Romans 1 isn't "about" homosexuality

Christian brothers and sisters often read Scripture in very different ways. I suspect it goes back to two things; (1) what theologians call “prolegomena”—how we “do” theology, and (2) what Scripture is—its nature. The latter will often inform the former.

Is Scripture a yet-to-be systematized “code book of theological ordinances?”1 A “store-house of facts”2 or a “transcript from God”3 waiting to be classified by inductive reasoning?  Christian Smith calls this the “handbook model” of interpretation,4 where the Scriptures are a compendium of teachings on an endless array of subjects—romance, politics, the 2nd Amendment, economics, and even dieting.

Did God give us the Bible so we could distill from it advice for dieting? Alternative medicine? Cooking? Gardening with biblical plants? Politics? I hope we can agree not. Still, some interpreters insist we can cull disparate facts from our store-house of Scripture and discern God’s thoughts on various topics.

This is an unwise approach. At best, it makes God “say” things out of context. At worst, it makes God “say” things He actually never said—like tips on “biblical strategies” for financial freedom.

This article will provide one example—is Romans 1 “about” homosexuality? To be sure, it discusses and condemns sexual deviancy, but is that what it’s “about”? Surely not. Yet, many Christians disagree because they have an implicit “handbook” or “store-house” view of Scripture. So, Romans 1 is “about” homosexuality, and 1 John 2:2 is “about” the atonement! 

What Romans 1 is really about

Take a stroll through Romans 1-3 with me, and I’ll show you what I mean. I’ll begin at Romans 1:18 …

God is upset at everyone who rejects Him, no matter who they are—we all “silence the truth with injustice” (Rom 1:18). Why the anger? Because we ought to know God is there, that He exists, and that must mean He holds us responsible for ignoring the markers in nature that point us to Him. Who made this? Who sustains it? How did this all get here? God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and Godhead—“have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made,” (Rom 1:20). We can catch glimmers of God from creation. So, we’re all without excuse.

The problem is that we don’t care, and so our “foolish hearts were darkened,” (Rom 1:21). Just like Fleetwood Mac, we go our own way. A spiritual incompetence and degeneracy sets in, growing ever worse with the passage of time. We worship other things—absurd things (Rom 1:23). “So, God abandoned them to their heart’s desires,” which results in a further spiral down the moral abyss (Rom 1:24).

God made us to be a certain way—to find purpose and solace in (1) our vertical relationship with Him and then, as the fruit of this communion, (2) in proper relationship with one another. The problem is that, when our vertical relationship with God is twisted (the most basic foundation for reality), then our most precious horizontal relationships with one another will be twisted, too (Rom 1:24).  

This is why God abandons us to our “degrading lust” (Rom 1:26, restating v. 24)—because we chose to worship things of this world rather than God (Rom 1:25). What happens is that we twist even our closest, most precious relationships—love and sexual union—out of all bounds (Rom 1:26b-27). Just as we didn’t acknowledge God, so God chooses in some circumstances to not acknowledge us (Rom 1:28)—to stop restraining our evil impulses, to walk away and leave us to destroy ourselves, as it were.

What results is akin to abandoning a garden for two seasons—a real mess (Rom 1:29-31). In all this, Paul has been describing the same consequence (not a compounding one)—we ignore God, so He lets us go our own way. Sexual deviancy is the penultimate fruit of that sad equation. There are others—all of which damage or destroy our relationships with one another. This is a knowing and willful insurgency, at least on some level (Rom 1:32; cf. Psalm 2:1-3).

So much for the “outsiders,” those who weren’t entrusted with God’s revelation. Surely “insiders” are in a much better state?

This is where Paul launches a broadside against proud externalism—against the same kind of glib smugness that Jesus criticized so powerfully (Lk 18:9-14). Gentiles are so awful, so degenerate, so messy in their sin—who can stand it? Some might be tempted to say (in their hearts, even if not aloud), “Thank God we Christians aren’t like those LGBTQ kooks!”

