Themelios, Volume 40, Issue 3
196 Pages

Themelios, Volume 40, Issue 3

196 Pages


Themelios is an international, evangelical, peer-reviewed theological journal that expounds and defends the historic Christian faith. Themelios is published three times a year online at The Gospel Coalition ( and in print by Wipf and Stock. Its primary audience is theological students and pastors, though scholars read it as well. Themelios began in 1975 and was operated by RTSF/UCCF in the UK, and it became a digital journal operated by The Gospel Coalition in 2008. The editorial team draws participants from across the globe as editors, essayists, and reviewers.
General Editor: D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Managing Editor: Brian Tabb, Bethlehem College and Seminary
Consulting Editor: Michael J. Ovey, Oak Hill Theological College
Administrator: Andrew David Naselli, Bethlehem College and Seminary
Book Review Editors: Jerry Hwang, Singapore Bible College; Alan Thompson, Sydney Missionary & Bible College; Nathan A. Finn, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Hans Madueme, Covenant College; Dane Ortlund, Crossway; Jason Sexton, Golden Gate Baptist Seminary
Editorial Board:
Gerald Bray, Beeson Divinity School
Lee Gatiss, Wales Evangelical School of Theology
Paul Helseth, University of Northwestern, St. Paul
Paul House, Beeson Divinity School
Ken Magnuson, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Jonathan Pennington, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
James Robson, Wycliffe Hall
Mark D. Thompson, Moore Theological College
Paul Williamson, Moore Theological College
Stephen Witmer, Pepperell Christian Fellowship
Robert Yarbrough, Covenant Seminary



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DESCRIPTION hemelios is an international, evangelical, peer-reviewed teological journal tat expounds and defends te istoric Cristian fait. Its primary audience is teological students and pastors, toug scolars read it as well. hemelios began in 1975 and was operated by RTSF/UCCF in te UK, and it became a digital journal operated by he Gospel Coalition in 2008. he editorial team draws participants from across te globe as editors, essayists, and reviewers.hemelios is publised tree times a year online at he Gospel Coalition website in PDF and HTML, and may be purcased in digital format wit Logos Bible Software and in print wit Wipf and Stock.hemeliosis copyrigted by he Gospel Coalition. Readers are free to use it and circulate it in digital form witout furter permission, but tey must acknowledge te source and may not cange te content..
EDITORS General Editor:D. A. Carson Trinity Evangelical Divinity Scool 2065 Half Day Road Deerfield, IL 60015, USAtemelios@t Managing Editor:Brian Tabb Betleem College & Seminary 720 13t Avenue Sout Minneapolis, MN 55415, USA brian.tabb@t Contributing Editor:Micael J. Ovey Oak Hill heological College Case Side, Soutgate London, N14 4PS, UKmikeo@oak Administrator:Andy Naselli Betleem College & Seminary 720 13t Avenue Sout Minneapolis, MN 55415, USAtemelios@t
BOOK REVIEW EDITORS Old TestamentJerry Hwang Singapore Bible College 9–15 Adam Road Singapore 289886 jerry.wang@t New TestamentDavid Starling Morling College 120 Herring Road Macquarie Park, NSW 2113, Australiadavid.starling@t History and Historical heologyStepen Eccer Souteastern Baptist heological Seminary P. O. Box 1889 Wake Forest, NC 27588, USAstepen.eccer@t
Systematic heology and BioeticsHans Madueme Covenant College 14049 Scenic Higway Lookout Mountain, GA 30750, USAans.madueme@t Etics(but not Bioetics)and Pastoralia Dane Ortlund Crossway 1300 Crescent Street Weaton, IL 60187, USA dane.ortlund@t Mission and CultureJason S. Sexton California State University PLN 120 800 N. State College Fullteron, CA 92834, USA jason.sexton@t
EDITORIAL BOARD Gerald Bray,Beeson Divinity Scool; Hassell Bullock,Weaton College; Lee Gatiss,Wales Evangelical Scool of heology; Paul Helset,University of Nortwestern, St. Paul; Paul House,Beeson Divinity Scool; Ken Magnuson,he Soutern Baptist heological Seminary; Jonatan Pennington,he Soutern Baptist heological Seminary; Mark D. hompson, Moore heological College; Paul Williamson,Moore heological College; Stepen Witmer,Pepperell Cristian Fellowsip; Robert Yarbroug,Covenant Seminary.
