I think after this post I will quit engaging with Leighton Flowers and crew (but maybe not, that all depends). I just came across a video where he and his friend, Brian (a PhD in NT, not theology, clearly), respond to a critique post of mine directed at Flowers’ approach to interpreting Holy Scripture. Here is the blurb I quickly wrote up as I shared this video to my FB and Twitter feeds:
Leighton Flowers responds to a critique post of mine starting at 7:44 and running through 21:00. He and his friend just talk around what I was getting at. Ironically, they end up illustrating my critique of their approach by reverting to their sort of rationalist traditioned reading of Scripture. It is really strange to engage with folks who are not self-perceptive enough to see their own foibles, esp. when those are being pointed out to them. But then they deflect those back onto their critics (me) Lol. Flowers’ friend, a PhD in NT (not theology, clearly) calls my approach postmodern (very strange). But this is what you get when you engage with low church evangelicals who have no clue about the Christian Dogmatic tradition, and how that has taken form in the Church catholic. They dispense with catholicity in favor of re-inventing the wheel based on their own reconstruction (interpretation) of the Christian faith and Holy Scripture. But, again, this is what you get when you start with a turn-to-the-subject hyper individualism out of touch with the confessional nature of the Christian faith. And this is why I find folks like Flowers and his friend so dangerous to the Christian faith; they are the epitome of what has been dangerous to my own faith in the past. So, when I come across it I seek to alert others to its errors, and hope to provide a way forward that is more in tune with a reality contingent upon a source (Jesus Christ and the triune God) outside of themselves.
You can watch Leighton’s and Brian’s response to me here (it starts at 7:44 and runs approx. through the 21-minute mark). I want to expand a little more on their response to me; more than what I just shared in the aforementioned blurb.
Brian was really hung up on my language of all humanity being ENSLAVED to our interpretative traditions. But as Steve Holmes rightly underscores (Stephen R. Holmes, Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6-8):
This is not something that can simply be swiped away, as Brian and Leighton attempt to do, unless of course the person is appealing to their people. Ironically, as I alluded to earlier, Brian and Leighton fall right into this point, even as they attempt to criticize my underscoring of it, by going back to “their tradition of biblical theology and soteriology.” This is ironic, indeed, because it is the very point of my criticism of them. The fact that they cannot see that, and then by not seeing it, appeal to their own particular traditioned way of reading Scripture should alert people to how imperceptive their educators are; viz. if they are looking to people like Leighton, and his friend Brian et al., as their teachers.
Further, Dr. Brian calls my approach, that is my approach to focusing on a Christ concentrated hermeneutic: Postmodern. He claims that I end up deconstructing all other traditions, and then presume that my own ‘christological’ approach is the only viable way forward. In a sense, this is true; but it isn’t just true for me, but for Leighton and Brian et al. I would imagine all sentient people have arrived at particular convictions and conclusions in regard to the way that they engage with reality in general, and the Christian reality (for Christians) in particular. There is nothing inherently “postmodern” about that. Indeed, and ironically, this is simply an attempt to “boogeyman” me into a straw-box that Leighton and his friend think they can easily dispense of once they have placed me therein. Unlike these fellas, I am not averse to labels, indeed, labeling is just as inherent to being human as traditioning is. In other words, labeling positions (you know like Leighton’s self-described provisionism) is a shorthand, precision way of engaging with a complex or basket of ideas as those are held within a sort of systematic frame of reference. But the point is here: my approach is not inherently postmodern, instead it works from a Christian confessional background that is grounded in the Christian Dogmatic tradition of the Church catholic.
But this is the point, which I also alluded to previously: Flowers and company, are situated in the Fundamentalist/Evangelical individualist tradition that starts, by way of theological or hermeneutical methodology, in an abstract rationality that is idiosyncratic and original to the individual knowers. This was my point of critique, which Leighton attempted to respond to, when he pushed back against my claim that his approach is: anthropocentric or as he calls it ‘from-below.” Both Leighton and Brian need to do more reading on problems associated with what has been called: solo Scriptura or nuda Scriptura. They both are proponents of this approach, and as such, they communicate this to the people looking up to them as faithful guides into the world of Holy Scripture and systematic theology.
Further, Flowers takes issue with me saying that he speaks from a ‘resurrected voice of Pelagius.’ He cannot stand this charge. But anyone familiar with what he teaches on so-called ‘total inability’ (or more commonly understood in the history: total depravity, and its noetic and moral implications) knows that he is in line, let’s say, rather than with Pelagius full-blown, with someone like John Cassian. Again, because of Leighton’s non-Dogmatic orientation, he cannot fathom where this charge comes from. He believes that he can simply assert away that this charge just is not true; while at the same time advocating for a position that correlates almost exactly with Pelagius’ in regard to the neutrality of the moral agency latent within a broken, but not completely “inable” orientation towards God. I’ve already spilled enough e-ink in other posts, in regard to Leighton’s inchoate Pelagianism, that I will not belabor that further here. He simply does not understand the broad contours and moods that makeup the landscape of ecclesial historical ideas vis-à-vis their ideational categorizations (i.e. the dreaded “labeling” again).