Well, Paul says, we so-called “insiders” aren’t necessarily better off at all. Don’t judge others when you commit some of the same crimes (Rom 2:1). See, for example, Ted Haggard. God’s love is meant to lead to repentance—to a real change in heart and life (Rom 2:4). After all, God will repay everyone according to their works (Rom 2:6; cf. Ps 62:12). This is the same warning John the Baptist gave (Lk 3:1-14). God can make even stones into children of Abraham—He wants loving obedience, not dead externalism.

Being an insider, being an Israelite, is meaningless in and of itself (Rom 2:7-10). “God does not have favorites,” (Rom 2:11). It’s the ones who actually do the law who are counted as righteous (Rom 2:13), and that means merely being “an insider” gets you no points. In fact, Paul suggests “insiders” will be judged more severely in the end because they had more information (Rom 2:12).

So, he declares, if you’re an “insider” who is an awful hypocrite and an embarrassment to God, you actually have nothing (Rom 2:17-23). “As it is written, ‘The name of God is discredited by the Gentiles because of you,’” (Rom 2:24; cf. Isa 52:5 LXX). The external marks of “membership” in God’s family are pointless in and of themselves—“circumcision is an advantage if you do what the law says,” (Rom 2:25; emphasis mine). In fact, if an ethnic “outsider” loves God by doing what He says, he is a truer believer than a fake “insider” (Rom 2:26).   

Paul says being “in the family” has nothing at all to do with being an Israelite. An “outward circumcision” that doesn’t touch the heart, the spirit, the affections, is nothing (Rom 2:28). “Instead, it is the person who is a Jew inside, who is circumcised in spirit, not literally” (Rom 2:29) who is a true “Jew,” that is, a true member of God’s family, a true child of Abraham (Gal 3:26-29). 

“So, what’s the advantage of being a Jew? Or what’s the benefit of circumcision?” (Rom 3:1). Paul knows Israelites will be tempted to scoff and demand answers. What’s the advantage, then? Well, plenty! Jews were trusted to be custodians of God’s truth (Rom 3:2). But, God’s faithfulness doesn’t evaporate because of an insider’s unfaithfulness (Rom 3:3-4). This doesn’t mean our faithfulness doesn’t matter, of course (Rom 3:5-9).

“So, what are we saying?” Paul asks (Rom 3:9). This is the heart of his message—the destination he’s been working towards since the first chapter of the letter—“both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin,” (Rom 3:9). Romans 1 isn’t “about” sexual deviancy. Romans 2 isn’t “about” pride and externalism. The letter condemns both in the strongest terms. But, Romans 1-3 is about something much simpler—no matter who you are (a homosexual, a trans individual, a proud Baptist, or an adulterous hypocrite), you’re a slave to sin right now unless you trust in Jesus. There is no “inside track” to salvation. No such thing as a “beyond the pale” outsider. We’re all born as outsiders (homosexuals, trans people, proud Methodists, and angry drunks alike), and we each need Jesus to rescue us from our own private hells.  

Paul then produces a catena of quotations from Psalm 14 and 53 to show this to us—“there is no righteous person, not even one,” (Rom 3:10). The law shows this to us, it unveils who we really are, it breaks us and makes us admit to ourselves (if nobody else) that we cannot be good enough (Rom 3:19-20).

So, we’re left with a problem—how shall this breach between us and God be reconciled? As the Dread Pirate Roberts once remarked, “if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse …” But, God has made an arrangement. Righteousness doesn’t come from the law at all. It comes “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in Him. There’s no distinction,” (Rom 3:22).

This is the context for those famous words so many believers memorize: “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus,” (Rom 3:23-24). Most English translations have “redemption” for the CEB’s “ransom,” but that’s a word choice that’s lost its power and become “churchy” and safe. The word means liberation from slavery, from a kidnapper, after a price has been paid. In this way, through the liberation Jesus effects, God both demonstrates He didn’t “forgive and forget” about all the sins we committed in times past (cf. Heb 9:15), or the one’s we commit now. Thus “he treats the one who has faith in Jesus as righteous,” (Rom 3:25-26).

Bragging has no place among God’s children, because our righteousness is predicated on faith in Jesus, not on “keeping” the law (Rom 3:27-28). Adoption into God’s family isn’t a Jewish thing—it’s for any and everyone. “Yes, God is also the God of the Gentiles,” (Rom 3:29). Whether you’re an “insider” or an “outsider,” God can make you righteous if you have faith in Jesus (Rom 3:30). Whoever you are, your only hope is to trust in Jesus. Not in your ancestry. Not in your head knowledge of the Scriptures. But, in Jesus.