ARTICLES hemeliostypically publises articles tat are 4,000 to 9,000 words (including footnotes). Prospective contributors sould submit articles by email to te managing editor in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) or Ric Text Format (.rtf ). Submissions sould not include te autor’s name or institutional affiliation for blind peer-review. Articles sould use clear, concise Englis and sould consistently adopt eiter UK or USA spelling and punctuation conventions. Special caracters (suc as Greek and Hebrew) require a Unicode font. Abbreviations and bibliograpic references sould conform tohe SBL Handbook of Style(2nd ed.), supplemented byhe Cicago Manual of Style(16t ed.). For examples of te te journal's style, consult te most recent hemelios issues and te contributor guidelines.
REVIEWS he book review editors generally select individuals for book reviews, but potential reviewers may contact tem about reviewing specific books. As part of arranging book reviews, te book review editors will supply book review guidelines to reviewers. th Printed by Wipf and Stock Publishers, 199 W. 8 Ave., Eugene, OR 97401. ISBN:978-1-4982-3624-9
hemelios40.3 (2015): 383–88
On Disputable Matters  D. A. Carson 
D. A. Carson is researc professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity Scool in Deerfield, Illinois, and general editor ofhemelios.
very generation of Cristians faces te need to decide just wat beliefs and beavior are morally beEtat a person will not inerit te kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9–10), but oter kindsavior guarantees mandated of all believers, and wat beliefs and beavior may be left to te individual believer’s conscience. he distinction is rooted in Scripture: for example, te practice of certain kinds of of beavior are left up to te individual Cristian: “One person considers one day more sacred tan anoter; anoter considers every day alike. Eac of tem sould be fully convinced in teir own mind. Woever regards one day as special does so to te Lord. Woever eats meat does so to te Lord, for tey give tanks to God; and woever abstains does so to te Lord and gives tanks to God” (Rom 14:5–6). he matters were Cristians may safely agree to disagree ave traditionally been labeledadiapora, “indifferent tings.” hey are not “indifferent tings” in te sense tat all sides view tem as unimportant, for some believers, according to Paul, view tem as very important, or view teir freedom from suc beavior as very important: “Eac of tem sould be fully convinced in teir own mind.” hey are indifferent matters in te sense tat believing certain tings or not believing certain tings, adopting certain practices or not adopting tem, does not keep a person from ineriting te kingdom of God. Today tere is a tendency to refer to sucadiaporaas “disputable matters” rater tan as “indifferent matters”—tat is, teologically disputable matters. On te wole, tat terminology is probably better: in contemporary linguistic usage “disputable matters” is less likely to be misunderstood tan “indifferent matters.” In te easy cases, te difference between indisputable matters and disputable matters is straigtforward. he resurrection of Jesus Crist is an indisputable matter: tat is, tis is someting to be confessed as bedrock trut if te gospel makes any sense and if people are to be saved (1 Cor 15:1–19). If Crist did not rise from te dead, our fait is futile, te witnesses wo claimed tey saw im are not telling te trut, we remain in our sins, and we are of all people most to be pitied because we are building our lives on a lie. By contrast, Paul allows people to differ on te matter of onoring certain days, wit eac side fully persuaded in its own mind. Immediately, owever, we recognize tat some tings tat were tougt teologically indisputable in te past ave become disputable. Paedobaptism was at one time judged in some circles to be so indisputably rigt tat Anabaptists could be drowned wit a clear conscience: if tey wanted to be immersed, let us grant tem teir wis. Until te last tree or four decades, going to movies and drinking alcool was proibited in te majority of American evangelical circles: te proibition, in suc circles, was indisputable. Nowadays most evangelicals view suc proibitions as arcaic at best, displaced by a neat transfer to te teologically disputable column. Indeed, suc conduct may serve as
