Shuck and Jive

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Authority and Truth

More Conversations with Bob! My bats.

Holy Blogspace Bob!

Your last response was eight pages single-spaced! Good for you. I asked you to comment on a controversial issue. You know, Bob, if I was retired or in another profession and lived wherever it is you live in Pennsylvania, I would attend your church. I have deep admiration for you. And I am not just blowing smoke. I do. I appreciate your sincerity and the way you carry yourself in conversation.

I would be an annoying attendee, for sure. I would invite you out for a sarsparilla every now and then and tell you where you are full of crap and you would tell me where I am full of crap and we would have a helluva good time.

Bob, I have the same respect for you that you have for Jack Rogers, even as I have not known you as long as you have known him. You and I disagree on certain issues. Big deal. We are brothers in Christ and friends.

You are a far better exegete of scripture than I. Again, no smoke; it is true. You know your Bible, your Reformed Theology, you know your stuff. I, on the other hand, am a fly-by-night. "Hey, check this out! What do you think about this?" I am limited in consistency and coherence.

And the bottom line for me is I really don't care what the Bible or Reformed Theology says about this or that or if its opinion on this or that is presumptuous enough to tell me how to live my life. I can make my own decisions. I am impetuously autonomous and an incorrigible smart-ass.

This means that...
  • if even 500 verses of the Bible and
  • if Jesus himself proclaimed on the Mount of Transfiguration and
  • if Jesus appeared to me on my back deck in the glory of his resuscitated corpse and
stated to me as clearly as the four p.m. sun is hot, that homoerotic love is a sin and that if I support gays and lesbians in their relationships I would join them in the fires of hell, I would look him in his piercing eyes and say (if I had the courage of my convictions):

"Fine then. Send me to your hell. You are wrong, Jesus."

Why? Because I know Tony and Mike. Because I know dozens of other couples and individuals and I know who they are and that what they do is as good and sacred as what anyone else does.

Enough on that.

Bob, when I personally read the Bible I don't see an external authority telling me what is true or how to behave. Something is not true because an authority says it is true. Authority is earned by the truth it tells. The Bible is a mixed bag.

From a practical and a pastoral standpoint, I realize that not all people are as impetuously autonomous as I. Some need to know that an authority such as the Bible affirms them. In those cases, I refer them to Jack Rogers or to Mel White or to this great resource from the Human Rights Campaign.

By the way, I need to tell you how I admire you for supporting Jack Rogers as many of our colleagues who may agree with you on sexuality issues are vilifying him. That is yet one more reason why I respect you, Bob.

We will get through this issue as we have others. Friendship remains.

That is all for today. You gave me some passages to check out. Next time.

I leave us with a poem that I heard today on The Writer's Almanac:

The Mower by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.


  1. John,

    Bravo for having the courage of your convictions and stating as plainly as possible where you stand on the issue. At least now we know where your ultimate authority rests on this issue. I can now see what's so liberating about liberation theology!

    This is so freeing. I thought that I was going to have to follow the Bible and welcome strangers into my land. I mean, immigration is a huge issue for those who are trying their darnedest to obey the Bible and be a good Republican. You've shown me the way, though.

    No matter what the Bible says about an issue, I can be my own man and listen to whatever cultural construct I've idolized (i.e. secure borders, national sovereignty, rule of law, personal experiences, etc.) instead of sucking it up and doing what God - er - some less advanced, bronze age, patriarchal personality told me to do.

  2. I am naive enough to think that an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament should in fact accept the authority of Scripture and the guidance of the Reformed Confessions in the way he or she teaches and lives. Obviously, that does not mean MOWS will agree on every single point, but they should share a common frame of reference. How can I call someone a "colleague in Ministry" without that frame of reference. Getting together and sharing a beverage and having a great old time is wonderful, but it's not enough.

    As for Jack Rogers and Mel White, they have both written very bad, frequently mean-spirited (especially in White's case) and intellectually dishonest books. Pointing to them as guides to the Scriptures is nothing more than feel-goodism for people who desperately want to reconcile sin with the Word of God.

  3. I certainly object to characterizing Jack Rogers' works as "bad, frequently mean-spirited". I think Bob would agree strongly on this point. Can you provide specific examples, or is this a case of prejudging viewpoints that differ from yours?

    I may disagree with some of Rogers' earlier positions, but his scholarship has always been top notch, and he is a blessing to our denomination.

    Presbyman, we specifically rejected the idea of Fundamentals for ministerial candidates over 80 years ago and with good reason. We are not the OPC.

  4. presbyman

    I too disagree with your characterization of Jack's book. I disagree with his exegesis and his analogies. His exegesis is a bit out of date, in my opinion even among those who agree with his conclusion. I think he is wrong in his evaluation of Rob Gagnon. I don't think it is one of his better books which shouldn't come as a real surprise. After all, I disagree with his conclusions.

    But Jack is still my brother in Christ and my friend.

    Mel White I don't know as well and have not read his book so I cannot comment.

  5. Chris,

    As always, glad to be of service.