This is what Romans 1:18-3:30 is “about.” Not sexual deviancy. It contains a discussion on sexual deviancy, but only in service of a more basic point—we’ve all (every one of us—“insider” or “outsider”) sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and only Jesus can make us righteous. Ironically, when Christians cry “Romans 1” in frustration and disgust, and shake their heads sadly at “what’s happening to our country,” they may well run afoul of Paul’s warnings from Romans 2—our own sins of hypocrisy or priggish self-righteousness may render us just as guilty

Can we do better than this?

This article is not a veiled proclamation of my own “deconstruction.” It’s an example of what I believe is a better way to read Scripture. It considers the text in its context, not as a repository of data to be molded according to taste into an a la carte buffet of categories. There are other examples:

  • 1 Corinthians 7 isn’t “about” how wives must give their husbands sex.
  • John 5:26 isn’t “about” eternal generation.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 isn’t “about” the rapture.
  • Genesis 10 isn’t “about” how mankind “failed” a “test,” making it necessary for God to initiate a new “dispensation” with Abraham.

You may sincerely believe the texts contain these things, but in no conceivable world are they “about” those subjects. And, if that’s true, then should we wrench these passages out of Hodge’s “store-house” to add them to a systematic casserole we’re cooking up to answer a question the writer wasn’t addressing, in that context?

No, we should not.   

Space is fleeting, so I’ll toss out some grenades for thought and retire into the night.

  1. It seems to me that the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a more fruitful approach to doing theology. It guards against the frigid scholasticism Horace Bushnell warned about so passionately in his 1848 address “Dogma and Spirit.”5 The Quadrilateral tempers a frigid rationalism and dogmatism with spiritual experience, reason, and historical theology. It promotes an evangelical catholicity, which I well know is not always reckoned as a virtue.
  2. Donald Bloesch is representative of a method which sees revelation as “truth + event.” We cognitively receive truth from Scripture, then God communicates and confronts us by the Spirit. “Revelation happened in a final and definitive form in the apostolic encounter with Jesus Christ. But revelation [in the sense of truth + Spirit-directed encounter-event] happens again and again in the experience of the Spirit in Christ.”6 There is a conjunction between (1) the Word of God, and (2) sacred Scripture, (3) by the action of the Spirit.7
  3. In contrast, Hodge declares the Spirit has no true revelatory role; He only illuminates the bible.8 Revelation is only static—an objective truth that is “there” on the page. There is no dynamic interplay of “truth + event,” where Scripture is the channel for God to speak.
  4. Many evangelical systematics follow Hodge’s “store-house” approach (e.g. Millard Erickson).9 For example, Carl F.H. Henry declares that revelation is the (sole?) source for all truth, that we can only recognize that truth by exercising reason, that “logical consistency” and “coherence” (which I take together to basically mean “credible systemization”) are our truth tests, and that “[t]he task of Christian theology is to exhibit the content of biblical revelation as an orderly whole.”10

The “store-house” view of Scripture will produce a “Romans 1 is about homosexuality!” result. As you ponder that, remember this—Acts 15 is “about” Baptist polity, too!


1 Alister McGrath, A Passion for Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996), p. 170. Quoted in Roger Olson, The Journey of Modern Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013), p. 632. McGrath was criticizing Carl F.H. Henry.

2 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:10. 

3 Donald Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation (Downers Grove: IVP, 1994), p. 65.

4 Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2012), p. 5. 

5 See the anthology titled Horace Bushnell, ed. H. Shelton Smith (New York: Oxford, 1965), pp. 43-68.  

6 Bloesch, Holy Scripture, p. 50.  

7 Bloesch, Holy Scripture, p. 58.  

8 “Although the inward teaching of the Spirit, or religious experience, is no substitute for an external revelation, and is no part of the rule of faith, it is, nevertheless, an invaluable guide in determining what the rule of faith teaches,” (Hodge, Systematic, 1:16).

