Was Uzzah just neurotic?

I’ve been writing up something for the PCC about what we consider sacred, and looked back at the story from 2 Samuel 6 about Uzzah – he’s the guy who is struck dead by God for touching the Ark of the Covenant.
uzzah
(picture from here)
I wonder – was he simply a really stressed-out guy? In other words, was he just someone nervous, terrified of his responsibility for carrying the ark, incredibly jumpy (totally the wrong sort of person for the job in other words) – who, when disaster struck and the oxen stumble, reacts simply as a human being to steady the Ark – and then realises that he has broken a major taboo and the stress overwhelms him and he drops dead of a heart attack?

I ask this because it would seem odd for a God who accepts crucifixion for himself to get that upset about a wooden box.

FrankenBibles and the Sandman’s Ruby

It is becoming clear that Protestantism is an historical phase which is coming to an end. What I mean by this is not a matter of ecclesiology but of culture, of relationships to texts and the written word, which was dominant in North-Western Europe for around five hundred years from the invention of the printing press to the invention of the cathode ray tube. Take, for example, the impact of ‘FrankenBibles‘ which is the term given to a translation of Scripture that is at least partly generated by a computer. With the development of sufficiently capable translation technology it is now possible to generate our own translations of particular texts, including Bibles as a whole. This development is likely to have huge effects upon the way that students in general, and Christians in particular, relate to their Holy Scriptures. Put simply, the resources that are now available on-line to any interested Bible student hugely outweigh the resources available to almost any student in the past, including many of the greatest theologians in history, the Luthers and Calvins and Aquinases. In just the same way that the translations of the Bible into local languages enabled more people to assess whether the local religious authorities were accurately teaching from Scripture, now the impact of technology means that anyone with an interest can very swiftly gain access to any and all translations and arguments about any particular verse from Scripture.

Given the way in which Protestant culture has geared itself around the importance of particular printed texts, most typically the King James version of the Bible, I do not think that it is possible to underestimate the cultural disruption that such a development will have. Rather than authority being placed in a particular text as such, authority will become placed in other bodies, whether a network of trusted friends, a pastor, a particular denomination and so on. In many ways this is part and parcel of the wider ‘post-modern’ shift in society, which has broken apart every text. I don’t believe that a Christian living in the contemporary world can ever have the same attitude to Scripture – indeed, to any text – as would have felt so natural as to be unobservable in the Modern era. Does this mean that Christianity has come to the end of its natural life? I don’t believe so.

Let me share a story from a graphic novel – that’s a ‘comic’ to most of us, but a comic that can bear an immense weight of literary analysis. The story is about a character known as the Sandman, and what happens to his ruby. The Sandman, also known as Morpheus or Dream, is one of the Endless – seven ‘beings’ or ‘anthropomorphic representations’ of aspects of creation. The story sequence begins with Dream being mistakenly captured by an Aleister Crowley type character, and the initial seven issues of the comic describe the immediate consequences of the capture – Dream’s escape and pursuit of the valuable objects taken from him – his helm, his ruby, and his pouch of sand. The ruby eventually ends up in the hands of a madman named Doctor Destiny, who uses it to perform diabolical acts, and then to fight Dream himself. Dr Destiny drains Dream of all his power, and then destroys the Ruby, thinking that in doing so he will destroy Dream. In fact the reverse happens – all of Dream’s power and identity that had been vested in the Ruby is returned to him, and he is ‘recalled to himself’, thence easily able to overcome Dr Destiny, and return him to Arkham Asylum.

What struck me on originally reading this story is that it is a parable for the church and the Bible. The Church is formed by the Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost; the community gathers for prayer and fellowship, the apostle’s teaching and the breaking of bread; it grows and strengthens around the world. Eventually it creates an object, a tool, which allows it to pursue its ministry – what we call the New Testament. That New Testament is then taken away from the living church community (which is the only place wherein it is able to be used properly) and diabolical consequences result. In particular, the Bible is taken into the academic community, and is used to make dark materials which are destructive of the church. The academic community has now, in effect, destroyed the Bible that it originally took from the church.

