And if Scripture has been wrong on these issues, then what else might it be wrong about? What about homosexuality? Many Emergents have raised the point that 150 years from now, our descendants will be laughing that we debated this issue just like we laugh at those who defended their right to own another human being.
This is a dangerous hermeneutic. Perhaps the best summary and argument put forth for it comes from William J. Webb in his book, "Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis." The title is a good summary of the content: sometimes, Scripture must be seen through the lens of its culture and the current culture. The author makes the argument that some of the texts regarding slaves and women were culturally limited, not binding to other cultures.
Webb offers a thorough review of the many issues, arguments, and texts surrounding these three issues. Webb, not surprisingly, finds slavery to be wrong and the apparent view of women in Scripture to be inadequate in our day and time. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is a little more difficult. The author writes:
Analyzing the homosexuality texts with the canons of cultural analysis has been an enlightening task. While some Christians advocate covenant/equal-status homosexuality as an appropriate expression for human relationships today, the results of this study would argue against such a position. The same canons of cultural analysis, which show a liberalizing or less restrictive tendency in the slavery and women texts relative to the original culture, demonstrate a more restrictive tendency in homosexuality texts relative to the original culture. Furthermore, the biblical texts not only hold an aversion to associative features (e.g., rape, pederasty), they appear to voice a concern about the more basic or core issue of same-gender sexual acts themselves . . . Once this factor is paired with finding a more restrictive movement within Scripture compared to the surrounding cultures, the covenant homosexual argument fails to be pesuasive. Virtually all of the criteria applicable to the issue suggest to varying degrees that the biblical prohibitions regarding homosexuality even within a covenant form, should be maintained today; There is no significant dissonance within the biblical data. (250)
This is a rather shocking conclusion. After all of the historical, cultural, theological, and biblical analysis, the author concludes that Scriptures views regarding homosexuality to always be more restrictive and less liberal than the culture it surrounded itself and expects such commands to binding in every culture.
This is a striking blow to many in our culture and in the Church who try to find wiggle room in the Biblical text. After hundreds of pages of surveying the culture behind each text in Scripture, the author is left with the conclusion that the Bible uniformly considers homosexuality to be a sin.
So although I disagree with the author on a number of things, this conclusion is fitting. There is no wiggle room in Scripture for the open acceptance of homosexuality. One must ignore Scripture if they wish to accept homosexuality as a viable lifestyle.
Overall, this is an important book. Although I disagree with some of the authors conclusions, it is at least an honest attempt to deal with some of these difficult issues by examining the biblical text, its original hearers and authors. Although the hermeneutic offered here can be dangerous (as is offered by the Emerging Church) one can find themselves in a webb of information that provides keen insight and perspective on these difficult issues.