Red-Letter Ethics (or, With Evangelicals Like These, Who Needs Marcion?)
Posted on February 8, 2014
Daniel Kirk, NT prof at Fuller Seminary-Menlo Park and prototypical young evangelical scholar (translation: we young-uns can’t abide biblical evangelicalism), wants a Christocentric view of biblical authority. What evangelical doesn’t? But Professor Kirk lets us in on what his Christ-centered bibliology might look like in this comment:
There are hundreds of ways in which the OT would summon us to walk that I think are either not required or even antithetical to our Christian calling. Jesus, and the story of his saving work, becomes the hermeneutical guide for me.
Hundreds of ways? Antithetical to our Christian calling? All evangelicals hold to the progressiveness of biblical revelation (following Hebrews and the new covenant, we no longer offer animal sacrifices; following Peter and Paul, we no longer follow the temporarily exclusionary old covenant dietary laws).
But Professor Kirk wants red-letter ethics: ethics limited to the words of Jesus. He assumes that in hundreds of ways OT ethics are antithetical to following Jesus, not merely superseded in the new covenant era. What “summons”? The summons that prohibits hating our brother (Lev. 19:17)? The summons to treat one another justly (Dt. 16:19)? The summons not to charge our poor brothers and sisters interest on loans (Ex. 22:25)? Just what hundreds of anti-Christian OT “summons” is Kirk referring to?
And if we really want to follow Jesus, pray tell, shall we follow our Lord’s summons encapsulated here:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them…” (Mt. 5:17)
By all means, let’s be Christocentric in our view of the Bible, but if we do this, we certainly can’t follow Kirk’s canon within a canon.
In fact, this tack was common among theological liberals 100 years ago, who wanted to reduce biblical authority to the “ethics of Jesus.” In time, even this reductionist credo proved too onerous, for it was discovered that Jesus’ teaching conflicted with cherished liberal dogma, such as Jesus’ heated teaching on hell, than whom no one in the Bible uttered more. So, in the end, even Jesus couldn’t save the Bible from liberalism.
In the patristic church, the teacher Marcion posited a new Christianity shorn of the OT, which posited (he asserted) a different God, a different ethics, a different religion from the faith of Jesus and the NT. The church rightly labeled Marcion a heretic.
Will today’s evangelicals tolerate teachings procedurally (if not theoretically) similar to Marcion’s?