Let's take a second look at another item that's been around the blogs.
Luke Timothy Johnson, the Robert R. Woodruff Professor of New Testament at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, produced an article titled Homosexuality & the Church: Scripture & Experience. Johnson is a former Benedictine Monk, and is a Roman Catholic.
Warming up to the famous part, more or less:
I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. [Hear, hear!] The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy-that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.Sounds deep, eh? Promising? Then here it is:
I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good.And finally, this:
...we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.Well, that's different. Johnson's not asking for a "five-year moratorium." He says the text is clear right now, we know what it says — and we reject it!
Now I'll pause to say that I have been this close to actually offering people money to get them to display that kind of candor. Roman Catholics, Mormons... and more than a few stripes of Christians. Just say it: "No way Scripture teaches ___, but I believe it anyway." Or "Scripture pretty clearly says __; but, instead, I believe ___." It would put the discussion on a whole different wheelbase. But no, such candor is rare. Again and again they get out The Pervertaneutical Rack, strap in those poor innocent texts, and start twisting until they scream out things they never meant.
By contrast, here's Johnson admitting, "Nossir, no way the Bible says what we wish we did. It says A, we say Z, and there's no denying it." Rather refreshing.
Johnson admits they must "appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good." Another authority? Superior to Scripture? To Johnson, yes.
Johnson's article breathes disdain for Biblical Christianity from the first paragraph to the last. While Johnson may "have little patience" with people who pervert the text of Scripture, he even less for those who feel themselves in any way bound to that text. He complains that
If the neglect of Scripture is a form of sin ... a blind adherence to Scripture when God is trying to show us the truth in human bodies is also a form of sin, and a far more grievous one. ....it is a far greater risk to allow the words of Scripture to blind us to the presence and power of the living God."Blind adherence to Scripture" — an odd expression, that, given that Johnson's already granted that his opponents are right about what Scripture actually says. What is "blind" about that? They see it clearly. Are we "blind" because we not only see it and understand it, but believe it and try to live by it?
So let's say I'm convinced, or at least shamed out of my "blind adherence to Scripture." Let's say I want to throw off the shackles of the Bible, so that I can know this glorious freedom Johnson promises. What is this "still more excellent way"?
Here it is. Ready?
And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.The authority is — me! You! Dr. Johnson! Our experience, and our stories. See what you feel like doing, what others feel like doing and, if it's the right kind of feeling, go for it.
Really, that's about it. Oh, Dr. Johnson might be deeply offended at that characterization. What he writes is all very nuanced and deep-sounding and full of profound catch-phrases. Devotees of his viewpoint aren't amoral, autonomous libertines; no (he insists), they are noble souls "who perceive God at work among all persons and in all covenanted and life-enhancing forms of sexual love." Got that?
So Johnson says listen to people's stories. (Indeed, story or stories occurs fifteen times in the article.) Not just any stories, though. We must use "careful discernment," mustn't follow "every idiosyncratic or impulsive expression of human desire," but only "those profound stories of bondage and freedom, longing and love, shared by thousands of persons over many centuries and across many cultures, that help define them as human." He says this itself is the ongoing saga of the work of God within the life of man, unfolding and disclosing himself in human stories, et cetera and so forth. Or, as Johnson says memorably (if not very coherently):
When read within the perspective of a Scripture that speaks everywhere of a God disclosing Godself [?!] through human experience, our stories become the medium of God’s very revelation.Then of course, in spite of his earlier bracing cautions against doing violence to Scripture, Johnson finds he must do violence to Scripture. He can't just let the matter rest with his open rejection of Biblical teachings.
For instance, Johnson mercilessly flogs poor old Galatians 3:28 yet again.
[An aside: merciful bunions, is there nothing that beleagured old text can't be bludgeoned into rationalizing, these days? A few decades ago, we (= you, I, and the apostle Paul) were breathlessly informed that it cancelled out the Biblical prohibition against women pastors. Now (we learn) it cancels out the univocal Biblical condemnation of homosexuality. What next? "There is neither male nor female, gay nor straight... human nor animal, vegetable nor mineral, love nor hate, sin nor righteousness, God nor Satan, cephalopod nor houseware appliance, National League nor American League, smoking nor non-smoking"? The mind boggles! Does Paul, in glory, regret writing the verse? Surely not!Johnson even trots out 2 Corinthians 3:6. Well, part of it: "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." Doing merciless violence to the context (which not about believing the word of God versus believing that I am the word of God), Johnson actually opposes "the letter of Scripture" (sic) to the work of the Spirit of God — the very Spirit who breathed out that Scripture which He is now said to oppose (1 Corinthians 2:13; 14:37). For
But I digress.]
...if the letter of Scripture cannot find room for the activity of the living God in the transformation of human lives, then trust and obedience must be paid to the living God rather than to the words of Scripture.At this point my Irony-ometer is on overload. The letter of the text is being quoted to condemn the letter of the text. You see, "The letter kills" means exactly that, word for word and in isolation from all else (we are told). This part of the Bible means that everything other part of the Bible is nonsense. That's the only verse that means what it says — well, that and "Judge not." But you have to take both verses in absolute isolation from everything else.
I'll retire to Bedlam.
