April 22, 2018

Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible- by John Polkinghorne, Introduction and Chapter 1- Scripture

Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible – by John Polkinghorne

Introduction and Chapter 1- Scripture

We are going to blog through the book: “Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible” by John Polkinghorne.  John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, is internationally known as both a physicist and a priest. He served as president of Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, prior to his retirement. He is founding president of the International Society for Science and Religion, a member of England’s Royal Society, and the bestselling author of more than thirty books. He was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2002.

Polkinghorne accepted a postdoctoral Harkness Fellowship with the California Institute of Technology, where he worked with Murray Gell-Mann. Toward the end of the fellowship he was offered a position as lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, which he took up in 1956.  After two years in Scotland, he returned to teach at Cambridge in 1958. He was promoted to reader in 1965, and in 1968 was offered a professorship in mathematical physics, a position he held until 1979.  He worked on theories about elementary particles, played a role in the discovery of the quark, and researched the analytic and high-energy properties of Feynman integrals and the foundations of S-Matrix theory .

Polkinghorne decided to train for the priesthood in 1977.  He said in an interview that he felt he had done his bit for science after 25 years, and that his best mathematical work was probably behind him; Christianity had always been central to his life, so ordination offered an attractive second career.  He resigned his chair in 1979 to study at Westcott House, Cambridge, an Anglican theological college, becoming an ordained priest on June 6, 1982 (Trinity Sunday).  He worked for five years as a curate in south Bristol, then as vicar in Blean, Kent, before returning to Cambridge in 1986 as dean of chapel at Trinity Hall.  He became the president of Queens’ College that year, a position he held until his retirement in 1996.  He served as canon theologian of Liverpool Cathedral from 1994 to 2005.

In the Introduction, Polkinghorne notes how important Scripture has been to him.  He says for more than 60 years he has read it every day (which is more than I can say).  He states that he has written this book in the hope that it will be helpful to those who are seeking a careful and thoughtful engagement with the Bible in their quest for a truthful understanding of the ways of God and the nature of spiritual reality.  He intends to explore the landscape of scripture in a manner that notes and takes seriously many of its features, both inspiring and perplexing.  But he is going to do so from the layman’s eye view and will not be giving an encyclopedic, academic, heavily footnoted, theological lecture-view.  He says this:

In reading Scripture we should expect to find both inspiration and information.  Christianity is a historically oriented religion.  Its foundational stories, Christians believe, are not simply symbolic tales given us to stir our imaginations, but are rooted in God’s actual acts of self-disclosure, mediated through particular persons and events.  Therefore, there is an evidential aspect to what we are told in the Bible.  Scripture offers us testimony that has to be evaluated in a careful and honest way when assessing the degree of historical accuracy that is embodied in its pages.

Yeah, look in the dictionary under “balanced view” and there’s a picture of John.  He will be coming at this topic from both the rigorous empiricism of a seasoned scientist and the devoted lover of a work of art that depicts his beloved.

The first chapter is entitled “Scripture” and Polkinghorne gives his view of the nature of the Bible.  This is a critical discussion which belongs first in the order since any conclusions he is going to come to will be based on this viewpoint.  Polkinghorne states:

To use an analogy that comes naturally to me as a scientist, the Bible is not the ultimate textbook in which one can look up ready-made answers to all the big questions, but is more like a laboratory notebook, in which are recorded critical historical experiences through which aspects of the divine will and nature have been most accessibly revealed.

For the Christian, the unique significance of the Bible is that it gives us indispensable accounts of God’s dealing with the nation of Israel and in Jesus Christ.  Without the scriptural record we should know little about Israel and very little indeed about Jesus.  These events happened in the course of history and the accounts we have of them necessarily originated at specific times and in particular cultural contexts.  Although I have come to appreciate the role of tradition and the unbreakable chain of testimony that the living body of Christ, that is to say the Church, provides, as a Protestant Christian and a modern, I place a particularly high value on the extant written record.  It is here, in my hands, and unlike human opinion, will never change.  I agree with Luther, that all human proclamation must be measured against the record of scripture.

