I’d like to ask the readers to harken back to the beginning of this series several weeks ago. I began with a discussion of hermeneutics, because it’s in hermeneutics where our real disagreements are often found. Let me remind the readers of a few principles and perhaps add a few more.
1. Biases are invisible to the self. Everyone is biased, but no one is aware of his own biases. After all, when we become aware of a bias, we are no longer until its control.
It does no good to tell your opponent that he’s biased. He can’t see it. But he can see yours! It’s a pointless discussion — unless you can put your finger on exactly the bias and show how it’s a mistake. Even then, we often fail.
Of course, part of the problem is that we rarely know someone well enough to psychoanalyze his biases correctly and so challenge them. In fact, in most religious debate, the accusations of bias I read are wrong. The only time we are apt to be right is when we are challenging the bias of someone who is where we once were. Then we can empathize. But even then, we are very unlikely to persuade someone of his bias.
Therefore, I try to avoid making such accusations, even when someone’s biases are very evident. There’s just nothing to be gained.
But this should be a warning to us all. We all have biases, and it’s dang hard to get rid of them, even when we want to. Therefore, it’s extraordinarily important that we start with a rock-solid hermeneutic. It won’t solve all our disagreements — we’ll argue over how to apply it — but it will help a lot.
2. God is not arbitrary. There are two views of God in Christianity — among theological conservatives. My view is that God makes sense. God does not arbitrarily command things just because. There’s good reason for whatever he does. And it’s ultimately going to be simple. (Disproving a contrary teaching may be extremely complex because there’s such a gap between the parties, however.)
The alternative view is that God sometimes issues commands that we simply don’t and perhaps can’t understand. We need to accept these in faith and obey them. Indeed, these commands may well be tests of our faith.
No one is 100% on one side or the other, but I think we are on far safer ground the closer we can get to the first position.
Here’s the brief for my position —
(Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Paul says that for those with transformed minds, God’s will make sense. We can test it! And if we do, we’ll approve it! It’s a profound thought.
At the end of Do We Teach Another Gospel?, I offer some tests for truth. One is Ockham’s Razor, which is not so much a proof as a reflection of the divine mind. God likes things simple. Hence, I take very, very seriously such verses as —
(1 John 3:21-23) Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
(Gal 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
(Gal 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Rom 13:8-10) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Faith and love. Those are the commands that there are. I think it’s true.
And if that’s true, what is the rule for women speaking in church?
4. Eden tells us how husbands and wives relate in a perfect world.
Genesis 1 and 2 tells us a lot about marriage. Jesus and Paul refer back to Eden to describe how things are supposed to be.
Hence, the fact that wives are to be suitable complements for their husbands is part of the natural order of things. It’s how we were always meant to be.
Now, it’s not so much a command as a return to our original purpose — and what makes us happiest and what’s best for us. Just so, homosexuality is not arbitrarily made a sin; rather, homosexuality is contrary to what’s best for us — as individuals and as a society. It’s not Edenic. The same is true of premarital sex and adultery. It’s not God being a prude. It’s God knowing how we’re designed, as individuals, as couples, and as a community. Get away from Eden, and things start to fall apart. Read the papers. God’s right.
Thus, as we get to such passages as 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2, we have to read them with the bigger picture in mind. Whatever the interpretation is, it’s not just so. It comes from faith, love, and Eden.
5. The gospel tells us how to live as Christians.
“Gospel” means what we had to know to be saved. It’s our acceptance — acquiescence, really — that Jesus is Lord, the Messiah, and our Savior. It’s not intellectual. It’s a change of will and of worldview. It changes everything for those whom God regenerates.
But here’s the tricky and very important part. Over and over again, when Paul is confronted with a problem, he reminds his readers of the gospel. The gospel — in all its simplicity — gives the answer. (Not always, but surprisingly often.)
Paul, should Jews and Greek eat separately?
No, they were saved by one gospel into one community by one Savior of us all.
Paul, may I have sex with a temple prostitute?
No, Jesus gave his life for you and his Spirit lives in you. How could you join something holy to something unholy?
Paul, may I eat meat sacrificed to idols?
Yes, because idols aren’t real. Only God is real. But when you put your faith in Jesus, you committed to love your brothers. If your eating hurts them, don’t do it. Don’t let your freedom overcome your love.
Paul, may women take off their veils in church?
No, because they’d shame their husbands. They were made as complements for their husbands. They can’t do anything to disgrace their husbands!
Obviously, this is the short course. The longer version of this discussion may be found here and here and here and here. And we’ll discuss these considerations further as we go. I just thought this was a good time to step back and think big picture.
Now, if you see things this way, you know before you do the hard, exegetical work that God does not intend that women wear veils until the end of time. It’s neither faith nor love nor Eden. And you know that men don’t have to wear short hair and women don’t have to let their hair hang loosely down in every culture and every time.
But in a culture where the lack of a veil shames husbands or jeopardizes the spread of the gospel, veils must be worn.
Now, I hasten to add that we can’t just dismiss the verses that seem inconsistent with this theory. Rather, we do the hard work of getting into the Greek and history and theology of the hard verses to see if maybe we’ve misunderstood them. We can’t just pick the verses we like.