Summary of recent posts

We have attempted to begin with self-criticism, which for me meant a criticism of what I have called ‘traditionalism’. We focussed on four main problems with traditionalism:

(a) implicit parent-child models of authority,

(b) the de-relationalisation of biblical wisdom,

(c) the substitution of indoctrination for education, and

(d) the problem of disproportionate response.

Each of these problems manifested itself in several ways.

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Realities not prejudices

Proportionality and Restored Dignity vs. Hatred and Degradation

Second, God judges ‘each one according to his ways’, which means that justice is proportionate.

A firing squad is not appropriate for cheating on one tax return or even on several. Amputating limbs is not appropriate for stealing a loaf of bread or even several. Excommunication is not appropriate for buying a pornographic magazine or even several.

In other words, God’s judgement is always fair-minded, based on realities and not prejudices, based on real extent rather than the generalisations (and hence implicit false testimony) of rule-based religion. The law says, “if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make him lie down and have him flogged in his presence with the number of lashes his crime deserves, but he must not give him more than forty lashes. If he is flogged more than that, your brother will be degraded in your eyes” (Deut. 25:2-3).

In other words, to exceed certain limits in punishment, and certainly to exceed what a deed deserves, only serves to ‘degrade your brother’. The aim is to punish a sin so as to restore a loved one to dignified living, not to degrade them. Proportionate punishment knows where to draw the line: it aims to restore dignity out of love, not to remove it out of hate.

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How God judges

We may now turn to the final component of our critique of traditionalism. We have looked at the entailments of implicit parent-child models of church authority, of the ‘de-relationalisation’ of biblical wisdom, and of the substitution of indoctrination for education.

Now, we turn to consider the danger of grossly disproportionate responses to self-designated homosexuals. In Scripture we read, “I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD” (Ezekiel 18:30).

This brings two points to the foreground, as follows.

i) Considering the Particular Case vs. Fictional Judgements & False Testimony

First, God judges ‘each one according to his ways’, which means that God judges us individual by individual, with discernment, so that the proud person who doesn’t steal is not treated like a thief who has humbled himself after just one theft.

The thief who has humbled himself after his stumble will not be treated like the arrogant person who hasn’t stolen but who has maintained an arrogant stance. God will treat the humble thief much more leniently, since he repented, whereas a mighty hand will eventually crush the ongoingly arrogant person.

That is, God judges according to the objective realities of somebody’s behaviour, not according to false testimony, nor according to fictions about them, nor according to stigmatising labels, nor according to levels of social acceptability, but according to the truth about them individually.

Fallen human judges, however, tend to prefer to read their verdicts by a standard of false testimony, fictions, labels, and social norms. Why? Because if they tried to be objective, they would have to face their own sin.

To be on the receiving end of false judgements, though, is terrible, since it is to be judged by a Kangaroo court that ‘points the finger’ or ‘scapegoats’ to legitimate self-interest. But God detests acquitting the guilty and punishing the innocent: “Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty” (Exodus 23:7).

That is, those guilty of false judgement will not be acquitted, and, better to err on the side of lenience if in doubt since God will in any case see to it that the guilty person who escapes detection will not be acquitted. There is no excuse, however, for judgement that knowingly presupposes false testimony. Somebody who has ‘come out’ about homosexual desires, however, may be prematurely labelled, which is judgement by false testimony.

The trivialisation of prophecy

Entailment # 2: Trivialisation of the Prophetic Tradition   

Third, closely related to our points about the idolisation of tradition and the glorification of educational backwardness is what we may call the trivialisation of prophecy.

In his commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:4, Thiselton notes that “prophetic speech may include applied theological teaching, encouragement, and exhortation to build the church, not merely (if at all) ad hoc cries of an expressive, diagnostic, or tactical nature, delivered as ‘spontaneous’ mini-messages.

The latter debase and trivialise the great tradition of the term in the biblical writings as something altogether more serious, sustained, and reflective”. And yet, is it not the case, in so many churches today, that ‘spontaneous ad hoc tactical mini-messages’ have replaced ‘serious, sustained, reflective, applied theological teaching’?

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Spiritual adulthood

Entailment # 1: Glorification of Educational Backwardness

Second, these days it is cool to self-referentially point out one’s various ‘failures to understand’ from the front of church in order to generate chuckles of empathy and murmurings of ‘oh, isn’t he/she cute’, when biblically speaking it is irresponsible. For sure, we all fail in many ways, but this is not meant to be against the backdrop of a glorification of educational backwardness.

Hebrews 5:12 applies today: ‘though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again’. This is because, these days, 2 Timothy 4:3-4 is fulfilled: ‘for the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths’.