a possible sign of gospel freedom. Mind you, te fact tat I qualified te assertions wit expressions like “most evangelicals” and “majority of American evangelical circles” sows tat te line between wat is teologically indisputable and wat is teologically disputable may be driven by cultural and istorical factors of wic we are scarcely aware at te time. Moreover, some tings can cross te indisputable/ disputable divide te oter way. For example, in te past many Cristians judged smoking to fall among teadiapora, but teir number as considerably srunk. Scientifically demonstrable ealt issues tied to smoking, reinforced by a well-embroidered teology of te body, as ensured tat for most Cristians smoking is indisputably a no-no. Since, ten, certain matters ave glided from one column to te oter, it cannot come as a surprise tat some people today are trying to facilitate te same process again, so as to effect a similar transfer. Doubtless te sowcase item at te moment is omosexual marriage. Yes, suc marriage was viewed as indisputably wrong in te past, but surely, it is argued, today we sould move tis topic to te disputable column: let eac Cristian be fully persuaded in teir own mind, and refrain from making tis matter a test of fellowsip, let alone te kind of matter on wic salvation depends. Wat follows are ten reflections on wat does and does not constitute a teologically disputable matter. (1) hat someting is disputed does not make it teologically disputable, i.e., part of teadiapora. After all, tere is no cardinal doctrine tat asnotbeen disputed, and not many practices, eiter. Wen te troublemakers wo followed in Paul’s train argued tat in addition to Crist and is deat, it was necessary to be circumcised and take on te burden of te law if one was to be a Cristian under te Jewis Messia, Paul did not suggest tat everyone was entitled to teir own opinion. Rater, e pronounced ananatema, because outside te apostolic gospel, wic is tied to te exclusive sufficiency of Jesus, tere is no salvation (Gal 1:8–9). Wen some in Corint gave te impression tat certain forms of fornication could be tolerated in te curc, and migt even be an expression of Cristian freedom, Paul insisted on te exercise of curc discipline all te way to excommunication, and empatically taugt tat certain beavior, including fornication, inevitably means a person is excluded from te kingdom (1 Cor 5–6). Across te centuries, people ave disputed te doctrine of te Trinity, te deity of Crist, is resurrection from te dead, and muc more, but tat does not mean tat suc matters belong in te disputable column. In sort: just because someting is in fact disputed does not mean tat it is teologically disputable. If tis point were not valid,any doctrine or moral stance could be relativized and placed in teadiaporaby te simple expedience of finding a few people to column dispute its validity. (2) Wat places someting in te indisputable column, ten, is not weter or not it is disputed by some people, or as ever been disputed, but wat te Scriptures consistently say about te topic, and ow te Scriptures tie it to oter matters. At te end of te day, tat turns on sober, even-anded, reverent exegesis—as Atanasius understood in is day on a different topic. Atanasius won te Cristological debate by te quality and credibility of is careful exegesis and teological integration. Similarly today: even if one disagrees wit tis or tat detail in teir arguments, te kind of careful exegetical work displayed at a popular level by Kevin DeYoung and at a more tecnical level by Robert A. J. Gagnon represents a level of detail and care simply not found by tose wo wis to skate around te more 1 obvious readings of te relevant texts. To put tese first two points togeter: hat some still argue tat
1 Kevin DeYoung,Wat Does te Bible Really Teac About Homosexuality?(Weaton, IL: Crossway, 2015); Robert A. J. Gagnon,he Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics(Nasville: Abingdon, 2001).
