When the tricks of the trade don’t work image

When the tricks of the trade don’t work

On Tuesday, Andrew Bunt posted some of his ‘tricks of the trade’ in wrestling with knotty ethical issues. The first was to focus on what the Bible says before working out how to apply it.

To many of our readers, I imagine that seemed obvious. Yes, we might forget it sometimes, and accidentally start working backwards from the problem, but it’s no news that we think Scripture is (the revelation given to us by) our supreme authority.

So how do you debate with a believer for whom that is not a given?

Phil Moore recently faced just such a challenge on the Premier Radio programme Unbelievable, when he debated Natalie Collins on issues surrounding #MeToo and gender theology.

Phil had come across Natalie through last year’s THINK conference, and had seen from an article she wrote about it afterwards that she was coming from a very different perspective than him. So step one was to find some common ground. They could both agree that women often suffer abuse at the hands of men. Beyond identifying the manifestation of the problem (abuse), however, they seemed unable to progress.

I say that is the manifestation of the problem because in order to abuse someone you have to hold a whole set of assumptions about who you are, who they are, how the world is, what is right and what is wrong. To Natalie, as far as I can understand it from the interview, it seems that she believes that anyone who abuses women must believe in male headship as defined by [Phil’s/the complementarian interpretation of] scripture. And that anyone who doesn’t abuse women is not exercising this headship. (I’m getting this from the part where she talks about her husband – “the good one” – calling to ask if it’s OK for him to go out for drinks after work with his friends one night. To her, that was clear evidence that he does not consider himself the head of the household, because why would the head be considerate of the rest of the body?)

So Natalie’s diagnosis of the problem behind the negative outcome is wildly different from Phil’s, and for her, scripture is part of the problem, at least to the extent that scripture is always interpreted by humans, and humans are the problem, therefore we can’t trust their appeals to scripture. So how do you debate with someone to whom the bath itself is a problem, let alone the baby and the bathwater?

Phil made a valiant effort and was, of course, gracious, kind and generous throughout. Yet in the end it was a ‘debate’ between two people on opposite sides of a vast brick wall, built in a canyon, surrounded by a raging river, trying their best to communicate via the Bing translation tool. As an exercise in disagreeing well, it was a masterclass, and it served well to advertise Natalie’s forthcoming conference. Beyond that, it’s perhaps a useful training tool in helping you think through how you would answer objections when ‘What does the text say?’ is a complete non-starter.

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