Has World Vision Abandoned the Gospel?

World Vision recently announced its decision to begin hiring Christians who are in monogamous same-sex marriages.

Does this mean they have abandoned the Gospel?

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, seems to think so. He says that this is another example of “parachurch evangelical ministries… running headlong… toward the very mainline liberalism to which they were founded as alternative” and that “at stake (in this decision) is the Gospel.

I’m uneasy with Moore’s moral grandstanding for three reasons:

1) The “Divorce” ProblemScreen shot 2013-09-11 at 12.17.40 PM

If evangelical Christians were really concerned with protecting a biblical definition of marriage, then we should have shut the doors on divorce a long time ago. After seeing evangelicals swallow their tongues on this issue (and continue to do so), it’s hard for many (especially us “younger” ones) to hear cries against same-sex marriage, in defense of biblical values, as genuine. Divorce is much more strongly condemned in the Scriptures than gay relationships are. It is also much more prevalent in the church. If Moore believes that marital-purity is essential to Gospel-faithfulness, does he avoid all organizations that hire divorced Christians?

2) The “Endorsement” Problem 

If we grant the traditional view that gay relationships are a sin, we are still left with the nuanced problem of the proper relationship between Christian communities and LGBT people. What part of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels teaches us that standing up for the gospel = strict moral hiring policies? Couldn’t an argument be made that Christians should hire those in same-sex marriages for precisely that reason – so those who are holy can act as contagions around those who are not (look at Jesus’ “contagious holiness” in the Gospels). Since when does “hiring” = “endorsing a moral position” (anymore than hiring someone who is divorced = supporting divorce)? Is this too different from the accusation that Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners made him complicit in their gluttony and drunkenness?

3) The Justice Problem

What is more important: global acts of justice or making sure “the homosexuals” can’t have certain jobs? Christian unity or fights over purity? I’m saddened over what appears to be a largely negative reaction to World Vision over this issue. I can only hope the Christian care of the poor is not hindered because of an in-house fight about which sins are worth banning employment for. Surely Matthew 25:31-46 is an important text for today. In Matthew 25, faithfulness to the Gospel is not seen as commitment to specific and nuanced religious stances on sin, but in ministry to the poor, hungry, and destitute.

I sponsor multiple children through World Vision and will continue to do so. I see no reason not to accept World Vision’s claims at face value – they are punting the theological issue to the church (and you can try to pretend it’s not an issue…. but if you open up your eyes you will see that in reality it is a big issue) and opting for unity at the present time. They have not come out in support of same-sex marriage, much less given up a commitment to the Gospel.

What do you think?
Has World Vision abandoned the Gospel?

What should the proper Christian reaction be to this policy announcement?

A “Motion” for Southern Baptists on the Interpretation of Scripture

With the Southern Baptist Convention happening in my hometown and as a first-time attender, I decided to post a paper I wrote a few years ago on Southern Baptists and biblical interpretation. In the paper, I argue that Southern Baptists and pre-critical exegetes, such as Origen, Augustine, and Aquinas, have much in common. And thus, believing in the truthfulness and authority of the Bible can exist alongside thinking critically about the Bible.

The introduction is copied below and the whole paper is available for those interested (Southern Baptists – A People of the Book)

Southern Baptists and Pre-Critical Exegesis

Introduction

            As the first decade of the twenty-first century draws to a close, the discipline of biblical interpretation finds itself in a state of flux as postmodernism[1] continues to challenge the modern worldview.  Perhaps, most significant for biblical studies has been postmodernism’s frontal assault on the modern vision of objective or universal truth.  On this front, numerous ‘new’ theories of interpretation have opposed the historical-critical method of interpretation, the prevailing method of modern biblical scholarship, and its search for a biblical text’s one true meaning.  Theologians and exegetes, such as Karl Barth, Hans Frei, Brevard Childs, Stephen Fowl, Gustavo Gonzalez, and Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza have each, in their own way, offered alternative ways of interpreting Scripture. 

            Regularly, an antagonist of these ‘new’ theories of interpretation is the so-called conservative fundamentalist.[2]  While conservative fundamentalists usually are not defined in any specific terms, the label is designed to distinguish them as the prototypical modern interpreter who relies precisely on the mindsets and methods in question.  In this paper, I am going to assume to speak for my particular Christian denomination, which is frequently if not always, placed within this faction, namely Southern Baptists.  My primary purpose is to establish that when one considers the Southern Baptist doctrine of Scripture, as defined in our own official statements this is, in many respects, a case of mistaken identity.  I also have a secondary purpose for this paper and that is to call Southern Baptists to reexamine our habit of biblical interpretation in light of our own understanding of Scripture.  All too often, what has passed as Southern Baptist interpretation defies what we claim about Scripture, or in more colloquial terms, we do not practice what we preach.  I contend that if Southern Baptists practice exegesis according to our own doctrine, our interpretation should correspond most intimately not with modern or post-modern exegesis, but with the works of Origen, Augustine, and Aquinas.