9 Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), pp. 53-65.

10 Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Waco: Word, 1976), p. 215.

2811 reads

There are 44 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Raises important questions.

To factors that stand out in my mind: 1) human tendency to overcorrect in response to errors--in this case, in response to mishandling of Scripture and 2) the nature of truth.

If, on it's way to declaring the point that is "what the passage is about," Scripture makes other assertions, those assertions are still true and preachable all by themsleves. We have to be careful to do this right and not confuse our hearers/readers. A best practice is to overview what the text is about as context for the portion you're going to focus on. Another is to be pretty rigorous in making sure we're not interpreting the portion in focus in a way that is at odds with that "what the text is about" context. So the first discipline feeds the second and vice versa.

But we need to be careful not to dismiss teaching just because it's based on a subpoint in the text. Subpoints are still assertions. They are truth-claims.

In the case of Paul, he's very logical. There's a lot of if-then deductive reasoning, and if we say the premises are just there to take up space the conclusion is invalidated. On the other hand, if the conclusion--"what the passage is about"--is true, the premises must be true. And true is true. It's in the Book, it's for our instruction, it's preachable.

But do we tend to take all sorts of of smaller pieces of Scripture out of context to say whatever we want them to say? Sure we do. The solution is a more diligent interpretive process. As humans, Christians not excluded, we often look at poor implementation of a good idea and think what we're seeing is a bad idea. We're constantly tossing babies with the bathwater, and the next generation comes along and overcorrects our overcorrection. Switching metaphors, in some areas, churches are constantly weaving from one ditch to the other and rarely manage to drive the road. But we don't have to be that way--at least, we don't have to be that way so much.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

T Howard's picture

I agree, Aaron. There are a lot of propositional truths that the Bible states that aren't the "main point" of the pericope in which they are found. They are true nonetheless.

But, to Tyler's point, if we're good expositors of God's Word, we shouldn't confuse these truths (or sub-points) with the main point of the passage.

TylerR's picture

Editor

We rip things out of context to fit systematic categories all the time. I'm not referring to exposition per se, but our grid for interpretation.

Is Mt 18 "about" church discipline? Should we tell people to have relations with their spouses because that's what 1 Cor 7 is "about"? Is 1 Peter 3:15 "about" a mandate for apologetics? Is Phil 2:5-9 "about" two-nature Christology?

I realize I coukd be interpreted to mean "systematics is bad!" I'm not saying that, exactly. Pethaps I'm suggesting we shouldn't systematize AS MUCH, to the degree we often do. Perhaps if we asked ourselves, "did God really give us THIS so we could talk about THAT," then we would be much safer.

This may involve a personal de-systematization, to some extent. I have not yet thoroughly developed the implications of my concerns. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Tyler, 

I must not understand what you are saying.  If what I hear you saying is what you are actually saying, there won't be many Biblical exhortations remaining that we are allowed to declare.  

G. N. Barkman

T Howard's picture

Tyler,

If one of your congregants came to you and asked, "Pastor Tyler, what does the Bible say about homosexuality?" where would you go in your Bible to give them the answer(s)?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Greg--there are many, many things to declare, but perhaps we often declare the wrong things. 1 Thess 4:13-18, for example, isn't "about" the rapture. It's about hope that nobody, dead or alive, will lose out on the blessings of Christ's return. Phil 2 isn't "about" two-nature Christology. It's about Jesus' supreme example of loving self-sacrifice as a model for our own relationships in the family of believers. Hosea 6:7 isn't "about" a covenant of works--it's part of a larger criticism about a pattern of disloyalty and treachery Israel has shown Yahweh.

Etc., etc.

If we ask, "did God really give us THIS so we could talk about THAT," and the contextual answer is no, then we shouldn't force the passage to be "about" THAT

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Leviticus, and Jesus' discussions about porneia. Romans 1 discusses the issue in strong terms, but in service of the larger point = all have sinned and falken short of God's glory, and need to be rescued by Jesus. If we forget the larger point and simply say "Romans 1 is about homosexuality," then we're missing Paul's point.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

AndyE's picture

This sounds like a preference for Biblical Theology over Systematic Theology. 

