Friday, July 24, 2015

Words mean things

I spent the last post focusing on a proclamation of the biblical definition of love and a proclamation of the Gospel.  Today, that will serve as a foundation for responding to someone making yet another claim that homosexuality is something Christians should not simply tolerate, but accept and celebrate.  This, of course, is not a new claim, as anyone who has spent more than five minutes on the Internet will quickly ascertain.

There have been many attempts made to make the case for homosexuality in Christianity, but probably the most well-known in popular culture at this time is the Matthew Vines video, as he gives his testimony of sorts and makes various claims about what the Bible "really says" about homosexuality.  Naturally, this apologetic mashup resulted in him making conflicting defenses, and was roundly shredded, most notably by Dr. James White, who dissected the video almost down to the syllabic level in exposing Vines' chicanery.  Vines now spends his days secluded from anyone who might possibly challenge his worldview.

But that dead horse will rest for the moment, as a new contender enters the ring and brings what is at least a somewhat novel argument for why Christians should welcome the new order of things: namely, that Jesus was just wrong, and Christians shouldn't just take His word for it.  Brandon Ambrosino has today's example of blatant eisegesis on the Pacific Standard website.  In an article titled "The Best Christian Argument for Marriage Equality is that the Bible Got it Wrong," Ambrosino proceeds to suggest that Christians can remain Christians, while simultaneously jettisoning entire foundational aspects of their faith, and thus proves the Apostle Paul true in 1 Corinthians 1:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.--1 Corinthians 1:22-25
There are a host of problems with Ambrosino's claims in this article, many of which are refuted by similar responses to revisionism like Dr. White's above.  I will focus on my response on his most blatant claim: namely, that Jesus basically didn't know what he was talking about.
Though referring to the Torah with the shorthand “Moses” is hardly proof positive that Jesus was wrong about the books' provenance (many scholars refer to the books metonymically), it’s safe to say that Jesus probably assumed Moses wrote the Pentateuch.
And if he did think that, then he was wrong.
This is a point the Evangelical bible scholar Peter Enns makes in a footnote in his book The Evolution of Adam: “Jesus here reflects the tradition that he himself inherited as a first-century Jew and that his hearers assumed to be the case.”
Calling Peter Enns "evangelical" is, to put it lightly, inaccurate.  "Evangelical" implies a belief in an "evangel," in the Gospel.  Enns has long since left any semblance of a belief in the sufficiency, clarity, or inerrancy of Scripture that would testify to this Gospel, and if you can't hold to those one wonders exactly why you would bother being considered a Christian at all if you reject the foundation of its fundamental beliefs.  Dr. Michael Kruger shredded his most recent work in an article a few months back, and which I highly recommend.

But I digress.  Ambrosino makes it clear that he does not look to the text as having any measure of truth in it, and he is free to declare that Jesus, the incarnation of the Son of God, has no idea about the true authorship of the Pentateuch.  This is exactly the sort of historical bias so common to modern popular scholarship, epitomized by the likes of Bart Ehrman and others who pursue the (long refuted) Bauer hypothesis, that takes Scripture and reduces it into a pile of disconnected phrases that can be pulled apart and set against one another in the pursuit of human autonomy.

Therefore, Ambrosino is under no obligation, in the eyes of the modern scholar, to recognize that by declaring Jesus as an ignorant no-nothing who assumes that things are how he's always been told rather than being the One who tells, he is completely ignoring the multitude of texts in which Jesus identifies Himself with Yahweh and sets out the idea that the Scriptures are not simply true because Moses wrote them.  They are true because they are about Him.
And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.--John 5:37-40
Jesus speaks to the Pharisees, people who believe that they have righteousness within themselves and within their own acts and are offended by Jesus' statements that they are, in fact, sinners in need of repentance.  And like Ambrosino, they use the Scriptures however they wish in order to prop up their own desires, rather than submit to the full testimony of the Scriptures which point unyieldingly to Jesus Christ.

The bottom line error of Ambrosino's hermeneutic is the same error found in the works of Ehrman, Enns and the like: it rejects any idea of God actually being able to reveal His will to His creation.  God, if there is a God, becomes an unfathomable mystery, and we all get to stand around looking smart as we stroke our chins and ponder the universe.  All the while, we scoff at the thought that God actually is fully capable of speaking into creation and has done so clearly.

