I didn’t quite get through my response to the first part of Michael Brown’s rejoinder in my previous article, hence the continuation of part 1 in this article.
In my original review, I noted that Brown attempts to argue that gay-affirming Christians errantly allow their experience to shape their reading of the Bible and understanding of doctrine. I wrote:
“As Brown puts it, gay Christians begin with their gay identity and then read the Bible through the lens of that experience.”
My response was to point out that gay-affirming Christians are not the only ones who use experience as a theological criterion. I wrote:
“The problem with this kind of argument is that charismatics also draw upon experience in theological reflection, in particular the experience of the Holy Spirit.”
I referred to charismatics in my example knowing that Brown himself is a charismatic. My point here was not to exonerate gay-affirming theological method because I concede that experience can be used improperly as a source of theological reflection. My point was simply that saying a particular individual (whether gay or charismatic or anything else) appeals to experience in their theological reflection is not in itself an objection. One must go further and offer evidence that their appeal to experience is somehow problematic.
With that as background we can turn to Brown’s response. At this point, you can advance the audio to 5:28 in the clip and listen for the remaining two minutes:
* * *
Let’s start with the fact that Brown mischaracterizes my description of his position. As he puts it, my challenge is this:
“aren’t I [that is Brown] as a charismatic or Pentecostal putting my experience first?”
But that is not what I am claiming at all. Indeed, this all-or-nothing description is a strawman of my challenge. Rather, what I’m saying is simply that Brown, as a charismatic, appeals to charismatic experience as one factor in his formulation of doctrine.
If Brown wants to deny this then he is cutting himself off from the roots of the Pentecostal tradition which was unapologetic about affirming the Pentecostal doctrine of a second blessing, and tongues as the sign thereof were based on the experience of the people of Azusa Street. It was this experience which then justified using Acts as a normative text to interpret 1 Corinthians 12-14.
My point is thus that gay-affirming Christians do the same thing. Consider the hypothetical case of conservative Baptist pastor Joe Jones and his wife Marsha. The Jones are convinced that homosexuality is an abomination. But then their son comes out of the closet and reveals his deep struggles with same-sex attraction since his childhood. Now he is in a committed, monogamous, same-sex relationship Eventually Joe and Marsha meet their son’s companion, and Joe and Marsha slowly recognize that the young couple seems to have a loving and faithful relationship, one that demonstrates the best virtues of heterosexual relationships.
Eventually, the Joneses come to read the Bible differently based on their experience of their son. They have clearly used experience as a theological criterion in their own doctrinal formulation. My point is simply that this is not different in kind from what Pentecostal and charismatic Christians do when they move from their experience of the Spirit to new readings of the biblical text.
Brown, however, claims that he doesn’t use experience as a theological criterion. He just uses the Bible which, so he claims, clearly supports his point of view. Thus, he declares:
“from Genesis to Revelation we can point to a consistent pattern of God’s miraculous intervention.”
Unfortunately, Brown has committed the fallacy of equivocation here. The question is not whether the Bible teaches that God has engaged in “miraculous intervention.” Cessationists and charismatics both agree that he has. The question, rather, is whether God grants (1) a Spirit baptism subsequent to conversion or whether (2) God gives supernatural sign gifts to Christians today. And those claims are not obviously taught in scripture. Indeed, I’d say scripture explicitly contradicts (1) and underdetermines (2).
But Brown is not willing to concede that he draws on experience as a source of theological reflection. Instead, he declares,
“If I never saw anybody healed I would teach healing because I see it in scripture.”
I don’t know whether this statement is true or not. What I do know is that it is irrelevant. You see, this statement is talking about counterfactual doctrinal formulation. But I’m not interested in speculating on counterfactuals. Rather, I’m concerned with actual doctrinal formulation such as it is. And the fact remains that in the actual world gay-affirming Christians and Pentecostal/charismatic Christians both appeal to experience as a criterion in their theological reflection.
Consequently, it is, to say the least, ironic for a Pentecostal/charismatic to impugn gay-affirming Christians for echoing a Pentecostal/charismatic theological method.