Yet it seems that what is now opening up is a possibility of the church being able to return to its divine origins, to allow the Bible to be what it always was – the principal tool of the church, not something of divine origin in and of itself – the Bible can return to what it is, and the church can return to what it was always intended to be: the Body of Christ in the world, a group of people trying to work out and accomplish all that Christ might accomplish, yes ‘and even greater things than these’.

Until Jesus returns and establishes his Kingdom, the final resting place for the interpretation of Scripture is, for me, the consensus fidelium – the considered and settled opinion of the faithful – and that settled opinion can itself develop over time, and change. It is expressed, most of all, through worship – lex orandi, lex credendi – this is why it must be rooted within the communion, when we sing our love songs to Jesus and renew our marriage vows. It is when we break the bread and renew the new covenant that we are authentically the church, that we are authentically the Body, and that we can authentically listen to His voice. It is when we are enabled to truly hear the word that we are enabled to interpret the word; and then to speak that word within the world. Scripture belongs to the church – it was formed by the church for the church, and it is for the church to interpret it, for good or ill.

TBLA(3): the third foundational teaching of Jesus

This one is from Matthew 16:

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ 14 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ 16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.’

I take verse 19 to be a delegation of authority from Jesus to Peter (and hence to the church as a whole, the consensus fidelium) on all ethical and moral matters. In other words, the church has the capacity to decide for itself what sort of “social apparatus” to adopt, in the sense that I described earlier.

I see this as underlying decisions like that of the Jerusalem council about whether circumcision was necessary, or keeping the kosher food laws. Those are questions of “social apparatus”, and are not matters of salvation. Similarly I believe that the church has the authority to declare gay marriage legitimate, if it so chooses. Underlying this is, of course, an understanding of the authority of Scripture – for a more detailed explanation of my views, see this post.

A teaching of St Paul’s is relevant here: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial.” In other words, the authority of the church to determine questions of morality is distinct from licentiousness – it still matters what we do, and some things destroy life, other give it. What needs to be attended to are the fruits of the Spirit; or, as is described in Acts, whatever ‘seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us’. In order to determine this, there is a right process to be followed, in two parts: the question of truth, and the question of non-judgement, which are the subject of my next two posts.

TBLA(2): the second foundational teaching of Jesus

This one I’m going to take from Mark 10, for reasons I shall explain:

“Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ 3 ‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied. 4 They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’ 5 ‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. 6 ‘But at the beginning of creation God “made them male and female”.[a] 7 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] 8 and the two will become one flesh.”[c] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ 10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.’”

The reason for quoting the Markan passage rather than the Matthean parallel is because I believe the significant change in the Matthew passage – ie the exception for adultery – to be an addition to what Jesus himself taught. That is, I believe that a major thrust of Jesus’ teaching on marriage to be a prohibition on divorce in all circumstances. To put that differently, I do not believe that Jesus allowed adultery to be a reason for divorce; I think that this is a Matthean addition brought in because Jesus’ teaching was too hard for the community to accept – in other words, that the ‘hardness of heart’ Jesus refers to was still present in the early Christian community.

More significant, however, is the context for that teaching about divorce, which is the ‘one flesh’ reference back to Genesis. I want to spend a lot of time thinking through this passage – much more than I plan to incorporate in a single post – but for now I simply want to register that this passage, in the Markan form, is the second foundational text for my explorations.

TBLA(1b): a bit more on Matthew 22

The best thing about writing on a blog is the chance for instant feedback and analysis, which means that misconceptions have a chance (a chance, not a certainty) of being cleared up before going further. So this is primarily a response to John’s comment.

Matthew 22 is undoubtedly a teaching about the resurrection; Jesus is refuting the Sadducees as John articulates. Yet I don’t think that this exhausts the meaning or importance of the passage itself. Firstly, the assumption being made by the Sadducees is to do with the Mosaic law about inheritance, about keeping a name alive in the land. That is the context which generates the perceived absurdity – the absurdity being that a woman cannot belong (be given) to more than one man. Jesus rebukes this by rejecting the idea that there is any ‘belonging’ in the resurrection, in the sense assumed by the Sadducees. He is therefore, I am arguing, rejecting the “social apparatus” of marriage as it existed in his time, ie the whole panoply of property law and inheritance obligations. The point that I was stumbling towards is that there is a distinction between this “social apparatus” – which is transient – and those elements of a relationship which do partake of the eternal, especially in so far as they embody agape.

