Ephraim Radner has published a typically wordy review of Reasonable and Holy in The Living Church. I have to say I am disappointed, not because the review is dismissive, but because I had hoped for more engagement with the issues and conclusions I present. Instead, Radner spends much of his time dealing with form rather than content. (It is a poor critic who blames another workman’s tools.) Plainly Radner does not like my conclusions, but he addresses only two or three of them in any detail. I will be making a longer response as time permits (I am in the midst of completing several major projects, and will be traveling on Anglican Communion business next week). However, I want here to examine just one of the assertions Radner makes. It is revelatory of the extent to which the heterosexualist mind-set, dazzled and misled by an eisegetical “larger scriptural vision” is prevented from engagement with alternative ideas, or, it seems, the actual text.
The central element of procreation in marriage, for instance, is bound up with the character of Israel’s calling in fallen (and the Fall has no place in Haller’s scheme) human history — genealogy — and ought not simply to be examined in terms of this or that individual person or couple (a rather modern obsession).
I will leave to one side the fact that I examine at some length the traditional imagery of both marriage and harlotry in the role of Israel in salvation history (pp. 53-56). Mindful as well of the apostolic injunction “not to occupy [myself] with ... endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith,” (1 Tim 1:4), I nonetheless feel it necessary to challenge Radner’s assertion here — or what I can make of it.
For while it is obviously true that procreation and genealogy are linked, the crucial observation from the New Testament, in the two places where genealogies figure, is that procreation — at least heterosexual procreation — is not at issue. Both Matthew (1:1-16) and Luke (3:23-38) reach their climax in an essential subversion of heterosexual procreation: Matthew sweeps aside all of his carefully constructed line of fatherhood to turn his attention to Mary, and then to describe the virginal conception. Luke, emerging from the revelation of Jesus Christ as Son of God at his baptism, presents a reverse genealogy that culminates in the affirmation that the first Adam was also Son of God. (As I note in Reasonable and Holy, the three most important persons in salvation history — Adam, Eve, and Jesus — are not the result of heterosexual sex; and, again contrary to Radner’s careless reading, I cite the traditional patristic and medieval reading of Mary’s role in the reversal of the Fall, as the “new Eve,” as a crucial factor in a sound understanding of the place of procreation in the work of God. See pp. 30-38) Taking all of this, as I do, in the context of John’s words about those who are born “from above” (John 3:3 )and not “of the will of man,” (John 1:13) I think I have expounded a sound biblical picture, consonant with the actual text — even if it must dissipate the Radnerian mirage, typified by his dismissive and anti-incarnational conclusion. Ultimately it is about individual persons — and this is no “modern obsession” but at the heart of the Christian faith.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG