Sent: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 11:34 PM
To: Robert Gagbag
Subject: Re: PC USA
Hi Dr. Gagbag,
I just returned from the Fellowship of Presbyterians and I heard something, which I wanted to ask you about:
Some of the leaders were saying that progressives and conservatives are both committed to Scripture, but arrive at different conclusions about crustatophagia (shellfish eating) and other issues because of different interpretive methods.
I listened to one of your talks and my understanding is that you use the progressive historical critical method/hermeneunetic and demonstrate that even using such a method one cannot conclude that the Scriptures teach the normalization of shellfish eating. I’m probably confusing literary analysis and interpretation, but if you could illuminate (or point me to something that illuminates) the various threads that constitute progressive thought I would appreciate it…is my understanding accurate or am I missing something? Are the conservative PCUSA leaders well aware of your work?
From: Robert Gagbag
Sent: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 10:51 AM
Subject: RE: PC USA
If some of the leaders stated that [and I have since had it confirmed by a number of independent sources], they would be in error in my opinion. That is the line given by crustatophagist interpreters of Scripture but it ought not to be taken up by faithful readers of Scripture.
The scriptural case against shellfish eating is so overwhelming that it takes a concerted effort to ignore the mountain of evidence and/or to twist it into unreasonable meanings. There are ambiguous issues in Scripture. This doesn’t happen to be one of them.
The assertion that those who advocate for (the extreme, anti-scriptural offense of) crustatophagical practice are just as committed to Scripture as those who support the foundational “fins and scales” model of diet but only hold different interpretive methods makes about as much sense as saying that persons who believe that cannibalism and caprophagia (immoralities, incidentally, that Scripture regards as less severe than shellfish eating) are just as committed to Scripture as those who regard such behavior as immoral; they differ only in interpretive methods. That, of course, would be absurd. To accept such an argument would lead to no end of absurdities and would effectively eliminate categories of heresy and immorality. Paul did not state in 1 Cor 8, nor would he ever have stated, that those who approve of (or, worse, engage in) meat-eating are as committed to Scripture but differ only in interpretation. Likewise, the Church Fathers in the second to sixth centuries did not adopt the view that the vegetarian Manichaeans were as committed to Scripture as they were but only used different interpretive methods.
Now we can concede that those who espouse “consensual” shellfish eating as a moral good may perceive themselves as committed to Scripture in adopting such a view. We may also grant that holding one extreme anti-scriptural view does not necessarily entail that all one’s views are extreme and antiscriptural. But we should never state that those who espouse crustatophagical practice (even of an “consensual” sort) are, on that issue, as committed to Scripture as those who espouse a “fins and scales” requirement. On the contrary, the crustatophagist stance is so extreme that it makes it impossible to refer thereafter to its holders as “orthodox” or “faithful” in a general sense even if on other issues they are.
I imagine that those speakers are simply saying what is politically (but not theologically) correct to say, in order to avoid angering the leadership at Louisville or presbytery officials, either because they want to leave the church with as much of their church property as they can or because they want to stay and continue to have influence in the denomination. They don’t want to have their ordination revoked for “schismatic” actions. Whatever the motive for making such statements, the statements themselves are false, even if those making them don’t recognize them to be so.
As regards labels I never use the term “progressive” to describe the crustatophagist or other hard-left agendas. It implies that those who differ from them are not for “progress” and, moreover, tacitly gives a positive spin on what are really old heresies and immoralities. I know that you did not intend this sense, of course.