April 10, 2024

The Blurred Vision of Richard B Hays

Richard B Hays risks blurred vision with his latest book

The Book Is Not Out Yet, But…

Okay, so it’s jumping the gun, but because everyone else is doing so, let me get out of the blocks early too. From what it sounds like the venerable Richard B Hays, author of the equally venerable The Moral Vision of The New Testament, has rolled over on the LGBTQ+ issue.

Et tu Richard?

Now I know that his book, co-authored with his son, Christopher B Hays (oh behave Christopher!), has not come out yet, but there are many affirming post-evangelicals and progressives who are practically giddy with excitement over the impending release of the book. And that’s just in the US. Wait until the Australian contingent (minority groups in NSW Baptists etc) get hold of this.

Hays and Hays have titled their book: The Widening of God’s Mercy: Sexuality Within the Biblical Story, and it’s due out from Yale this September.

Not, you might note, The Widening of God’s Mercy: Greed Within the Biblical Story. Nor The Widening of God’s Mercy: Hating of Parents Within the Biblical Story. Not even The Widening of God’s Mercy: Gossip Within the Biblical Story.

Just the one area where sin might prowl, panther-like. Sex. And, I’m sure as I get to read the book, not all sex, but the type of sex that if you don’t affirm it at the likes of Yale these days just might get you cancelled and dismissed if you don’t have tenure, or sidelined, or avoided in the corridor if you do.

As I said. let’s wait for the book. At least let’s not jump the gun. But a bunch of affirming Baptists in the US have already done so, and are – as I said – gleeful about the impending shipwrecking of another man’s faith – and he and his son’s ability to shipwreck the faith of others.

A Hays Mea Culpa?

Writing in the The Baptist News Global, associate professor of religion at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, Anna Sieges, was positively giddy with excitement in her scolding of Richard B Hays:

I cannot congratulate Richard Hays for finally getting to where we needed him to be long ago. Moral Vision’s homosexuality chapter has done untold harm these past 30 years, and such harm calls for the most explicit and contrite repentance one can muster. Maybe The Widening of God’s Mercy will provide such repentance. At the very least, I am glad, in September, we might have the tool we need to stop the damage chapter 16 of Moral Vision has done.

Which brings us to the aforementioned book, which I consider an opus on the issue: The Moral Vision of the New Testament. It’s a veritably robust treatise on where the New Testament takes the ethical framework, the ecosystem of the faith. Hays leaves no ethical stone unturned in order to show us the cohesion of that vision, and how it is a balanced framework of where life for the people of God is to go.

And now? Now Richard B Hays, along with his son, have decided to poison the waters of that ecosystem. Or to put it another way, to take out one of the elements that they considered a real risk to the health of the ecosystem in order to improve it.

However, as with other naive ecosystem blunders, the removal of something in that system that we felt was unnecessary sometimes leads to the demise of the ecosystem in toto. Such, I fear, is the case here.

Anna Sieges, and her ilk, however, hold no such fears. Indeed look at the language she deploys to describe the formerly errant work of the good Richard. The language of “repentance”. In fact that is the word she uses. No longer must we repent of our sexual sin. We must repent of saying that something is a sexual sin. To claim that anything is – or at least the sexual sins that we ourselves no longer see as sexual sins – requires repentance.

And of course the language of “harm” comes in.

Recant and Repent

This is all dismaying and frustrating. Dismaying and frustrating because it’s likely that in nearly thirty years time (the length of time since the publishing of his opus), Richard and Christopher will be responsible for the morally blurred vision of many a younger Christian, and perhaps even the apostasy of many. Not to mention those who are maintaining an orthodox position and find themselves increasingly shunned by their culture (and their affirming church-going peers).

But of course the book isn’t out yet, is it Anna? Mind you, that does not stop Anna from going on about the nefarious chapter in Moral Vision on sexuality:

When faced with movement in larger Christian culture toward inclusion, white evangelicals could whip out chapter 16 and say, “The guy all of you read in your seminaries agrees with us and has ended all debate on this issue.” There has been no revised edition of Moral Vision in which Hays recants, and so the chapter has remained a hefty cudgel in the non-affirming arsenal for years.