The interesting bit – interesting for me, that is – is going to be working out precisely how this difference works out for us in this life, and how far things like the raising of children, or the ‘mutual love and affection’ of a gay partnership, are affected by this distinction. My sense is that the raising of children requires exactly a “social apparatus”; whereas something like a gay relationship doesn’t so much. Which is why I expect to argue that marriage – which is very much a “social apparatus” – is different from something like a civil partnership, even when that civil partnership is equally (if not more) capable of being a vehicle for the incarnation of agape love.

TBLA (1): the first foundational teaching of Jesus

From Matthew 22:

23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” 29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’[b]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

What does it mean to say that “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven”?

I take it to mean that marriage is part and parcel of this world, the fallen world, that it is not an essential part of the life to come. In other words, the implication of this teaching of Jesus is that marriage is not of eternal importance, and this teaching therefore acts as a bulwark against all attempts to make marriage into a totem or idol. It does not mean that marriage is of no importance at all – hardly that – it simply places a marker down against raising it up to be more than it is.

And what is it? Well, one of the key assumptions in this passage (as set out by Countryman) is that marriage is an economic arrangement. In other words, the question being asked by the Sadducees is a question of property law; it is not a question about the nature of the relationship, in a way that a modern ear might expect to hear.

So is it simply as an economic arrangement that marriage does not share in the eternal? I suspect that it is – but working out all the implications of that is what this series of posts is going to be about. After all, we are assured repeatedly that God is love, and that love is eternal – so in so far as marriage partakes of love, then surely it is also something that has implications beyond the resurrection. I suspect that, in so far as we learn to embody the divine love (agape) in our relationships, so too will we be sharing in something which lasts forever.

A biblical view of the cosmos (1)

One of the things which the recent death of Neil Armstrong brought to mind is the way in which the 20th century profoundly altered our understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos. The beginning of the film ‘Contact’ provoked awe when I first watched it, on a trip to Boston in 1997. It is the ultimate in ‘pull-back shots’ (you can find it on YouTube, search for ‘Contact opening scene’), beginning from the surface of the earth and just going back, and back, and back… and back. Out of the solar system, past the heliosphere, through the Milky Way, beyond the point where our galaxy is just a small dot in a haze of other galaxies. I had thought that I had a good sense for the scale of the universe, but when I lost my sense of depth about three-quarters of the way through the sequence, I realised that I had been deluding myself. The sense of scale that we need to try to comprehend when we consider our position in the universe is quite possibly unattainable to the human mind. Our Galaxy, the Milky Way, has some 400 billion stars. There may be 125 billion such galaxies in the universe. There are probably more stars than there are grains of sand on earth. I find these numbers meaninglessly large – but I’m not sure that the existential issue is any different from when the Psalmist wrote “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”

The Christian understanding of the world was born in an environment radically different to the one that we inhabit today. As well as the difference in size of the universe that we are living in, there is a difference in the scale of time of comparable scale. Whereas when the church was getting established, it was considered that the world was created, in roughly the form it has now, some few thousand years ago – and it’s end would be a similar number of years in the future – we now consider that in fact the earth was created some 4.6 billion years ago, the universe perhaps some 15 billion years ago, and we do not have any conception of when it will end, if indeed that question has meaning. I often ponder what some of the implications are for Christian faith. For in traditional terms, Christians look forward to the resurrection of the dead on the last day. This says something very important about our bodily future – that our existence as embodied beings now will somehow be recognised on that last day. Also in traditional terms, that last day will come after the apocalypse, when the last trump shall sound, the anti-christ shall be overthrown and Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.