I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone say that Romans 1 is about homosexuality.  I've heard them say it addresses it, and so it does. Same with Phil 2 and the hypostatic union.  What text is "about" the trinity?  To me, the question is, what does the Bible say about a topic and how do we best pull that information together to understand correctly the topic under consideration.  

TylerR's picture

Editor

Andy---the best descriptor I can come up with right now is that our systematization should be lighter. I don't think my concern is really about biblical theology v. systematics, though I understand it looks that way--that's simply the fruit of my real topic of interest. My main concern is with prolegomena and doctrine of scripture.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Mark_Smith's picture

Now you are really messing with things brother. This is the kind of lightning rod stuff that got me in trouble. At least you waited until you were a pastor!

I would say most Christians at the average American church thinks Jesus died for them to be financially free, a great dad, a great husband, and to be an excellent shot. Not to mention to have excellent meat smoking skills!

Attend the average Evangelical church's men's group and you'll see what I mean.

Dan Miller's picture

I think you should have defined "about." 

TylerR's picture

Editor

See here, s.v. "about," preposition, 4(a).

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've no doubt I will ascend to the very heights of the evangelical machine. Look for my forthcoming Master Class on the subject.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Dave White's picture

Eschewing the term "homosexuality" because the term is recent. See 150 years ago, the word ‘homosexual’ was coined in a secret correspondence

On May 6, 1868, the itinerant, Austrian-born writer Karl Maria Kertbeny wrote to fellow queer activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. His letter contained the earliest recorded use of the terms homosexual and heterosexual. Kertbeny and Ulrichs had much in common but, in this same correspondence, they disagreed over strategies for queer emancipation.

While Ulrichs sought validation through scientific frameworks, Kertbeny did not care whether homosexuality or any sexual orientation was innate

 

"Homosexual" has come to connote: an inherited / gene-type orientation and NOT a behavior choice.

We are wise to avoid the term!

So, Tyler we agree Rom 1 is NOT about "homosexuality".

Can we agree on this, men "suppress the truth" and that this - "the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." - is one associated outcome.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Of course; my exposition was clear on that:

God made us to be a certain way—to find purpose and solace in (1) our vertical relationship with Him and then, as the fruit of this communion, (2) in proper relationship with one another. The problem is that, when our vertical relationship with God is twisted (the most basic foundation for reality), then our most precious horizontal relationships with one another will be twisted, too (Rom 1:24).  

This is why God abandons us to our “degrading lust” (Rom 1:26, restating v. 24)—because we chose to worship things of this world rather than God (Rom 1:25). What happens is that we twist even our closest, most precious relationships—love and sexual union—out of all bounds (Rom 1:26b-27). Just as we didn’t acknowledge God, so God chooses in some circumstances to not acknowledge us (Rom 1:28)—to stop restraining our evil impulses, to walk away and leave us to destroy ourselves, as it were.

But, this is the thing. If you leave it there with "see, God's word says THIS is the result of our culture's rebellion!" then we're missing Paul's larger point. Why did he even bring this up, in the context of Romans 1-3? To state that we are, each of us, guilty before God. We might be guilty for different things, but we're all guilty, and Jesus is the only answer. So, condemnation and declarations of "God's judgment on society" isn't good enough. That wasn't Paul's point:

This is what Romans 1:18-3:30 is “about.” Not sexual deviancy. It contains a discussion on sexual deviancy, but only in service of a more basic point—we’ve all (every one of us—“insider” or “outsider”) sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and only Jesus can make us righteous. Ironically, when Christians cry “Romans 1” in frustration and disgust, and shake their heads sadly at “what’s happening to our country,” they may well run afoul of Paul’s warnings from Romans 2—our own sins of hypocrisy or priggish self-righteousness may render us just as guilty. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Dan Miller's picture

This post is about how Romans 1:17-22 discusses how corrupt souls are further corrupted by sin. And it had examples of the corruption of sin, including homosexuality. And that discussion concerned the "unnaturalness" of homosexuality. 

About-ness of minor points.

As Aaron said, we write about Truth #1, Truth #2, which together logically lead to Truth #3. Then we write about Truth #4, which when considered with Truth #3, leads to Truth #5. And Truth #5 is the point we really wanted to get across. But the writing was properly "about" Truths #1-5.

