Post: Readers Respond

Blown Away by the Spirit

I was “blown away” (an appropriate way to talk about the Holy Spirit, I presume) by the words of David Nyvall regarding the Bible as quoted in the last issue of Pietisten. In case they are not readily available to those reading this missive, I repeat some of them:

“A means of grace is an instrument of the Holy Spirit, not only for its origins, but for its continued usefulness…Without the Spirit, the fundamental thing, yes, literally the very essence is missing, and the Bible becomes a casket for dead dogmas instead of a garden of life and fragrance.” (Italics mine.)

It has become apparent to me that so much of our current denominational debate about variations in human sexuality is driven by a critically mistaken view of scripture as a “casket for dead dogma.” And since I am a member of both the professions of ministry and medicine, I see the contrast between the two on this issue as dramatic and illuminating.

In medicine, while we honor past writings as historically valuable, we do not insist that their conclusions must stand for all times. Can you imagine where we would be today in terms of medical knowledge and practice if we used, for example, the insights of Harvey—who first described circulation in 1628—to dictate current diagnosis and treatment for heart disease?

Yet we too often accept conclusions of biblical writers on many matters as limiting our knowledge and practice in modern times. And this reliance on the Bible as a textbook of science or sociology for all times has led to terrible mistakes in church practice and pronouncement:

support of ancient cosmology in the face of new discoveries by Galileo; support of slavery in the face of obvious social change.

And yet I fear we are repeating this mistake in using a handful of ancient texts to oppose growing discovery about variations in human sexuality. I have no doubt that within the next ten years, medical science will explain such variations in terms of genetics and hormonal influence during pregnancy. And once again, those who insist on applying a very few biblical texts as binding modern wisdom will find themselves on the wrong side of history with needed and embarrassing apologies to those who have been harmed by “dead dogmas.”

I believe the Holy Spirit speaks in many ways today—including the discoveries of modern science. And if we are willing to listen and learn, the Bible can once again become a “garden of life and fragrance.”

G. Timothy Johnson, Marblehead, MA