This hope or expectation of a last judgement is something which has been of great comfort to many believers over the years, and I believe it says something profoundly true, not least about social justice. What I would say, however, is that it is not something which wholly grips me. My point is to do with the ‘background drama’ against which we might understand the story of Jesus of Nazareth. The early church placed that story in the setting of their culture, and we must do the same. Our culture has radically changed its conception of time and space, and our understanding of the significance of Jesus must change too. It is rather as if we were watching a Punch and Judy show, and we were caught up in the drama, and that small stage bounded our world – and then suddenly we were pulled back to see that this stage was placed in the centre circle at Wembley Stadium. At this point the story just doesn’t have the same imaginative impact any more. Then we are pulled back to a satellite orbiting above London, and really the question of what is going on in the Punch and Judy show on some grass in North West London has to do something really rather remarkable if it is going to attract our attention. Then we pull back… and pull back.

It is sometimes said that we cannot be Christians any longer, for the story of Christianity is a story that is inevitably tied in with an understanding of the world that has been rejected – an understanding which is based in a very small world, this earth, in a cosmos which is unimaginably huge. This is called the geocentric objection, for it is based on the rejection of the idea that the earth is the centre of the universe. How can anything which happens in our world have cosmic significance? (I remember once reading about someone who had calculated what proportion of the known cosmos could conceivably have been affected by the resurrection, ie, if the ‘information’ of the resurrection travelled out in every direction from Easter morning at the speed of light, what proportion of the cosmos has now been reached? The answer is a remarkably small proportion.)

For me, this criticism begins in the wrong place. It first of all buys into a ‘supernatural’ conception of how God works, that is, that God intervenes in an already existing process, rather than the orthodox conception which is that God is eternally sustaining that process, so the idea of ‘intervention’ makes no sense. (Think about the diffference between winding up a clockwork mechanism and letting in run, and playing a piece of music – God’s creation is like the latter, not the former). More significantly, it doesn’t take seriously the religious claim about Jesus’ humanity; in other words, as a criticism of Christianity, it only makes sense as a criticism of pseudo-Christianity, one which sees Jesus’ humanity as a mere appearance, so Jesus was not human in the way that we are human.

The Christian claim starts from an opposite place. Jesus was a human being, but a human being of a particular sort. Just as Adam and Eve were made in the image of God, so too are all human beings. Yet through sin, we have obscured this image in us. In Jesus there is no sin, so in Jesus we see a human being in whom the image of God is revealed without distortion – and thus, in Jesus, we can see the nature of God revealed. So Jesus shows us both what it means to be human – and what is the nature of God. This is what is meant by the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, that God is revealed in human form.

The reason why I believe this to be an answer to the geocentric objection is because it roots our understanding of God in our understanding of ourselves, or, put differently, it states that for as long as there are human beings, Jesus will show us the nature of God. The particular clothing in which the story of Jesus is dressed – such as the language of the ascension, Jesus rising bodily into heaven – may not be essential to the story. The essential story is of a human being who was given over completely to love; to the love of God and to the love of neighbour; who as a result came into conflict with the governing authorities and was executed by them; but who was raised and justified by God on the third day, thereby demonstrating his divinity and establishing the Church, to follow the path that he had forged – to be a Christian is to take that story, that dream, and build a life around it. Doing this will remain possible for as long as we remain human, no matter how far we travel, and no matter what dimensions our imaginations are engaged in.

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

Nothing. That is, the short answer to my titular question is: the Bible says nothing about homosexuality. This is because ‘homosexuality’ as a concept was developed in the nineteenth century, and the word ‘homosexual’ does not occur in the Bible, and Jesus never discusses this issue. What the Bible does discuss, in a small number of texts, are the ethics (or holiness) of particular actions. What I want to do in this article is go through three of the main relevant texts in turn but I will return to this first point at the end – the Bible doesn’t say anything about homosexuality – because it is actually fundamental to the conversation which our church and society is having at the moment.

The first text to consider is Genesis 19, the sin of Sodom leading to their destruction in fire and brimstone. This is the story from which the word ‘sodomy’ derives, and it is a deeply unpleasant tale – and yet, it is also a tale that can be read in various different ways. In brief, two men – who are actually angels – come to stay with Lot. At night, the men of the ‘city’ (probably a village smaller than Mersea) surround Lot’s house and tell him to cast out the angels so that the resident men can have sex with them. Lot refuses, the angels blind the men, and in the morning Lot escapes and the Lord destroys the city. Now, in our sex-obsessed culture, we tend to emphasise the sexual elements of this story and say ‘this is all about how God hates homosexuals’. This is not the emphasis of the story itself. After all, if the emphasis was on bad sexual behaviour then Lot – who is the righteous man in the story – would not say to the men outside his house “Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them.” (Compare and contrast this story – where the daughters actually get away – with the similar story in Judges 19.22-29 which doesn’t have such a ‘happy’ ending.)

