Rachel Held Evans and Scott Brown–Strange Hermeneutical Bed Fellows

I am beginning to wonder if Trinity is the only seminary that introduces its students to the field of pragmatics. Why is it that it seems as though I hear more and more about this kind of story? Now, I do not know if Rachel Held Evans really said these things, but it is disconcerting that these things are even being mentioned.

First of all, no one is picking and choosing. For example, one has to ask what the *intent* of the Levitical code is. While I agree with the reviewer that the coming of Christ certainly makes our actual *practice* of things like not eating pork obsolete, the reality is that the purpose of the law intended far more than simply refraining from eating pork. For example, in Philistia, pork was a delicacy. The surrounding nations ate these things regularly, and the reason why the Bible forbids these kinds of things is not because there is something inherently wrong with them, but, rather, God used them as a reminder to his people that they were not like the other nations. They were holy and set apart, and thus God gave them these rules to remind them that they and they alone were God’s people. Obviously, if the gospel goes out to other nations who likewise don’t eat pork, the purpose of using these things to separate the people of God would be rather useless. However, the *intent* of the law very clearly is still in force. God intends us to separate from the unbelievers. In fact, that is the greatest argument for not accepting things like homosexuality.

Even the sacrifices, again, although we do not perform them for propitiation of sin, are still nonetheless important as Paul mentions us offering our bodies as “living sacrifices.” Paul is speaking here of the attitude of entire devotion to God that was exemplified in the whole burnt offering. In the whole burnt offering, the entirety of the animal was consumed, and the person making the sacrifice didn’t get anything back for meat. This was supposed to represent the fact that the worshiper was completely devoted to God. The attitude a worshiper is to have in the sacrifices, therefore, is something Paul wants us to have, even though we do not practice the OT sacrificial system today.

Hence, the coming of Christ did not get rid of the Old Testament; it simply changed the way in which it applies. The OT is completed in the NT, and thus, provides us with the telos of all of these laws, and therefore, will affect how we are to apply them today. Thus, there is another reason why we don’t ignore the Levitical code; we don’t ignore it, because we recognize that each law had a certain intention, and that we must understand what that law intends in the light of, not only the historical context of the law itself, but the context of the way in which the NT completes the logic of the OT.

When you ignore this, it is easy to explain why you confuse narrative passages with descriptive ones. Why? Because the whole notion of genre in literature is intimately related to the illocutionary force of speech acts. If you don’t see it in the context of the Torah, why should we think that you would see it in the context of concubinage? What is the difference between a text that intends to tell us that Cain did not know where his brother was, and a text that intends to inform us that Cain said that he did not know where his brother was [Genesis 4:9]? It is a big deal because, on the former view, you destroy inerrancy, and on the latter view, you can still hold inerrancy. Thus, the illocutionary force of speech acts is incredibly important.

Now, I want to shift gears here, and point out the problems that we have been pointing out in the Christian Patriarchy Movement with pragmatics. For example, Scott Brown wrote earlier today:

Second, there are specific requirements for civil leaders (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 1:9-17; Deuteronomy 17:14-20; and Romans 13:1-10). To require something that the Bible requires of a civil leader is not the same as “voting for the pastor in chief.”

As far as I know, no one is advocating that we vote for the “pastor in chief.” If we are, we are misguided. We are, however, to vote for a biblically qualified civil ruler as Scripture has commanded.

Of course, the problem is that the intent of the passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy is not to give requirements for civil leaders. If you wanted to say that this passage is prescriptive in any way, you would have to say that it is speaking of the qualifications by which believers are to *choose* their leaders [again, not merely influence that choice, which is all we will be doing tomorrow]. However, the text is not giving “Biblical requirements” for anything. It is telling us what qualities we are to look for, if we as Christians ever get the opportunity to choose our leaders.

Add to that something that TurretinFan wrote, and that is that God chose Saul, although he knew he was not going to fit the alleged qualifications found in Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 1 [1 Samuel 10:24, and David’s many statements about Saul being “The Lord’s anointed”]. Thus, if you say that it is wrong to put an unbeliever in office, then you impugn God with sin. Or, could it be that who to vote for is not as black and white as many in the Christian Patriarchy movement have made it out to be, and that we must exercise wisdom in who to vote for?

However, I want to point out how we have a patriarchalist in Scott Brown and an egalitarian emergent in Rachel Held Evans making the exact same mistake in hermeneutics by ignoring pragmatics. I have a hard time believing that this is mere coincidence, especially since Rachel Held Evans and myself are strong critics of the Patriarchy movement, and that I have been harping on the Family Integrated Church’s simply ignoring the entire field of pragmatics. In fact, the reviewer even mentions that Evans is concerned about the abuses of this movement. However, what I wish to propose is that the main problem here is the notion that we can apply the scriptures properly by relying upon vague features of the text such as “patterns” and “principles.” When you use such vague features of language, you can make the Bible intend whatever you want it to intend.

Now, I am not saying that Rachel Held Evans and Scott Brown are doing it for the same reason. Obviously, Scott Brown is doing it in order to promote the political agenda of the Christian Patriarchy Movement, and Rachel Held Evans is doing it to undermine the authority of scripture. It also may explain where some of her odd ideas of Biblical interpretation come from. However, could it be that the odd things such as the Christian Patriarchy Movement, the Family Integrated Churches, and these views on elections are wrong because of the bad hermeneutics of application of scripture, and not because there is a problem with the Bible?

It was extremely interesting to find Scott Brown saying what he said, and to find Rachel Held Evans saying what she said all at the same time. However, the reality is, I think that Rachel Held Evans’ work should have more force to someone like Scott Brown than it should to those of us who care about proper hermeneutics. When you have hermeneutics like you have with Vision forum and Christian Patriarchy Movement, you are forced to the kinds of conclusions that you find in Evans. They may deny these conclusions, but they have to be arbitrary in so doing. Evans uses “patterns” and “principles,” but totally mangles their intent. However, if it is just a matter of patterns and principles, why should we accept their interpretation of what the intent of these passages is, and not Rachel Held Evans’ interpretation? Upon You simply cannot live consistently with these kind of hermeneutics; you have to understand how the intent of language relates to what is said.


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