Friday, May 16, 2014

Confronting the hubris of "Progressive Millennial Protestants"

While the exceptional wisdom of Tyler Blanski (article posted here earlier today) gives reason to be hopeful about the rising generation of "millennials," his is a rare voice in what is quickly becoming a vast wilderness of disrespect, arrogance, and sheer hubris. Chief among this rising generation of malcontents is Matthew Vines, author of the recently published God and the Gay Christian, a book long on hype but short on substance. It is a sad commentary on our society that such an amateurish work should require a detailed rebuttal from a theological heavyweight like Albert Mohler.

Less detailed, but very much on point, is the response by Owen Strachan and Andrew Walker, writing today for First Things. While the struggling youth in Blanski's article invites and will greatly benefit from the compassion and understanding of Christians seeking to lead him to the foot of the cross, the flippant confidence of Vines has to be called out for what it is, and that is exactly what Strachan and Walker do.
It is a key plank in Vinesian exegesis that the writers of the New Testament lacked a modern comprehension of individuals with a same-sex orientation. But this approach to interpretation defies how the Scripture understands itself and distorts any credible doctrine of inspiration. If the Church—a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim: 3:15)—has been wrong on homosexuality, what else has she been wrong on?

We can further scrutinize the fresh harvest of wisdom Progressive Millennial Protestants offer us. Jesus’s words cited above speak not only to the enigma of orientation but to the rather hidebound categories of male and female, man and woman. In his book, Vines makes clear that the Church should endorse transgender identity. In so doing, he renders Jesus an archetype of a former age. He thought that the sexes were created by divine design and thus subject to divine authority. But all this is now subject to revision.

One cannot mistake the arrogance of the new hermeneutic championed by Vines and cheered by Rachel Held Evans. It renders Jesus behind the times on human sexuality, the apostle Paul retrograde on gender roles, and the biblical witness substandard in light of queer theory. Indeed, Vines’s most radical proposal is his approval of transgender identity. Perhaps this is what promoted Evans to pronounce God and the Gay Christian a “game-changer.” Indeed, it would overturn historic Christian views of gender and sexuality if swallowed whole. We are eager to see how “egalitarian” Christians respond to Vines’s savaging of biblical gender and sexuality.

Yet it is not the theology of the progressive Millennial Protestants that most take our breath away. It is the hubris. Matthew Vines, a young twenty-something with no formal theological training, believes with all starry-eyed optimism that he has the authority to correct the apostle Paul in his doctrinal particulars. This is a familiar pattern for Vines; one winces, for example, as he publicly brings his father to heel in his book.

We do not judge a Christian teacher only by his age or experience, to be sure. But the new progressives have an authority problem. Whether their own family members or martyred apostles, they show no hesitation in correcting those who would—and should—teach them. They do so, furthermore, with precious little confessional and congregational accountability. Ecclesial accountability—though no fail-safe—is given us for our good. Beware Greeks bearing bonds, you might say, and bloggers without churches.

Put it this way: If we’re faced with a choice between a precocious twenty-something with lots of neat new ideas about sexuality and gender untested by the scholarly community on the one hand, and an apostle gored by a Roman sword because the Holy Spirit spoke through him in tones ancient authorities considered hostile to imperial rule on the other, we’re banking on the latter.