Having said that, though, I, along with Polkinghorne, believe that a central, vital, and unavoidable task of all Christians is to interpret Scripture.  Scripture does not interpret itself, despite fundamentalist claims to the contrary, it is a task incumbent upon us as believers and cannot be shirked.  Each Christian must discern what in the Bible has lasting truthful authority, rightly commanding the continuing respect of successive generations, and what is simply time-bound cultural expression, demanding no necessary continuing allegiance from us today.  Absolutely no one is free from having to make judgements of this kind.  We all must interpret Scripture or accept someone else’s interpretation, there is no exception.

Even the most single-minded fundamentalist does not concern himself with planting two kinds of seed in one field or wearing clothes made of two sorts of material (Leviticus 19:19, Deut. 22:9-11).  Almost all Christians today treat Paul’s emphatic insistence on women covering their heads at worship (1 Cor. 11:2-16) as no more than a culturally specific way of expressing dignified respect that was appropriate in his particular society, but not binding on our own.  But equally, all Christians attach abiding significance to the verses that follow (23-26), which institutes the Lord’s Supper or Communion.  No amount of devotion and insistence on “every word God-breathed” absolves one from those decisions.  And those decisions are aided by scholarship and study of the world in which the scriptures were written and the cultural situations that influenced the original authors.

It is appropriate to be concerned with identification and reliability of sources.  We are “putting Scripture to the test” in a way that is perfectly appropriate.  If we believe that God acted in the history of Israel and in Jesus, it is of primary significance to try and establish as clearly as possible what those actions actually were.  Polkinghorne says:

Of course there is a significant power simply in the story itself, but there is an additional power present when it is perceived to be a true story.  We recognize this frequently in ordinary life.  The idea that a somewhat raffish German businessman might risk his life to save the lives of many persecuted Jews is a moving tale.  But what gives the story of Oskar Schindler its particular power and poignancy is that he actually was just such a man.  One of the most moving moments in the film Schindler’s List come at the end, when a long succession of Jews one by one place stones on Schindler’s tomb, able to do so because his generous and brave action has actually saved them from an otherwise certain death.

In the end, it comes down to realizing that although we are testing scripture, it is we, the readers ourselves, who are being tested by scripture.  We are no longer questioning the Bible but the Bible is questioning us, or rather, God, through the words of scripture is questioning us.  John 1:1-4 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”  And John 1:14 further says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The scriptures do not claim to be the “Word of God”, that claim is made only for Jesus.  The Bible claims that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

So what does it mean to say “All Scripture is God-breathed…?”  Does it mean that a human work is without any human flaws because God superintended it?   If that were true then how can the laundry list of Bible “errors” and “contradictions” like copyist errors (e.g. 2 Kings 24:8 vs. 2 Chron. 36:9 or 2 Samuel 8:4 vs. 1 Chron. 18:4), New Testament misquotes (Matt. 27:9-10 vs. Zechariah 11:12-13 and Mark 2:25-26 vs. 1 Samuel 21:1,6), NT reporting discrepancies (Mark 16:4-6 vs. Luke 24:4-6) and technically factual mistakes like cud-chewing (Lev. 11:6 says; And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.) and mustard-seed size be explained.

Even the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article 13, states:

 We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of materials, variant selections of material in parallel accounts or the use of free citations.

Or, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say: “Does it mean that the human flaws do not distract or detract from its TRUTH?”  After all, Paul was a Hebrew, and for a Hebrew to say something was “God-breathed” is a clear reference to Genesis 2:7 (Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being) and means what he (or one of his disciples) said in Hebrews 4:12—“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  As I like to say:

God’s words reveals God’s Word to you, who breathes the breath of life into you and you, dead sinner, now become alive.  That is what God-breathed means.

We’ll let Polkinghorne have the last word:

The notion of an inerrant text is inappropriately idolatrous, but merely to regard Scripture as an antiquarian deposit that does not need to be taken seriously today would be an equally grave mistake.  Scripture, together with the worshipping experience of the Church and its accumulated traditions of insight, as well as the exercise of our God-given powers of reason, together form the context for Christian living and thinking.

