Thursday, April 3, 2014

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 1

An early twentieth century Danish author, Sigrid Undset, wrote three books about the life of a medieval woman, Kristin Lavransdatter. The stories cover her often unhappy marriage and her later life as a nun; they end as the Black Death invades Denmark. The author, a winner of the Nobel Peace prize for literature and a Catholic convert, intertwined her story around the old pagan forces of Denmark and the new religion, Christianity, which came late to that country. In one crucial moment in the second book The Wreath, Kristin’s priest tells her:
"But I hold on to the cross with all my strength--one must cling to it like a kitten hanging on to a plank when it falls into the sea."

Now paganism, sometimes noble sometimes not, has reentered the contemporary western world while forces aligned with radical pagan narcissism and egotism, not at all noble, are invading the church.  One is encouraged to look to one’s own experience and post-modern culture to find any meaning in the word of God.  And rather than clinging to the cross with complete submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ one hears the echo of individual and community desires portrayed as God’s word to the Church.

Such is the new, 2014-2015, Horizons Bible study, Reconciling Paul, written by Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, with suggestions for leaders by Irene Pak. The reader will find, not the words of Paul or the words of Jesus, to place light into their lives, but the themes that so often resonate with such Presbyterian groups as the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns.  The lessons in this study use extra-biblical material, begin with women’s experience, use radical feminists perspectives and even deny that salvation comes by Jesus alone. To choose to use this study is to wade into some very dark and murky water.
I will look at each lesson separately over the coming weeks. The first lesson is, “The promise and the problem of Paul.”

Paul, according to Hinson-Hasty, has two views of inclusiveness, which includes women, slavery and sexuality, all coming from his time and cultural ethics and his own sense of being a Jewish minority in a Hellenistic culture. Supposedly Paul lives in tension between his need for exclusiveness and his desire to be inclusive.
The author, in the first lesson, offers four possible perspectives one might use to study Paul and 2 Corinthians. The first two are, as she puts it, polar extremes.

The first, “Applying moral advice and teachings found in Paul’s letters directly to the circumstance to our contemporary lives.” Hinson-Hasty description is a caricature and portrays a certain amount of arrogance.  She writes:

“The Bible says it. I believe it.  That settles it!” Some Christians will appeal to their belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible to avoid critical engagement with the biblical passages.  These readers believe that faithful people do not need to know much, if anything, about the historical context or original languages in which the Bible was written. Biblical passages can be applied directly to the circumstances of our contemporary daily life and, therefore, Paul’s letters offer relevant moral advice regardless of the differences in historical settings.

Hinson-Hasty elaborates on this using 2 Corinthians 11:3 as her proof text that this methodology will always mean the subordination of women to men. Her second methodology is “Dismissing the moral authority of Pauline letters because they were written for a world so vastly different from our own.” Hinson-Hasty rejects this also as too extreme. But, before I go on to the next two, the last one being the author’s methodology, I want to examine the first.
As I stated Hinson-Hasty has set up a caricature and really it is a double edged one.  There are, of course, very conservative scholars who do not believe that women can be ordained and believe that men in Christian households are to be the heads of their families. And yet they know and care deeply about the ancient languages and they certainly study and understand the historical context of the text.

On the other hand, there are those who are also conservative and believe women should be in ministry and they also hold to the inspiration of Scripture. The truth is, they, unlike Hinson-Hasty, properly use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Their views are different than those whose understanding involve the submission of women, but their faithfulness to the inspiration of Scripture is intact.
Where there is a seeming contradiction the biblical scholar studies Scripture in its historical context and in its ancient languages to find the solution. But contemporary culture and experience are not the arbitrator of the problem, only the word can speak to the issue. Hinson-Hasty belittles those who view Scripture as the word of God.

The third methodology can be conservative although Hinson-Hasty does not say so. It is, “Examining the historical context in which Paul wrote his letters will reveal the meaning and message of even troublesome texts.”
Those conservative scholars who believe that women may be ordained and lead, fall into this category. The difference between the conservative and the liberal in this group is that the conservative notes if there is a seeming contradiction within the text itself, while the liberal will too often use the contradictions between culture and Scripture as the starting point.

The fourth methodology, which is the one Hinson-Hasty uses in this study is, “Reading Paul’s letters afresh.” The author explains:

Our interest in Paul’s writing cannot be only historical. The past has a vote in our overall understanding of Christian faith and practice, but the past should not have the full authority or veto. Our study of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians must attend to our own lived experience because we read and hear his writing in the midst of our contemporary struggle to remain faithful. We are then pressed to live a dynamic relationship with the God who is witnessed to in the biblical text and a God who is still creating and imagining new realities within and for our world.

Hinson-Hasty goes on to list five aspects of her study. But we should look carefully at her methodology; within it one can see her view of God and Scripture. And undoubtedly her view of morality as well as redemptive theology will follow although that will be included in other lessons.
When speaking of the Scriptures and their historical context, to say that the two together do not have full authority or veto in our Christian faith and practice is to deny the authority of Scripture, it is to deny their inspiration. To believe instead that we are forced to live in a dynamic relationship with a god who is still creating and imagining new realities within and for our world is to believe in a process god. A god who is as influenced by humanity as humanity is influenced by god.