    Sharing a beverage is living out the eucharist it seems to me.

  6. **Something is not true because an authority says it is true. Authority is earned by the truth it tells. **

    I think this is key, especially the earned part. It reflects what's wrong with the "might makes right" viewpoint. Simply because someone can blow up the neighboring country and is powerful enough does not give that person the right to do so, or make the action right.

    That's my difficulties with the problem passages in the Bible. In any other context, the actions would be seen as wrong. Then it gets to close to "It's right because God did it." Except we don't determine if someone/something is good/just/authorative because it says it is.

  7. Thanks Heather,

    That is my point in a nutshell.

  8. I stand by my characterisation of Roger's book (in fairness, his previous works may have been very good ones. But this latest one, no). He has not honestly represented the work of even scholars who agree with him on homosexuality in the church; and he has remarkably dishonest in representing the work of those, especially Robert Gagnon, who oppose his perspective.

    Now, I know Gagnon is a hate object around here, so he probably is not afforded the courtesy of having his work evaluated honestly. So, if Jack Rogers is not honest about Robert Gagnon's work, who cares?

    Well, it matters to me. Falsely claiming Gagnon relies more upon natural law than the Scriptures (when of course it is precisely the other way around); or saying Gagnon provides "no support" for his arguments about Paul's perspective on homosexuality in Romans; or claiming Gagnon says homosexuality is a "wilful choice," is all dishonest.

    Therefore, I repeat that Rogers has written a very bad and very dishonest book. And his treatment of Gagnon is in fact mean-spirited: dishonesty is mean-spiritied, isn't it?

    Whether or not one is a friend of his, or agrees with his views, does not change that fact.

  9. presbyman

    Okay, I agree with you in part. As I said even the most recent writers who agree with Jack on homosexuality disagree with his exegesis of the passages. See my reference to Phyllis Bird. I would also point out that Walter Wink disagrees with Jack's position on the Romans passage. (see an exchange between Wink and Gagnon in "The Christian Century" the best way to read it is through Rob's page: And Jack did get it wrong about Rob Gagnon, the one place where I would agree with you that Jack moved beyond getting it wrong to mischaracterizing Rob's work. In fact I agree with most of what Rob says on the subject. You may have noticed his influence in what I said.

    Still, I'm trying to be polite, ya know?

  10. If I seriously believed what you have said here, I would first ask to be released from my ordination vows and then I would find honest work.

  11. Tobias,

    You don't really have to believe anything specific about God or the Bible or the Reformed tradition to be a Pastor in our denomination. We're so inclusive and we dance happily around the diversity totem pole!

  12. I can agree with you that "the Bible is a mixed bag." It's your last hypothetical that gets you into trouble. I know its hard to admit when you are wrong, and I especially don't like doing it to conservatives. Hopefully, however, I would be able to do so if Christ ever confronted me.

    PS. I don't think you ARE wrong, but that you are wrong to insist that you would hold such a position even in the face of a direct revelation form Christ himself. I hope this is a case of hyperbole gone to far--otherwise you just seem ridiculous (and you do a disservice to the many gays and lesbians who cannot afford to be attached to such hyperbole.)

    If, on the other hand, you really do believe this, you ought to give up your ordination. I don't care if there are no other welcoming churches in your town. Start one independently if you must. If you refuse to obey Christ, even after direct revelation, you really have no business calling yourself a Christian OR a pastor. And that's coming from a fellow liberal.

  13. Drew,

    Thanks and welcome. Obviously, this is hyperbole.


  14. Glad to hear that. Sadly, much of the blogging world does not "get" hyperbole.

  15. Man, wow, I sure caught hell for expressing a similar stance via hyperbole. Almost every time I Google myself, I find another person declaring that I am an enemy of God or some such (and I only Google myself out of morbid curiosity at this point). Of course, none of this is said to me personally, but that's the nature of the medium I suppose.

    I'll just say I wish you luck. There are a lot of people who seem to hate anything but obedience to their theology and interpretation of Scripture, but that's always been true.

    I think that, when you say something that is true according to your convictions, it has to be worth saying before you know the consequences.

    As I just posted, I really wish these conversations could happen in person.

    God bless, my friend.

  16. "You don't really have to believe anything specific about God or the Bible or the Reformed tradition to be a Pastor in our denomination. We're so inclusive and we dance happily around the diversity totem pole!"

    Presbyman, it goes against my liberal tendency for inclusiveness (otherwise known as "being a connectional church that is the body of Christ", but I have to ask:

    If you despise the fact that the PC(USA) does not use "Fundamentals" as part of the ordination process, why have you not joined the OPC or PCA? The mainline Presbyterian Church in this country decided over 80 years ago that we would not reduce our ordination standards to a petty checklist. Yes, it can be frustrating to some to not have strict guidelines set for them by a higher bureaucratic authority, but I think that in the end, the PC(USA) is better for it by having a more thoughtful examination process.

    This is a pretty (if you'll pardon the pun) fundamental distinctive between the PC(USA) and the OPC/PCA. Just ask the ghost of J. Gresham Machen.