Comments

  1. John Barry says:

    Mike the G Man, again thank you for another excellent insight and wonderful article that is so spot on. I had almost forgotten the name John Polkinghorne but though the years absorbed his views and accepted his analysis, so much I think them natural. Thank you for this reminder of how we evolve . I had almost forgot how much I owe Polkinghorne in helping me in my spiritual journey. I love it when someone can concisely condense and get to the heart of someone like Polkinghorne’s teachings. What a great mind and wonderful contributor to society in two major areas, Polkinghorne is. . I really do appreciate your contributions here . I am a conservative Christian and why Polkinghorne does not get more exposure baffles me but so does his math. Thanks to you again.

    • “I am a conservative Christian and why Polkinghorne does not get more exposure baffles me but so does his math.”

      I don’t definitively know the answer to this problem, but I have my guesses…

      1) He’s both English AND a scientist. Most writers accepted by conservative evangelicals are usually either one or the other, not both. 😉

      2) He and his work have not been hyped by the evangelical industrial-advertizing publishing machine.

      3) His work, let’s be honest, demands a lot of thought and processing, and it’s in no way guaranteed that he’s going to give you the pre-approved conservative evangelical answers to The Big Questions.

      4) He hasn’t written fantasy fiction, which seems to be the (pun intended) magic gateway for English academics to get a big audience among American Christians. 😛

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > He hasn’t written fantasy fiction…

        Ha! Truth!

      • john barry says:

        Eeyore , good observations that seem to have merit. Number 3 is me as to be truthful when I get to the “science” part of Polkinghorne I get lost after a couple of sentences. I blame Polkinghorne for that as he cannot get down to my level which would be below sea level to those who operate at the level Polkinghorne does. I do love the name quark a lot .

  2. As intelligent and accomplished as Polkinghorne is, the fact that he is also a fallible human means that there are places where his understanding of reality and faith are erroneous. Given the fact that my own intellect and accomplishments are immensely inferior to Polkinghorne’s, and so my understanding of reality and faith must be erroneous on many more counts than his, I can only hope that redemption, mine, his and everyone else’s, does not depend for its realization on stringently correct understanding of the content and nature of faith, or of reality. I have to trust that the redemption, grace and love given in Jesus does not depend for its procurement on any particular degree of intellectual acuity, or correctness.

    • I do not say this to diminish the importance of striving for intellectual clarity in faith, and every other matter. I only want to hopefully affirm that God’s grace toward us, his love for us, and the redemption he has given us in Jesus Christs, are not dependent on our intellect or understanding for us their realization in our lives.

    • To phrase it in terms of this post, just as the Scriptures are not inerrant, but nevertheless convey truth regarding Jesus Christ and the way of redemption, neither does the reader and interpreter of Scripture need to be inerrant in her understanding to be recipient of God’s grace and redemption.

      • Heather Angus says:

        All your remarks are very true, Robert, IMNSHO. If I have to be inerrant to understand Scripture (or anything else in the spiritual life), I’m toast.

        • –> “If I have to be inerrant to understand Scripture (or anything else in the spiritual life), I’m toast.”

          This!

      • john barry says:

        Robert F. Well said and I think I agree with you if I followed the thought correct. That shows the depth of my intellect for sure.

    • Also, think about all those who are intellectually far lower than even people like you and me — I’m referring to those who are severely mentally handicapped or disabled. Do they have no hope? Does God’s grace not extend to them? They are literally restricted from confessing the array of core Christian doctrines.

      I genuinely believe that the gap between a newborn baby’s knowledge and Polkinghorne’s is immeasurably smaller than the gap between the most brilliant minds in history and the rest of us sanctified in the new heaven/earth, which actually gives me great comfort.

      • Heather Angus says:

        +1

      • Hello David H,
        you wrote “I’m referring to those who are severely mentally handicapped or disabled. Do they have no hope? Does God’s grace not extend to them? They are literally restricted from confessing the array of core Christian doctrines.”

        I have a son who has Down Syndrome and is non-verbal and profoundly medically and developmentally challenged. But he can walk. He lives at Eastern Christian Children’s Retreat in Wyckoff NJ. Many of the residents are stretcher-bound or wheel-chair bound.
        One day, I witnessed my son going to a shelf and choosing a musical toy and taking it to one of the stretcher-bound residents where my son laid the toy very gently into his hands. Staff tell me that my son will frequently show kindness in this way to those less fortunate than himself. So I do believe that whatever ‘redemption’ is, that my son is included among the witnesses to it in his own life where he silently cares for those who need his help. There are many who ‘say the words’ but do not ‘walk the walk’, so there is a limit to the power of words to witness to Christ’s compassion in this world. My son’s kindness is a gentle silent witness, but it is a witness none the less.

