“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” — Mark Twain
I hesitate to criticize the words of someone who is very popular and has a huge following in evangelical circles. First, I don’t want to criticize; it’s not fun. Second, critiquing someone’s work takes away time from my own work. Third, when critiquing you run the risk of offending many people who are faithful followers of that person as well as hurting the feelings of the person you are critiquing.
But with that said, there was so much wrong with the following post that I will venture a few words. I will offer a response to Jen Hatmaker’s blog post yesterday, World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through, and I hope that it will be heard in love and truth.
I don’t know Hatmaker personally nor can I claim to be a faithful follower of her ministry. I do, however, appreciate Hatmaker and her ministry. I enjoy her sense of humor and her passion for Christ and His Church. In this post in particular, I commend her for her heart and desire for unity and peace. I agree that as Christians we must learn to rope in our tongues and speak in love to one another.
However, in Hatmaker’s pursuit for unity and peace she walks the thin line of compromising truth. Hopefully this was not her intent, but I believe what she wrote yesterday basically undermined the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture. And if not careful, her words can lead people down a dangerous path of interpreting Scripture how he or she chooses with no regards to hermeneutics or orthodoxy.
Here’s what she said and the issues I have with it:
First, she basically says that if there is a plurality of interpretations we are hopeless. We might as well throw our hands up in the air and allow for an “anything goes” attitude. Hatmaker says, “Godly, respectable leaders have exegeted the Bible and there is absolutely not unanimity on its interpretation. There never has been.” To expect to have complete unanimity on any issue of Scripture is an unrealistic goal. It is usually the case that on secondary issues no one tries to reach for complete unanimity. This is the first of several bad arguments on her part, which I think she is saying that homosexuality is an issue of one’s own interpretation. In other words, Scripture is not clear on the subject; therefore, we should allow all interpretations or at least accept them. Because we disagree on what Scripture says therefore means that Scripture isn’t clear or doesn’t speak absolutely on a subject.
Second, Hatmaker in her rant fails to distinguish between primary (Trinity, deity of Jesus, salvation) and secondary (baptism, spiritual gifts, role of women) issues of faith. She flattens them out. Here’s an example: “There has never been “one way” to interpret scripture. There has never been “one way” to be a biblical church. Even the early church leaders had severe and lasting disagreements about the nature of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, Salvation, Faith, Works, etc.” Hold up. First of all, it is not true that the Church has been divided on the issue of homosexuality throughout history. Actually, this is only a recent, Western issue. Secondly, the issues she mentions that the early church dealt with were primary issues not secondary issues. One of the ones who disagreed with the early church was Arius; he argued that Jesus was not fully God. A second person was Marcion. He argued that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the One of the New Testament, and he wanted to cut out half of the New Testament. The early church called these men gnostics and heretics! The church responded with creeds that outlined the basic orthodox beliefs one must hold to in order to be Christian. So should we accept the interpretations of Arius and Marcion simply because they had a different opinion? Should we include them in the tent of legitimate Christianity? Absolutely not. But if you follow Hatmaker’s argument to its logical conclusion, then people like Arius and Marcion would have to be taken as part of the orthodox church. To the extent that Marcion denied the deity of Christ, we find the correlation today with Jehovah’s Witnesses. So would Hatmaker consider Jehovah’s Witnesses as part of orthodox Christianity?
Third, Hatmaker, in her attempt to make the homosexual debate a non-issue, puts Scripture and Christian theology on the stand. To someone who is a weak believer or non believer they might have walked away from their computer or smart phone with a schizophrenic view of Scripture. How can Scripture be trusted when there’s “no one way” to interpret it, and when Christians have always been divided on its interpretation from the beginning? She says, “Historically, Christian theology has always been contextually bound and often inconsistent with itself; an inconvenient truth we prefer to selectively explain.” Later, “Rather, it is simply a reasonable assessment of the trajectory of the kingdom as God has interacted with each new generation of the church.” And, “Reason and humility occupies too small a place in the analysis of the historical church and the progressive interpretation of Scripture.” I fault her for making provocative, pithy statements with half-truths and then not explaining them.
Incidentally, respected author William Webb in his book, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, takes a progressive trajectory hermeneutic. Webb says that the trajectory of Scripture never gets you to the place of acceptance of practicing homosexuality. So here’s a work done in the spirit of what Hatmaker is saying about progression but concludes differently than her with the issue of homosexuality.
For Hatmaker to throw out words like “trajectory,” “progressive,” “inconsistent,” in a blog post like the one she wrote yesterday without really explaining the argument is very unhelpful and unwise in my opinion. Instead of walking away feeling like I should be more accepting or respectful or loving of others, I walked away from the post asking myself, What is Scripture? Can it be trusted? What does all this mean in regards to other issues? Where does the progression stop?
Here are some wrap-up thoughts:
1. A big pet peeve of mine is when I read blog posts from well-intentioned, very popular people (especially women) who get in over their heads when it comes to what they know. As the saying goes, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Unfortunately, many of these authors have no theological education, no background in biblical studies, and yet they want to engage in theological/biblical issues without the knowledge to do so. By God’s grace, I have been able to attain a masters degree in seminary. But if it’s taught me anything, it’s taught me how little I know. In fact I hesitate to write on issues unless I do so after thorough research because I don’t want to mislead people. I say this because the arguments used in Hatmaker’s post, especially in regards to the early church and issues of biblical hermeneutics, tell me that Hatmaker is speaking on issues that she really does not know much about. It doesn’t impress me that she says Scripture “was written across several cultures, 40+ writers, 1500 years, 8 genres, and an entire worldview shift once Jesus hit the scene.” That is very basic. The fact that she flattens primary and secondary issues and doesn’t differentiate between the two OR that she doesn’t argue from a particular hermeneutic but rather from a logic that says because we all disagree it means there’s no absolute truth on the subject tells me she is lacking the knowledge needed to talk about the issue in the way that she does. I’m not trying to be hurtful or prideful in this point. God can, does and will use her despite of (probably) no theological training. However, I would urge her to either stick with what she knows or go to seminary and spend time learning more about church history, biblical theology, etc.
2. If you, after reading Jen’s post, are left confused about Scripture — can it be trusted, is there absolute truth, is the Bible inconsistent — then please e-mail me. I will be glad to help in any way possible. Or, I will point you to resources that will help you.