So if the sin of Sodom is not principally about sexuality, what is it about? In a word, hospitality. What Lot says immediately after the offer of his daughters is “Don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” Ancient near-Eastern culture was not obsessed with sex, as we are, but they were obsessed with the importance of hospitality, and the rights and obligations associated with it. It is this social regulation that the Sodomites were transgressing, and it was for their overthrowing of the norms of hospitality that God destroyed them. How can I be so certain that this is the right interpretation of the story? Simply because it is how Jesus himself understood it – see Matthew 10.14-15, when Jesus invokes Sodom in the context of talking about hospitality.

The next significant texts to ponder are from the book of Leviticus, which are very similar so I’ll treat them together. Leviticus 18.22 says “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable (‘abomination’)”; Leviticus 20.13 says “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable (‘have committed abomination’). They must be put to death.” The book of Leviticus is essentially a book describing how the Levites – that is, the priests – are to carry out the worship of God in the Temple, and how the Jews more generally are to achieve holiness. In other words, Leviticus cannot be understood separately from the context of ritual worship. For Christians, all of the theology in this text is subsumed into the ‘New Temple’ worship of Holy Communion, and so the specific legalities associated with the ritual worship in the Temple have been superseded by what Jesus developed. This is why Christians have no problem with carrying out many things also considered abominations by the book of Leviticus, such as eating oysters, or cutting men’s hair. That is not to say that the book of Leviticus has no use for Christians today – on the contrary, I believe that a proper understanding of Leviticus would be the best safeguard for keeping contemporary Christian worship meaningful – but it is to say that these specific commands have no particular weight. A homosexual act is as intrinsically ‘wrong’ as eating shellfish or wearing clothes made of different fibres (like a polycotton shirt), no more, no less.

So what of the New Testament? It’s fairly straightforward for a Christian to argue that we don’t have to submit to Old Testament laws because we follow a God of grace and freedom, but what of particular relevant passages in the New Testament? The key passage to ponder is this one, from Paul’s letter to the Romans. To put the passage in context, Paul is speaking to a Jewish audience in Rome, and he is listing all the ways in which the surrounding culture is decadent – in order to then make the point that his listeners don’t have a leg to stand on, for whilst his audience has avoided some obvious and external immoralities, their hearts are full of judgement and condemnation of others, and that “There is no-one righteous, no not one” – which is why we have to rely upon a God of mercy and grace, and not on our own merits or achievements in avoiding obvious sins. However, that does not mean that what Paul describes as sinful aren’t actually sinful! Having talked about the origin of bad behaviour in bad worship (ie idolatry – bad worship leading to bad behaviour is an axiomatic truth in the Bible) this is what he says: “… God gave them over to sinful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”

So what is it that Paul is denouncing? Remember the context – Rome, the centre of Empire – where there was a highly developed culture of temple prostitution. It is this bad worship which is Paul’s target. For example, in Cybele’s Temple there were male transvestite priests who had cut off their own genitals and offered themselves to men as part of the temple rituals. These rituals were essentially about fertility – using expressions of human fertility (ie what we might think of as ‘exuberant’ sexuality, orgies) to honour the gods of fertility in order to ensure a good crop and stave off hunger. The bad worship leading to bad behaviour – it is the entire package that Paul is objecting to. The question is: what does this have to do with homosexuality today? The short answer is – not a lot. I don’t know many gay men who want to chop off bits of themselves in order to generate a more bountiful crop of wheat.

