Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Merideth has an entry that you should certainly read if you were at all interested in my overlong theological essays a couple of weeks ago. Her words were firm, but I found them extremely thought-provoking and rewarding.

As for her "rescinded concession," I can only suggest that the interested reader should read Romans and Hebrews -- in particular, Romans 7 -- and decide for yourself what the status of the Law is under the New Covenant. I think that Merideth and I probably don't actually disagree; it's all in the shades of meaning. The law was necessary once (Romans), because it showed us what God thinks is right and wrong (Romans). But the Law only taught us what was wrong, it couldn't actually deliver salvation from sin (Hebrews), which meant that the only real way to overcome sin was through the promised Messiah (both), who came so that we would not have to live by the Law in the vain hope of salvation (both). And certain aspects of the Law were never meant to apply after the Messiah arrived (Acts et al.). Regardless, the Law is solely for our own reference, because we should never judge others for their acts (Romans, Gospels, et al.), but the law can nevertheless help us evaluate others' acts in deciding what we should do ourselves (passim, e.g. Timothy). At the same time, the Holy Spirit guides us as well (passim). It's a tangled web. Individual verses can be taken to mean various propositions, but I think that it all makes sense in the context of the whole. At least, that's my take on it, and I'm fairly sure that it harmonizes with Christian orthodoxy. Your mileage may vary.

But it's all irrelevant to the original question. The Law doesn't matter if Paul was even a little bit correct, because Paul unequivocally and without cultural hedging explains that homosexual acts are sinful and must be avoided. Paul set out that rule in light of the New Covenant, not the Old. So why was Paul wrong?

Certainly, everyone picks and chooses in the Bible. And I admit that once again, terminology gets in the way, because "buffet Christian" can become as meaningless as "judicial activism" or any other slogan. But there's a genuine distinction here, and I think that it's wrong to dismiss it as hypocrisy. I think that I meant "buffet Christian" as "one who believes in most of the Bible, but who nevertheless rejects an explicit command of the Bible for an extra-Biblical reason," and I am indebted to Merideth for helping me understand the true underpinning of my argument.

Of course, none of this matters if you think that the Bible is not divinely inspired, that is, that it is superior to other enduring literature that we generally consider to be "inspired" in the sense of human brilliance. None of us purport to live our lives by The Odyssey, for instance.

But if you think that there's special about the Bible, you have to figure out some way to understand it. It's a difficult document, and hard to harmonize. People of good faith can work to understand the text and the doctrines therein, without any greater struggle than the fight between the Presbyterians and the Methodists at Luby's. The issues with Leviticus and Deuteronomy can be resolved without stepping outside of the Bible, because a significant part of the New Covenant is the rejection of circumcision, dietary laws, and other doctrines of the Law. This isn't picking and choosing, this is harmonizing. It's not a buffet, its a stew.

But what if you have a problem with something in the Bible, and there's nothing in the Bible to supersede or modify it? Paul's statements about homosexuality cannot be explained away as "old covenant," nor does any other Biblical doctrine provide a basis for rejecting them. Thus, if your ethics, culture and faith are opposed to that dogmatic declaration, one must simply choose between the Bible and one's own ethics, culture and faith.

Merideth accurately notes that it elevates the Bible to choose the Bible in that circumstance, but I don't agree that it constitutes "Bibliolatry." It doesn't elevate the Bible over God, because it's not a duality. Instead, it's a three-way struggle between God, the Bible, and our own ethics and faith. Thus, choosing the Bible in the situation above elevates the Bible over our own opinions, but it does so as part of the search to yield to God. That is: (1) God, (2) Biblical Doctrine, (3) Man's Faith. (Of course, the conservative would say that the question is irrational in the first place, because obeying the Bible is itself a glorification of God, because Biblical teachings are inherently holy teachings.) Merideth's choice, that of ethics and faith, is to arrange them (1) God, (2) Man's Faith, (3) Biblical Doctrine.

A related issue is this: what role does the Bible play if it is subordinate to our own faith? That is, we understand God because we have faith and the Holy Spirit, but we also understand God because the Bible tells us about Him. Without the Bible, we would lack a great deal of information about the faith -- in fact, everything we currently know about Christ himself comes from the Bible. But we also have to admit that without the Spirit, the Bible would be a dead letter.

So, I suppose that we have to ask these questions:

1. Would the Holy Spirit ask us to contradict the Bible? How do you know when it's the Spirit and not just your own ethics? Does that distinction even matter? Is the Bible important enough to supersede deeply held beliefs? Carefully considered ethics? Personal preference? Where do you draw the line?
2. If one departs from the Bible as a source of authority, how far can one go before becoming completely unmoored? How do you draw the line? Why do you believe in part of it and not in other parts?

And my point is only this: these questions can be answered in various ways, none of which deserve ridicule.

In the end, I think I just wanted to plead for greater understanding. Conservative views, in which personal belief cannot contradict the Bible, are not irrational or deserving of calumny. I just want the liberal branch of the faith to have more understanding of the conservative branch. Of course, the conservative branch sometimes spits back bile. It's irrational to remain tolerant in the face of that response, but then again, so is turning the other cheek.

Wow. I didn't mean to go this long. But Merideth had some very interesting points, and she did a good job of helping me to see what I was really saying. Many thanks -- but it's tiring.

Can I just go back to calling Dubya a "whistle-ass"?

 11:47 AM

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