Trajectories, Hermeneutics, Sexual Ethics, and Ecclesiology

Trajectories, Hermeneutics, Sexual Ethics, and Ecclesiology

Reading Chris Seitz on the Biblical Crisis in the Homosexuality Debates (by Alastair Roberts) reminded me of three things I already believed:

  1. It is very dangerous to try to develop hermeneutics while wrapped up in a debate on a particular topic.
  2. The best test of one’s hermeneutics is to change the subject. Does it still work?
  3. Debate often tends to obscure the middle ground.

Despite the pretentious title, I mean this to be a short post. I also would like to note that I have not read Chris Seitz; I have only read Alastair Roberts’ comments. But his comments are not particularly wild or annoying, compared to other things I have read.

You need to read Alastair’s entire post, but here’s a key line:

The flirting of many evangelicals with forms of trajectory hermeneutics is just one example of the way in which the creedal understanding of the relationship between the testaments has become compromised.

I’ve written before about trajectories, and clearly I believe that there are trajectories in scripture and that we need to pay attention to them. This is part of my belief that we often develop doctrines of inspiration (and a resulting hermeneutic) that ignore the human portion of the communication. I don’t refer here to the prophet, but rather to those who receive God’s communication. The accuracy of communication cannot be stated without noting how accurately a message is received. But that is another topic which I discuss further in my book on the subject.

What I’m interested in here is the suggestion that the debates about sexual ethics in general, and about homosexuality in particular, have done violence to hermeneutics that had not already been done.

So I change the subject. What hermeneutic produces the liturgy and organizational structure of the Episcopal Church USA or the Anglican communion as a whole? How do we get from the New Testament to the cathedral, from the home meeting where everyone participated to church architecture with a raised platform and a privileged few leaders? Might I even go so far as to ask what trajectory permitted these changes?

I note that one departure from scripture, in sexual ethics, is regarded as sufficient to prevent certain levels of fellowship between the United Methodist Church, of which I am a member, and the Episcopal Church or the United Church of Christ. The other, in ecclesiology seems less important to those in positions of authority.

But of course that question is grossly unfair, because I could ask the same thing about the organizational structures and liturgy of the United Methodist Church. Well, as long as everyone is sinning in the same way …

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a theology professor about a colleague who was teaching religion somewhere in the Bible belt. This colleague noted that there was a great deal of tension about his moderately liberal academic views regarding scripture as he taught. He was teaching a general course in basic Christianity, however, and eventually they came to sexual ethics. Suddenly the students reversed positions. The professor took the idea of sexual purity seriously, with sexual relations only permissible within marriage. Suddenly the conservative students thought their “liberal” professor was way too conservative.

Which reminds me of another thing I’ve observed about the human side of doctrine. There are clean sins and dirty sins. Clean sins are the ones I commit. Dirty sins are the ones you commit.

I wouldn’t want to speak for God, but I’m suspecting God’s view might be different.

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