--Now, if Tyler's point is that while an author might have written about Truth #1, what he really was writing about all along was Truth #5, then I agree with that. Truth #5 was the main point. 

About-ness of extended analogy

Sometimes, in another twist about "about"ness, a passage might be about something different that what it explicitly seems to be about. For instance, Victor Hugo goes on for 50(?) pages about the history of the sewers of Paris in Les Miserables. And then he goes on for many more about Jean Valjean's arduous journey through the sewer. But the whole time he was talking about the conscience.

So my conclusion (what this post is really about) is that Romans 1 is "about" homosexuality. But it is ALSO about the depravity of all mankind. 

AndyE's picture

If all you are saying is that an expositional treatment of a passage needs to cover the main point that the author is trying to address, with the logic, flow of passage, supporting arguments, and overall context explained to teach/preach that point, RATHER than using the passage to suggest independent topics that don't have any obvious connection to the overall flow the text, then I agree with you.

That said, I do believe there is benefit to topical preaching that pulls scriptural instruction from a variety of passages to teach various Bible doctrines and topics.  In my SS class, I tend to rotate among OT expositional teaching, NT expositional teaching, and Bible doctrines.  My last three series have been Isaiah 24-29, Romans 5-8, and apologetics. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Can one preach Romans 1 without preaching about homosexuality? If the answer is "No," and it obviously is, then Romans 1 is about homosexuality, at least to some degree. That there is a theological foundation given for it doesn't remove the "about-ness" (a weird word if there ever was one) of it. If the only thing a text is "about" is the larger context, then is a text actually "about" anything, given that the larger context is the Bible? Of course homosexuality is connected to something else in Romans 1, but it is not disconnected from that something else. 

This strikes me as, to quote a seminary professor of mine, slicing the baloney a little bit thin. I am not sure there is anything much to gain here.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

If we ask, "did God really give us THIS so we could talk about THAT," and the contextual answer is no, then we shouldn't force the passage to be "about" THAT

It's a continual balancing act, for sure. The frustration expressed above resonates with me, because I've seen a whole lot of it. The difference in my perspective vs. Tyler's on this though, I think, is that for me that frustration peaked a decade ago (maybe started a decade before that) and I've lived long enough to see the other extreme--where relevant and important truth is neglected or "explained away" because it isn't the main point of the text.

So, there's a balance to find here, and it's not easy.

Here's a principle though: Rom 15:4  makes the point that the old writing is for our learning today. In the context, 'our learning' was first century Christians. But the principle is that God didn't just inspire Scriptures for the immediate audience but also for believers across the centuries. Since the original occasion for the writing was unique, that means over time, God's people are supposed to look for how their context resembles the original one, and this is part of the interpretation--and mostly application.

God not only knew, but fully intended, that the premises would be of use across the centuries, not just the conclusions. All the assertions are to be used--but used well.

So the key to the balance is, among other things, good interpretive discipline along with a strong heart for a flock and what it needs right now.

A word also about historical theology

We have to keep going back to the text itself and open ourselves to what it actually says. We also have to systematize. God is orderly about things (Gen 1, Isa 37:26) and intends us to be as well 1 Cor 14:40. And the nature of truth is such that all truth agrees with all other truth... or it's not truth. 

So, the history of the church is that we have systematized. When we boil down what we've learned into short statements of faith, confessions, etc., we attach proof textsThis is a two edged sword: on the plus side, it keeps the historical theology anchored to Scripture; on the down side, it can encourage yanking verses out of context.

We should never assume that because the context isn't explained, the people involved didn't do their homework. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. But we need to approach historical theology with humility. We are not better then them. We know more about some things. We have forgotten many other things. So we should respect the the historical theology, departing from it with caution, but not refusing to question it. Another tough balance. But many have done it well.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Fred Moritz's picture

I smiled at the Fleetwood Mac reference.  Before they ever got here, Sinatra boasted: "I did it my way." It seems to be Romans 1 revisited.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I also mentioned the Dread Pirate Roberts, too ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

TylerR's picture

Editor

My concern is (1) prolegomena, and (2) how doctrine of Scripture drives it. Our tradition follows Hodge and Henry (et al) in seeing Scripture as a store-house waiting to be systematicized. This results in a prolegomena that involves a lot of synthesis and orderly arranging. I worry that this produces prooftexts and doctrines that don't accurately reflect Scripture's concern. Unchecked, this can produce some of the abuses I linked at the beginning of the article--e.g. God didn't give us Scripture so Grudem could magically distill a political manifesto (see "Politics According to the Bible").

