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Saturday, November 19, 2022

What theological issues are at stake in our doctrine of marriage?

What theological issues are at stake in our doctrine of marriage?

Joshua Penduck writes this open letter to Steven Croft in response to his argument for change in the Church's doctrine of marriage.

Dear Steven,

It’s always difficult to put one’s head above the parapet when confronting the controversial issues of one’s time. It takes courage to do so – and for that I admire you in writing your statement. I too would much rather keep my head safely below the trench-line. I don’t enjoy conflict and would normally go out of my way to avoid it. Nevertheless, I feel that a response is needed to your statement.

I am not a conservative evangelical. In many ways it is better to call me a liberal evangelical in the line of Vernon Storr, Max Warren, and John V. Taylor – a line of missional evangelicalism going back to Simeon and the irenic Protestantism of Hooker and Jewell. I learnt this kind of evangelicalism through a curate at my church who helped me discover that there was a kind of evangelicalism called ‘Open’. He gave me several of your books to introduce me to that fresh way of thinking, something for which I am forever grateful. It has helped me develop a theological mindset that is fruitfully in conversation with other Christian traditions, open to the insights of the sciences and the humanities, open to the discoveries of modern biblical criticism, passionate about the missional interaction between evangelism and social justice.

It has also helped me recognise that Scripture has some contradictory traits which are often falsely harmonised. Sometimes we must recognise that the Bible is polyvocal. Sometimes we can see traits which emerge through the dialogical play of different voices which may guide us in making ethical or doctrinal decisions – I would argue the Anglican orders, the homoousion and female ministry belong to this category of thought. On other occasions and issues, we must be honest and admit that Scripture does not speak with one voice. In which case we must draw on other voices from outside of Scripture, namely reason, tradition and culture.

Sola Scriptura

I am both open and evangelical. I am a proud son of the Reformation, in which one of the core battle cries was ‘Sola Scriptura’. This is core contention that in the Bible we have before us in some sense the word of God—God speaking to us. Through the cultural context of the time, God has communicated himself (in? through? under?) these holy pages. They therefore must be taken with utmost seriousness. To do otherwise would be to claim that the Bible is not the word of God. Too often sola Scriptura has been taken out of context to mean ‘nuda Scriptura’ or ‘naked Scripture’. Originally, the doctrine did not mean that there can be no insights outside of Scripture, but rather that Scripture is to be the foundation of all doctrine. All tradition, all reason, all culture must be tested by Scripture. Anything that is contradictory to Scripture, cannot be embraced by the Church. Anything that Scripture is not clear about or does not talk about should not be made a core article of faith.

But how can I believe in sola Scriptura after listing the sometimes polyvocal and dialogical phenomenon that is the Bible? Is this not simply building a foundation on sand? It is at this point that I return to the Reformers, who also recognised Scripture is not always as clear as we would hope. Yet the principle that the clearer parts of Scripture interpret the unclear parts gives us much illumination. Recognising the mountain of insights from hermeneutical scholars, unless we are to recognise that our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters were correct all along, we must claim (perhaps in faith) that Scripture can perspicuously tells its main story.

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