Everyone may be a theologian; not everybody knows theology: Farron & Jones, a case in point

An interesting discussion broke out between Tim Farron – former Lib Dem leader – and Owen Jones – Guardian columnist – on Twitter. Here are the salient tweets:

Politically, I am very close to Dennis Skinner and so naturally incline toward his views re the earlier tweets. Theologically, I am much closer to Tim Farron and very much incline toward his view in the later tweets. But, as you can imagine, it is Owen Jones’ last tweet that I want to discuss.

As you can imagine, it garnered a fair degree of discussion online. Seemingly everybody chimed in and had an opinion. I have no problem with people disagreeing with my faith. Anybody is free to tell me they think my views are wrong and explain why. That is part and parcel of a free society. But it is annoying when unbelievers, who have no faith to speak of, no theological training and no involvement with the church insist on telling believers what they should believe, according to the texts they read frequently, based on their utter lack of knowledge about it. That sort of thing is always going to rankle.

Let’s just assess Jones’s argument. Essentially, he argues that the directly recorded words of Jesus do not include anything about gay sex. Therefore, he supposes, any follower of Jesus cannot call gay sex sinful because Jesus never said anything about it. QED. The argument may seem rhetorically cogent; theologically it is nonsense.

For a start, if we can only accept the specific recorded words of the man, Jesus of Nazareth, as authoritative we inevitably have to explain why we have 62 other books of the Bible that appear to record none of his words. If only the words of Jesus recorded in scripture carry authority, we are limited to only accepting the four gospels where such things are recorded. Indeed, an awful lot of those four gospels have to be thrown out too because they record other people’s words. But that begs the question, why do just about all Christians throughout the history of Christendom the world over accept 62 other books beyond the gospels? Jones’ theology fails to recognise this reality.

Second, Jones fails to contend with the theological view that all 66 books of the Bible are the words of Jesus. In 2 Timothy 3:16, the apostle Paul says, ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ This means that the whole of the Bible is God’s word, not just the bits in red stated by Jesus in some Bibles. What is more, the gospel of John begins by affirming that Jesus himself is the Word of God. Hebrews makes this same point (cf. Heb 1:1f). If all scripture is breathed out by God, Jesus Christ is God incarnate (as all Christians hold) and is the very Word of God himself, this necessarily means all of scripture is the words of Jesus. So whether Jesus is recorded as specifically saying it in the gospels or not, if we find it in scripture, we can consider it the Word of God (or Jesus).

Third, Jones’ argument fails to actually consider what Jesus did say. For example, Jesus is quite insistent in his comments on marriage that – in the beginning – God created mankind male and female (cf. Mat 19:4f). Likewise, in Matthew 15, Jesus also makes clear that sexual immorality – sexual activity outside of marriage – is sinful. Sam Allberry explain in this video how Jesus’ teaching here makes clear that, indeed, Jesus’ does include homosexuality in his teaching.

Fourth, Jones says nothing about the specific mentions of this issue among the apostles. Jesus commands his apostles, at the end of his ministry, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mat 28:19f). This is known as the Great Commission. The task given to the apostles was to make disciples (followers of Jesus) and to teach them everything he had commanded them. It is widely accepted by Christian people that the teachings of the New Testament was the fulfilment by the Apostles of this command. They were passing on the teaching of Jesus.

The commands written down by the apostles, and those closely associated to them and Christ, are wide-ranging. But, within those commands, are instructions about sexual ethics. These sexual ethics are clearly in line with the teaching of Jesus as outlined in the video above. Whilst the Apostles name homosexuality specifically, this is considered to be a passing on of the instructions given to them by Jesus. Certainly, nothing they say about homosexuality contravenes anything Jesus says about sexual ethics. What is more, they wrote in order to pass on the teachings of Christ and preserve them for the church. When we consider that the New Testament teaching on the sinfulness of this issue is the same as the Old Testament teaching on the sinfulness of this issue, an Old Testament law that Jesus affirmed and that the Apostles after him also affirmed, leads us to the inevitable conclusion that the Apostles teaching on this issue was in line with Jesus’ teaching on this issue, which is in line with the OT teaching on this issue which is God’s teaching on this issue.

You may, of course, reject the Biblical texts. You may give reasons why you find it historically inaccurate or the teaching it offers untrue. But what you can’t do is pretend it says what it evidently doesn’t. Nor do you have the right to offer simplistic and ignorant theological statements – denied by the overwhelming number of adherents to that religion and text – merely because it doesn’t fit your predetermined views.

When Tim Farron argued he gave up the leadership of his party, and couldn’t reconcile the teaching of scripture with his role, denying that point doesn’t really do you any favours. The teaching of the Bible – and, incidentally, Jesus – is univocal on this issue. Nobody has to accept it – you are free to believe what you want and act in accordance with your beliefs – but you cannot pretend it doesn’t say what it evidently does. Farron’s desire to follow Christ meant he adhered to Jesus’ teaching on this matter. Disagree with him if you must, but don’t make simplistic theological statements and expect them to be passed off as credible.