Given that hermeneuticists are likely to pay more attention to a matter on which there is a perception of lack of clarity, rather than on matters that are perceived to be clear, it is easy to wonder whether hermeneuticists ever deal in clarity!
Briefly, I want to suggest that there are many matters hermeneuticists are clear about. Rather than speak for all of them, let me speak for myself.
I am very clear that God through his written Word has revealed that his intention in creating humanity as male and female was that men and women would marry in an exclusive lifelong and fruitful relationship. I am also very clear that the theology of marriage revealed in Scripture means that a married couple should do all in their power to remain married. But. Yes, there is a 'but'! I am less clear about what people should do when a marriage has not been successful and divorce takes place, when a couple discover that they are infertile but may be fertile with the assistance of various 'in vitro' or surrogate or whatever possibilities for fertility, or when adultery takes place whether the onus falls on the hurt partner to the marriage to not only forgive but to take their sinning partner back into the full intimacy of marriage. Matters such as these are the 'stuff' of hermeneutics; and often they represent the real and present questions of Christians, both those new to the faith and those mature in the faith. It is pastorally necessary in many instances for the church to encourage good hermeneutical work in relation to such matters rather than to discourage it.
Another example: I am very clear that the Bible encourages good, wise, faithful, and bold leadership in the ministry and mission of Christ. Equally clearly, this leadership should be taken up by gifted, called, empowered and enthusiastic men and women. As far as I can tell 99% Christians are agreed with me on this; so my clarity is our clarity. But there is a specific issue within this understanding of Christian leadership on which Christians disagree about: that is, whether women may lead and teach mixed gender congregations; and this disagreement for some stems from a more 'traditional' reason (presbyters and bishops, like the Twelve, have always been male) and for others from a more 'Scriptural' reason (either women are specifically prohibited from doing so or men and women are ordered in such a manner that it is not a woman's role to do so or both). Some Christians are very clear that this is so. Some Christians are not clear that this is so. How might agreement be reached between us? One way, of course, is to keep examining Scripture, working through all relevant issues and questions, seeking a joint clarity. Again, this is the 'stuff' of hermeneutics.
A third example: I am very clear, as stated above, that "God through his written Word has revealed that his intention in creating humanity as male and female was that men and women would marry in an exclusive lifelong and fruitful relationship". But I am also clear that some men and some women are not made up - genetically, psychologically, etc - in such a manner as to have the requisite attraction for the opposite sex in order to be fruitfully bound together as 'one flesh' - body, heart, soul, and mind intwined as intended in marriage. Perhaps some may be transformed from this shortfall; but it is increasingly clear, as more and more testimonies of people are being revealed in a day when greater honesty seems possible, that some people are resolutely and unchangeably attracted to the same sex and not to the opposite sex.
What advice is the church to give to those among our brothers and sisters who are made this way? What response are we to make as God-appointed governments around the world move to legitimize formal commitments of couples of the same gender? I am less clear on these matters - the more so as increasingly I recognise that the way the church responds and has responded may be a significant cause of teenage suicide, of people leaving the church, and of depression and despair among homosexual Christians who long to be able to freely love and enjoy being loved by another person. It may be confusing to a new Christian to find their way to a website such as this and be drawn into reading material which does not immediately give a black/white answer or set of answers. I suggest we need to sit with that possibility and recognise another: that to give a black/white answer or set of answers may be devastating to a Christian who is beginning to wrestle with the reality, and the implications of their sexuality.
Must stop. More soon on whether God is somehow deficient if we argue that Scripture is not clear on this and on that.
Markus Barth Conference at Princeton
1 day ago