Now, to broaden out the discussion a little, I think it would be fair to say that the Bible does take sexual misconduct seriously – that is, there is such a thing as sinful sexual behaviour, and indulging in it threatens our relationship with God; the most obvious example is adultery, which it would be fair to say that God absolutely detests. Yet there seems to me to be a logical leap between saying ‘certain acts are sinful’ to saying, more broadly, ‘homosexuality is wrong’. That is, there seems to be a confusion between what it means to do something wrong, and what it means to be someone. Which brings me back to where I began, which is that the Bible says nothing about homosexuality – which, I now confess, is ever so slightly misleading. For there are several instances when it talks about relationships between people of the same sex – not in the context of obsessing about sexual behaviour (remember, that is the hang up of our culture, not the Bible) – but simply in terms of celebrating what it might mean to honour a loving relationship.

The most prominent example of this is that of David and Jonathan. Some texts to ponder: “Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself… and Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18); “David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the LORD, saying, “The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever”” (1 Samuel 20); “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women” (2 Samuel 1). Clearly with David and Jonathan we have an important relationship between two people of the same sex which was dedicated before God in the form of a covenant. There is no hint of disapproval in this story for the relationship between the two (except from Saul, but he’s the ‘bad guy’).

The response to mentioning David and Jonathan in this context is often ‘but their relationship wasn’t sexual!’ which simply reveals our own obsessions. Clearly it is possible to have a loving and affectionate same-sex relationship that is honoured by God, and that is fully Biblical. Is that compatible with a prohibition on particular sexual acts? Of course. Are those relationships which seek a blessing in church more like Jonathan and David, or more like the cult prostitutes in Rome? Perhaps readers can use their own judgement on that; I trust my own view is clear.

One last point, which is strictly for Christians. To my mind the biggest problem that compromises conversations on the topic is that we don’t take baptism seriously. That is, for Christians, baptism is when we are set free from the law of sin and death (things like Leviticus) and enabled to live by grace alone. In other words we become members of a group of people who acknowledge a common lack of righteousness before God, a bunch of people who get things wrong and need forgiveness, mercy and grace from each other in order to progress. If we took our baptism seriously then, firstly, we wouldn’t obsess about the sins that our fellow Christians may or may not be carrying out, and, secondly, we might take seriously the intention of those same fellow Christians to live out a life of holiness before God, doing their best to know him and to walk more closely with Jesus day by day. It is because we don’t respect our fellow Christians’ integrity that the wider culture no longer respects us, and sees us as obsessed with rules about what we can or cannot do with our genitals (or whether you need certain genital equipment to exercise leadership in a church). Obviously we need to obsess about these things because our Lord spent so long teaching about them. Jesus wept – at the graveside of a man he loved.

Contrary to Scripture?

John Richardson left a comment on my Jeffrey John post arguing that JJ “teaches a position contrary to Scripture”. I don’t believe this to be true – or, rather, I believe that this way of characterising the debate begs the question at issue.

Take the eating of shellfish, which is described as an abomination in Leviticus 11. This prohibition is overturned in the New Testament, most especially through Peter’s vision and the subsequent discussion in Jerusalem (Acts 11).

Does this change represent a change of detail or a change of method? That is, is this simply a case of amending a law code, leaving everything else as it stands – and, therefore, the ‘structure of righteousness’ as it stands? Or is this a demonstration of a new kind of authority, ie accepting ‘it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ as of higher authority than the written law? So the gathered church has the authority to determine what is acceptable to God and what is not?

To say that JJ’s teaching is ‘contrary to Scripture’ is to assume the first to be the case. That is, at the very least, a debatable point – but what I want to emphasise here is that arguing in the way that JJ does is NOT ‘contrary to Scripture’, it is to interpret Scripture in a different way, one which is at least as grounded in the long Christian tradition as the post-Reformation emphases. Does anyone else find it odd that the Christian tradition that has most emphasised ‘sola gratia’ is the one that is most insistent on a legalistic understanding of Scripture in this debate?

I am the one who is very hopeful

Why do you complain, Jacob? 
   Why do you say, Israel, 
“My way is hidden from the LORD; 
   my cause is disregarded by my God”? 
Do you not know? 
   Have you not heard? 
The LORD is the everlasting God, 
   the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, 
   and his understanding no one can fathom. 
He gives strength to the weary 
   and increases the power of the weak. 
Even youths grow tired and weary, 
   and young men stumble and fall; 
but those who hope in the LORD 
   will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; 
   they will run and not grow weary, 
   they will walk and not be faint.