On Disputable Matters
te New Testament texts sanction or even mandate an Arian Cristology, disputing te point endlessly, does not mean tat we sould admit Jeova’s Witnesses into te Cristian community today—tey are exegetically and teologically mistaken, and teir error is so grievous, owever entusiastically disputed, tat te deity of te Word-made-fles, of te eternal Son, cannot ever legitimately be transferred out of te indisputable column. Exactly te same ting must be asserted regarding te Bible’s proibition of omosexuality, owever complex te pastoral issues. In sort: te most fundamental tool for establising wat is or is not an indisputable, is careful, faitful exegesis. (3) My tird, fourt, and fift observations about disputable matters arise from a close reading of 1 Corintians 8:1–11:1. In 1 Corintians 8, Paul does not assert tat Cristians sould not eat meat tat as been offered to idols. Rater, e insists tat te meat as not been contaminated; tere is noting intrinsically wrong wit eating suc meat. Neverteless, Cristians wit a “weak” conscience—tat is, Cristians wose connections wit idolatry in te past are so recent tat tey tink tat eating suc meat is sinful, even toug tere is noting sinful about te action itself—mustnoteat suc meat, lest 2 tey do damage to teir conscience. Eating te meat tat as been offered to idols is not intrinsically wrong, but violating one’s own conscience is wrong. he conscience is suc a delicate spiritual organ tat it is easily damaged: to act in violation of conscience damages conscience, it ardens conscience— and surely no Cristian wo cares about rigt and wrong wants to live wit a damaged conscience, an increasingly ardened conscience. If we violate our consciences wen wetinktat wat we are doing is wrong (even toug, according to Paul, te action itself is not wrong), ten we will find it easier to violate our conscience wen te envisaged actioniswrong, wit te result tat our conscience will be less able to steer us clear of sin. Of course, on te long aul one opes and prays tat “weak” Cristians will, by increased understanding of rigt and wrong derived from careful reading of Scripture, transform teir “weak” consciences into robust “strong” consciences. here is no particular virtue in remaining perennially “weak,” for tat simply indicates tat one’s moral understanding as not yet been sufficiently saped by te Word of God. (4) Meanwile, according to Paul in 1 Corintians 8, Cristians wit a “strong” conscience—tat is, Cristians wo rigtly see tat tere is noting intrinsically wrong wit eating food tat as been offered to idols, and wose consciences are terefore untroubled if tey do so eat—rigtly perceive te intrinsic innocence of te act of eating suc meat. Neverteless, Paul insists, te demands of love require tat tey refrain from suc eating if by going aead and eating tey wittingly or unwittingly encourage tose wit a weak conscience to follow suit. In sort, te love of te “strong” Cristian for te “weak” Cristian may place te former in a position were e or se will coose not to do someting tat is not itself intrinsically wrong. In oter words, an action tat properly belongs in te disputable column, leaving te Cristian free to engage in tat action, may, because of te Cristian’s obligation to love te weaker believer, become off limits to te stronger believer. his does not mean tat te action as sifted to te indisputable column: tat would mean, in tis case, tat te action is always wrong, intrinsically so. So we are driven to te conclusion tat an action belonging in te disputable column is not necessarily one tat Cristians are free to take up. Rater, Cristians may rule te action out of bounds eiter because tey admit tey ave weak consciences, or, knowing teir consciences are strong, because tey voluntarily put te action aside out of love for weaker believers.
2 On tese matters, see Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley,Conscience: Wat It Is, How to Train It, and Loving hose Wo Differ(Weaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).
Incidentally, one sould not confuse te logic of 1 Corintians 8 wit te stance tat finds a strong legalist saying to a believer wo tinks tat eating meat offered to idols is acceptable, “You may tink tat suc action is legitimate, but every time you do it you are offending me—and since you are not permitted to offend me, terefore you must not engage in tat activity.” he person wo utters words to tat effect, owever, is in no danger of being swayed by te actions of tose wo engage in te activity. hey are using a manipulative argument to defend a misguided position in wic tey are convinced tat te act of eating meat tat as been offered to idols is invariably wrong. In oter words, tey operate out of te conviction tat tis activity lies in te indisputable column—and tus tey find temselves at odds wit Paul’s wisdom and insigt. (5) How, ten, does te argument of 1 Corintians 8 relate to te argument of 1 Corintians 10:14–22, were it appears tat te apostle Paul absolutely forbids eating te sacrifices of pagans, wic is noting oter tan participating in demonic worsip? It is difficult to be absolutely certain, but it appears tat in 1 Corintians 8 wat is permitted in principle is te eating of meat tat as been offered to idols, wile in 1 Corintians 10 wat is proibited is eating meat tat is part of participating in any service or worsip or cult or rite tat is tied to pagan deities. And tis affords us anoter insigt: actions tat may belong to teadiapora, i.e., tat are rigtly judged disputable, may in certain cultural contexts become absolutely condemned, tus now belonging in te indisputable column. More briefly: in te rigt context, wat belongs in te disputable column gets sifted to te indisputably bad column. On te basis of Romans 14 and wat Paul says about some viewing one day above anoter, and oters viewing all days te same, Cristians may disagree about weter it is appropriate for teir cildren to play in soccer matces on te Lord’s Day. At some point, owever, if tose soccer matces mean tat neiter te cild nor te parents are