JOHN: You have just written a piece on hermeneutics. I have some initial reactions.
I will now paraphrase: God has accommodated us both morally and theologically at times in the past. For example, the role of divorce in the Wesleyan church is not as strict as Christ proposed.
It seems to me that God is holy (Wesleyan Articles of Religion, Isaiah, the New Testament) and that he would not accommodate himself morally to a particular situation. Sinful humans have distorted God's message at times (e.g. over slavery, or in Nazi Germany) and God has fought, cajoled and worked in people's hearts to change them, But, accommodate them morally even for a time. No. Slavery was a fact but God worked to deconstruct it over time. But accept it as moral. No. Never.
KEN: What then do you make of Jesus' own words about Scripture: "Moses because of your hard hearts permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been so"? How can we interpret this comment as being anything other than God allowing something in Scripture that was not His preferred option?
I want to make it clear that my goal here is not to accommodate less than the morally or theologically perfect. My goal is to help us actually affirm God's moral and theological best today. The problem is, the direct application (not the indirect method used by most evangelicals) often results in something less than God's moral and theological best. In my opinion, a fundamentalist approach to Scripture often uses Scripture in ways that conflict with God's will today.
I do not think it would be
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But to go with this issue, far more important for me than Jesus' statements on divorce taken in isolation as timeless propositions is what those instructions meant in the context in which he spoke them. Was Jesus 1) setting up a propositional rule against which humanity was to measure itself, a principle that need not have any rationale to it other than it comes from God? Is this an instance of "man being made for the Sabbath”?
If so, then the woman whose husband beats her but doesn't have an affair is in a most unfortunate position, as are her children. Perhaps, she can separate, but until he commits the sin of adultery, she is bound to him.
My conviction is that Jesus would be horrified at such a legalistic application of his teaching. I would say 2) that Jesus was speaking to a situation where men could throw away their wives for any old reason and was actually setting up a rule of compassion rather than a rule for its own sake. It's a Malachi, the "sabbath was made for man" type thing.
Of course, as you have hinted, the church must ultimately call these matters rather than me as an individual. But the meaning of the Bible--the significance that originally filled the words--is repeatedly a matter that can be contested. Yes, that allows the immoral to wrest those words to their own destruction. But the problem can't be wished away. A quick scan of what scholars are saying on any given verse bears out the point: the original meaning of the Bible is not a clear cut thing when read in its literary, historical, and social contexts.
JOHN: Your argument for monogamy in marriage vs. polygamy seems weak to me. The consensual tradition of the church has never accepted serial marriages, polygamy, or fornication (why couldn’t that be an accommodation?) assuming that polygamy was an earlier accommodation. God is holy love and sent His Son to rescue us from sin, death and the Devil (that is an ontological fact rather than just consensus of the church).
KEN: Yes, and I hope you know that this is in fact what I am arguing for--the acceptance that the consensual tradition of the church--even beyond the text of the Bible itself--is a crucial and often determinative part of the equation. But I stand by my claim that the text of the Bible itself does not prohibit polygamy. What passage can we adduce whose original meaning prohibited it?
Yet using the method I am suggesting, there are passages the church might consider against it. This is the difference I am urging--the way that the church rightly uses Scripture is often not what that Scripture originally meant.
JOHN: You state that Arius may have been right about interpreting Christ but that the developmental consensus rejected that position. I, along with the consensus, state that Arius was always wrong and fortunately he was rejected as a heretic (cf. Wright and Witherington). We must look to the original meaning to determine the parameters of Scripture and attempt to find that meaning by learning about Jewish and Christian interpretations in both in Scripture and by examining the early centuries(e.g. the Didache).
KEN: I want to make it very clear that I think Arius was wrong! My argument is two-fold.
1. I'll start with the easy one: even if Arius was incorrect in his understanding of Scripture, at the time this fact was not clear on the basis of the text alone. Otherwise Christians wouldn't have had to rankle over the Trinity for three hundred years. Any number of early Christian theologians (e.g., Origen, Justin Martyr) would not have been considered orthodox a couple hundred years later. This bears out the point at least that the meaning of Scripture needed clarification by the church.
2. I would go further, and here I am less certain I am correct. When Colossians 1:15 says that Christ was the "firstborn of all creation" or John 1:1 says that the "word was God," it seems to draw on logos imagery such as that we find in the writings of Philo of Alexandria. Philo, for example, says both these things of the logos.
When Philo says that the logos is the firstborn son of God or the firstborn in the creation, he means that God created the logos first and then used it as an instrument in the creation of the world. Of course this is very similar to things the NT says about Christ, "through whom all things were created," etc... It seems to me, especially in the absence of John or Colossians distinguishing their images of Christ as logos from the images in use in their day, that this background knowledge makes it more likely than not that Paul and John thought of Jesus as the first creation of God.
I want to make it very clear that I do not believe this is true! I affirm the creeds of the church. And of course, my exegesis may be wrong. And also, I do not believe that the point of John or Paul is to affirm this claim--it would thus fit in the category of worldview in the background of the text rather than what the text itself is affirming (like the structure of the universe Paul supposes in his language). The NIV probably captures well what the text is affirming, namely, Christ's primacy over the creation.
JOHN: Your position on moral accommodation is close to Stephen Long's (a United Methodist theologian) who states that homosexuality is a moral anomaly but one which can be lived with by the church even if it is not God's ideal. Sexual immorality was rejected by Scripture (cf. comments by Stanley Grenz and Robert Gagnon). Your position can provide aid and comfort to those who want to deconstruct historic Christian beliefs and usher in a pagan religion which retains Christian language as a thin veneer over a content that has been permanently altered.
KEN: Again, I hope you don't think that I am a "moral accommodationist." My goal is not to accommodate sin or less than the ideal. My goal is to determine as clearly as possible what that ideal is. With regard to homosexuality, it has been since the earliest portions of the Bible to the later portions and throughout all of church history the consensus of the church that homosexual practice is inappropriate and sinful. I make no argument in favor of it.
YOU: I appreciate our conversation and consider you a brother in Christ.
ME: Thanks for such deep engagement. I obviously don't know everything. I am open to learning I am wrong. Thank you for challenging my thoughts--most of the time I don't get feedback. I consider myself in submission to my church and the broader church.