And this goes further, Hinson-Hasty, because she is speaking of God’s word to the Church, is denying the final revelation of God, who is Jesus Christ the Lord of the Church. Surely God continues to uphold his creation and though the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, moves in the life of the Church, guiding her to do God’s will. But there are not new realities, nor new truths beyond that one who is Truth. As John in his third letter states, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” (3 John 9)
“He is the image of the invisible God the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created both in heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the church; and he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to the himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; though him I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:15-20 NASB)

Picture- Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, from Wikipedia


Anonymous said...

When it's all said and done Viola, what you are saying is;
"the conservative understanding that allows ME, as a woman, to be an ordained elder is correct. Using the same approach to correctly come to the conclusion that GLBT people may be ordained is wrong" (cause deep down, I dont like it, think its icky, will find what I want in scripture to justify my prejudices, and whats good for me, is not good for thee).

One can at least respect men like Al Mohler who see the truth of this, and who concur with the assesment I just made above.

For an ordained woman to argue against GLBT inslusion, or womens ordination, is ironic, at best.

It't worth noting that Dr. Mohler and many other leading conservatives openly state that the approach to scripture that lead to womens ordination is directly responsible, followed to its logical end, for GLBT ordinaiton. to deny that, well...That, compared to the assumptions of the author, truly IS arrogance.


Anonymous said...


Goodness, Hinson-Hasty really is trying to pull the wool over people's eyes in the way she describes conservative interpretation of the Scriptures. I think of the many solid conservative/evangelical scholars of Paul, both egalitarian and complementarian:

Paul Barnett;
FF Bruce;
Douglas Moo;
Ben Witherington III;
Gordon Fee;
Timothy George;
Linda Belleville;
Peter T. O'Brien

And that is not an exhaustive list. One has to be either inexecusably ignorant or quite deliberately misleading to make the statement Hinson-Hasty has made about conservative interpretations of Paul.

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

John, Yes, I used Ben Witherington III when I wrote my MA thesis- he is very good on women's issues and has written two books on women in the New Testament. I hope Hinson-Hasty is just ignorant of the reality of conservative scholarship.

Anonymous said...

Dividing the world into black and white, liberal and conservative, and using what amounts to neo-classical Hellenistic dualism to interpret Scripture is itself a form of extra scriptural means of interpreting Scripture.

I think using Scripture to interpret Scripture is vastly under utilized, but treating it as if it were the literal word of God only creates confusion. At the end of the day, one can only conclude that God is a pretty muddled author.

What is really most damaging about the so called "liberal" interpretation methods is when authors and preachers try not to explain the Scripture but to explain it away. Its seems counterproductive to me. As if the purpose of the sermon is to empty the church, like the purpose of a hospital is to empty its beds and send its patients on home.

There is no question that through the Scriptures we can come to know the living God in the eternal present. But explaining them away, or forcing them to fit some kind of doctrinal mold, have the same effect of stifling the process. Both should be avoided.

Jodie Gallo,
Los Angeles, CA

Eleanor Duffield said...

What I know for sure from the Bible about ordination, marriage and slavery is that I cannot find any place where God proclaims that being female or a slave is sinful. Viola could you post your fine analysis on Facebook for broader sharing? Emmanuel, Eleanor Duffield

Viola Larson said...

Eleanor, the posting is linked to on Facebook. If you look for my name on Facebook you will see I have posted it. Unless you mean for me to paste the whole thing there which would be rather hard to do.

Eleanor Duffield said...

I've seen your postings on Happy to Be a Presbyterian group. Thought it might show up there. Are you suggesting I friend you? I can't see how you've posted on FB from here. I'd rather share on FB than type a bunch of email addresses. :-) Thanks, Eleanor

PS I've never been a grabber of Horizons Bible studies but church circles like them for their ease of use, never mind the off the mark teaching.

Viola Larson said...

They do have beautiful art work.

To tell you the truth I'm too chicken to put it on Happy Presbyterian's Facebook.

will spotts said...

The question is: when scripture and personal / cultural experience are in conflict, which wins? Do you reinterpret scripture - literally twist it to make it say what is culturally approved or personally appealling? That would be a gross error - mostly because it is inherently dishonest.
Do you reject the assertions of scripture in favor of your own experience? While sometimes tempting, this is clearly an error. People tend to do this across the spectrum of opinion - if not outright, we engage in this practice by emphasis, deemphasis, and selective ommission.
Do you deny your experience? Do you pretend that it is other than it is? This too would be an error for much the same reason as the first: dishonesty is, by defintion, at odds with Chrsitianity.
Or does scripture have authority regardless of what culture, experience, and personal preference say? I naturally favor this view, but it is less of a neat and easy package than it appears. I would like to imagine (and, in fact believe) that most of my fellow conservative Christians also struggle with this. Wrestle with the difficulties in the text; acknowledge the personal experiences of themselves and others - even when they don't fit; take great care in the consequences of our beliefs; and still be willing to reject all personal preference, cultural comfort, or human engineered doctrinal systems (even those acquired in good faith) in favor of the clear testimony of scripture.

Viola Larson said...

Will I am sorry your comments went to spam, I just saw them. Yes I do agree, we have to wrestle with the issues of our own experience when they don't fit Scripture, and then submit. That isn't easy but it is our calling. It may not be easy throughout our whole life or there may be a time when we see God's wisdom. But we are called to obedience.