The reaction here is largely puzzlement. It's hard for us to see any way OTHER than the "Hodge-Henry-storehouse" way of doing theology. Some (not all) of that is because we often read the same things, from the same people, from the same orbits. The Church is big, but we often read from the narrowest slice of its constituency. 

People suspect this is a complaint about systemization. It is not---it's a complaint about the way our entire tradition does theology.

You ask, "well, what do you want, then?" I reply, "When I figure it out, I'll let you know."

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Don Johnson's picture

TylerR wrote:

You ask, "well, what do you want, then?" I reply, "When I figure it out, I'll let you know."

it would be better, then, to remain silent. 
 

wait until you do have it figured out before pontificating 

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Dan Miller's picture

TylerR wrote:
... I worry that this produces prooftexts and doctrines that don't accurately reflect Scripture's concern. Unchecked, this can produce some of the abuses I linked at the beginning of the article--e.g. God didn't give us Scripture so Grudem could magically distill a political manifesto (see "Politics According to the Bible").

...

Ok, I'm even more concerned about your premise now than before.

If Paul wrote "about" X and in writing, he mentioned A, B, and C, then you seem to want to downgrade A, B, and C on the basis that they are not what the passage was about. 

dgszweda's picture

I get the overall context here.  One thing that has stuck out to me, as I have been studied Matthew, is how adept Christ was at taking an attack from the religious elite, going back to the OT, to a passage that they were really familiar with, picking out a verse and using that single verse to refute the attack, all at the astonishment of the religious elite in what they understood the broader passage to mean.  Exodus 3, verse 6 was used to refute the Saducees, specifically because they only believed in the Torah and specifically in refuting their argument that there was no resurrection, despite the fact that Exodus 3 is not about the resurrection.  Does that mean that Christ drew out the wrong conclusion of verse 6?  Is he really understanding verse 6 in the real context of Chapter 3?  We do need to be very careful in how we interpret things in light of the broader context, but it doesn't require us to leverage a verse in Romans 1 to support a broader doctrine in Scripture, as long as it is not in violation of the context of that particular passage or broader Scripture.

We sometimes get hung up in trying to determine the context of the passage in light of a certain time period of the audience.  You could argue that maybe Exodus 3:6, as penned by Moses was solely written to provide Christ support for the resurrection in 30AD and wasn't even written for the Near Eastern nomadic group of people in 2,500 BC.

T Howard's picture

I can see it now. After Jesus retorts with Exodus 3:6, one of the really smart scribes responds, "Sorry, Jesus, but Exodus 3 isn't 'about' resurrection. Your prolegomena is all wrong. You should be using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral."

I jest, Tyler, but I do think this idea needs a little more bake time.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I never mentioned Exodus 3:6. My comments about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral were in the context of how to "do theology" = against a "store-house of data to be systematicized" method. My exposition of Romans 1 was simply a recent example from my own teaching in my own church that brought this disconnect to the forefront.

  • A "store-house" approach would file Romans 1 away (along with 1 Cor 6) on a list of passages which are allegedly about homosexuality. Again, this is an "index and file" system of doing theology. They contain mention of and condemn of sexual deviancy, but that isn't what they're about. Use them if you wish, but use them contextually.
  • This approach would also file 1 Thess 4:13-18 + Jer 30:7 + the alleged absence of the church in Rev 4ff as "evidence" for the pre-trib rapture. 
  • It would also file Acts 15 and (depending on how bold one wishes to be) Acts 14:23 in the "Baptist polity" card file.

