The Bible, Sex, And Ideological Fundamentalism
A DIALOGUE WITH JACQUES ELLUL
JACQUES ELLUL AND SEXUAL "ETHICS": A CRITIQUE
Rev. Dr. Thomas Hanks
Proper Use of Scripture for Sexual Questions
Citations can easily be multiplied from the Church Fathers, Reformers, ideological Fundamentalists,
and even Ellul, to the effect that "the Bible alone" is to decide all questions (paradoxically even some
ideological liberals speak that way when treating homosexuality--as if Biblical inerrancy were to be
rejected and ridiculed in every area save this one!). Actually, of course, no one has ever really done
theology that way; to pretend to do so is to advertise one's naivete and self-deceit in methodology.
Donald Dayton (1987) has pointed out that even in what is erroneously considered "conservative
evangelicalism" the Wesleyan and Pentecostal elements (increasingly dominant statistically,
especially in the Third World) have always given spiritual experience a much bigger role than
The recent Roman Catholic Dignity document on "Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth, Challenge"
(Gruel 1989) is quite explicit in affirming that for ethical judgment in sexual matters our primary
resource is our individual experience and reflection. In the Metropolitan Community Church (founded
by Assembly of God clergyman Troy Perry), the typical Pentecostal emphasis on spriritual
experience is obvious in most churches (which, except in sexual matters are often more like
Assembly of God churches than anything else). As Dayton makes clear, it is a mistake to view the
emphasis on experience in Pentecostal groups as heresy. Scriptures provide ample basis of their
methodology (Acts 10-11 etc.).
John Wesley himself (who made a lot of strong statements about Biblical authority), was a
post-Enlightenment theologian, who advocated a four-fold basis for Christian decisions: Scripture,
tradition, reason and experience. No one after Galileo and the Enlightenment could coherently
pretend to make "the Bible alone" the basis for doing theology (unless they also wanted to apply for
membership in the Flat Earth Society; Ramm 1983). I agree with the concerns of Wesley and
Pentecostalism to give proper place to reason, science and Christian spiritual experience, and can
sympathize with those (in Dignity and other Gay and Lesbian Christian groups) who find
Scripture--as traditionally interpreted--less than helpful in the sexual area (see also Osborne
1990:23-44 for a helpful Anglican critique of experience).
However, I believe that Ellul's concern to vindicate the place and use of Scripture can be defended if
the Bible is really taken seriously and not just honored with "lip service" (Mark 7:6-7; Isa. 29:13). The
following guidelines are offered in the confidence that God "hath yet more light and truth to break
forth from the Word" (the Rev. John Robinson, 1620)--especially in the sexual area and concerning
sexual minorities. The Sola Scriptura of the Reformation and the Bible as the "only infallible rule of
faith and practice" (Westminster Confession) must themselves be understood in terms of the Bible's
teaching about itself--including its scientific limitations and its saving-liberating purpose (2 Tim.
3:14-17; Hanks 1986a:18-19; Pinnock 1984; Thorsen 1990).
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