And so, having begun with the rejection of the supernatural, we then get to take God's revelation and reduce it down into a million pieces, which we can take apart and reconstruct as we will.  Ambrosino is not doing anything new, he's just being a lot more blunt about it: don't like what the Bible says about a topic?  Well, clearly the writer just wasn't as progressive as you are, so you can reject it.  Sin?  So offensive.  Just look to the nice parts about loving people (without making any effort to understand the full argument being made or any definitions) and we have reduced the text to a mishmash of words that, at this point, mean virtually nothing.

Of course, even as we post-moderns live by this idea that we get to define our own reality, we would never treat our own words like that.  I suspect very much that if I were to take Ambrosino's column and read it the way he reads the Bible--ignoring what I don't like, "reimagining" concepts to fit my framework, and completely ignoring contexts for my own benefit--I daresay he would take issue with that.

I want to close by taking a look at a couple sections that display exactly why this style of cafeteria Christianity is utterly untenable:
What the bible most decidedly is not is some type of handbook for navigating the 21st century. It is not God, nor should it be awarded godlike status. (To treat it as such is to break the second commandment.)
Of course, exactly how we can know what the second commandment is, or why we should listen to any of God's commandments given that Ambrosino's contention is "well, the Bible is just wrong some places" is left unexplained.
Are there universal truths contained with the pages of the bible? Absolutely! Are many of those truths relevant in every age and culture, and binding to Christians everywhere? Definitely—loving your neighbor, forgiving your enemies, and looking out for the weak are obligations that Christ has put upon each person who that claims to follow him. Are there passages of Scripture that should be read as if they are describing historical events that actually transpired in this world? Of course—the physical resurrection of Jesus is a non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith.
The inconsistencies abound: if Jesus is not who He says he is, on what grounds exactly does He have the right or ability to make anything binding to anyone.  Furthermore, why did Jesus die, and rise again?  I've heard pastors in mainline liberal churches that had little other interest in a solid, grammatically and historically accurate exegesis of the text that could stand up and say "I believe Jesus was a real person, that he died on the cross, and that he rose again."  But that statement had precisely zero impact on anything else they did, on the way they lived their lives, or on the theology that informed any other preaching to their congregations.  As far as anyone can tell, Jesus rose again because He was just such a nice guy, and you can't keep a good guy down.

I would simply ask Brandon: who exactly does he believe Jesus is?  He's an ignorant peasant walking around just parroting the Torah...and He rose from the dead?  There is no consistency, no real desire to see Jesus as a real person here, let alone as who He said that He was.  The consistent and harmonious testimony of Scripture is rejected, and instead the text is pitted against itself as passages, stripped of context and any meaning beyond the surface, are set at odds the original writers would never have agreed with.

So quite simply, the idea that this would be a "Christian argument" is a non-starter.  To embrace it requires rejecting Scripture's clear testimony about Jesus as the monogenes huios, the one and unique Son of God.  If you do that, there is no foundation to believe in anything Scripture says about Jesus, which renders Ambrosino's statements about Christ's resurrection head-scratchingly odd.  Just as John made it clear that those who denied Christ's having come in the flesh (as opposed to the docetists who believed that Jesus only appeared to be human but was really spirit) were not true Christians but in fact were deceivers and false teachers, likewise you cannot claim that Christ was merely a man who said silly baseless things without abandoning your bona fides of the faith.

But this is why the Bible says that "salvation belongs to the Lord."  Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit no one would believe, because on our own we do not look for God but instead we seek after our own selfish desires.  But thanks be to God for His mercy, in calling His people to Himself in the person and work of Christ.  His mercy is everlasting and His grace is to be desired by all men.  I would say to Brandon Ambrosino: repent of your unbelief, and turn to the real Jesus, the one to which Scripture testifies, not your imagined one who can provide no atonement, cannot testify to the truth of the living God, and certainly cannot bring conviction of or repentance from sin.  Your Jesus cannot heal, cannot find the lost (because he is lost himself), and has utterly no value.  This is not the Christ of Scripture or history.  I would call you to repent, and to know Him as Lord and Savior.

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