.g., the various intended meanings which may have been in the authors' minds as they composed the various works
I don't really doubt that St. Paul disapproved of homosexuality. But at the same time, I don't really care whether St. Paul would have disapproved of homosexuality or not. I'm sure there are many things St. Paul would have thought and I would disagree with today. Luckily, St. Paul's prejudices are not normative to Christian belief and practice; St. Paul's letters, however, are. (This is where I see myself as parting company with Paeth's description: I do not see St. Paul's letters as simply the usefully instructive record of one man's experience of God, but also as being generally binding on the Christian in one way or another.)

Now, of course it's possible we might come across a Biblical command that's just so plain wrong--Ephesians 5:22/Colossians 3:18 jumps to mind--that it can't possibly be plausibly rationalized or contextualized away, and we're left with no choice but to just abandon it with sorrow. And that's okay, I suppose; I do not require the Bible to be totally inerrant. But this must always, I think, be the move of absolutely last resort. (And I'm not totally convinced it's required even in the cases of Eph. 5:22 and Col. 3:18--language is infinitely flexible, after all.) But our default assumption must be, I think, that when Scripture makes a statement about faith or morals, then we must, if at all possible, treat that statement as authoritative in some sense. Our task then is to determine what sense, exploiting language's fundamental fluidity, by placing scripture into its proper dialectic with tradition and reason (and experience).

Luckily, of course, none of the NT references to homosexuality are anywhere as near as unambiguous as Eph. 5:22 and Col. 3:18 seem to be (although, again, even they are not totally without ambiguity to be exploited!).

Now, it's actually far from clear to me that Paeth would actually disagree with anything I've written here. Something like the hermeneutical process I've outlined here may well be what he has in mind when he writes of our need as Christians "to struggle to understand ourselves as related to God, in light of the experiences of those who have come before us, and in conversation with the world we find ourselves in the midst of." I suspect that ultimately my disagreement is not so much with Paeth's position as with how he chose to articulate it in this particular blog post. But I do think that focusing only on Scripture as being the recorded saga of a people's wrestling with the divine--although it certainly is that!--can problematically underplay the importance of its function as a normative authority for Christians, albeit one always in need of a certain amount of hermeneutical play.
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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