Challenging both sides on issues, Preston Sprinkle keeps his focus on the Biblical text.
This is part of a series which I'm calling "Interesting Voices". You can see the whole series here. They run the spectrum from conservative to progressive, little known to well known. They may or may not already be familiar with mirror-reading. I may or may not agree with them theologically, but regardless, I think they are interesting voices speaking to the Christian community today. The purpose of the series is to both raise awareness of mirror-reading and to introduce you to these voices.
Views On Hell
I first heard of Preston when I was talking to Chris Date from Rethinking Hell. Chris mentioned that even though Preston was a traditionalist in regards to hell, he had given conditionalism a fair shake. Preston wrote a book with Francis Chan on hell. He recounts a conversation with Francis:
So I called Francis (he was living in SF at the time) and asked him about his assumptions regarding hell—details about hell that that he saw clearly in the text. Among those assumptions was ECT, or everlasting conscious torment. I slowly gulped and gathering my thoughts and said, “What if I told you that the duration of hell wasn’t that clear? What if I could show you some good, biblical arguments in favor of annihilation?” After summarizing a few of the strongest arguments in favor of annihilation, Francis—being the Biblicist that he is—responded, “Really? Wow. Hmm…I’ve never noticed that before. Well, if the text isn’t as clear as we thought, then we can only go as far as the text demands. We’re not allowed to go beyond the text.”
Cutting Through Preconceptions
Preston brings his open-mindedness to all of his research. He tries to stay as objective as possible, not reading his own theology into the text. I think he does a great job. Here are a few blog posts of his that show his dedication to cut through people's preconceptions and focus them on the Biblical text:
As I've followed Preston on twitter, I've noticed his interactions with people are some of the most gracious I've seen, even with people he disagrees with. We all get a little too snarky sometimes but we don't always apologize. I respect Preston for his Christ-like manner in which he engages people. Some time ago, he had a misstep with one of his blog posts. He followed up with an apology:
First, the tone of my last blog was self-righteous and egotistical. I assumed I knew way more than I do, especially when it comes to matters of intersectionality, race, oppression, and sexuality. I’ve been in dialogue with several people (off-line, Skype, phone conversations, FB exchanges, etc.) about these matters, and the one thing I’ve learned is that I have so much to learn! The tone of my last blog came off like I really understood the nature of systemic injustice and racism, and now, after talking to several people who have experienced such injustice and racism first-hand, I’ve learned that I need to close my mouth more often and listen. I’ve aired my ignorance online and it’s super embarrassing. Most of all, it’s hurt some people and I’m truly sorry for the pain that my arrogance has caused.
As much as he probably doesn't want me to rehash the incident, I think it says a lot about his character, and I respect him for it. You can read the rest here.
Homosexuality And Christianity
Preston has immersed himself in the issue of homosexuality and Christianity and has produced a book on the topic. He levels a critique at Ken Wilson's third way:
Here's a video promoting Preston's book:
Tackling Both Sides
He's not afraid of taking on both sides of the debate and takes on Kevin DeYoung in a few posts:
He also tackles John Piper on Romans 7, and I think he's right on:
Preston's next book will deal with discipleship. He's been blogging about it in preparation for the book:
There’s some disagreement on what it means to be a disciple. The most common definition seems to be: “becoming more like Jesus.” Sounds like a pretty good definition, right? Well, sort of. But it all depends on what we think it means to be “like Jesus.”
That reminds me of the day I took off my WWJD bracelet because the Bible was challenging my preconceptions of what I thought Jesus would do. Be sure to follow along as Preston blogs about discipleship here.
Theology In The Raw
Preston desires to interact with "theological, cultural, biblical, and political issues with scholarly bite but in layman's language." I say, well done, sir!
Mirror-Reading And Preston Sprinkle
I listened to quite a few episodes of Preston’s radio show mentioned above. He does an episode on each book of the Bible, so I’ll do a quick critique of some of those. Some of my issues with him may simply be semantics, but I will still mention them.
Preston does a pretty good job mirror-reading by talking about the divisions that were taking place in the Corinthian church, such as the issues with the Lord’s supper. He also uses the analogy of “hearing half of the phone conversation”. That’s always a good sign, and I was happy to hear him say that.
With Ephesians, he says that it’s different because it was written to a broad audience, and therefore, is not responding to anything. It may be that it was intended for a broad audience, but that doesn’t mean Paul wasn’t responding to anything. For example, John Piper’s book on Justification was intended for a broad audience but it is, in large part, a response to N.T. Wright’s views on the matter. You can read some of my thoughts on Ephesians here.
Preston doesn’t take a hard stance on whether we should take Jonah as literal or as a parable. I’m fine with that, but either way, I think it’s a parallel. The question is, parallel to what? I haven’t figured that out yet, but Preston does make the mistake of not mirror-reading a narrative.
With Nahum, Preston says that it’s not about Israel. Well, that’s true, but I was getting nervous until he said the author wanted Israel to know about Nineveh. So, yes, Nahum is not about Israel because it talks about Nineveh, but it kind of is about Israel because it’s purpose is to address issues in Israel. You can read some of my thoughts on Nahum here.
Overall, I think Preston does a pretty good job of mirror-reading. Better than most. He doesn’t mirror-read in much detail but that’s typical, and one of the reasons this site exists is to develop ways to mirror-read in more detail, yet remain accurate. Besides, his radio episodes aren’t that long, so he can’t really go into that much detail anyway.
Questions For Preston Sprinkle
I’ve listed a couple of open questions to Preston below. I welcome a response from Preston, whether as a guest post, a response on his own blog or simply in the comments below.
1. What are your thoughts on mirror-reading?
2. Do you want to respond to anything that I've written above?
Questions For My Readers
What do you think of Preston? Do you agree with his take on things? Who else do you think is an "interesting voice"?