Monday, July 13, 2009

Tyndale Fellowship - Part 3

The Wednesday of TF started with myself leading devotions on 1 Tim 4:16, "Watch your life and doctrine closely". But the main event of the day was the panel session on Richard Burridge's new book, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics with reviews from John Nolland and Michael Thompson and with responses from Richard Burridge. It was a humdinger!

Nolland and Thompson gave a good critical appraisal of Burridge's work. In a nutshell, Nolland complained that Burridge neglects the words of Jesus too much on ethics (e.g. Matthew 18) and Thompson suggested that Burridge potentially sets up a false dichotomy of imitate Jesus or exclude homosexuals. I felt sorry for Burridge since the book isn't about homosexuality and the Anglican communion, he didn't want to discuss this for two hours, but we all knew that it was (as he said in his book) the "white elephant in the room". Burridge gave his own biographical description of his journey in the Gospels and in NT ethics. He said that he's spent "15 years trying to prove that the Gospels are really about Jesus" and he has also been effected by his experiences in South Africa in relation to apartheid. He believes that the historical Jesus matters for NT ethics and NT ethics should start with Jesus (in contrast to Richard Hays' approach). Burridge also rejects "biblical" versus "inclusive" and he rejects the false choices of "rigorous exclusion" and "anything goes ethics" when it comes to applied ethics. He also pointed out that one of the major motivations in the Clapham sect was their reading Scripture in light of the experiences of a slave and ex-slave and for him the "gay issue" should be approached in much the same way. I got hints that, if pushed far enough, Burridge would treat same-sex relations much in the same way as the COE currently treats remarriage after divorce: they are not ideal, people who participate in them need to repent, but they are part of life in a fallen world and need to affirmed and treated graciously.

My thoughts on Burridge's paper are: (1) I think it is important to note that the "historical Jesus" is the "historically reconstructed Jesus" and while this exercise has a valid place in Christian Theology, I don't want to use it/him to displace the "canonical Jesus". (2) I appreciate Burridge's attempt to swing the pendulum away from the words of Jesus and towards the actions of Jesus (e.g. his inclusive table-fellowship with sinners) for informing Christian ethics. But swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the other is simply not the solution, rather, a balanced approach is needed. In the end, I think Burridge would concur. (3) I genuinely appreciate the logic of relating marriage after divorce to same-sex relationships (not ideal, must repentant, but in a fallen world we have to live with it), the only problem is that nowhere in the NT do we find marriage after divorce in the vice-lists and nowhere in the NT do we find exception clauses for same-sex relationships. So I'm not too sure if you can put the two in the same boat. (4) As Burridge concedes, his inclusive approach may well run aground on Paul, esp. his vice-lists and practice of church discipline. (5) Although Burridge never defines what it means to be "inclusive," I get the vibe that he means it hermeneutically, that is, you are willing to sit down with gays, lesbians, LGBT, and read the Bible together and everyone has a place at the table. Sadly though, that is one Bible study that can just go on forever, and you're still left with the problem of what do you do in the end in the church. Does being hermeneutically inclusive have to result in being ecclesially inclusive in membership and ministry? I'm all for Bible studies, but what do you do at the end of the day if everyone does not agree? (6) I hear from some of my Anglican friends in the USA that the only heresy is "exclusion". I cannot help but think that Burridge's book is going to be used to provide a theological justification for that perspective and it will widen the chasm between the orthodox and the revisionists in TEC.

I think Burridge spoke very well, he gave some good responses to what Nolland and Thompson presed him on, the whole panel discussion was cordial and gracious, and it was a very exciting and often animated exchange of views. In sum, I think "inclusive" is a good word like "liberal" (who wants to be called "illberal" in their giving!). But the challenge is to be, as Burridge himself notes, biblically inclusive. For me, it means that everybody is invited to my church - gays, prostitutes, druggies, even people who vote republican - and come as you are, but no-one is allowed to stay as they are, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and need the atoning work of Christ, the loving care of the Father, and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.

That evening the John Wenham Lecture was given by Wayne Grudem on the "Perpescuity of Scripture" (I was pleased that he affirmed much of Mark Thompson's little IVP book on the subject in the NSBT series which is a little gem). Grudem spoke well, I think his points were very valid and sound, it was a great presentation that was ideal for a mixed audience of scholars and lay people. In the end, he expressed his probable rejection of the WCF which limits perpescuity to the things necessary for salvation (i.e. the gospel presentation). In my mind, the only problem with perpescuity is that it seems to die a death of a thousand qualifications when you apply it. Even so, Grudem did a good job of showing how it relates to the nature of God and to the nature of revelation. The biggest question I had was related to extra-biblical sources. Grudem said that extra-biblical sources cannot be used to falsify the Bible. Fine, but they can falsify people's interpretation of the Bible and their understanding of how the Bible relates to its environment. I asked Grudem about this. I noted that the Bible was written "for us" but not "to us" and we don't have all the shared historical and cultural knowledge between authors and readers. Ultimately discovering more of this shared knowledge can improve and even correct our understanding of the Bible. Thus, knowing that Jude cites 1 Enoch seems a necessary condition of understanding the Epistle of Jude in my mind. Grudem replied that it doesn't change anything we know and the 1 Enoch citation might even be an authentic prophesy handed on orally (all I can say is that in seminary I did change my mind from regarding this passage from 1 Enoch as an authentic prophesy to seeing it as a pseudepigraphon that was rhetorically useful for Jude's purpose in talking about the final judgment). Interestingly enough, the next day at breakfast I pressed Grudem on this and he gave a good example of how the ESV has been influenced by further findings in extra-biblical sources. Grudem said that Bruce Winter's work on women in Corinth convinced the ESV committee that gyne in 1 Cor. 11.2-16 should be translated as "wives" rather than "women" since evidence (literary and archaeological) shows that only wives had to wear head coverings. I pointed out to him that many churches in Scotland practice mandatory head coverings for all women in worship. Have we discovered, then, new evidence to show that they have been wrong all along? If you say, "yes", I think you've conceded the argument about the value of extra-biblical sources, viz., that they can correct our understanding of the Bible.


gullchasedship said...

Do you mean "only wives had to wear head coverings" rather than "only woman"?

Denny Burk said...

Dear Mike,

Thanks for the review of the conference. I wish I could have been there!


antony said...

Mike – thanks a lot for these excellent summaries. Very helpful for those of us unable to make it to Cambridge. All the best – Antony