Exegesis without Seat Belts or An Autobiographical Hermeneutics Lesson

So let’s have a little autobiographical hermeneutics lesson.

I was reared on Peter Leithart’s knee. James B. Jordan is my godfather, hermeneutically speaking. And what I mean by this is that I was taught to read the Bible Through New Eyes. What this means for those of you new to the party is that I was taught to read the Bible typologically. This is actually a hermeneutic rooted in the Scriptures themselves. How can Matthew say that when Joseph took Jesus and Mary to Egypt it was fulfilling Hosea’s prophecy, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Mt. 2:15, Hos. 11:1)? Many conservative hermeneutics professors will tell you that you can’t really try that kind of exegesis at home. But the real answer, in short, is typology. God is fond of tropes, of types, of signs and symbols. This is the way He made the world. All of history, all of nature is His spoken poetry. The heavens declare the glory of God. They are words with meaning. This is why the prophets can say that the sun will go dark and the moon will turn to blood when they are talking about the destruction of an empire, the eclipse of civilizations, the end of one “world” and the beginning of another. This is because the sun, moon, and stars are “rulers” according to Genesis 1. They rule the day and the night, and they represent heavenly and earthly authorities. This is why in Joseph’s dream he saw the heavenly host bowing down to him, and his family all understood what was up.

In the Middle Ages this tradition of typological interpretation continued, though you may be aware that it expanded into a broader allegorical method, which often did not believe in seat belts or speed limits, hermeneutically speaking. This is how we end up with long treatises theorizing the symbolism of the Shulammite’s breasts in the Song of Songs as the Old and New Testaments. Umm… maybe not. But Hughes Oliphant Old, my friend and professor at Erskine Theological Seminary (who is now with the Lord), taught me how typological exegesis was a central part of the Reformation project. Unlike the allegorical excess on the one hand and a certain radical Anabaptist hermeneutic on the other (which demanded a wooden, literal interpretation at every turn), the Reformers sought to remain staunchly in the center of the apostolic method of interpretation which was both grammatical-historical and typological. This means that words have fixed historical and lexical meanings which must be carefully investigated, and at the same time, part of the lexical meaning and historical usage of words includes various poetic allusions, associations, and so on. This is why all of the magisterial reformers jettisoned lots of the Roman rituals but retained infant baptism.

Now, in the recent, what shall we say, hoopla about pink hair, one of the most common criticisms was that I was not clear in what I wrote. And from time to time, I have been told that I have a practice and habit of writing something that is unclear and confusing, which necessitates a follow up post (or three) to clarify and un-confuse everyone. While this is certainly possible, the trouble is that I have friends who are much wiser and far more intelligent than me who would tell me if I’ve written something that amounts to a cafeteria mystery slop. But as it happens, I believe that with the pink hair business and this more recent “gay culture” conversation, the problem is not that I’ve written unclearly. The problem is that I’ve written far too clearly. I’ve put my finger on particular idols that are precious to people, and this is the really appalling and offensive thing.

Here’s how I know this is the case. These same people who are howling about me being unclear (and I’m speaking in generalities here) would not be howling if I wrote a paean in praise of ministers wearing white robes, or making the sign of the cross in worship, or burning incense during the prayers of the people. But here’s the thing: the Bible does not speak clearly about any of those things. There is no verse that commands a minister to wear a white robe. There is no verse that commands God’s people to make the sign of the cross. There is no verse that commands Christians to burn incense in worship on the Lord’s Day. So how do Christians arrive at those things? (Just to be clear: I do wear a white robe to preach in, but I’m not in favor of making the sign of the cross or incense in worship). The issue here is one of authority. Who is in charge? Who is our authority? The answer, if we are Christians, is that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is Lord of our hair and clothing. He is Lord of our worship. He is Lord of our masculinity and femininity.

Where do we derive what the Lord Jesus would have us to do? From the Bible. This means that we must read the Bible, and we must interpret the Bible. And this brings us full circle. I was taught to read the Bible typologically. That means I was taught to listen for the echoes, the reverberations of the Spirit in every single word He chose when He inspired the Word of God. So for example: when Paul uses the word malakoi to refer to effeminate men in 1 Cor. 6:9, and the only other uses of that same word in the New Testament (Mt. 11:8 and Lk. 7:25) refer to the soft clothing of soft men who live self-serving, pleasure-seeking lives in kings’ palaces — as opposed to John the Baptizer, the prophet who stood boldly for the truth, who rebuked kings and pharisees for their sins — when I read that, James Jordan and Peter Leithart taught me to hang my hat on that. That’s not an accident. The Holy Spirit orchestrated that linguistic and thematic connection. What are effeminate men? Effeminate men live self-indulgent lives, cowardly lives, preening in front of mirrors, fussing with the textures of their garments and sheets, obsessed and overzealous with details, paying tribute to nuance as a holy act.