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Heart and Mind together

Substituting Indoctrination for Education: Idolatry, Silliness, & Pseudo-Prophecy

We may now turn to our third major danger warning for self-designated traditionalists: the danger of substituting indoctrination for education. We have already noted problems associated with a disguised ‘parent-child’ notion of authority, and with de-relationalisation. Our third area of concern flows out of the substitution of indoctrination for education, and breaks down into three closely related points, as follows.

i) Idolisation of Tradition over Growing in Biblical Understanding

Our first point relates to the idolisation of tradition over and above growing in biblical understanding. Biblically, of course, none of us yet thinks as Jesus thinks, and so we all need to keep being transformed by the renewing of our minds, such that our traditions of interpretation develop towards ‘biblical understanding’.

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Traditionalist abstractions

Rule-Based Religion: Evasive, Abstract, Self-Assertive, & Relationally Naive

Third, rule-based religion, then, is an unnecessary prelude to relational religion that assumes relationship with God is not secure and has to be earned.

It is also a narcissistic evasion of right relating, of relational responsibilities, and of facing relational problems. It misinterprets life’s anxieties as God’s absence, and can easily get caught into ever-more complex introverted responses to anxiety symptoms read as ‘God’s displeasure’ on this or that issue.

It ties in with abstract discourse that creates an entire pseudo-spiritual or super-spiritual language that somehow never connects with real concrete life issues. Such language sounds very pious, but it is a mere abstract calculus that endlessly defers relational engagement and concreteness.

It characterises many a traditionalist setting, and even many an academic pastoral theology setting, and has nothing to do with real Christian discourse, which is relationally wise and immediate, a love which grows more and more in knowledge and depth of insight into the real. Rule-based religion is like Nietzschean self-assertion, which belongs to the same mode of self-imposed harshness and narcissistic concern for self-advancement.

Rule-based religion is beaten only by learning communion with the Holy Spirit and by learning right relating to others. The traditionalist abstractions of rule-based religion evade relational responsibility and wisdom and, in my view, have very little to say of any value in the debate about church and homosexuality. It would be all too possible to imagine a relationally astute self-designated homosexual person being incredulous at the relationally backward introversions and abstract language of the self-designated traditionalist person. Their conversation would be a clash of two incompatible discourses and, in terms of relational awareness, the fault would lie with traditionalism, even if there were faults of a different kind with the self-designated homosexual.

Rule based religion evades relational responsibility

Rule-Based Religion: Relational Rules & Spirit vs. Non-Relational Rules & Fear

Second, what is at issue here is not the abandonment of moral standards since, obviously, Paul would still have us restrain ourselves from sensual indulgence.

Rather, our point is two-fold.

(a) Where there are ‘rules’ that should be followed, they are relationally orientated, and not a system of do’s and don’ts that allow the avoidance of relationship and the avoidance of facing up to relational problems. The whole point of the Law is that we relate well to God and neighbour, and also to creation.

Any other set of rules disguises the evasion of relational responsibilities, and is false religion, a way of ‘hiding from loving’ (as opposed to John Townsend’s phrase, ‘hiding from love’, which still sounds too consumerist and self-orientated).

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Religion and rules

Rule-Based Religion: A Non-Relational ‘Righteousness’ that is not Righteousness

We can now move on to our second main focus under the heading of ‘de-relationalisation’ by noting that, abstract discourses aside, another big result of suppressing relational wisdom is rule-based religion. 

First, biblically, righteousness is relational, something you do in relation to someone, whether God or neighbour, or at very least in ‘relation’ to the created order.

Rules, however, can sometimes provide a false way of being ‘righteous’ apart from relationship, a ‘righteousness’ you can do on your own, a DIY ‘righteousness’ that avoids the real thing. Rule-based religion, then, takes the ‘relationship’ out of ‘righteousness’ to produce a ‘righteousness’ that is not real righteousness.

For example, the early Luther tried to gain a relationship with God by observing ever-harsher rules of self-discipline. His rule-based religion was not relationship, but something designed to earn relationship, something that occurred before relationship as its prelude. The turning point for Luther came when he realised that he already had relationship with God, and that no system of self-imposed discipline could change that.

Thus, the harsh regime became redundant, and he could get on with reforming the Continent of Europe. Jesus also criticised the Pharisees on this point for neglecting right relationship with their parents in order to observe a religious tradition. Paul too criticises rule-based religion in Colossians 2:23 as lacking any value in ‘restraining sensual indulgence’.

Guilty as charged?

Abstract Rhetoric: Schism within Counselling Itself

Fourth, an example of what we have just been talking about is the question of whether homosexuality relates to sexual immorality, or whether guilt associated with homosexual practice should be seen in terms of a neurosis generated by a false charge of ‘sexual immorality’ made by society and tradition.

Counsellors taking the first line of thinking would counsel ‘repentance’ of homosexual practice. Counsellors taking the second line of thinking would seek to empower people by exposing the way they had been made to feel ‘guilty’ by ‘traditionalist propaganda’. If, however, the human person is actually built one way and not the other, then one of these counselling strategies would produce an irreconcilable internal conflict.

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