Sex, death and marriage

In case anyone is interested, this is the paper I gave at an ETS panel on theological methodology for discussing marriage; many of the arguments have or will appear in print elsewhere, but I’m not going to publish this, so it may as well be here.   And I say to you, that whoever puts away his wife  – except on account of porneia – and marries another woman commits adultery. [His] disciples said to him, ‘If that is the way it is for a man with his wife, it is not a good idea to get married!’ Mt. 19:9-10 (my tr.) This retort from the disciples fascinates me, as does its neglect in recent commentary and ethical reflection. Let me pose my question straightforwardly: can any of us here imagine Christian leaders in our own context responding to a...

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Amy Winehouse and breaking the Golden Rule

Maybe my mind is just less well ordered than most people’s, but for me some the moments of real intellectual breakthrough come when I find myself thinking something that surprises me, and so am forced to analyse that surprising thing to work out why I was thinking it. Whether the thing turns out to be right or wrong, or just complicated, I understand better my own instincts and assumptions as a result. One such happened last week, in an ETS panel session in Atlanta. One of the other panelists, David Gushee, closed an impressive impromptu peroration with an appeal to ‘the golden rule’ – ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you.’ I realised that I was thinking that this principle was wrong. Doubting the golden rule, of course, is one of those ethical...

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Ways to prove a point

One day last week we had two seminars here in St Andrews. Our weekly doctrine seminar is presently, under John Webster’s guidance, working through Katherine Sonderegger’s first volume of her Systematic Theology, entitled The Doctrine of God. It is a fascinating text, sometimes very reminiscent of (the English translation of) Barth’s Church Dogmatics in its cadences, and devoted to the bold claim that the unicity of God is the vital first word of Christian theology. That evening Oliver Crisp, who I have known, liked, and respected since we were both grad students at King’s College London, was in town and gave us an excellent paper on divine simplicity. It was a good day. Amongst many other significant scholarly achievements, Oliver is of...

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Why I don’t want to win many arguments

I have had a couple of conversations with (good, close, affirming, valued) friends recently in which I have been challenged to be less generous in argument: ‘truth matters, and we need to contend for it!’ – that sort of line. I confess that this makes me uncomfortable. Truth does matter, yes; that said, my present opinions are, I am certain, not truth. I hope that, in many cases, they approximate to it; in certain core cases I fervently hope that they approximate closely. I do not, however, want to confuse myself with the One who could say ‘I am the Truth’. Because of this, there is a proper humility and a proper provisionality in the way I hold my opinions; in all things, I acknowledge that I might be wrong. As to needing to contend...

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Theology, ethics, and church growth: or, how to prove anything with statistics

It is an important part of the role of the academic, particularly the academic who chooses to comment in non-specialist arenas, to be very clear about precisely what is, and what is not, shown by a given piece of evidence. I picked up on a minor Twitter storm yesterday concerning claims and counter-claims about the linkage of church decline with a progressive/accepting stance on issues of sexuality.

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