Luke Timothy Johnson: An Honest Heretic
Luke Timothy Johnson used to be a hero of mine. One of the keys to my conversion was being convinced that the New Testament provided a reliable witness to the words and deeds of Jesus. Along with the brilliant work of NT Wright and others on the “historical Jesus”, Johnson’s scathing response to the Jesus Seminar proved a considerable help. Now that I thumb back through his work, The Real Jesus, I see the holes in his thinking that I missed way back then, his central refutation of the Jesus Seminar being grounded not in the New Testament but in the living experience of Jesus in the Church.
Since that time Luke Timothy Johnson has succumbed to the arguments of those who want to normalize homosexual behavior in the church. Unsurprisingly, he grounds his present position in the “experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.”
I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.
I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order…more
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