meeting regularly wit te Lord’s people in corporate worsip and for biblical instruction and edification, wat appears as a disputable matter becomes indisputably bad (Hebrews 10:25). (6) hat leads us to a still broader consideration. Sometimes te teological associations of an action, in a particular context, establis weter an action is rigt or wrong. In one context, it may be absolutely rigt or wrong, and tus belong in te indisputable column; in anoter context, te action may belong to teadiapora.Consider te strange fact tat Paul absolutely refuses to allow Titus to be circumcised (Gal 2:1–5), but circumcises Timoty (Acts 16:3). On a superficial reading, it is small wonder tat Paul’s opponents dismiss im as a people pleaser (Gal 1:10) wo sniffs te wind and adopts any position tat seems convenient at te moment. But a little probing discloses Paul’s reasoning in bot instances. In te context of Galatians 2, Paul’s opponents seem to be saying tat a Gentile must be circumcised and come under te law of Moses if e or se is to be saved by te Jewis Messia. If Paul agreed wit suc reasoning, it would mean tat Jesus’s sacrificial deat and resurrection are an insufficient ground for Gentiles to be accepted before God: tey must also become Jews. hat jeopardizes te absolute sufficiency of Crist and is cross-work and resurrection. he gospel is at stake. Paul and te oter apostles ensure tat Titus is not circumcised: te issue is non-negotiable; te proibition lies in te indisputable column. In te case of Timoty, owever, no one is claiming tat Timoty must be circumcised to be saved. Rater, because of is mixed parentage, e was never “done,” and if e is circumcised at tis stage it will make mobility in Jewis omes and synagogues a little easier, tus facilitating evangelism. It’s not tat Timoty mustnotbe circumcised, and it’s not tat emustbe circumcised. Rater, tis is te outworking of te apostle’s cultural flexibility for evangelistic purposes: e becomes a Jew to win te Jews, and becomes like a person witout te law to win te Gentiles (1 Cor 9:19–23).
On Disputable Matters
(7) Under te new covenant, tere is a deep suspicion of tose wo, for te sake of greater spirituality or deeper purity, elevate celibacy or wo proibit certain foods or wo inject merely uman (i.e., biblically unwarranted) commands, or wo scrap over minor points (e.g., Mark 7:19; 1 Tim 4:3–4; 1:6; 2 Tim 2:14, 16–17; Tit 1:10–16; cf. Rom 14). Suc people try to elevate matters tat sould never be placed in te indisputable column to a ig place in te ierarcy of virtues. Paul as no objection to celibacy, and in te rigt context e can extol its advantages (1 Cor 7), but e resolutely sets is face against tose wo proibit marriage, tinking, peraps, tat celibacy signals a iger spirituality. Almost always tese topics tat some individuals want to make indisputably mandated are at best relatively periperal, external, or clearly presented in Scripture as optional or temporary. (8) Some ave argued tat since Romans 14:5–6 sets te observance of days into te disputable column, and since te days in question must include te Sabbat, and since te Sabbat is part of te Decalogue, and since te Decalogue summarizes moral law, terefore even moral law can cange wit time as new insigts are uncovered. So peraps it is time to say tat te moral proibition of omosexual marriage sould also be revisited. If one moral law (wic, one would ave tougt, lies in te indisputable column) is by New Testament autority sifted to te disputable column, wy sould we not consider sifting oter moral laws, too? he subject, of course, is uge and complex, but a few reflections may clarify some of te issues. (a) Not a few scolars tink tat te days in Romans 14 refer to Jewis feast days tat are tied to ceremonial laws, but not to te Sabbat (e.g., Passover, Yom Kippur). (b) Oters allow tat te Sabbat is included in te days mentioned in Romans 14, but tink te flexibility tat Paul tere allows means tat te sift to Sunday is sanctioned. In tat reading, te form of te Sabbat law is flexible, but not its one-in-seven mandate. (c) Altoug many believers old 3 tat te Decalogue is te perfect summary of moral law oters argue tat te category of moral law, as useful as it is, sould not be deployeda priorito establis wat continues from covenant to covenant, 4 but as ana posterioriinference. In tat case, of course, te argument tat because te Sabbat law is included in te Decalogue it must be moral law, falls to te ground, yet te category of moral law is retained. (d) In any case, in te Bible tere is no text watsoever tat ints tat omosexual marriage migt in some cases be acceptable. he pattern of proibition is absolute. As for days, wedoave a text tat indicates a cange of approac to teir observance, even if we may dispute exactly wat it means. (9) Some draw attention to te argument of William J. Webb in is influential book,Slaves, Women 5 & Homosexualsargues tat te Bible establises trajectories of moral positions, and it is tese. Webb trajectories tat ultimately lead te curc to condemn slavery, and ougt to lead te curc today to egalitarianism. Webb imself advances reasons wy e would not allow te same argument to extend to blessing omosexual marriages—but of course tat is te line of argument promoted in some circles today. his leads to te curious position tat te morality attained centuriesafterte New Testament is complete and circulating is iger tan wat God imself gives in te biblical documents. he most
3 See, most recently, te book by Pilip S. Ross,From te Finger of God: he Biblical and heological Basis for te hreefold Division of te Law(Fearn: Mentor, 2010). 4 E.g., D. A. Carson, “he Tripartite Division of te Law: A Review of Pilip Ross,he Finger of God,” inFrom Creation to New Creation: Biblical heology and Exegesis:Essays in Honor of G. K. Beale, ed. Daniel M. Gurtner and Benjamin L. Gladd (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2013), 223–36. 5 William J. Webb,Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring te Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press: 2001).