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          There is a profoundly disabled girl in my parish whose face blazes when she venerates the icons. I am not the only one who notices it. The child’s grasp of the substance of the faith is likely much firmer than mine.

          God’s direct intervention lacking, she is not long for this sad world. I have the feeling she will be a powerful intercessor.

      • They are literally restricted from confessing the array of core Christian doctrines.

        Maybe confession isn’t as fundamental a bedrock of the faith as we’ve thought.

        • I think the fruit of ‘kindness’ may be more a sign of belief than words.

          For some reason, lately I have thought that the greatest sin was ‘unkindness’ to others . . . . which just about takes in every form of abuse out there

        • Yeah, and I didn’t simply mean confession as in words, but rather general believing and understanding. Not everyone is even mentally capable of understanding the basics of the Christian faith including what Christ has done on their behalf, that He saves us, that His spirit renews us, etc.

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      This is what happens when you turn “justification by faith” into salvation by theological pop quiz. There is not a word in the Bible to say we are saved by belief in (or assertion of ) a set of correct facts about God or Jesus, rather it says we are saved through trusting in God / Jesus himself. This is reinforced by clear statements in the Bible that it is love, not faith, which is ultimately paramount, and it is trust in the person of Jesus himself that binds us to God in love, not careful theological exactitude about the precise nature of the Trinity. Jesus is God incarnate in the world and can be experienced directly because of this, so I can’t see how intellectual capacity need necessarily have much to do with it, particularly as no matter how clever we think we are we cannot have anything more than the most rudimentary and fleeting comprehension of God.

      • I’m starting out with the assumption, which I’ve struggled to over the years against the predominant theological approaches taken by the vast majority of denominations and historic churches, is that salvation is the default mode/position in which we are born into the world, requiring no intellectual belief or understanding of any kind. The faith we are saved through by grace is of a kind that every newborn infant is conceived/born with, not an achievement but a given-by-God, and has nothing to do with cognition. “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” in other words, “Get out of their way as they run to me.”

        • flatrocker says:

          Something about being created in his likeness and image? The implication that we all carry a divine spark simply by the act of being created is explosive and truly mind bending. It begs the question – what is the destiny of this divine image we carry within us from the start? Thanks Robert for this eye-popper.

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Huh, I have read the Chicago Statement before – but this time the phrase “the use of hyperbole” really popped out at me. Wow – that’s a mighty fine escape hatch; classifying something as Hyperbole is emphatically *Interpretation*. Every time I see the Chicago Statement the more I realize how little it states.

    • It’s a meaningless document that most churches have adopted in spirit but bury under the rug in terms of existence. I wasn’t exposed to it til my mid-20s, but every church I attended before it believed it utterly.

    • The Chicago Statement is a prime example of killing your desired premise via “death by 1000 cuts/qualifications”. Even in my much more Reformed/conservative days, I got a high reading on my BS detector when going over that thing…

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “””The scriptures do not claim to be the “Word of God”, that claim is made only for Jesus. The Bible claims that “All Scripture is God-breathed ….””””

    So, what’s the distinction, usefully defined? The phrase “God-breathed” seems vague – I have heard people define it as “spoken” [as speaking is exhaling… although exhaling is not speaking]. And others as “inspired” [which helps exactly how?].

    It seems like a twisty distinction.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I like Mike’s definition. I like it now having gotten there by many round-about paths. I have some skepticism that one can argue into that place. I have heard so many of these arguments. Hmmm.

      • So what you’re saying is, just like a Feynman integral, there were multiple paths that contributed to you getting there (not just a single, classical path)? 😛

  5. Polkinghorne’s view seems like a nice balanced one to me, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

  6. Also, what about the inclusion (or omission) of passages such as Mark 16:9-20, which we and Christian scholars are still unsure to this day if they were even present in the original manuscripts? It is a logical contradiction to simultaneously claim 100% inerrancy and openly declare otherwise. Even if you want to argue the original Scripture was 100% inerrant, the fact of the matter is that’s not what we have today, which is ultimately what matters.