So here’s the question: is there a biblical case to be made for a minister to wear a white robe when he preaches? How strong is it? How clear is it? Is there a biblical case to be made for making the sign of the cross? How strong is it? How clear is it? Now, switch the question around: Is there a biblical case to be made that America and the West have been heavily feminized? Is there a biblical case to be made that Christian men in the West are largely effeminate, weak, soft? Well, how many babies have we allowed to be crushed in their mother’s wombs? 60 million, you say? Nine men in black robes told us all to do it, overturning the laws of most of the states in America, and all the men in America bent over and took it. We took it. And we’re still taking it to this very hour. And now Obergefell has come down, and we’re in the process of taking it some more. And soon, we will be told that any deranged man who believes he is a woman must be allowed to shower with our wives and daughters and share their restrooms. Is there a biblical case to be made that American Christians are soft, weak, limp-wristed, and thoughtlessly imbibing gay culture? How clear is it?

Well, one of the clearest signs is that when a minister writes a blog post that says Christians dyeing their hair pink need to seriously consider whether they are being groomed by our transgender overlords — and a bunch of otherwise thoughtful, godly, conservative Christians begin harping on being unclear. If that’s unclear, then I need to stop wearing a white robe in worship. If that’s unclear, I need to stop wearing a clerical collar. If that’s unclear, we may need to stop having communion every single week. We may need to stop baptizing babies. We are Christians and that means that our standard is Scripture. You cannot insist on a tight and wooden exegesis in one place and then insist on free association in another. You cannot pretend to have the secret decoder ring for interpretation when it comes to some things and then scratch your head in confusion when it comes to others.

The point is that typological interpretation — when it goes to seed — is basically a cover for doing whatever you want to do. Now, I still fully believe in typological interpretation. In fact, that is what I’ve been doing all this time. I see flaming drag queens wearing hot pink hair, and  then I see a nice Christian lady doing the same thing. And I want to know: do you know what that means? The Bible says that men may not wear women’s clothing and may not have sex with animals. How does that happen? How do civilizations get there?

And so in this most recent couple of posts, the hue and cry has gone up that I need to be clearer, write more clearly, your point was muddled. You didn’t clarify that all nuance and all attention to details are not effeminate and you didn’t make it clear why attention to detail could be sinful and so on. And to this, I cheerfully say, nope. I wasn’t unclear at all. It was not muddled. It was crystal clear.

Here is what I wrote in my original post anticipating the very objections I have received, with key words underlined:

if Nate Silver can opt out of gay culture, while practicing sodomy, then Christians can foolishly, naively, and sinfully “opt in to” gay culture, while studiously avoiding homosexual acts. Of course, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. Just as the meat sacrificed to Aphrodite was still just a hamburger for a Christian to enjoy with a clean conscience, Christians must nevertheless be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Again:

sinful appropriation of gay culture (even minus the “discrete acts of sodomy”) is dangerous for your own soul as well as the souls of those around you. What are you encouraging your own soul to be?

And again:

Now, it’s of course important that Christians not merely react. There’s a kind of thuggish obliviousness that understandably caricatures some pseudo forms of masculinity.

And again:

Yes, of course, in the same way that the occasional Jael will need to put the kibosh on some Caananite thug, this is no excuse for men to be devoid of all manners.

And finally:

Where men spend their energy paying tribute to nuance as a holy act, they are sinning against their own masculinity, the God who made them male, and tragically leaving the walls of Christendom completely unmanned. No wonder the hordes of barbarians stream into our midst. We are letting them. We are too busy choreographing next Sunday’s guitar solo. We are planning to prance down the aisle in our liturgical drag. We are nuancing the Hell out of some Greek word with overzealous pleasure in order that we may safely avoid coming into any real conflict with sin, Satan, or the flesh.

Done in a particular way, done the way our culture is doing it, “paying tribute to nuance as a holy act,” overzealous and excessive care for details is effeminate, gay, and homosexual because men often use nuance to hide from the real fight against sin, Satan, and the flesh. Or flip it around: would those judging my posts as unclear be shocked and perplexed when the same exegetical measure is used on their wardrobe choices, their latest tattoo or piercing, their new liturgical preference? To the extent that they would, this is because everyone is fine with typology as long as it allows them to do whatever the cool kids are doing. Yes, I do believe we must strive to communicate clearly, and no, I haven’t arrived. And if the typology is too rich, I’ll try to keep it grounded in a more grammatical-historical method when critiquing the gods of the age. But Paul is one of my heroes, and my aim would be to receive Peter’s commendation of Paul, that in my writings are some things “hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16). No, I’m not saying my writing is on par with Scripture or that anyone with a question has a problem, but I am saying that false gods and idols have a way of demanding that we not read carefully. Sin and the flesh have skin in the game and have reasons for not wanting to understand. This also gives people an out who know they must agree with the overall point but don’t want to have to stand up to the fussers. I agreed with his overall point, but it was pretty unclear…

May the Lord have mercy on us, and give us truly humble and repentant hearts. May He give us New Eyes, so that we might be able to see just how blind we’ve become.

  1. Linda Mock August 12

    Thank you for this!

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