6 robust critique of tis position is doubtless te lengty review article by Wayne Grudem. In brief: considerable insigt into Cristian belief and Cristian conduct, in particular wat is mandated and wat is disputable, is to be gained by following te trajectorieswitinte Scriptures, but tat does not justify treating te trajectoriesbeyondte Scriptures as normative, te more so wen suc trajectories undermine wat te Scriptures actually say. (10) A great deal of tis discussion could be construed as a probe into wat Cristians areallowedto do—or, more cynically, wat tey can get away wit. None of te discussion ismeantto be taken tat way (see, especially, te fourt point), but so perverse is te uman eart tat it would be surprising if no one took it tat way. Yet surely serious Cristians will be asking anoter series of questions: Wat will bring glory to God? Wat will sanctify me? Wat conduct will enable me to adorn te gospel? Wat does it mean to take up my cross and follow Jesus? Wat contributes to preparing me for te new eaven and te new eart? Wat will contribute to fruitful evangelism? Wat conduct effervesces in love, fait, joy, and peace? Wat beliefs and conduct nudge me back toward te cross, and forward to loving God wit eart, soul, mind and strengt, and my neigbors as myself? Again: Wat will bring glory to God? So suppose a Cristian is trying to decide weter to go to a movie tat is not only R-rated but as a well-deserved reputation for lauging sleaze. Assessing te coice along te lines of tis editorial—weter banning te film is an indisputable obligation of Cristian morality or belongs to teadiapora—is a useful exercise. One migt acknowledge, for instance, tat some wit a “weak” conscience really souldn’t see it; tat tose wit a “strong” conscience souldn’t see it if tey migt influence tose wit a “weak” conscience; and so fort, as we work our way troug te various points. But surely Cristians will want to ask a different set of questions: Will watcing tis film adversely affect my desire for purity, or will it fill my mind wit images I don’t want to retain but cannot expunge? Wat are alternative tings tat I migt be doing? If Jesus were ere, would I invite im along? Is tere any way in wic watcing tis film glorifies God?
6 Wayne A. Grudem, “Review Article: Sould We Move Beyond te New Testament to a Better Etic? An Analysis of William J. Webb,Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring te Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis,” JETS47 (2004): 299–346. See also Benjamin Reaoc,Women, Slaves, and te Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to te Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic(Pillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2012).
hemelios40.3 (2015): 389–391
Is te Wrat of God Extremist?  Micael J. Ovey 
Mike Ovey is principal of Oak Hill College in London and consulting editor of hemelios.