    • Yep.

      We just completed a study of the book of Mark in a men’s group at my church. We talked about how that passage seems so tacked on, yet some Christians wield it like some sort of holy mallet.

  7. “Scripture, together with the worshipping experience of the Church and its accumulated traditions of insight, as well as the exercise of our God-given powers of reason, together form the context for Christian living and thinking.”

    Spoken like a true Anglican, as he reflects on the “three-legged stool” (Scripture, Tradition, Reason).

  8. Burro [Mule] says:

    Scripture is Tradition congealed. Think about it. When you try to position the inerrancy/infallibilty anywhere than where it actually resides, you entangle yourself needlessly in a host of issues. The communion I subscribe to has little use for the Masoretic Text, for example, but Protestants swear by it.

    Finally, Scripture properly rendered by the catholic Faith, like science properly conducted, has the Ring of Truth. It sounds salvific, in a way that the rantings of sectarians do not. Lest anyone accuse me of advocating a ‘burning bosom’, I will freely admit that all of my most important decisions have been aesthetic ones. Aesthetic decisions, though, have a way of revealing more about the decider than they do about the things decided upon. Maybe aesthetic judgements are the Final Judgement on a pay-as-you-play basis.

  9. Burro [Mule] says:

    Moderated
    Not surprised

    • It’s all random, Mule. I try to get to the ones the system holds ASAP. Has nothing to do with the content of your comment.

      Except it tends not to like multiple links.

    • Burro, I get ‘moderated’ some also . . . . I think Chaplain Mike is right about how this works . . . it’s not ‘personal’ . . . you can be yourself here

  10. senecagriggs says:

    Mike the G. In your view; does Scripture allow for the ordination of Lesbian bishops?
    [ I’m truly interested in how you see this ]

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      In a word, no

    • And WHAT does that question have to do with the post? I’m truly interested in how you see this…

      • If OP had accepted lesbian bishops, then OP’s opinion on any other subject is null and void because he clearly doesn’t have the Holy Spirit divinely revealing the truth of Scripture to him.

        Doubt I’m stretching here as to what the true mental process is.

        • You unpacked the ulterior motive behind that question very well, and succinctly, StuartB. Thus do doctrinaire “traditionalists” of all kinds deal with us who are too swayed by mere theological “fashion”.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      I’m not sure why you even care? From what I gather, you are ecclesiastically far removed from bishops, lesbian or otherwise. Or perhaps you’re just looking for something to quibble over.

      • Like I said above – certain predetermined Answers have to be reached. If you don’t reach them, you’re [insert insulting/anathematizing word here].

      • Or maybe he just wanted to throw some raw meat into the iMonk enclosure, and watch the rest of us fight over it.

        • A lot easier than actually interacting with what Polkinghorne has to say…

          • But he succeeded in his attempt. Polinghorne was forgotten, and we proceeded down a rabbit hole, much to senecgrigg’s delight, no doubt. Notice how he disappeared from the comment thread? His work was finished, and he only needed to sit back and chuckle at the show we put on after he lobbed in his tear gas grenade.

        • +1

  11. Burro [Mule] says:

    Hnnnh.

    Lots of room for wiggling here. If ‘Lesbian’ presupposes ‘woman’ then an Orthodox who has no qualms about same-sex sexual activity could oppose the appointment of a Lesbian to the episcopate based on the fact that she was a woman, or, if “married”, not celibate.

    But I get what you’re trying to do here, and despite the drubbing you’re certain to get from the cheap seats in the uncanny valley, I support it. I too want to know if there are any hermeneutical boundaries that would allow the Scriptures to be applied to restrain anybody’s lusts, or if Scripture is infinitely malleable depending on the Magisterium.

    Divorce is ultimately an ecclesiological issue, but I have been struck by the similarity between the arguments for women’s ordination and the arguments in favor of the ordination of those with alternative sexualities.

    • No drubbing from me. And this: “if there are any hermeneutical boundaries that would allow the Scriptures to be applied to restrain anybody’s lusts, or if Scripture is infinitely malleable…” It’s important.