This is commonplace in our circles. I fear nobody sees anything potentially problematic about this method, even as I linked to examples of what this method can produce = treatises on "biblical steps" to financial freedom. I am less offering a solution than pointing out what I see as a problem. This is a "pilgrim stumbling along the way" sort of article. What you think (1) the Scriptures are, will influence (2) how you do theology:

Option 1:

  1. Scripture is a pile of data I must sift into categories--no matter which category I'm looking for, I can sift the data and see what it says about that subject.
  2. So, theology is largely about properly sorting the data into categories. See my quotation from Henry.

Another example option:

  1. Scripture is a story that shows us God's plan to create a new community, thru Jesus the King, to be with Him in His coming kingdom forever. As Emil Brunner has written, dogma and Scripture is a finger pointing us to Christ.
  2. So, theology is less about classifying data into categories, and more about pointing us to Jesus and the story towards which God is moving us all. That means that, while Scripture might contain discussions about food, we ought not craft a book about biblical dieting advice.

I fear I have little more to contribute along these lines, so I shall leave my writing to stand as it is and bow out of further discussion.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

T Howard's picture

Tyler, perhaps I'm wrong, but this sounds a lot like "metanarrative preaching."

I'm obviously not opposed to preaching the biblical metanarrative. But, we can't stay at the 30,000 ft view or we'll have nothing to say about specific, occasional situations in our churches.

BTW, just to be clear, I'm not advocating crafting a book about biblical dieting advice.

Don Johnson's picture

TylerR wrote:

I fear I have little more to contribute along these lines, so I shall leave my writing to stand as it is and bow out of further discussion.

Flee the discussion!

Tyler, the problem you are having may be one of the following:

  1. You haven't articulated your position in such a way as many of us can understand it and agree with it.
  2. You aren't arguing from a defensible position.
  3. You are trying to argue against homiletical abuse and misuse of passages, but are using the wrong instrument.

Perhaps there are more.

I'm no fan of "biblical steps to financial freedom" and the like, but I have to say the Scriptures are a rich, rich mine, yielding much precious truth in every passage. You can preach the broader passage (chapter or book length) with much profit, and you can drill down to one word in a text and make it preach to true spiritual needs (though I'll admit you can't do that with every word).

I think you chose your headline for a bit of shock value, and I think that's where most of the disagreement comes from in this discussion. No, Romans 1 isn't "about" homosexuality, but it is one of the more explicit Scriptural statements about homosexuality in the Bible. It's probably the most explicit in the NT. You can't develop a Biblical doctrine of homosexuality by leaving it out. And certainly, you can preach powerfully on the subject using the Romans 1 references as your main text.

You can take the many truths of Romans 1 and preach many powerful messages. It is an incredibly rich passage. I think when I preached through it, I had 35 messages out of 32 verses. I don't think I preached about "financial freedom" once in those messages. (Don't think I've ever preached about it.) I would object to any view of Scripture that would suggest I couldn't preach Romans 1 in that kind of detail. In fact, I am sure I didn't exhaust Romans 1. Probably could get more out of it.

I am not sure which of my three options above is your problem. As I've read your comments in the thread, I have leaned each way in interpreting what you say. Maybe there are more ways, and maybe I'm just too dense to get it. 

I hope that helps some.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ken S's picture

I know Tyler is only using Romans 1 as an illustration, but I think it is a good one.

When I've studied Romans, I've found three different views of Romans 1:18-32.

  1. Paul is making a statement about those who are wicked and who will be the recipients of God's wrath.
  2. Paul is not making a statement about who will be the recipients of God's wrath. Rather, he is listing those who the Roman Christians perceived as the greatest sinners, the ones who they thought were really, really bad. He is doing this to rile up the listeners so that they say "Yeah, those people truly deserve God's wrath!", and then turns this against them in Romans 2 when he tells them they are no better than those who they view as the greatest sinners.
  3. Romans 1:18-32 is Paul quoting someone else, someone who was influencing the Roman believers. Then he uses Romans 2 against them, the same as he does in view #2.

If either view number 2 or 3 is true, then this passage is really not about homosexuality and is a great example of what Tyler is trying to illustrate. I know view number 1 is the commonly accepted one, but my personal belief is that either view 2 or 3 is actually what is happening in this passage and I would look elsewhere for Scriptures teaching on homosexuality.

Pages

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.