e ave ad enoug, proclaims re-elected UK Prime Minister David Cameron, of ‘passive tol-W erance.BypassivetoleranceCameronmeanstetolerancetatputsupwitwatpeoplesay provided it remains witin te law. No matter tat traditional definitions of political toleration would ave majored precisely on leaving people alone if tey obey te law, Cameron’s point is tat tis tradition is inadequate. For we can no longer be content wit passive tolerance because tere are tose in te UK and te West wo radicalise oters, especially te young, by teacing and preacing tatcarefullyremainswitintelawbutwicerodescommitmentto,inteUKscase,Britisvalues.People wo do tat kind of teacing are extremists. And extremists are dangerous. Cameron’s preferred termisnon-violentextremists,butevenanon-violentextremistisdangerous. Just to be clear, Cameron is not talking about speakers wo incite or encourage oters to criminal acts.WatisdangerousisoppositiontoBritisvalues,aninclusivetermcoveringdemocracy,terule of law, uman rigts. But since tis is an inclusive term, no-one quite knows ow muc wider tis may go. You don’t ave to advocate violence yourself, you just ave to ave said someting wic can contribute to te radicalisation of someone else towards violence. You ave provided, so to speak, te ideological bricks from wic a terrorist ideology can be constructed, even if you ave not incited suc violence. It will no doubt be tempting to see tis as a purely Britis problem. In fact, it seems to me symptomatic of someting deeper in western culture at te moment, certainly in its European form and I fear incipiently in its American form. At root, Cameron and oters are reflecting te idea tat religion is dangerous—toxic— altoug tis is not openly voiced. he caracter Dr Maxted in J. G. Ballard’s superb dystopian novelKingdom Comecatces tis sentiment well as e says of Islam and Cristianity tat tey are ‘vast systems of psycopatic delusion tat murdered millions, launced crusades and founded empires. A great religion spells danger.’ Maxted’s words ring bells wit Europe’s cattering intelligentsia. Now, in a sense tis is noting new. he case as been argued tat monoteism is inerently violent, given tat te totalising implication of monoteism means tat te dissident non-believer can, so te argument runs, only be demonised. Less extreme versions are found in Jürgen Moltmann’s contention tat our views of God (is e ierarcical or egalitarian?) will work teir way troug to ow 1we organise curc, family and state. Were does patriarcy come from in tose institutions? Not least
1 E.g. Jürgen Moltmann,History and te Triune God, trans. J. Bowden (London: SCM, 1991), 2.
2 from a patriarcal idea of God, Moltmann argues. Moving wider, te argument is also made tat te idea of God found in te mediaeval Islamic tinker al-Gazali (ca. 1058–1111) elps explain some of 3 te political currents in Islam and wy violence can ave plausibility to Muslims world-wide. For al-Gazali is an extreme divine voluntarist in te sense tat te divine will is God’s sole primary attribute and is not constrained by any external norm, nor, it seems, by any internal nature. God’s will is so free tat e can will someting as good at one point and ten will te opposite. hen comes te awkward moment. I can quite see tat al-Gazali’s divine voluntarism takes you logically down a line of tougt tat says arbitrary political or oter rule is not necessarily bad. I am, toug, also clear tat al-Gazali did not ave in mind ow extreme divine voluntarism could re-inforce arbitrary political rule at te expense of democracy. Do I tink al-Gazali is responsible for some of te worst currents Islamist ideology? In a sense, yes. his is one of tose cases were a religious idea—even if it was originally peacefully advocated—is dangerous, given its logical consequences. And I wonder if we are not etically bound to tink troug as far as we can te logical consequences of our arguments. Now obviously some would say tat a Calvinist like me as te same kind of understanding of divine power as al-Gazali does. God can do wat e wills, and wat e wills, appens. However, conventional Calvinists do not tink te divine will is God’s only primary attribute. We tink is will is primary, but ten too so are is goodness and love. God cannot stop being good, and to tat extent is goodness is not contingent and not merely a product of is will. Atanasius made just tis point in te Arian debate (Contra ArianosIII.58ff ). Can I ten smugly sit back and let contemporary followers of al-Gazali take te eat for te ‘religion is toxic danger’ fear. Not really. For tere is anoter line of argument to bear in mind, tis time about God’s wrat. Some years ago te Englis emergent curc leader Steve Calke argued tat tose talking about 4 penalsubstitutionweretellingtewrongstoryaboutGod.ForteyweretalkingaboutanangryGod,and tis was in part because tey were angry people. However, te idea of an angry God ten re-inforced teir own anger. hus tere was a sort of feedback loop between uman anger and te idea of divine anger. At tis point an obvious line of argument appears. I sould not preac about an angry God because tis is dangerous. It is dangerous because it re-inforces anger in myself and tose wo listen to me and our anger can all too readily lead to violence. Hence, even if I do not advocate violence and possibly even speak against it at one level (Cameron’s ‘non-violent extremism’), at te deeper level my teacing about God’s wrat puts public order and safety in danger. Wat is more, if I tink al-Gazali is at some level responsible for some of te outcomes of extreme divine voluntarism, ten wy sould I not be eld responsible if some-one does become enraged on God’s bealf as I describe God’s anger at sin? After all, as I write tis, I can at least foresee te possibility. Peraps I genuinely ave not taken responsibility for wat I teac and ow people may not just ear butmisearit as seriously as I sould. Peraps wen I foresee adeservedlycriminalised act as te foreseeable outcome of my utterances I sould be far more careful and circumspect and qualified. Peraps sometimes I migt even consider being silent.
