Last week I said I’d post on Wayne Grudem’s response to William Webb’s proposal of the redemptive trend. So, today I will summarize Wayne Grudem’s response and next week I’ll respond to this summary of Grudem’s strong criticisms of the redemptive trend.
I ask this: I ask you to behave yourself in defending or criticizing Grudem’s points. We want this to be as civil as possible, even if we have to express disagreements with one another. I also want you to know what Grudem is a friend of mine; we can disagree but we have always done so within friendship. I know of no tension between us — at the level of friendship that is!
Grudem’s most recent response to Webb is summarized in his book Evangelical Feminism, chp. 7. I begin with his conclusion:
The redemptive trend hermeneutic, which says the Bible speaks against a culture and into a culture and sets loose an ethic that is only partly realized in the Bible, (1) undermines Scripture’s authority, (2) nullifies in principle the moral authority of the entire New Testament, and is a “huge step down the path toward liberalism” (80).
Here are major points he levels against Webb’s RTH (redemptive trend hermeneutic):
1. Webb argues that the NT texts about male headship are “culturally relative” (66).
2. The X-Y-Z principle teaches that the Bible’s statements are “only a point along the way toward the development of a final or ultimate ethic” (66). This leads to be Webb being an “evangelical feminist” (67).
3. He claims Webb’s system nullifes the moral commands of the NT. Thus, the “basis on which Webb affirms that these commands [eg homosexuality, children subject to parents] are transcultural is not the teaching of the NT itself but Webb’s own system” (68). That is, they have passed through his filtering system of 18 criteria and have survived. In essence, “Webb’s system invalidates the moral authority of the entire NT” (69; all in italics). “According to Webb’s system, then, Christians can no longer go to the NT, read the moral commands in one of Paul’s epistles, and just obey them, as Christians have done throughout history” (69).
4. He contends that Webb’s system makes it impossible for ordinary Christians to discover what to obey in the Bible. In a kind of Abraham, God and Sodom replay, Grudem comes to the conclusion that Webb creates only a “tiny group of experts” (OT and NT scholars who know the contexts and texts well enough to make such judgments) who “will have to tell us what moral standards God wants us to follow today” (71). This will be a “new class of ‘priests,’ erudite scholars” (71). The problem? These scholars disagree. And so there will be a massive inability to know with confidence what to do.
Grudem: “How different from Webb’s system is the simple, direct teaching of the NT!” (72). We don’t need Webb’s system nor these specialists; this is not the system God intended.
5. There are serious dangers here for morality. Webb’s system tells us what to follow and what to do. When Grudem is asked if everyone uses a filter like this, he says no. Traditional evangelicals are under the moral obligation to follow the NT:
a. When we are in the same situation as that addressed in the NT (being a parent, child, contemplating a divorce, selecting elders, etc).
b. When we are not, we obey the command by “applying it to situations that are essentially similar” (73).
6. This approach will be used “whenever someone wants to justify disobedience to some other part of Scripture” (73).
7. Webb defended himself at ETS by saying his ultimate ethic comes from the Bible; Wayne Grudem responds with this: “Therefore he uses the Bible as an authority to prove that we should move beyond the moral standards taught in the Bible” (74).
8. Grudem responds to how Webb thinks slavery shows the use of a redemptive trend hermeneutic. Most evangelical interpreters, Grudem contends, believe the Bible did not command or encourage or endorse slavery, and it also “gives principles that would modify and ultimately lead to the abolition of slavery” (77, citing 1 Cor 7:21-22; Gal 3:28; Philem 16, 21; 1 Tim 1:10). Webb thinks the Bible endorses slavery. Grudem appeals to Theodore Weld — book in 1823 that pointed out a biblical case against slavery. Grudem calls slavery “the most common employment situation in ther Roman Empire in the time of the New Testament” (78). In fact, he contends that opponents of slavery used the Bible, too, “and they won the argument” (79).
9. Grudem contends the redemptive trend of the Church ended with the NT and did not carry beyond it. He observes that IVP published this book and that they publish many egalitarian books; the book is endorsed by Christians for Biblical Equality. Those who blurbed include Darrell Bock (Dallas), Stephen Spencer (Wheaton), Craig Keener (Palmer), Craig Evans (Grudem puts him at Trinity Western, but Crag is at
New Brunswick Acadia Divinity School), and Sarah Sumner (Azusa Pacific).
I think this is a fair summary of Grudem’s case against Webb’s RTH.