            To accomplish these tasks necessitates beginning with the works of Origen, Augustine, and Aquinas.  By examining what David C. Steinmetz describes as the pre-critical exegetical tradition,[3] I identify a simple but fundamental doctrine of Scripture and from this I construct a two-fold exegetical theory.  With this historical perspective, I examine the Southern Baptist doctrine of Scripture, illustrating the similarities between our understanding of Scripture and that of the pre-critical tradition.  As would be expected, there will be instances of divergence, but in studying their works, Southern Baptists may surprisingly find comfort and reassurance.[4]  In conclusion, I briefly outline a way forward for Southern Baptists that embraces the doctrinal similarities and adopts a pre-critical exegetical theory as the foundation for our interpretation of Scripture. 


[1] I am using postmodernism in the most general sense in that it comes after modernism.  Of course, even in this general sense it still conveys distrust in the ideas of modernism.

[2] For example, Stephen E. Fowl and L. Gregory Jones, Reading in Communion (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998), 1.

[3] David C. Steinmetz, “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis,” Theology Today, 37 (1980): 27-38.

[4] As a supplement to this engagement with the pre-critical understanding of Scripture, I have included an appendix, which examines the exegetical methods of Augustine and Aquinas.  With Southern Baptist congregations specifically in mind, my desire is to reveal that engaging their writings can enrich both our understanding of the nature of Scripture and our interpretation of Scripture.

 

It is ok to be smart!

As a Southern Baptist, I deal with generalizations and mischaracterizations from many of my ‘academic’ friends. But one thing that too often is truer than not is that we are anti-intellectual. We have a distrust of scholars, no matter the field, and it leads us to shun learning. And this is wrong…

I firmly believe that one of the most common and most accommodated sins in Southern Baptist churches is anti-intellectualism.

Two mindsets I have encountered contribute to this depressing situation:

1. “I don’t need to study. All I need is a personal relationship with Jesus.” I have heard this said many different ways, and this is only thing I can hear, “It is ok to be stupid as long as I feel good.” To repeat, this is wrong…

As a matter of fact, Jesus confronted this mindset during his ministry among the pharisees. At least seven times, by my count*, Jesus confronts them with this question, “Have you not read?” And it is a question that comes to my mind when I think about my own teenage years. My dad loves to share the story of my first college visit. After meeting with the coaches and touring the campus, I was escorted to the Dean of Science’s office to discuss academics. His opening question, “What do you like to read?” And I proudly answered, “Sports Illustrated.” I thought I nailed the question. Now that I have sat on the other side of the desk I can only imagine how badly he wanted to laugh out loud.

But do not kid yourself, it is not just the problem of a naive teenage boy, listen to this quote from Dennis Prager:**

One thing I noticed about evangelicals is that they do not read. They do not read the Bible, they do not read the great Christian thinkers, they have never heard of Aquinas. If they are Presbyterian, they have never read the founders of Presbyterianism. I do not understand that. As a Jew, that’s confusing to me…When I walk into an Evangelical Christian’s home and see a total of 30 books, most of them best sellers, I do not understand. I have bookcases of Christian books, and I am Jew. Why do I have more Christian books than 98 percent of the Christians in America. That is so bizarre to me.

2. “I wouldn’t do it if I was you, but if you must don’t let them take your faith.” I heard this phrase from several people in several different churches after I decided to attend Duke Divinity School. There was a real fear that by choosing to study God rigorously, I would somehow lose my faith (the theological issue of ‘once-saved-always-saved’ is not for today!). Again, what they meant and what I heard may or may not be the same thing. Yet, this is what I heard, “God can’t handle being rigorously studied because if you look hard enough will realize it is all false.”

Are there dangers to studying and academics? Of course, read Colossians 2:6-8 or 1 Timothy 1:4-6. But losing your faith is not one of them. Proverbs 2 explains that God not only gives wisdom but he also guards those who seek wisdom. We cannot recklessly absorb all that is out there nor should we believe all that we think, but we can and should ask God to give us wisdom. And wonderful news is, he promises to say yes.

*My count of course means I searched the phrase in Accordance.

**Quoted in Thinking. Loving. Doing.