2 Ibid. 3 E.g. Robert R. Reilly,he Closing of te Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created te Modern Islamist Crisis(Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2014). 4 From an address at a symposium on penal substitution eld at London Scool of heology July 2005.
Is te Wrat of God Extremist?
here are, toug, a number of oter features about te argument tat religious ideas are toxic and dangerous wic bear reflection. To begin wit, tis affects te currentcicclaim tat te secularisation tesis as been disproved and religion is triving. he secularisation tesis, crudely put, predicted te demise of religion in modern society, but in fact religion trives, altoug it does so pluralistically in a modern state. It is not te case, so te argument goes, tat modern society is anti-religion. Notably, te comparatively slow growt of dogmatic ateism is sometimes cited as a comforting factor in tese debates. his, toug, mistakes wat is appening. Here Cameron’s antipaty to ‘non-violent extremism’ comes to te fore. It may well be true tat dogmatic ateism is not winning as many converts as it migt wis (not surprising since its arguments are actually frequently quite poor). But dogmatic ateism was insisting religion was nottrue.Cameron and oters are not adjudicating on trut: teir misgiving is not weter a religious idea is true or not, but weter it isdangerousto public order. Someting can be trueanddangerous.Intatway,tereligionistoxicdangerargumentisasanti-religiousasanytingDavid Hume came up wit. In fact, I wonder if in te long run it is not more dangerous. At least we can read Hume’s argument on miracles, analyse it, and ten demonstrate rationally wy it is not true. Sowing my words could never bedangerousis far trickier tan sowing tey aretrue. Secondly, te Cameron approac I ave outlined sounds extraordinarily illiberal in a political sense to a Cristian. We do not plan to break te laws as we teac about God’s wrat and don’t want oters to do so. Wy ten treat us te same as tose wo do? However, secular western ears will be tone deaf to te illiberalism, for it as framed te question to itself essentially as an application of te ‘arm’ principle set out by Jon Stuart Mill in is influential essayOn Liberty. he state foresees arm in te longrunfromasetofideasintermsofpeoplebeingmoreinclinedtoviolence:toavoidtiscleararm,te freedom of speec of some (te religious) must be constrained. hirdly, it is no surprise te argument about wat one can say is framed in tis way about danger. Zygmunt Bauman persuasively argues tat if a society is full of ‘liquid’ relationsips (relationsips wic 5 are infinitely malleable according to te will of te individual involved), ten tere are consequences. For sure, constructing and canging my relationsips may be exciting and an expression of autonomy, but it is also destabilising: it is no wonder, Bauman suggests, tat ours is an anxious society, worried about diffuse treats and dangers precisely because so muc is liquid and uncertain. Hence, in part, wy legislation and rules proliferate in wat is teoretically an increasingly liberal society. Paradoxically, te urge to control ‘dangerous’ speec can be related to te same urges to control and regulate dangerous substances like coffee tat is served too ot. And te tragedy ere in current western discourse is tat some speec is indeed dangerous. And Cameron’s inability to draw te line rigtly about were danger falls sould not blind me to my own etical duty to make intellectual arguments tat are not only true and onest, but logically tougt-trougandcarefullyexpressedpreciselysoIamnotadangertooters.Conceivablytiswillmakemeless attractive and carismatic as a speaker and writer, as my words lose te trill of being transgressive for my audience. Conceivably, toug, I will only be presenting te same kind of dangers to te public good as te apostles did, but wo were still carged wit turning te world upside down (Acts 17:6). I must continue to provide tat kind of danger, but labour to provide no more.
5 A point Bauman makes in several places but at lengt inLiquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty(Cam-bridge: Polity 2007).