In the previous post, I took N.T. Wright to task for trifling with the text of 1 Tim. 2:12, and for insulting our intelligence. A discussion broke out in the comments about whether I had been too cavalier and dismissive of Wright. So here’s a little something about all that.
In the first place, I did not refer to him as Entie Wright. I think that should count for something. In the second place, as one commenter pointed out, I have on numerous occasions been appreciative of Wright’s contributions and scholarship. I have read a number of his books, and have learned a bunch. I am not walking any of that back. I just yesterday after church recommended one of his books (Surprised by Hope) to a parishioner. But third, and this is the main point now (a point which every successful Bible teacher ought to take to heart), he is a bibilical expositor, not a rock star, and not a celebrity.
Every expositor is capable of error, obviously, but sometimes the error is of a kind that is followed immediately with a clap of thunder. When that kind of thing happens, and your children are frightened, you need to tell them that it is only the gods of exegesis laughing.
When someone of Wright’s influence and stature starts telling us that blue is pink, when the apostle Paul plainly told us that pink is pink, nothing is gained by pretending that it wasn’t a howler. Not only is nothing gained, a great deal is lost if we pretend it wasn’t a howler. Here’s how. Here’s why.
When Bible teachers become celebrities, a certain kind of person just buys into whatever is said. Often this happens with good results because the celebrity guy often made his mark in the first place by contributing something useful. And Wright really is a scholar, has a fine mind, and is a dazzling lecturer. But when groupies get into the act, they accept whatever is said, whenever it is said. They have no smelting equipment, and so they head back home after the conference with their bags full of silver and dross together.
But if the dross is on one of the critical issues of the day, if the dross opens the way for numerous sexual heresies that are sure to follow, then it is time for us not only to reject the dross, but to make fun of those who are solemnly maintaining how glittery and silverlike it looks.
Let’s come at this point from another direction. Debates over issues like women’s ordination are not like solving an algebra problem. Before one side can prevail, they must first get their option on the table as a “reasonable option.” Step one is “consistent Christians differ on issue x.” Step two is the insistence on the new orthodoxy. When I laugh at the exegesis of 1 Tim. 2:12 offered up in journals like Serious Scholars Clown Car Review, I am not just indulging my own sense of humor. I am fighting the monstrosity at step one. I am anticipating the play that is being run on us. So should everybody else. This is not the first time this has happened, everybody.
Here’s the deal. Back when the arrangement was made to allow for women priests, conservatives in the CoE went along with it because certain assurances had been offered them — assurances that have now been (surprise!) pulled away. Here’s how it went down.
As a logic problem, women priests means (eventually and obviously) women bishops. But this would only be the case if the whole church had come to the conviction that women must be ordained, and there was no controversy about it. You would obviously ordain women priests at the entry levels, and eventually some of them would be promoted. If you start commissioning women ensigns, eventually you will have women admirals. But that’s only if everybody agrees.
The deal was that the conservatives were willing for this particular sin (and never forget that it is a sin) to occur elsewhere in the church. They were accustomed to that kind of thing (sin elsewhere) — so long as they were allowed to refrain from participating in themselves. When women are priests, they can still be priests somewhere else. An evangelical parish can still say no to women priests. So could an Anglo Catholic parish. The same deal applies with homosexuals. But when women become bishops, those who object to this as a matter of conscience are being required to submit to it directly in their lives, and not just put up with its existence elsewhere. In the CoE, the liberal sin was lying, and the conservative sin was just one more chapter in that endless tome we like to read called Gullible’s Travels.
So when serious scholars tell you that pink is blue, and you pull thoughtfully on your chin, and ask, pensively, whether or not, at the end of the day, there might be other readings that allow for a different take on this — congratulations. You have already lost. And — not incidentally — your whole approach to life is the reason you lose so much.