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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Progressive Revelation and Homosexual Marriage

In the past few weeks (and let's be honest, years) I've heard various differing positions on homosexuals, their relationships with each other, and positions on their marital rights. Doug Hankins offered his take on what he understands to be the three primary reactions on this particular topic, and I definitely think he's on to something. To be in calm and rational discussion is certainly better with controversial issues than to pursue an aggressive attitude which can shut any communication down among differing opinions.

However, there is one reaction I have yet to read anywhere, which is in some ways more concerned with the progress of theology than what the Bible claims in terms of sexual relationships. There is a concept called "progressive revelation" which roughly claims that later books of the Bible contain a fuller revelation from God. While I have a few issues with this (it can most certainly be misused), I think a nuanced version of progressive revelation can be helpful for the discussion.

Does the view of God change throughout the Bible? Most certainly. With each new generation, the authors of the day brought pen to paper so that they could more fully understand God's character. God in Genesis (or perhaps that book's perception of God) is not quite the same as God in Isaiah, nor is Jesus identical from gospel to gospel. If Hebrews was written later rather than earlier, does a progressive revelatory view dictate that Jesus is indeed of the order of Melchizedek? Most likely, despite the lack of any other evidence for understanding Jesus in such a light. Earlier books have no conception of a physical resurrection or of much of an afterlife at all, or of a Son of God, or many other things which are now taken for granted. Does this mean that the earliest followers of Yahweh did not go to some form of heaven? There are a great many questions to consider.

My question for this discussion is this: If theology in the Bible can evolve over time, why do we tend to assume that it stopped progressing after the Bible's "official" canonization? If we're honest and know just a little of the past, we can admit that the understanding of God has changed continually throughout Jewish-Christian history. The additional understanding of God as Trinity, christological readings of OT texts, and any number of scientific discoveries that we hold as normative which do not agree with biblical evidence (heliocentrism vs. geocentrism; the moon as a source of light vs. as a reflector of light; etc.) are a history of our changing understanding of God.

So if our understanding of God can and has changed throughout the span of history, is it still open to change? Some things haven't changed, because people have almost always held them to be true. The name of God in Exodus 34.5-7 has provided a lens through which other later texts can be understood (which in some ways reverses the position of progressive revelation), but has he ever ceased being the one who keeps "steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and sin"? I would hope not. But as our understanding of God continues to grow, to evolve, we must do the same. It was not too long ago that racial segregation and slavery were met with scriptural support, but such an understanding of scripture was done away with for good reason. It seems a great portion of the world has condemned slavery because it was not justifiable. If we feel the same kind of oppression in whatever days lie ahead, will we allow our understanding of God to grow, or will we attempt to ensure he remains contained and safe? If we seek first the kingdom, will we use it to oppress or to liberate? If NT texts made no mention of homosexuality, would we continue to use the OT texts for our convenience, or would we share in Peter's vision where a voice says, "What God has made clean, you must not call unclean"?

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