This is the second of two parts on this subject: see Discerning the Word (1)
In the third and fourth chapter he discusses the Bible “as Symbol” (and I loved the title of the fourth chapter: “Finding the Word in the Words”). In my more Evangelical upbringing, the usage of “Symbol” with respect to God’s Word was a bit threatening; but he used some very precise logic that was close to my own. Words are symbols, and they should be understood as such. He did an overview of what a symbol is, and applied it to several principles that are quite Biblical. The first was the usage of God as male: even though we know its not really true (God is beyond gender), we continue to use the words. Indeed, those places that have tried to distance themselves from God as male, using either the female or another option, have also so blurred the vision of human beings that we see Him as other, separate, too far away: which was exactly what Jesus was trying to reduce. Even Madeleine L’Engle, whose writing I love, was awkward when she tried to use “el” as the pronoun for God. One of the things that he points out is that in some of these churches they choose to use “God” every time to avoid using the pronoun: “God blesses God’s children.” This is ironically the complete opposite of the Jewish tradition to never say the name of God; to avoid using the pronoun we speak his name as often as we can.
Similarly, Gibson looks at the symbolism in the Eucharist (bread and wine, but also body and blood) and the Christological dual nature of Jesus (fully man and fully human). He looked at how these subjects have evolved over history: and how repeated heresies tried to force the symbolic understanding into one or the other extreme, and thus lost part of the meaning. These were all hammered out at various counsels, producing creeds. But they still lost something. Gibson expressed it very well; the process of defining terms exactly “carried theology out of the realm of symbolism into the world of speculation, out of the realm of story and icon and into the world of Greek philosophy.” (pg. 60) He applied this specifically to the Bible: “We do not say that the Bible is the words of God; that would absolutize each verbal unit in the text… we say that the Bible is the word of God, which is a symbolic statement.” (pg 67) As such, his means of interpretation is to be sure that everything that everything that is extracted from the Word (exegesis) is in keeping with a few central themes: which can be reduced to a single aspect. “…the principle of love (agape = commitment to compassion and responsibility) of God and neighbour is the constant factor.” (pg. 74) Much though I got there through the Evangelical tradition, my principles of interpretation are exactly the same.
And in the fifth chapter, Gibson approaches the difficult subject of homosexuality: and with that the subject of same-sex marriage. He says very little specifically with reference to LGBTQ people; just as Jesus said very little in the New Testament. Instead he turns the discussion back to the leaders. I will quote a fair bit: “The question is not whether there is a place in the kingdom of God for homosexual people who love one another and are committed to living together. The question is whether there is a place for us in God’s kingdom if we claim an authority for the Bible that goes beyond our own established tradition and that the Bible does not claim for itself, in order to prohibit homosexual people who live in faithful and committed loving relationships from exercising a ministry in the church… Jesus was prepared to reverse one of the ten commandments, relax another, and challenge the Mosaic Law on divorce in the interests of love, freedom and responsibility of his followers. What are the implications of this action for the interpretation of the Biblical references to homosexuality?” The implications are obvious. LGBTQ people are people first, as Godly as we choose: our sexuality is given by God, and demands a morality that fits within that context just as it does for straight people.