Like all humanly-devised systems, Johnsonanity as expressed in this article collapses under its own weight and incoherence. For instance:
FIRST: The real revelation of God is (not the Bible but) "profound stories of bondage and freedom, longing and love, shared by thousands of persons over many centuries and across many cultures"? Then what shall we say of the "stories" of the Bible-believing Christian church? Does Johnson's description, in itself, not describe those stories and those experiences as well? On what basis shall we oppose Johnsonites and their stories over against — what shall we call them? "Christians"? — and their stories? On the basis of greater numbers? That argument won't work very well to normalize homosexuality. Because they aren't "profound" enough for Johnson? Then we have to go to Johnson to have our stories sifted? "Profound... not profound... profound... definitely not profound...." Will Mt. Profundity replace Mt. Sinai, or the Sermon on the Mount? And will Johnson replace Moses... or Jesus?
Do we have an objective, transcendent standard to which we can appeal?
Well, we do. Johnson acknowledged it, rejected it, messed with it, puts himself in its place.
So why are Johnsonites' stories revelations of God, but diametrically-opposed stories of Bible-believers aren't? Why are Johnsonite libertines motivated by the life of God expressing itself in them, but those who hold to Biblical teaching are moved only by ignorance, and a "mix of fear and anger"?
And what's God's current story on the world, and whether we should love it and be conformed to it, or not?
SECOND (but related): have we really gained, by moving the locus of authority from an objective and external source to a subjective and internal source? Again, what will be our basis and our criterion? Johnson and I could look at the Bible and get into an exegetical discussion, with all of the data out there for everyone to see. But interpreting subjective stories as the voice of God? Why the stories of passion-enslaved libertines? Why not the stories of the far vaster numbers of Muslims? What's to prevent the Taliban from telling Dr. Johnson "Great! Thanks! We'll take it from here!" and then dealing with his homosexual friends according to their stories?
I don't think he'd like that story.
THIRD: none of this can claim the authority of any Jesus of Nazareth who ever actually lived. Johnson has gained some notice as a critic of the Jesus Seminar. Great; I'm no fan either. But the only Jesus who ever actually lived never, ever spoke disparagingly either of the word of God that we call the Old Testament (Luke 16:17; John 5:47; 10:35), nor of the words of God that we abidingly possess in His own teachings in person (Matthew 24:35; Mark 8:35 [very germane in this connection]; Luke 6:47; John 8:31-32; 12:48; 14:23-24; Revelation 3:8) or through His apostles (John 16:12-15; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:13 [NAS]; 14:37).
This flat rejection of the written word is found in neither prophet, apostle, nor God Incarnate.
FOURTH: Johnson is a Roman Catholic, presumably in good standing. You know, member of The One True Church® that is always trying to claim absolute unbroken unity, as opposed to Christians with our 45 bazillion denominations? Think about it.
And what of "the first pope," the apostle Peter, expressly ranking the written, prophetic word of God over even the best and most amazing stories (2 Peter 1:16-21)?
And so now, two thousands years later, it bowls me over that so many of the Jews I read and hear are still in exactly the same place as the Jews of Jesus' day: chained to tradition, fenced off from the Word.
But if that is stunning, it simply kills me to see human tradition imposed again and again in the name of Jesus! For what is Dr. Johnson doing if not crushing the Word under human tradition? The only difference is that the Jews' tradition is old, and Johnson's is new, amorphous, still a-borning, chaotic, and imbued only with his authority.
(On second thought — is it really that new? Is it the next step in spiritual evolution? Or does it not go right back to the Garden, and echo the voice of him who also flatly contradicted the transcendent, objective, binding word of God, and who promised instead, "You shall be as God — let your story be the rule and the law!"?)
This returns me to why I became a Christian: I'm just not that smart, wise, nor good. I'm not fit to be my own Lord. "You shall be as God" is a lie. That's a foundational realization for my conversion and, I dare say, any genuine conversion. (That's my "profound story," by the way.)
Luke Timothy Johnson's position does not give any evidence of that realization. The twin foundational truths of "There is a God, and I'm not Him" are nowhere to be seen.
Goodness, if only someone had sometime publicly made the point that, "despite the liberal use of traditional phraseology modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions."
But of course someone did: J. Gresham Machen, over 80 years ago, in Christianity and Liberalism (p. 7). Machen was right then; he's right now. Did Johnson never read that story?
And so in Johnsonian liberalism the locus of authority is removed from the text of Scripture, and moved to Dr. Johnson, to you, to me. Anywhere except the Word. The word of God is strictly horizontal. It is found in Johnson's (and our) discernment of the right subtexts of the right human authorities.
Practically, if not formally, Dr. Johnson thinks he's God.
But he's not.
Final word: if some emergent leaders are wolves in sheep's clothing, what are people who expressly reject the word of God in favor of their own thoughts, feelings, experiences, "profound stories"?
Wolves in wolves' clothing — but with this difference: these wolves say, "No no no, this is how sheep really should look!"
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost (1 Timothy 1:15). But there's Dr. Johnson, saying, "No no no, that's not sin, and you don't need saving from it!"
Me, I'll take God's word on what sin is, what I need, what all of us need.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.