Recently Dr. Thomas Schreiner did a review of my book, Corporal Punishment in the Bible; the review was posted on the Gospel Coalition website: http://thegospelcoalition.org/ Here is my response to Dr. Schreiner’s review.
I must begin my response to Tom by saying that I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Schreiner and, given that respect, feel the need to interact with his critique. Our discussion and exchange(s) in the past have always been gracious and cordial; I have been impressed with Dr. Schreiner’s attempt to represent fairly what I have said before responding to
In view of our good interaction in the past I will offer the following comments that ask for a re-reading of the book on his part:
- Schreiner’s First Objection: “Covenant Discontinuity”–we are not under the Torah. Dr. Schreiner states that Webb does not understand continuity-discontinuity issues between the Testaments. In short, Christians are under no binding covenant obligation to fulfill the old covenant. WJW RESPONSE: Yes, I agree. Christians are under no covenant obligation to fulfill the OT (or old covenant within the OT). But this continuity-discontinuity observation did not help Christians untangle the ethics of slavery in the civil war discussions. Contrary to Schreiner, who makes a big deal about Webb “never talking about such things”, I would have to say that I do discuss such matters and he has somehow missed it. I would ask my esteemed colleague to re-read the chapter on slavery (chapter 2), which was written with the continuity-discontinuity scenario in mind. Also kindly re-work your way through pages 122-126, 127-128 of the corporal punishment discussion, which develops precisely what you say I do not say anything about. Sorry, discontinuity issues do not help or “fix” things here in talking about corporal punishment any more than with the slavery issue. There are several reasons why. See pages 122-126.
- Schreiner’s Second Objection: “Genre Differences”–the Proverbs are different from Torah. Dr. Schreiner makes the point that I have inappropriately mixed genres in my development of what the Bible has to say about corporal punishment. WJW RESPONSE: I am a little disappointed here Tom. You simply dismissed my response to Kostenberger—an entire appendix which explains why an appeal to genre does not help your pro-spanking case–in three words “Despite Webb’s protests . . .” Well, how about responding to the actual arguments given within the appendix response to Kostenberger. That would be helpful. Instead you simply hide behind the same smoke-screen argument about genre differences that Kostenberger does.
- Abstracted meaning and purpose meaning. There was no attempt on the part of Dr. Schreiner to discuss other elements of meaning in the biblical texts: abstracted meaning and purpose meaning. I could make a case for moving to non-corporal methods simply based upon these two aspects of the biblical text (Chapter 3) without any appeal to redemptive-movement meaning. How about dealing with the garage and the broom illustration. You/Dr. Schreiner skip over this material completely. Why? With these two additional aspects of meaning and the arguments in Chapter 5 I could have made a good case for only using non-corporal methods without introducing the argument from redemptive-movement meaning. For me the case is considerably strengthened with redemptive-movement meaning but Chapter 3 talks about abstracted meaning and purpose meaning as well.
- Ethical Reasoning in Chapter 5. Again, complete silence here. Why no response to any of the ethical arguments in Chapter 5 about why Christians should adopt non-corporal methods of discipline. What do you find lacking in any of the five arguments discussed on pages 128-137? How can you not see these as an extension of the ethical development that has already taken place within the pro-spanking evangelical world?
In sum, Dr. Schreiner’s review of Corporal Punishment in the Bible was extremely disappointing and unpersuasive. While it may influence some in the blog world (especially those who have not read the CP book), his review does little to interact with the substantive arguments within the book itself.
William J. Webb
Here is another/second response to Thomas Schreiners’ review; it is written by Rachel Stone and was originally posted on the Gospel Coalition website in the comments section. I think I will hire Rachel as my defence lawyer (what are your fees Rachel?). She makes an excellent counter case against Schreiner’s review. Her spirited response and precision-pointed arguments show that I was probably too soft in my response to Dr. Shchreiner. But hey, I am a Canadian eh!? so we have a tendancy to understate things. So with gratitude from me, what follows is Rachel’s discussion below:
Webb does address the New Testament’s treatment of corporal punishment (hereafter CP) texts, remarking that, if anything, the NT would seem to confirm the OT’s instruction on CP, but that nonetheless, we need not stay with a concrete-specific application of the text (just as the overwhelming majority of Christians no longer read the NT as condoning slavery. So actually, the book does make a good case for transcending NT ethics in places.
Reflecting on the nature and application of CP throughout the varied genres of the OT is NOT irrelevant, or a case of “hermeneutical lead-footedness.” Moreover, the same book from which the men you admire (Dobson, Mohler, Grudem, Koestenberger, et al) take their contemporary spanking ethic is the same book in which almost ALL of Webb’s 7 points on “Biblical” CP appear–Proverbs. How is it fair to take Webb to task for failing to adequately distinguish between biblical genres when, clearly, the Proverbs he cites have more than a passing congruence with CP texts in the Torah? Besides, you accuse him of muddling genres–but don’t say why this is problematic.
Further, you say it “seems” to you Dobson, Mohler, et. al. are “right,” but why? Their spanking ethic is ALSO based fairly exclusively on the OT. So why does the “different part of redemptive history” argument not apply there as well? You admit that we apply and interpret Scripture in a different context than it was originally written–so WHY is the approach of Mohler, Dobson, et. al. “right” while Webb is “wrong”? You don’t seem to say–except to say, “if Webb is right, women can be pastors…what next?”
(Slippery Slope is a FALLACY–not an argument.)
You accuse Webb of “domesticating” Scripture, but don’t offer a compelling case for why the Dobson-style spanking ethic DOESN’T constitute a similar domestication.
Finally, I read Webb’s emphasis regarding the CP issue today as a question of whether Christians are BOUND to use CP. He presents a number of compelling arguments as to why we ought not to use CP (which you don’t mention at all) but I felt that he did a great job of showing why we need not feel (as Koestenberger, Mohler, et al) would have it, OBLIGED to use CP as Christian parents. If you’re going to so flatly state that he’s wrong, it might be helpful to talk about WHY that’s so, beyond somewhat incidental reflections on genre-muddling.
Overall, this review seems determined to condemn Webb from the outset based on a quick reading of the book and on criticisms incidental to the main argument.