At the Gate: The Gospel Says

Sitting at the gate, I see the need for us to be rooted in the Gospel. An article by Walter Brueggemann (9/21/22, link below) has moved me to see and affirm this. To get the full impact of Brueggemann’s article, you must read it for yourself. I urge you to do so. What follows in this post is an extrapolation of some of his ideas, mingling them with my own.

I begin with a statement Billy Graham made decades ago—that his ministry was rooted in Scripture, and that was why in his evangelistic crusades he laced his sermons with “the Bible says” to show the foundation of his message. I have taken this commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture to heart throughout my life and ministry, and despite what some falsely allege about me, I continue to do so today.

But as the years have gone by, we find ourselves in a different cultural and religious context than Graham did. With respect to key issues today, it is no longer sufficient to declare “the Bible says.” Why? Because as Brueggemann points out, the Bible does not have a singular message with respect to all sorts of things. It does not speak with “one voice.” Illustrating this with regard to LGBTQ+ people, he notes, “The reason the Bible seems to speak “in one voice” concerning matters that pertain to LGBTQ+ persons is that the loud voices most often cite only one set of texts, to the determined disregard of the texts that offer a counter-position.” As he points out, there are restrictive passages and welcoming ones. And this calls for a new exegetical task.

This means that passages must not merely be quoted, the biblical message must be interpreted; indeed, the exegetical task requires the adjudication of conflicting texts. But what do we use to make the adjudication? Brueggemann asserts, the interpretive lens is the Gospel. He says (and I agree) that for Christians, we are at a time when we must now declare “the Gospel says.” Declaring that “the Bible says” is insufficient with respect to key issues today. We are Jesus people; his message is the trajectory we follow. With respect to human sexuality, he stands with the welcoming voice in two ways: (1) by not citing the two Levitical prohibitions (18:22 or 20:13) when he could easily have done so [1], and then (2) by commending eunuchs (“born that way” as intersex and/or transgender human beings) in Matthew 19:12, in a spirit akin to Isaiah 56:3-5. When you bring his sense of mission (Luke 4:18-19) into the picture is even more clear.

After much substantive detail, Brueggemann concludes his article summarizing the interpretive principles he has set forth,

“Because our interpretation is filtered through our close experience, our context calls for an embrace of God’s newness, our interpretive trajectory is bent toward justice and mercy, our faith calls us to the embrace of the other, and our hope is in the God of the gospel and in no other, the full acceptance and embrace of LGBTQ+ persons follows as a clear mandate of the gospel in our time. Claims to the contrary are contradictions of the truth of the gospel on all the counts indicated above….All of these angles of interpretation, taken together, authorize a sign for LGBTQ+ persons: WELCOME! Welcome to the neighborhood! Welcome to the gifts of the community! Welcome to the work of the community! Welcome to the continuing emancipatory work of interpretation!”

Jesus is the Gospel. We follow him, and we declare “the Gospel says” as the message which “in the fullness of time” is the emancipating trajectory (e.g. Ephesians 1:9-10).

[1] Out of the entire book of Leviticus, Jesus only quoted one verse, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). Combined with the command to love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), Jesus identifies with the inclusive-love tradition of the Old Testament. Brueggemann writes about this in nearly all his books, articles, and in his audio/video presentations.

Here is the link to Brueggemann’s article referred to in this post:

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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