This was the subtitle of a study conference our denomination had 3.5 years ago, hosted at our church: “The Bible and Same-Sex Relationships.” I was one of the plenary speakers at the conference. Although I would word a few things differently now—I’ve learned much since then, and my own perspective has settled—I feel two of my presentations have some enduring value and so I thought I’d share the videos here.
The first is about how we approach the Bible generally: how we read it as Christians, as Anabaptist Christians in particular, and especially when talking about complicated and controversial topics. While there’s much more that could be said about biblical interpretation than I say here, it’s still a good summary of my thinking on this.
The second is a set of concluding reflections on points of agreement between what we called the “traditional” and the “affirming” views. If there is a practically workable “middle way” or even “third way” for churches on this—even simply a basis for fellowship among individuals or churches who disagree—it will be built around the kinds of things I highlight here. (Note: I’m well aware of the delicious irony of me speaking about Jesus being “clear” on the call to love, in light of my reflections on “the Bible is clear on X” in the previous video!)
What part do you see the Holy Spirit playing in the reading of Scripture?
Carol, thanks for the question. It’s a good one.
I see the Spirit at work through all of this. And the reason I think this is because of how I understand the Spirit’s work generally. While I am open to the Spirit working in surprising, extraordinary ways (how can I not be, given the way Jesus talks of the Spirit in John 3:8?), I think the Spirit normally works through very ordinary, mundane sorts of ways, very natural, human, historical ways.
Regardless of whether the Spirit works through the mundane or the spectacular, we only know the Spirit is or has been at work by the fruit that results: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23), or more broadly, “justice and peace and joy” (Rom 14:17). Increasing Christ-likeness, in other words, or God’s kingdom increasingly coming about, God’s will increasingly being done, on earth as it is in heaven. Where the Spirit is, or where the Spirit has been, there is life, and there is freedom.
So, I don’t think that there is some additional “Holy Spirit piece” or extra “Holy Spirit step” in the process of hearing God’s voice in Scripture. Rather, God’s Spirit works through the very ordinary process of simply reading well: reading carefully, contextually, across the Testaments, and centred on Jesus, bringing about Christ- and kingdom-change in our lives, in our churches, and in our world.
Carol, I should add, though, that the Spirit does not only work through the Bible. We can hear God’s voice through creation, through human experience, and especially through those among us who are “in Christ” and “have the Spirit,” to use Paul’s language. Hearing God’s voice in these ways can prompt us to then read Scripture differently: to notice things we’d not noticed before, to emphasize other things we had previously minimized, etc. That’s effectively what happened with the inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts 10-15 and elsewhere in the NT: the experience of Gentile believers, their genuine experience of the Spirit and the experience of Jewish Christians witnessing this, prompted the full inclusion of the Gentiles as Gentiles (without conversion to Judaism), and this in turn prompted a fresh way of reading the Jewish Scriptures. Paul called this a “mystery” that was previously unrevealed but had now been revealed, something which has always been true but is only now known to be true (Rom 16; Eph 3).
Your reply left me wondering what you were saying about inclusion. I have been teaching my adult students about inclusive language and we have had some debate about several terms. When talking about an actress the student wanted it known she was talking about the he frmale actress. I personally do not like the term Ms. Because I feel it does not let me express that I am married. I want it known I am married. I want to be respected as a female being a female. So when we start talking about inclusion it can begin to be a problem as well.
Inclusion is often difficult, and creates challenges that we can’t always foresee. The New Testament – both for Jesus himself in the Gospels and in the rest of the NT – shows how difficult full inclusion was and the challenges it created (welcoming and fully including the “unclean,” the poor, women, slaves, Gentiles, etc.). Yet we persist in the way of Jesus.