There’s that’ spiritual language again – the language of “recant” – refuting a heresy at the risk of a burning.

And Anna quotes – dare I say it gleefully again – another pastor, as she finishes with a florid flourish:

I’ll end by quoting Natalie Webb, pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. It is truly “never too late to change your mind! If Richard Hays … can change his mind and look back and see that he was wrong, it’s OK for you to, too. Come on along, there’s plenty of space and grace over here.”

Plenty of space eh? Wide roads generally have plenty of space. It’s where they are leading to that is the problem. And Webb needs to learn the difference between grace and licence.

But of course the book’s not out yet. So it could all be a storm in a teacup, in which Richard and his son simply affirm the cohesive vision of the New Testament as it speaks about sex.

But I doubt it. Once again we have major scholars – erstwhile evangelicals – who cannot see the irony in the fact that the secular culture that is decidedly post-christian – and doesn’t simply hate grace, but as Rhys Laverty reminds us, hates nature as well, leading Christians by the nose.

Perhaps it’s a desire to fit in. Perhaps there’s a genuine change of mind after some serious exegesis that orthodox Christianity over the past two thousand years hasn’t picked up on. Perhaps they have gay relatives or friends who love each other a lot and even seem to have a better marriage than their hetero friends. Who knows?

The Lack of Cohesion

But here’s the concern, well, one of the concerns:

The problem of course is that the moral vision of the NT is a cohesive whole, not some patchwork of ideas around how we live our lives that includes sexuality. And of course the moral vision of the NT is built upon the moral vision of the OT, and if anything the widening of God’s mercy in the NT brings into sharper focus (vision?) the wrath of God towards those who not only practice such things, but those who approve of it.

That’s right.Sieges attempts to downplay the very ecosystem that Hays was championing back in 1996 when she states:

 In the 16th chapter, Hays carefully works through the few relevant New Testament passages and concludes the witness of the New Testament is against homosexuality.

That, my friends, is disingenuous. It’s just a “few relevant New Testament passages” after all, isn’t it? Not much in the scheme of things. But that’s not true, is it? The whole of the New Testament presupposes the moral and ethical framework of the Old Testament both in terms of natural law and creation, and of covenant promise. Hays wasn’t interested in cherry-picking (not at the time at least), he was showing how this was an integral part of the moral ecosystem of the faith once delivered to the saints.

For those who somehow see the Old Testament judgy-judgy God as a bit, a bit, well a bit Old Testament, the New Testament itself states in no uncertain terms that the widening of God’s mercy is accompanied by the deepening of his wrath for all those who refuse it. I mean, the whole widening of mercy trope, in which revelation around sexuality being far broader in application than the early documents could fathom, is not borne out by the balancing effect of judgement.

I mean we can’t go past Hebrews 2, can we?:

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

Ramping Up Salvation and Judgement

For sure, salvation is ramped up. But its conjoined twin is judgement and punishment for ignoring the greater salvation. The writer of Hebrews, time and time again, declares that since salvation is wider, judgement is deeper. And of course, blood up to the bridle of the horses in the book of Revelation seems to be a far deeper bloodbath than any slaughter of the Amalekites could muster in 1 Samuel 15.

Hays – or both of the Hays(es?) have put themselves into the position of not those who practice such things, but those who approve of it (Romans 1:32). Sadly it would seem that, like so many of his ilk in the past few years, the vision of Richard B Hays has started to blur with age.

It’s time for a generation of younger, braver scholars to stand up against the flow of a flabbier, more tenured crew who walk the halls of academia with heretics, and take the stage at conferences with veritable wolves. Perhaps he just wanted to be congratulated in the way that Anna Sieges won’t offer him (don’t forget, recanting in the secular age doesn’t come with forgiveness).

Or perhaps he is genuine. He and Christopher have sat down over long hours and come to a conclusion completely independently of the vast cultural Sexular Age tsunami pushing in the opposite direction. Who can’t tell?

But of course the book isn’t out yet.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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