Twitter has a way of bringing out the worst in us, not to mention the worst of us. The medium of Twitter encourages us to make snap judgments on the basis of very little information. Unfortunately, Beth Moore often finds herself on the receiving end of such judgments.
A number of people have problems with Moore’s understanding of modern day revelation from God, or Moore’s supposedly imprecise statements related to her understanding of modern day revelation from God, or Moore’s practice of preaching to men, or Moore’s fraternizing with questionable teachers, or Moore’s celebrity status, and some have problems with all of the above. But Beth Moore is not going anywhere. She has a lengthy track record of effectively ministering to women both inside and outside of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Six of one, half a dozen of the other; this post is not so much about Beth Moore, but about something she recently tweeted. The tweet that apparently sparked a considerable amount of (unwarranted) outrage simply said,
My basic take on life thus far:
If tons of folks say one thing
and Jesus says another,
I’d pretty well go with Jesus on it.
Yes and amen.
Yet, apparently, others disagreed to the extent that Moore felt it necessary to qualify her statement with a follow up tweet.
No, I was not subtweeting the apostle but I’d like to say something here. I believe wholeheartedly ALL Scripture is inspired by God. Authoritative. Truth. But the persons themselves- Paul & Jesus -are not equals. I know this is hard for some to swallow but Paul is not our Savior.
Paul would be horrified, I believe, by the way he has been deified.
And one more.
It’s mind blowing. I can hardly make a statement about Jesus without an outcry of Pauline Whataboutisms.
Charitable reading is good academic etiquette, and not merely a Christian ethic. Charitable reading simply means reading another person’s words in the best possible light, with all the logical consistency and good intentions some statement might even possibly presuppose or imply. We don’t always want our interlocutors to sound logical or look good, which is why the principle of charity is so often violated, and in turn so very necessary. But Christians believe an even deeper principle is in play here. Just as plagiarism, an academic no-no, is undergirded by the Bible’s ethical imperative in Exodus 20:15, “You shall not steal,” so also, the principle of charity is implied by the biblical love of 1 Corinthians 13:7 that “believes all things, hopes all things.”
Reading Moore’s initial tweet charitably means, in the first place, not taking it to preclude Paul when nothing in her statement would logically entail his exclusion. Going with the words of Jesus does not mean one does not go with the words of Paul. The two are not mutually exclusive. If anything, going with the words of Jesus means also going with the words of Paul, since the words of the apostle Paul in our possession are inspired by the Holy Spirit. No objection to Moore’s first tweet.
What about the second tweet? Moore clarifies she was not “subtweeting” the apostle Paul, which one should take to mean that she was not precluding Paul, as just explained. Moore even goes out of her way to clarify, “I believe wholeheartedly ALL Scripture is inspired by God. Authoritative. Truth.” She would, then, consider the words of Paul to be Scripture, inspired by God, authoritative, and true. Good.
Moore continues, “But the persons themselves- Paul & Jesus -are not equals.” Again, Moore’s words here, taken in and of themselves, are careful and true. Paul and Jesus as persons are not equal. Paul is not God. Jesus is. Then, “I know this is hard for some to swallow but Paul is not our Savior.” No, Paul is not our Savior. Jesus is. No objections here either.
Moore’s third tweet in the thread is, “Paul would be horrified, I believe, by the way he has been deified.” Certainly, Paul would object to anyone who deified him. He did in the New Testament, after all. And he would when Roman Catholics make him out to be some sort of Saint in their system, too. Paul is not God. Nor is Paul a demigod. Paul would agree. No objections with this tweet in particular.
Finally, “It’s mind blowing. I can hardly make a statement about Jesus without an outcry of Pauline Whataboutisms.” Moore is just pointing out what was already mentioned above, going with the words of Jesus does not mean one does not go with the words of Paul. The two are not mutually exclusive. No need to take this tweet as dismissive of taking into account the whole counsel of God.
However, Moore’s intent is to clarify what she believes about the word of God. With that context in mind, her tweets do take on different meanings from the ones described above.
For example, what is the point in saying that the persons of Paul and Jesus are not equal, if their words are what are in view? As far as the context is concerned, Paul and Jesus are equal, not in terms of their person, obviously, but certainly in terms of their words.
The words of Jesus and Paul are equally Scripture. The words of Jesus and Paul are equally inspired. The words of Jesus and Paul are equally authoritative. The words of Jesus and Paul are equally true. And the words of Jesus and Paul are equally saving. Why? The words of Jesus and Paul are equally the word of God.
Jesus and Paul, in this contextually determined sense, are equal. No reason exists for giving the words of Jesus any precedence over the words of Paul in this context. And no reason exists for taking Moore to be giving the words of Jesus any precedence over the words of Paul in the context, except for her tweet which comments on the person of Paul in the context of tweeting about the words of Jesus rather than the words of Paul. In other words, even a careful, charitable reader might see some ambiguity here.
None need nitpick, but this explanation helps to clarify why some may see it necessary to at least question the quotes from Moore. When the tweets are taken together and in their context, they do not necessarily entail an encouraging trajectory. Knowing what we do about Paul, who would find it hard to swallow that “Paul is not our Savior”? In what way, and by whom, has Paul been “deified”? Certainly Paul the person is not our Savior or our God, but the words of Paul which are inspired Scripture are saving and divine. What Paul writes is every bit as much the saving word of God as the saving words which Jesus, the Son of God, speaks.
Placed in the wider context of Moore’s practice of preaching to men, one might theorize – rightly or wrongly – that Moore is motivated to de-emphasize the words of Paul pertaining to the pastoral functions of teaching and preaching to men. But the words of Paul on the matter are not merely the words of Paul, they are the very word of God, and equally important, if not more, than the words of Jesus on the same topic. Why? Paul is explicit about what men and women are permitted to do.
Who Deified Paul?
Yes, those who read into Moore’s initial tweet what she was not, in fact, saying, were wrong to do so. Their concern was not logically entailed by her tweet. And the principle of charity would prohibit their reading the tweet in the manner they did.
At the same time, Moore’s claim that Paul “has been deified” is clearly directed, not at the pagans in the book of Acts, nor at Roman Catholics, nor at anyone else, but at those who mistakenly thought Moore might be saying Paul’s words are not also God’s words. Without a doubt, it would be wrongheaded to read Moore so poorly as some have. Nothing justifies that. But they did so out of concern for recognizing Paul’s words as the inspired word of God. Their concern was misplaced. But their theology was not wrong. Moore implies their theology is wrong. She maintains they have deified Paul. Yet they have not deified the apostle Paul. They have merely insisted that his words are as important as the words of Christ.
Hopefully, Moore would agree that understanding Paul’s words as the word of God is not deifying Paul. Maybe we still misunderstand. Maybe not. Maybe she misspoke. Maybe not. Moore’s words are ambiguous. Regardless, if well-meaning Christians can disagree with one another on how to interpret the inspired word of God, then it stands to reason that well-meaning Christians can also disagree with one another on how to interpret the non-inspired words of Beth Moore. We are not outside of the bounds of logic or love to merely question, perhaps with some concern, what Moore means by some of her more ambiguous statements while also believing, and hoping, the best.