- a mass of straw formed to resemble a man, as for a doll or scarecrow.
- a person whose importance or function is only nominal, as to cover another’s activities; front.
- a fabricated or conveniently weak or innocuous person, object, matter, etc., used as a seeming adversary or argument: The issue she railed about was no more than a straw man.
Fraser is at it again. In his latest comment for the Church Times Fraser is keen to remind us that “The Bible is not a legal document”. Thanks for the heads-up, Giles – it’s just that I don’t know a single person who thinks that it is.
Off he goes:
The relationship between Christian theology and law is disputed and complex. Jesus railed against the lawyers for not understanding, and Paul contrasted a faith based on grace with one rooted in law. It would take volumes to discuss it, but even the most unbiased observer should see that the law is not an unambiguously good thing in the Christian tradition.
“It would take volumes…” and Fraser certainly won’t take the time here – for to do so would expose just how fabricated his opponent is.
From his second claim we see that Fraser has no need to stick to accurate representation. In only one of the gospels does Jesus “rail” against “the lawyers”; John. The classic example would be John 8
John 8:43 Why don’t you understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot accept my teaching.
If, then, we are to identify who Jesus rails against it will not least be by seeing who does not accept His teaching.
Fraser then goes on to misrepresent Paul – he, apparently, contrasted a faith based on grace with one rooted in law. But what did that mean for Paul? Did it mean that the Law was simply set aside as meaningless? Well, no. Paul was very clear in his use of the Law.
First, in respect to achieving righteousness Paul was abundantly clear that the Law was of no benefit. Not, however, because it was bad – on the contrary (as we shall see) – but because it exposed our sinfulness. Trying to keep the Law would only condemn a man, instead the Law should push one to trust in Jesus.
Romans 3:20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
But, here’s the thing – how many evangelicals do you ever see pushing people to be good (i.e. keep the Law) in order to be acceptable to God? None. It’s antithetical to us! Sola Fide all the way, my friends! In fact, I am slightly infamous for preaching to parents at a baptism service that teaching their little boy to be good because it pleased God is to deny the gospel!
But that is not to say that there is no place or use for the Law. First, we know that Jesus Himself endorsed the Law fully – more than that, He pointed out that it’s requirements were far more searching than we could possibly imagine.
Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. 19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Law not only exposes our sin (which is, perhaps, why the liberals are so opposed to it) but it also shows us how to live now that we have been redeemed from that very same sin. So, it is no surprise that Paul, the same one who wrote:
Philippians 3:8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things indeed, I regard them as dung! that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.
1 Timothy 1:8 But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately,
So, the next question is – what is a legitimate use of the law? Well, not least it helps us understand what sort of persistant behaviour will keep someone out of the Kingdom.
1 Timothy 1:9 realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. 11 This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me.
This is not in any way contrary to the gospel – indeed it accords with it. It accords fully with this sort of gospel which Paul goes on to expound:
Timothy 1:15 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and I am the worst of them! 16 But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.
Now, why this detail on the Law? Because by demonstrating what a Biblical view of the Law is, and that held by those evangelicals (sorry – “legalists”) that Fraser is so opposed to, we can now proceed to catalogue how Fraser sets himself to the task of misrepresenting his opponents:
Remember: here’s how the Law functions:
- It exposes our sins
- It is not a means to righteousness, instead it is so demanding that it forces us to simply trust Christ
- It provides guidance to us once we are redeemed.
When someone put in those nasty verse numbers, the lawyers started to feel it was their book – a set of regulations. Chapter and verse started sounding like paragraph 1, subsection 3 of a legal contract. That was the point at which some Christians began to reject the idea that the Bible could be read in various ways, and, worse still, that it might contain contradictions or poetry. Such things would undermine its status as the ultimate legal document.
OK, let’s take those claims in turn:
1. Evangelicals deny there are contradictions or poetry in Scripture
This is nonsense. I don’ t know of one evangelical that does so. The contradictions question is controversial and numerous good answers are available on tricky issues. But why bring up poetry? How does that even matter? Which obviously poetic piece of scripture is being appealed to by evangelicals as “law” (in any sense of the word)? Straw man #1
2. Evangelicals claim that the Bible is the ultimate legal document
Again, absolute silliness. There is a wide gulf between the view that God’s Law revealed in scripture is, in some way, applicable to the Christian life and also of some benefit even for unbelievers and the claim that the Bible is simply a legal document. Straw man #2
But this is necessary misrepresentation for without it Fraser cannot move to his main claim:
“All Christians believe, must believe . . .” is how the barrister Mark Mullins confidently began his theological disquisition about homosexual relationships on the Sunday programme. I didn’t agree with a word that followed. But, for the likes of Mr Mullins, I am simply not a Christian. I imagine he believes that the sine qua non of Christianity is treating the Bible as a law book. I don’t. Unfortunately, Mr Mullins and his legal friends seem to think that the only real Christians are the ones who think like him.
Here’s his logic:
1. These nasty “christians” think the whole Bible is a legal document – nice and tightly defined.
2. On the basis of this they make dogmatic statements (particularly in the area of morality).
3. We know, however, that the Bible isn’t like that (n.b. above where Fraser claims ” the Bible could be read in various ways”)
4. Therefore one cannot make dogmatic statements.
Now, I feel it’s necessary at this point to remind you that Fraser lectures at Oxford University. Yes! Seriously! He does! I tell you, if I pushed out this sort of argumentation where I study I’d get failed but it’s ok for an Oxford lecturer. Do you see what he’s done? He’s misrepresented those that he disagrees with, presenting them as being entirely monocular in their view of scripture.
Even the proverbial ploughboy knows that there are many genres in scripture, but the same playboy can also recognise the genre of Law for what it is – Law.
Fraser’s misrepresentation is a bad enough thing in itself – it’s not just poor from an academic, it’s dishonest.
But he has an even bigger problem. He’s meant to be a minister of the gospel, a teacher of the Bible, but he consistently rejects the word of Truth.
1 Timothy 1:6 Some have strayed from these [a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (v.5)] and turned away to empty discussion. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently.