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Some Responses to "Dale Martin's Poststructuralist Persona and His Historical-Critical Real Self"



From: Walter Sundberg
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 2:40 PM

You won that exchange. It is almost a shame it was not over a less controversial topic so that one could focus more clearly on the hermeneutical issue at stake. The essential dishonesty you flag in your opponent reminds me of Machen’s argument against liberalism grounded in Common Sense Realism. In Christianity and Liberalism Machen points to liberalism's essential dishonesty in relation to average members of the church.  It may use the traditional concepts of Christian faith.  It speaks of "God," "Jesus," "Spirit," and the like.  But in doing so it "offends. . .the fundamental principle of truthfulness in language."  Honesty in language comes, "not when the meaning attached to the words by the speaker, but when the meaning intended to be produced in the mind of the particular person addressed, is in accordance with the facts" (112).  By investing traditional Christian concepts with a meaning that is different from their meaning among ordinary folk, liberalism abrogates the trustworthiness and integrity of the common language shared by all.  It turns theology into gnostic double talk.  In this regard, "it is inferior to Unitarianism in the matter of honesty" (111).   


[Prof. of Church History, Luther Seminary]



From: Prof. T
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 3:45 PM

Fascinating and so sad. As I read  his position, he states that he has NO position, only an ever changing variety of positions, and yet he is entitled to make definite conclusions. He also is a foundationalist with respect to his chosen critical theories. As a literary scholar, I never got into this. I thought that Karl Popper’s Open Society, chapter 22, on the sociology of knowledge, predicted in about 1945 everything we have seen in philosophy since that time. There’s a delightful novel by Malcolm Bradbury, “Mensonge” (French for lying) that parodies the whole movement.

Prof. T

Western University



From: Jason
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 2:13 PM 

Dr. Gagnon, 

I am interested to see you critique Martin on similar lines that I critiqued him a year ago in a paper on New Testament theology.  I accused him of doing what I call "the postmodern two-step." This move is where one first takes a step into the arena of objective (mind-independent and knowable) truth, and then steps out of this arena, claiming all to be indeterminate and unknowable, often as if the second step is the inevitable result, rather than the contradiction, of truth discovered in the first step. 

So Martin critiques "Heterosexist" interpretations of scripture as if they are demonstrably mistaken, and thus probably motivated by impure motives, and then says that nobody is objective, not himself nor these "heterosexist" scholars, which he supposedly had already demonstrated. 

It really is dizzying to try to follow such logic. But it is somewhat encouraging to see that one's opponents are driven to such nihilistic excesses. 



[Ph.D. student in theology]


From: Mark
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 2:17 PM

Of course Dale Martin would not want to meet in a face-to-face!   Anyone with common sense and a clear mind would begin to discern very quickly that he is running in circles in terms of logic.  As a graduate of Yale Divinity some years back, and a now-retired PCUSA Pastor, I wonder how much damage is being done to current students with his kind of vaporous and circular reasoning.   I was one of only a relative handful of evangelicals at Yale back in the late '70's, but we had fine professors, who were rigorous in their study and logic.   Now....Dale Martin?   What has happened to what used to be a liberal but academically sound institution?   I am so glad that I am not subject to teaching like Dr. Martin's.   Thank you for a solid and not-unkind critique of a position that has been used to effectively destroy the PCUSA and other mainline denominations.  I wonder of what use the Bible (or any other book) is, if all we have are our own individual interpretations, and nothing else has any certainty at all.   I might as well go back to atheism!   



From: Clay
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 4:12 PM

Dear Dr. Gagnon, 

For Dale Martin to claim that you don’t understand literary theory is ludicrous. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy with an additional 24 graduate hours in English literary theory and composition besides—I say this not to brag, but to give you at least a little confidence in what I say next—and what I see is your surgical exposure of the holes in Martin’s own literary theory.  

These same holes run rampant through all poststructuralist/ deconstructionist/ postmodernist theories of literature and knowledge. What poststructuralists/ deconstructionists/ postmodernists discard with their left hand, they retrieve with their right hand, while not permitting you to do the same. My favorite example of this is found in John Ellis’ little, but effective, Against Deconstruction, in which Ellis tells the story of the famous exchange between John Searle and Jacques Derrida. Derrida, the patron saint of deconstructionism who believes that texts have no inherent meaning other than what the reader brings to them, that “logocentrism” is the premier vice of our age, and that “all interpretations are misinterpretations,” can’t resist writing a 100-page, over-the-top response to Searle in response to a critical review by Searle of Derrida’s essay, “Signature, Event, Context.” In his caustic rejoinder, Derrida claimed that Searle misunderstood him on numerous counts and that his points should have been obvious enough even to Searle. 100 pages! Seesh! It seems that Derrida believed his text had some inherent meaning with some level of authorial intent, and that Searle touched a nerve. The hypocrisy is obvious. 

Thank you for taking on Martin so capably and firmly, yet without rancor, at least on your part. I thought Martin acted childishly toward the end, but that’s not uncommon when you know your position is hopeless. You suddenly don’t want to play anymore. 

Grace and peace,


[Presbyterian pastor] 


From: C.
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 3:46 PM

I found the whole thing to be way over my head for a moment.  But I got the jist of it after I read it three times.  Dale Martin takes what I like to call a Democratic stance on the issue of Biblical interpretation.  In other words he makes a statement about his beliefs or his interpretation.  And then when asked he suddenly says he can't speak on it because its too complex or his critics may use anything he says against him. . . .  

I am a bisexual female and a Christian. . . . There is no 'interpretation' of the Bible that allows for sin or claims that God allows for the sin of homosexuality.  Now what else do I believe? I believe that God does not condone sex between two people of the same gender.  This has been stated in the Bible time and again with no ambiguity. I also believe that God loves everyone, and yes God even loves gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, and even pedophiles.  But God does not condone their sinful lifestyle jus because He loves everyone. . . . Being gay or whatever doesn't bar you from Heaven, remaining unsaved is what bars you from Heaven.  This is a inconvenient truth that Dale Martin likes to leave out. 

As far as myself, I am in conflict about my own sexual feelings.  I decided to look at the issue in a manner similar to Paul who had a thorn or pain in his side.  Perhaps my homosexual feelings are my own personal thorn.  If this is the case then I must just pray and bear it.  I am saved so I know I'm going to Heaven.  Now i just have to try an stay on the righteous path, which isn't easy, whether you are straight or not.  I am glad to see that I am not the only one out there that recognizes this truth.  I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who ever spoke out. 


[My response:


You are exactly right about using the thorn in the flesh example. Sometimes the word from God is: My grace is sufficient for you, my power will be brought to completion through your human weakness. This principle applies to all circumstances where we want something that God has said "no," for our own good. Forming Christ in us often involves denial of our deep desires, as Jesus' statements about taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and losing our lives show. 




From: W.
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 8:51 PM

 I must first apologize: I have never read any of your works before today when I read your exquisite smackdown of Dale Martin's silliness. I enjoyed it immensely. I read through some of the 'reaction emails' you received to that posting, and one caught my eye, and I'd like to ask you about it [W. then refers to my response to C. immediately above]. 

I really do agree with you here, but here is my question: What should one do when one asks God to change one's orientation from gay to straight and the answer is a clear, firm "No"?

Don't pull any punches, I can handle my philosophical and theological self.

I'm sure you've heard stories like this before, but I wanted to give you some background.
I am a gay man, and a Christian. I know the Bible well, and came to exactly the conclusion you gave C. a few years ago when I finally admitted to myself that I am gay, and not just going through some kind of "phase". Since I first became conscious of my feeling towards other boys (middle school, not a Christian at the time but raised in a Christian household), I didn't want to be this way. I read every book I could find on sex and sexuality in the library (yes, all of it), and decided that I was just going through a phase, going with safe feelings etc. and would grow out of it naturally. 13 years later, at 25, there is no change. When I became a Christian in my heart and was Confirmed at 15, I began having to wrestle with the Scriptures and my feelings. Since I was influenced by my surroundings and my earlier conclusions, and my new-Christian-fervor, I didn't think that it was that scary, and prayed for Got to help me grow out of this. As I continued to fail to grow, despite my prayers and active internal work with no avail, and unable to believe that God hated me enough to twist my life like that and then condemn me for it, not that God wasn't there, I had to stare at the conclusion that God has said "no," for [my] own good and conclude that there is a reason I am gay, and a reason I am still gay, and that somehow that is God's will, God's reason. Therefore, there must be an error in the traditional interpretation or translation of Scripture, for why would God cause me against my will to have such a strong desire to do that which is sinful? It goes so far beyond Paul's thorn that I can't even put words to it. I am both gay and a person for whom Paul prescribes marriage, and I have seen the devastation that trying to put a gay man in a heterosexual marriage wreaks on all involved. His Grace is sufficient, but it has not granted me even the Gift of Celibacy.

So where does that leave me?

In Christ,


From: Robert Gagnon
Sent: Thursday, March 08, 2007 2:39 PM

Dear W.

Thank you for your heartfelt candor. I really appreciate you. 

As you correctly gathered from my correspondence with C., I do not think that becoming a Christian will lead to the complete eradication of all desires to do what God expressly forbids, including, for some, homosexual desire. At least a small minority apparently do receive elimination or virtual elimination of such desires (I think especially women); some larger number experience a significant reduction in intensity; some (of whatever number) experience no significant reduction in the intensity of homosexual desire. The same could be said of sinful impulses generally including, especially among men, a polysexual orientation. Scripture clearly shows that no command of God is predicated of people first losing all desires to violate the command in question.  

At one point you say that what you experience goes far beyond Paul’s thorn in the flesh. I don’t think so. If Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a serious eye ailment (there is some contextual evidence for thinking so), it was in the larger setting of a man who faced death daily as he went proclaiming the gospel across the Mediterranean basin. Most days Paul suffered more than we will suffer in a lifetime: beaten with a whip in synagogues, beaten with rods by Roman or provincial authorities, poorly clad, poorly fed, poorly sheltered, stoned (not on drugs), beaten by robbers, shipwrecked, in constant anxiety for his churches, slandered by fellow Jews (both Christian and non), a veritable scum of the earth. Was Paul sufficient for such things? No. The whole of 2 Corinthians, though, explains why he could get up each day and be faithful to what God commanded him to do in his individual life: the magnitude of the treasure of Christ now in us, the progressive revealing of God’s presence when we daily die to our self-interests, the surpassing magnitude and permanence of the coming glory that far outweighs our “slight momentary pressures” in this life, and the constraining influence of the boundless love of God for us so exemplified in Jesus’ death for us. 

I want neither to minimize what you are going through (which is real and substantial) nor to magnify it beyond what it is. There are more heterosexuals who aren’t having sex and want to but won’t out of obedience to God (i.e. the only kind of sex available to them would be in ways that violate God’s commands) than there are persons who experience same-sex attractions. We are talking about sexual impulses here; you are not at risk of dying through disease or persecution, for example. 

What would God have you do? First and foremost, obedience—and when you disobey to ask for God’s forgiveness. Second, to see your experience as a special gift that will enable you to experience the love of God in ways that others will not, because of your need to rely in this special area of your life on a God who wants to show you that his grace is sufficient (i.e., his help and kindnesses apart from necessarily delivering you from the impulse). Third, to develop close (but non-sexual) relationships with other men as a way of partially meeting desires for intimacy and to become connected with groups of persons who experience similar issues and are faithfully working through them. For the latter you should contact Exodus International or affiliated groups (in the Presbyterian Church USA it is OneByOne). 

Whether God has empowered you to live a celibate life is determined not on the basis of whether you struggle with unwanted impulses but rather on the basis of what God has commanded you to do. If you cannot get sexual relations in the only way that God has deemed acceptable, a union of one man and one woman, then you can be assured that God has empowered you in Christ to obedience. 

Hope this helps, 



From: G.
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 1:03 PM

Good points on the internal contradiction in Martin’s response to you!


[a retired theology professor]


From: M.
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 6:03 PM

Rob -- 

I'm tempted to say that now I think I understand why George W. Bush succeeded at Yale.  (That should endear me to nobody in this debate.  Ha!) 


[Professor at a Christian seminary]



From: H. N.
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 6:35 PM

I have read your email communication with Martin and I fully agree with your critique. 

H. N.

[A professor at a Christian seminary and a graduate of Yale Divinity School.]


From: AM
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 3:20 PM

Dear Dr. Gagnon, 

         I thoroughly enjoyed reading the exchange between you and Dale Martin. You had him and he just couldn't admit it. It was interesting to watch the shift in typing skills as he became more and more agitated in the exchange with you, while you remained calm and logical. It was almost like watching a fencing match between someone who thinks he can fence, and someone who knows he can fence.



