Skip to content

When evangelicals start neglecting the Bible

2008 September 8
by Tim V-B

In February this year many evangelicals were very suprised to hear Bishop James Jones (Bishop of Liverpool) try to keep the liberal wing of the Anglican Communion “at the table” concerning the issue of homosexuality.  He said he regretted opposing Jeffrey John’s nomination as Bishop of Reading, and didn’t want to see The Episcopal Church (i.e. the official Anglican church in USA) disciplined.

I’ve just read an article from Professor Gordon Wenham & Revd Dr John Nolland, of Trinity College, Bristol, which is an excellent response.  Essentially they argue that, although the Guardian had overemphasised one aspect of what Bishop James had written, he has failed to take the Bible seriously enough.

James Jones says that his change of mind came because of considering the differing contexts of Christians in Africa and America.  “He says he now sees the African rejection of homosexuality as determined by their context and the American acceptance of homosexuality as determined by theirs. Nigerians oppose homosexual activity because it is illegal and disapproved by Muslims. African Christians do not want to be seen by Muslims as taking the path of Western moral decadence. American Episcopalians however see the question of homosexual rights as a question of civil rights.”

Wenham and Nolland’s response is a great read.  They conclude (emphasis mine):

All this evidence points in the same direction, that the biblical writers cannot be affirming the legitimacy of homosexual practice when they describe same-sex friendship. They clearly approved of the latter, while rejecting the former. It is a pity that Bishop Jones did not pay as much attention to the context in which the Bible was written as he did to that of the contemporary American and Nigerian churches. Would-be preachers are often told that ‘a text out of context is a pretext’. It seems to us that Bishop Jones has by ignoring the context of the biblical writers found a way to keep on the table views that are quite contrary to Scripture.

The article points to a very problematic trend within evangelicalism, certainly in the Anglican church.  The Bible is minimised in an attempt to keep people together.  No one is prepared to say “that teaching is wrong”.  That’s what Rowan Williams consistently fails to do.  It’s why many evangelicals are driven crazy by Fulcrum.  It’s why we have so little confidence that our Bishops have any backbone.

An essential part of the pastoral ministry (whatever words you use: minister, vicar, Bishop, Bible-teacher, etc) is protecting the flock from wolves.  But that means recognising some people are wolves, or at least that their teaching is wolf-flavoured.  And very few people are prepared to do this.

Comments are closed.