      At the same time, I do wish that the pointed question didn’t so quickly zoom in on those with alternative sexualities, seeming to overlook other serious concerns. Aren’t there other lusts out there?

      Dana

      • –> “At the same time, I do wish that the pointed question didn’t so quickly zoom in on those with alternative sexualities, seeming to overlook other serious concerns. Aren’t there other lusts out there?”

        Exactly. Notice how the question asked wasn’t “does Scripture allow for the ordination of Angry bishops” or “…Gluttonous bishops.”

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        Thousands, but, being what we are, some will always be more fashionable than others. There will always be disagreement as to which front to fight. Once again, the idea is not so much to call fouls, but to preserve the goalposts.

        🙂

        It would be best to have a bishop with as few lusts as possible. Not that my bishop has any that I know of, you understand. However, even if he were a drunken gambler with a secret wife and a secret concubine, it wouldn’t be nearly as damaging to the Church’s esse than a single well-meaning academic or wealthy donor promoting a change in the canons to make that acceptable behavior for a bishop. I think you understand me.

        • You complain of a threat of being drubbed from the “cheap seats”, but then instead of getting drubbed yourself, you insult anyone who supports what you oppose as being merely “fashionable”. I call foul.

        • –> “However, even if he were a drunken gambler with a secret wife and a secret concubine, it wouldn’t be nearly as damaging to the Church’s esse than a single well-meaning academic or wealthy donor promoting a change in the canons to make that acceptable behavior for a bishop.”

          Fair point.

          But…In other words…

          Keep your sins secret and you’re good to go! You wife-beating, concubine-hiding, closet drunks…Go ahead! Get ordained, as long as you hide your lusts! But you people who are bearing fruit of the spirit but whose “sin” of same-sex attraction is evident…NO ORDINATION FOR YOU!

          • Or in other other words, keep things as they are in Holy Mother Russia.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              Where Vladimir Putin is LORD.

              (Really, the Russian Orthodox Church’s history of sucking up to the Autocrats of Russia is a big black eye for the whole Eastern Rite.)

        • Of course I understand. And there’s lots of stuff between the goalposts.

          D.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Is it possible to love (eros) someone of the same sex without it being lust? If so, then you and Mule appear to be dealing in false equivalences.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Problem is, Evangelical Culture Warriors have never hesitated to play Teh Fag Card, to the point that they developed tunnel vision on same-sex genitalia. And in doing so, torpedoed the reputation and arguments and points of all other Christians. God Hates Fags and Donald Trump Is LORD — THAT’s the reputation outside of the Thomas Kincade-decorated walls of the church.

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      This misrepresents entirely I think the position of the bulk of LGBT affirming Christians, who do not, as you give the impression you think (whether genuinely or not I couldn’t say) depreciate or ignore sexual morality. Rather, being convinced by the available evidence that sexual orientation is innate and not a matter of choice or subject to voluntary change, they (we) seek to apply in the case of those of homosexual orientation the exact same standards of sexual morality to homosexual behaviour and relationships as are applied to heterosexual.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        I think you misunderstand traditional, “non-LBGT-affirming” Christians.

        Nearly all of us know sexual orientation is not a matter of choice or subject to voluntary change. Very little of our behavior actually is, Sex and the rules governing its expression in the Church have never been about morality. In fact, a good case could be made that Christianity is only obliquely about morality at all.

        • Strongly Orthodox-influenced Russian law regarding LBGT relationships does seem to require voluntary change of sexual behaviors. That’s why they are legally punished.

          • Which only goes to show that American evangelicals aren’t the only ones who skip over the 12th and 13th verses of I Corinthians 5…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Could you say the Russian Orthodox Church WON its Culture War?

            • Yes, and now a significant part of American fundamentalism is taking a lesson from that victory, and with Trump and Co. as their helpers are doing their damnedest to emulate it.

        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          The sentence I was specifically referring to was: “I too want to know if there are any hermeneutical boundaries that would allow the Scriptures to be applied to restrain anybody’s lusts” which as a comment appears to be a sarcastic misrepresentation of the LGBT-affirming position and also doesn’t really fit your subsequent reply.