Finally (although I think I’ve missed some of their response to me), Leighton, in general, hides behind this idea that if someone is going to critique him, they need to provide concrete examples or he doesn’t know how to engage with the critique. I think the article he and his buddy are responding to, of mine, offers all kinds of concrete examples that he could respond to; but it, again, this would require that he is versed in the realm of Christian Dogmatics (which he discounts out of hand; for reasons already alluded to). I give plenty of examples, in regard to the way he interprets and approaches Scripture; in regard to the way he approaches history of ideas; in regard to the way that his approach to soteriology is not grounded in a dogmatic ordering of things. I don’t feel compelled to offer exact examples (although I have done that in some other posts in reference to Flowers) all the time, because I figure that anyone who reads something like an article on Flowers, is already aware of a whole stable of examples that Flowers hits upon, thematically, seemingly everyday in his vlogcasts.
Oh, one more thing: Brian (and Leighton) almost seemed dumbfounded by the idea that I said we should think our theologies, and exegetical conclusions, from Jesus. Brian, in particular, couldn’t fathom how that would be possible apart from Holy Scripture. But this, again, illustrates the absolute rationalist approach he (and Leighton), are ENSLAVED to. They don’t think of Scripture, as John Webster rightly does, as if it has an ontology. In other words, they cannot even imagine how we might think Scripture from within a Christian Dogmatic ordering of things (a taxis). As such, just like with soteriology, they think Scripture in terms of an abstraction that only has value insofar as they can mine its data, as if archeologists trying to make sense of an artifact, and construct an understanding of it that fits within the realm of what they have determined biblical theology to entail. But you see who is regulative in this sort of interpretive and value-enriching process, right? It isn’t contingent upon Scripture’s res (reality) being regulated by the catholic Jesus (think the ‘Chalcedonian pattern’ that has served regulative for most of Church history when it comes to interpreting Holy Writ cf. Jn 5.39). No, it is contingent, instead, upon some sort of abstract realm of positivism that abstract wits have the capacity to manage and manipulate, with greater or lesser outcomes, based upon the interpreter’s disposition, training, and aptitude to approach Scripture with a minimal amount of presuppositions and pre-understandings. Because Brain (and Leighton) seemingly are critically unaware of the history and development of modern bible reading practices, as those developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the naturalist bed those were consummated in, they simply cannot imagine what I mean when I refer to: thinking our theologies and exegetical conclusions from Jesus.
My point doesn’t pivot on a competition between Scripture and Jesus—this is the false dilemma and premise Brian critiques me from—but instead, it is grounded in the idea, as John Calvin, Karl Barth, TF Torrance, John Webster, and other luminaries propound, that Scripture is the signum (sign) that points beyond itself to its res (reality) who is the, Christ. In other words, Brian and Leighton fail, in regard to their doctrine of Scripture, and thus hermeneutics, because they essentalize Scripture to the point that it ends in their interpretation of it, instead of being understood as the instrument whereby Christians come to encounter the living God in the risen Christ. I see Scripture from an instrumentalist vantage point, as most Christians have in history, versus, the Leightonian and Brianian approach, that absolutizes Scripture as an epistemological end in itself; and end that has no idea that there is a theological ontology that stands antecedent to Scripture’s reality as a created medium that serves the instrumental purpose of pointing beyond itself and its many interpreters. Essentially, Brian’s and Leighton’s response to me fails, on this front, because, for at least one reason, they have an inadequate doctrine (and no ontology) of Holy Scripture. This is why Brian (and Leighton) seem so perplexed by my point on ‘from Jesus.’
Again, I would caution folks who are looking to Leighton and company for a healthy theological education. They, in my view, have not done enough homework, particularly in the area of Christian ideas, and the development of Reformed theology in particular, to be of any service to the would-be learner. I know this sounds harsh: but it is my considered opinion after listening to Leighton for about a year and a half now. My reason for saying this about Leighton should be illustrated by the themes I touched upon throughout this post. If someone wants to marginalize the history of Christian ideas, the history of theological grammar, and displace that with their reconstruction of the Christian faith, without engagement with the conciliar faith of historic Christian reality, then you know you are in a hazardous harbor. That’s what I think we get with the ministry of Leighton Flowers. Is he a nice guy? Clearly. Does this necessarily make him a trustworthy guide into the realm of theological and biblical studies? Nein.