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April 1980 · Vol. 9 No. 2 · pp. 21–22 

The Author’s Reply: Achieving Clarity

Response to “A Pastor’s Response” by Marvin Hein 9/2 (1980): 17–18; and “An Educator’s Response” by Peter M. Hamm 9/2 (1980): 19–21.

Delbert L. Wiens

After writing the article, I remarked to several people that I wished that my analysis would be shown to be wrong. I too am frightened by the intellectual and moral confusion that I have tried to describe. And so I do not know whether to be happy or sad that the respondents have not been more critical. At least I am happy that their comments forced me to clarify for myself some of the issues they raised.

It is helpful of Peter Hamm to describe my categories as “heuristic devices.” They are more aids for discovery and learning than complete descriptions of what is to be learned. I intend my “stories” to help the reader to see that we think and act at different levels. They certainly do not reveal the whole truth about each level and no one level is ever the whole truth about any of us. If they are so taken, then my discussion would indeed be “reductionist.” If the different levels are not illustrated by these “stories,” then I apologize for my poor storytelling. I think that Marvin Hein’s fear that he has not understood my essay “in depth” stems from his desire for something that is not there. I also seek fuller understanding of these ways of seeing our realities.

Of course I cannot hide behind the disclaimer that these categories are only “devices.” To be useful devices they have to reveal something that was and is true about us, even though they do not reveal the whole truth. And so I agree with Hamm when he points out that we have always intended conversion to be more than merely “coming home.” But my claim is that very many of us were still struggling to appropriate the “more” a long time after our conversion as “coming home” and “blessing in Jesus.” I also agree that “good” contemporary hermeneutics does not make certain simplistic creedalist assumptions. But my claim is that most of the exegesis we have done on ethical issues has not been that kind of good hermeneutics. {22}

In connection with this, Hamm raises the very important question of the relation of the human and the divine and of the appropriateness of applying psychological and sociological analysis even to the “human side” of faith and morals. I am sure that to be “human” means to be the fitting subject of such analyses, but I am far from clear on what all happens to the “treasure” when it is contained in “earthen vessels” and would welcome an essay containing his reflections on this topic.

I think that this leaves the nature of consensus as the only significant disagreement that might remain. Hamm’s discussion helped me to realize that a fuller description of consensus would have to include the process from “experts” to congregations as well as from congregations to the General Conference. But deferring to the expertise of experts would be cultic behavior unless we learned from them what we need to know in order to make good judgments of our own. For only the local community can know the entire context out of which decision must be made in hard cases.

Both responses contain additional observations which appropriately temper certain of my descriptions. I was especially glad for Hein’s witness to the confrontation and healing that is actually occurring. It would be fortunate if this discussion could free us so that no past sin, or previous marital status, or our gender, or baptismal form would automatically hinder any congregation from calling forth the fullest expression of all our ministries to each other and to the world.

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