[A Methodist pastor in Pennsylvania]



From: Dr. M.
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 2:56 PM

What a revealing series of emails! Those walking in the truth are happy to bring everything into the light. Others run from the light. Well done, as always. 


[Ph.D. in Old Testament from NYU]



From: Laurie P.
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 3:22 PM
To: Robert Gagnon

Dear Robert,

Your faithfulness to stick with your calling, and to persist in the face of much opposition, is noble. God bless you.

“But a noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.” Is 32:8




From: Peter B.
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 2:35 PM

Dr Gagnon,
I enjoy, love, have strong feelings after I read all your papers. I don't know how to say it, but man I like to read your responses.  May God keep you.


[Someone who has come out of the homosexual life]



From: DB
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 3:01 AM


Thanks for sharing this exchange.  If only consistency were still considered an intellectual virtue. 

I am so weary of the post-modern moves within the guild of the AAR.  I find far greater openness in the APA. 


[A Lutheran in full-time renewal ministry]



From: Albert
Sent: Thursday, March 08, 2007 2:10 AM

Dr. Gagnon, 

Please know that your time here continues to bear great fruit and many in our congregations and community were blessed by your spirit guided efforts with us. 

Please know that Mark and I continue to pray for you and your ministry; that God will grant you full measures of strength, wisdom and grace. 

God is good,


[A PCUSA pastor in the Northwest]



From: Andrew
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 10:32 PM


This was wonderful! Working at a secular university where I encounter that kind of thinking all the time, I wish I could be so articulate. 

With Paul I say, "I thank God for you every time I remember you in my prayers." 


[An adjunct professor and a Christian Missionary Alliance pastor]



From: Kenneth
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 10:04 PM


As we say here in South Carolina, 'you're a hoot!'  That Martin claims to know the "textual Gagnon" when he claims that text-based knowledge is fallacious - that was priceless!   

I was on our High School debate team; if I'm captain and get to choose sides for the next team I'm on, I'm picking you!  Keep up the good work. 

In Jesus,


[PCUSA pastor who works in a ministry to the sexually broken]



From: Robert
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 8:49 PM
To: Robert Gagnon
Subject: Dale Martin's diatribe


I just had to stop reading Dale's stuff when I saw the following: "So I critique people's rhetoric even when I believe they are "right" in their exegetical results. " 

This is incredible. He admits that exegetically you and others are "right" about what the texts says, and then essentially says "SO WHAT?!" 

One can tell by the demeanor of his writing that he is clearly uncomfortable with his own position. He knows it flies in the face of truth. The Truth. 

God bless you as you continue to work in this ministry. You have been a great blessing to me and others, and I am sure that in the end, the Lord will say to you "Well done good and faithful servant!" 

Peace in the Lord!


[An ELCA pastor in the Northwest]


From: James
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 6:47 PM

Dear Robert, 

Thanks for sharing with me this interchange with Dale Martin who is obviously in the throes of deception believing a lie, then conjuring up and constructing clever difficult to follow other lies to buttress it. That he is lost is sad enough but that others may (do)believe his views to be the truth is double damning. 


[A PCUSA pastor]



From: Elliott
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 12:01 PM


Thanks.  How unfortunate that someone responsible for teaching the next generation espouses such a philosophy.  I'm reminded of Pilate's reply when Jesus said, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."    

Keep fighting the good fight. 


[A PCUSA pastor]




To: Robert Gagnon
Subject: Martin 

Dear Dr. Gagnon 

Just read your exchange with Dale Martin.  It made me ask a curious question . . .  

If I understand him correctly, (and I am not sure that Martin would say that anyone could understand what he says correctly on the basis of what he has written, given his post-constructionist stance), I think I can say the following: 

     Dale Martin writes that he is a gay man.

     Dale Martin writes that one cannot draw conclusions about reality on the basis of what a particular individual asserts in textual form.

     I therefore cannot write with any certainty that Dale Martin is gay, given that I only “know” that he is gay because he has put such a statement in writing. 

Of course the above is a logical argument, and I am not sure that Martin agrees that there is such a thing as logical argument . . . at least not when it puts him in a bad light! 

Have I understood what Martin seems to assert? 


A PC(USA) pastor


RG: Yes.



  © 2007 Robert A. J. Gagnon