Direct Dialogue

As a Bible and theology majors at a small Christian college, I’ve been able to be part of a tight-knit group of folks dedicated to finding and applying the relevance of Jesus to our present American, Midwestern, middle-to-upper-middle class context, as well as searching to know the self revealing God through community and theological exploration. As a student, I’ve also been able to form deeper relationships with certain faculty members, serving as a TA in various capacities for 4 professors in my years at Bethel University. This being the case, I have various sources of information regarding the goings on in the classroom. Occasionally fringe opinions prove to be points of heated dialogue sometimes triggering the opinions belonging to the center of the theology of some of my colleagues. In theory, the conversation (if it can be called that) centers on the Noahide covenant and laws and their relevance today; in practice, it is focused on the issue of abortion in America. Some context may be helpful before I dive into my rant.

The stated stance of Bethel University is traditional and conservative, and is in line with much of Evangelicalism. However, this by no means is to imply that diversity does not exist amongst the Bethel faculty and student body. The majority of the departments with a focus on the Humanities are marked with a certain degree of social and theological progressivism. As a member of the Biblical and Theological Studies department, I belong to a more or less minority perspective when it comes to thinking about issues facing culture and Christianity. But, as is to be expected, Bethel is an institution comprised of real people who are far more complex than any broad overview is capable of articulating. It is to these multifaceted people and situations to which we now turn.

I just enjoyed dinner with a friend with whom I have not conversed in a while. We discussed one of the more popular classes offered by Bethel: Christian Social Ethics. One student has been making waves -- something theology thrives on and requires. This student has been setting themself as the sole possessor of Gospel truth, to which all need to listen, accept, and follow -- one thing theology certainly needs less of. This colleague is of the opinion that, in addition to the new reality inaugurated by the coming of Christ, humanity is still under the covenant God made with Noah following the flood in the Genesis narrative. This fellow student believes, in particular, that murder ought to be completely anathema (good), that there ought to be legislation to enforce such prohibitions (a sticky topic in its own right, but go on…), that abortion constitutes such a violation to the command to not murder (again, contested, but I can respect that opinion, to an extent), and finally that we are therefore required to put to death any and every woman who has had an abortion (hold the f***ing phone). Since that day in class earlier this week, a conversation has been sparked among many of my fellow theology students.

Naturally, many of us are heated, and will remain so. This being said, I hope to provide a treatise for why a continuing conversation is of the utmost importance. I have found myself wishing to shake the dust off of my feet and leaving my silence as a testimony against them. I have found more than a few students who have forced themselves to take a step back so as to prevent a physical outlash. But such options are not viable. When one thinks that God has called them into ministry, whether that be as a ministry leader, an academic, or some other vocation, one must be prepared to engage with voices which dissent from their own. When one knows that such dissenting voices are a blatant call to violence and rejection of the ethics of Jesus, they must speak out. Without such reactions to “Gospels” of hate, those who hold to said “Gospels” gain a larger platform behind the pulpit, and a taller soap-box on the street corner. Assertions from both sides must cease to talk past one another in the same room. Dialogue is the most vital necessity when two opposing parties interact. When a consensus is not reached, champions of the message of Jesus need to ensure their side is heard. Those who believe that to love one’s enemies and to turn the other cheek means to resist those who claim otherwise. In such an instance as this, our preaching must be so loud, so pervasive, and so constant that those in the other camp cannot enjoy a moment of influence.

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Now that I have had a moment to calm down, I would like to offer some more sober exegesis as an alternative to what many of my Bethel colleagues have been hearing. I will try to keep things short and to the point, so as to clearly articulate my position, while not getting bogged down in technical jargon.

Saying that the Noahide covenant needs to be applied to the American religio-political context is nothing is not problematic. For one, we have to make legislation analogous to a theocracy (which are always religious oligarchies masquerading as something other than a self-justifying oppressive regime) of an Ancient Near Eastern kind. I am of the opinion that Christians do right to seek to influence society from the bottom down, as our track record of pursuing a “Christian nation” is the biggest shame to the Kingdom of God. Another thing, the government would likewise have to enforce procreation of all persons without exception (Gen. 9.7), countering what the New Testament says regarding singleness for the sake of serving God better. Following the hermeneutical principles laid out by the colleague I am responding to leads us further back than the Dark Ages. This fellow students is indefensible, and requires them by necessity to pick and choose what parts of the passage, which is being taken out of context to begin with, have continuing relevance.

I can understand that this student wishes to be pro-life, but in practice they are this way in a very limited sense. Being pro-life ought to entail being active in serving one’s fellow humans, seeking to harken social justice and to end the needless loss of human life. If one wishes to be consistently pro-life, one must be more than anti-abortion; one must do something (anything!) other than protest Planned Parenthood every weekend; one must not spew hate at people struggling with what is likely the hardest decision a person can face.

Now, for the continuing relevance of the laws Genesis tells us was given to Noah from God: it isn’t (this is more sass than sober exegesis). While the New Testament is certainly capable of demonstrating the continuity which exists between the covenants God has made with God’s people, this does not lead one to conclude that the Christian is required to kill people based on their actions in order to “defend the Gospel.” This is the pseudo-Gospel of hate and works, ironically coming from a largely Reformed camp. Saying one must do or not do x, y, or z in order to live is the most severe affront to the Gospel and the peace ethic of Jesus. Jesus tells us that to believe in him is to inherit life eternal. Nowhere in the New Testament can we be justified in concluding that God would want us to bring harm to those who (we merely think) displease God. What has been advocated for in the Christian Social Ethics classroom is murder in the most plain sense.