        • And what you are saying amounts to nothing more than subtly worded version of “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” We all know how that usually worked out in Christendom, before Enlightenment secularism stopped it: Loving the sinner by killing him to save him from his sin. Thank you, but no thank you.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Exactly. The phrase is not for the “sinner”, but to assuage the conscience of the Pharisee who utters it.

          • I was intending no sarcasm at all; I meant to try to bring attention to how speedily the focus turned to “pelvic sins” and ignored other issues. I apologize for any offense, Iain.

            Dana

            • Iain Lovejoy says:

              I may be the victim of technology – I was replying to Burro, whose sentence it was: and anyway it was SenecaGriggs who brought up “pelvic” matters. Nobody in any event has offended me.
              “Pelvic” matters are important, though: not I think because God cares very much about them, but because sex and sexuality are such important matters to us, and our identity and nature and psychological makeup. A messed up sex life (or lack thereof) or attitude to sex can have profound effects on our thoughts, mood and ability to concentrate on spiritual matters and interact appropriately and in love with other people, whereas a loving relationship and family life can be a greater teacher and promoter of love. Getting “pelvic matters” right can therefore be crucial.

    • “but I have been struck by the similarity between the arguments for women’s ordination and the arguments in favor of the ordination of those with alternative sexualities”

      Since both issues are rooted in the issue of sexual hierarchy/patriarchy, that is hardly surprising.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And the fact that Christian Morality had and has serious tunnel vision on what’s below the belt.

      • Patriciamc says:

        With a “wrongness” about the nature of each. Evangelicals/conservatives pat themselves on the back for having a better handle on Christian doctrine than liberals do, yet they too read the Bible through the lenses of the sinful culture, which is still profoundly anti-female, so naturally they lift out of context the verses that they believe shut the majority of the human race out of leadership. I’m not going to speak, though, to the “alternative sexualities” because on that, I’ve got nothing.

  12. Clay Crouch says:

    Sir John is preaching predominantly to the choir. I’d bet a month’s salary that you won’t find this book in a LifeWay store near you.

  13. Clay Crouch says:

    Further more we deny that inerrancy is negated by errors.

    • The very word “inerrancy” implies “no errors”. Just saying…

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Article 13 of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy seems to imply otherwise. I guess my lampoon harpoon missed the whale.

  14. Yes, the Russian Church has always had problems with being too close to the ruling power of the State. No argument with that. At the risk of sounding arch, please remember that the Communists killed or sent to internal exile 90% of the Orthodox priests and monastics in Russia. That’s 9 out of every 10. How would it be for your communities if 90% of your pastors and missionaries disappeared from the scene? Think about it.

    There are lots of Russians who are nominal “cultural” Orthodox; that’s a problem, just as the number of nominal “cultural” Christians in the US is problematic. There are also others in both places who truly seek to follow Christ. It’s painful when you tar all of the Russian Orthodox – Mule’s and Tokah’s and my fellow believers – with the same brush. I don’t believe any of us wants LGBT folks in Russia arrested or otherwise persecuted, and we are not alone, but we have no control over what the Russian government does.

    Affirming a traditional classical Christian sexual ethic while at the same time decrying persecution of LGBT folks in any way are not mutually exclusive positions. If someone here thinks they are, then there is no tolerance here.

    Also, there are other Orthodox Churches besides that of Russia. We all have problems. And some of us, especially in the Middle East, are undergoing severe persecution, along with Eastern Catholics, other Christians and other religious minorities. I don’t sense a lot of compassion or even awareness about that situation on these pages.

    Finally, Orthodox don’t refer to ourselves as those of the Eastern Rite. That is an appropriate term for Byzantine/Eastern Catholics/ “Greek Catholics” or others who are under the Pope, but not for those of us who are not.

    Dana

    • Dana, I think most of the negative replies that involve Eastern Orthodoxy here are to Mule’s repeated and often not too subtle assertions that traditional Christian cultural (including Eastern Orthodox cultures) attitudes and approaches toward and around sexuality are somehow superior to modernism, and that the imperfections and sins of traditional cultures in this area are themselves more tolerable and Christian than those of modernity. I don’t think anyone here reacts to your more nuanced and careful comments regarding Orthodoxy in the same way. But when Mule consistently hitches the wagon of Eastern Orthodoxy to that of traditional Christian cultures, like that of Russia, and thereby to historic Christendom, and then attempts to run over modernity with the resultant wagon train, he can expect nothing else but the kind of response he gets.

