Just when the theater-of-the-absurd that is American politics seems it cannot get any more bizarre, California Governor Gavin Newsome decides to add theologian-in-chief to his job responsibilities. He has placed billboards in multiple states—with a special message for Bible Belt states of Oklahoma and Mississippi. In those states the billboards ask and answer, “Need an abortion? California is ready to help”—followed by a quote from Matthew 12:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.”
Using the Bible to support abortion is a twisted attempt to provide theological support for failing to protect innocent life. It panders to the biblical sensibilities of people in states where there is still some level of biblical literacy and respect for biblical authority. It’s a brazen attempt to align abortion with biblical values by equating providing abortions as an act of love.
This kind of creative biblical interpretation is a new and burgeoning field. Voluminous material is now being produced by creative biblical interpreters to validate homosexual behavior, gender fluidity, and sexual liberties. These positions have at least four problems in common: they reject centuries of common-ground biblical interpretations by both Catholics and Protestants; they find never-before-discovered insights in ancient texts; they invent new hermeneutical methods; and they ignore the plain sense of Scripture.
As a seminary leader, it might seem like the first three problems would be most important to me. At Gateway, and schools like ours, we devote ourselves to interpreting the Bible with sound and consistent hermeneutics; with deference to and appreciation for common historical insights; and for logical consistency. Those things all matter—a great deal—in deciding what the Bible meant and means. They are what our faculty do every day in their respective disciplines.
Frankly, however, the final issue raised above is the most important one to me. Finding new interpretations in the Bible about abortion, homosexuality, gender, and morality denies the plain reading of Scripture. Seminary training, biblical dexterity, and theological sophistication is not required to read and understand the plain meaning of the Bible. Discovering what the Bible says on these issues is relatively straightforward—just read for basic comprehension of the simplest and most obvious meaning.
Sound biblical interpreters and theologians discover depths of meaning emerging from the plain meaning of biblical texts. They do not invent new, even contradictory, meanings to demonstrate their brilliance by correcting centuries of mis-interpretation. The best counter-balance to biblical and theological error is Christians who read their Bible. It is a relatively simple book with an easy-to-understand message. The problem is not understanding what it says, but doing it. And that is the real reason creative interpreters are so busy finding alternative—and more palatable—meanings. They are determined to justify disobeying God—and that’s a far more serious problem than political pandering.
Webster’s life-long project of ‘theological theology’ could be said to be an expansion of a theological category many evangelicals would consider theologically-basic: holiness.
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Dr. Douglas Sweeney and Dr. Nathan Finn joined Dr. Chris Chun for a panel discussion on Jonathan Edwards, recorded live at the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim.