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Itchy Ears and Tongues of Fire

Gay-rights group employs Scripture. Also: Pentecostal success invites new challenges.

Reading the weekly e-zine from Sojourners/Call to Renewal, I was surprised to see an advertisement for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Readers may recognize HRC as the leading gay-rights organization, so I wondered what this group would have to say to Christians. I dutifully clicked on the ad and landed on the home for Out In Scripture, a resource website promoting a pro-gay hermeneutic.

Most interesting was HRC's explanation of the project. "You don't have to leave your mind, heart, and body behind when you encounter the Bible," HRC explains. "This Human Rights Campaign resource places comments about the Bible alongside the real life experiences and concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people of faith and our allies."

Without reading too closely between the lines, HRC seems to imply that the Bible offers something less than a relevant historical account of real life. The website goes on to say, "Out In Scripture is a resource for you—anyone open to God's voice for today. … The Bible's not about beating you up, but lifting us all up."

By appealing to "anyone open to God's voice for today," HRC recalls the United Church of Christ's "God Is Still Speaking" ad campaign. Don't like what the Bible says? Lucky for you, God changed his mind, the UCC insinuates. HRC, on the other hand, purports to take Scripture seriously, if checked by an individual's experience. In one study, Out In Scripture tackles the lectionary reading from 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. The HRC contributors explain the passage this way:

[I]n the course of our conversation together we realized that, in fact, Scripture is our Scripture. LGBT people are not excluded from affirming this Scripture's teaching that "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness" (verse 16). We are not excluded because this affirmation does not mean that we believe we should robotically "do" everything we might read about in Scripture.

The study's authors suppose that Christians who disapprove of homosexuality could be akin to the mythmakers Paul warns Timothy to "correct, rebuke, and encourage." HRC turns the tables on Christians who have used this same passage to defend orthodox teaching. The tactic may not be compelling to Christians familiar with the Bible's many plain teachings against homosexual behavior. But the approach has a certain appeal to those who respect Scripture but don't understand it. These people would not be so persuaded if HRC simply denounced Scripture as a relic of ancient culture. Misguided theologians of earlier eras sank venerable denominations with that strategy.

Still, the campaign looks like another example of Paul's prophetic warning: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Surely Christians can agree with the HRC on at least one point: "The Bible's not about beating you up, but lifting us all up." But before they can be lifted up, Christians must recognize themselves in the crowd that cheered Jesus' beating, and repent of their sins.

Pentecostals: Past, Present, Future

Amos Yong recently assessed the contributions and future of Pentecostal scholarship in Theology Today, published quarterly by Princeton Theological Seminary. Yong, associate research professor of theology at the Regent University School of Divinity, first offers a brief account of Pentecostalism's ecumenical achievements. Namely, Pentecostals during the 20th century navigated a middle course between evangelicals who doubted the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit and liberal Protestants who doubted the miraculous altogether.

Yong then identifies three waves in the development of Pentecostal scholarship. First came the historians who documented testimonies to God's work. Then biblical scholars in the 1970s challenged theological assumptions about Scripture. According to Yong, they "raised questions about the 'objective' study of the Bible given their conviction that they themselves were participants in the biblical story, caught up, as it were, by the Holy Spirit into the narrative of the twenty-ninth chapter of the book of Acts." Finally, in the last 10 to 15 years, new Pentecostal theologians have seen "tongues as a sign of the multilinguistic and multicultural kingdom of God."

All in all, Yong captures in a few short pages what many may have missed in recent decades. Now up to speed, non-Pentecostals can watch for what Yong believes to be a great challenge looming: "[W]ith power come both authority and respectability, and it remains unclear whether the previously powerless who are now powerful—economically, politically, and socially—can resist being co-opted by other theological paradigms, by other ecclesial traditions, and most importantly, by the systems of this world."

Quick Takes
  • Ben Witherington talks to his son about the ultra-popular video game Halo 3. There must be theological implications to a phenomenon that consumes so much time and money.

  • Desiring God has posted video, transcripts, and audio from its 2007 national conference, themed "Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints." Speakers include John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges, Randy Alcorn, Helen Roseveare, and of course John Piper.

  • David Neff nobly accepts the task of explaining recapitulation, a theological concept largely lost to the ages.

Verse for the Fortnight

"They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen."
Romans 1:25

Collin Hansen is a CT editor-at-large.

Related Elsewhere:

Previous Theology in the News columns include:

Immersed in a Baptism Brouhaha | Changes of heart renew centuries-old divisions. (September 28, 2007)
What's Not Coming to a Bookstore Near You | How competition to publish celebrity Christians crowds out theology. (September 14, 2007)
From the Seminaries to the Pews | The 'new perspective on Paul' gets the popular treatment. (August 31, 2007)

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