      • I don’t react well to sarcasm, and therefore I sometimes have issues with how Mule expresses things. I do try to see behind what he (and others) are writing, and to listen to what the message is. Mule has been forthcoming about why he thinks the way he does, and I can understand something of that. (He has revealed a lot about himself that, frankly, I wonder if we deserve to hear.) Much of the time I agree with him.

        There are problems with modernism – not with modern technology, medical advances or the like, but with the philosophy of nothingness being the Ultimate End, and with each person being the sole determiner of his/her own existence, as if we had been given nothing. The end of that famous Solzhenitsyn quote: “It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” Yes, there are problems in traditional Christian societies, and those societies also contain the means and support to constrict those evil things little by little, which Modernism can never do. As with us, everything depends on how the line through our hearts shifts and oscillates. We are not omniscient; we cannot see within every Russian person’s heart, and we do not know the meaning of everything going on within the Russian Orthodox Church, even if some aspects of its relations with the government make us cringe (and believe me, they do). It’s not fair to take out the Russian Orthodox bludgeon every time you’re frustrated with some remark – especially on a thread that was supposed to be about John Polkinghorne.

        You are my brother.
        Mule is my brother.
        Seneca is my brother.

        Dana

        • senecagriggs says:

          You write very thoughtful posts Dana.

        • Understood, Dana. I will try to remember what you’ve said here. It should also be remembered that theological modernists and Protestants (and there is significant and admittedly not accidental overlap between the two) don’t like to be bludgeoned either, or slyly dismissed as merely theologically “fashionable”, especially on a thread that was supposed to be about John Polkinghorne.

        • Dana,
          I really don’t see the pervasive nihilism at the center of modernism that you do. I experienced nihilism growing up in a family controlled by traditional Italian peasant patriarchal values and customs, where the power to force women and children to do as men wanted them to was taken for granted. That was nihilism of a very odious kind. For me, modernism was a liberation from the patriarchal mandate to bare one’s throat to the dominant alpha male.

    • +1 to what Robert said. Keep reminding us that there are more voices in the Eastern Church than the culturally captive ones.

    • I think the oppression of religious minorities, including Orthodox and other Christians, should be partly addressed by allowing far more refugees from the Middle East to resettle in the U.S. But the current administration, which is overwhelmingly supported by American evangelicals (and, incidentally, most in the American Russian immigrant community) has decided against welcoming foreigners in distress to come to our land. Thus do we exhibit just how truly unChristian we are as a nation.

  15. senecagriggs says:

    Ken!
    “”God Hates Fags and Donald Trump Is LORD — THAT’s the reputation outside of the Thomas Kincade-decorated walls of the church.”

    Hmmm

    So Ken, in your view, does Scripture allow for the calling of Lesbian women into church leadership? I would really like to know what you think.”

    Your commenter mode has appeared to be making fun of Evangelicals but actually never stating what you believe. So, what do you believe here? Try something new: Take a stand.

  16. Seneca needs to be banned on Thursdays. He has proven repeatedly that he only wants to cause disruption and is incapable of making constructive comments when science is the topic of the day. You cannot continue to uphold this blog’s reputation for civility and allow him to keep wrecking things for everything else.

  17. Only ‘the choir’ is treated with civility. Non members…not to much.

  18. Only ‘THE CHOIR’ is treated with civility. Non members, not so much.

    • senecagriggs says:

      How true is that.

      • senecagriggs says:

        Bottom line about Scripture – science.

        IF you do not believe Adam and Eve were real flesh and blood people, created by God, then your rejection of a straightforward reading of Scripture will leave you tossing and turning as to whether or not a lesbian can qualify as a bishop or pastor.

        Looking at Mainline Churches; it is very easy to discern the slippery slope; of which they were warned a century ago. Reject the clear reading of Scripture at this point, you’ll end up rejecting the clear reading of Scripture at another point.

  19. The clear, straightforward reading of Scripture does say, “Slaves obey your master.” Eph. 6:5, Coll, 3:22. So, there you go. Go against this, and you’re on a slippery slope waterslide leading straight down to hell.

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