One of the more recent hermeneutical models to arise is called the Redemptive Movement, formulated by William Webb and published in his 2001 book Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. Webb is a Baptist seminary professor who teaches at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and is most known for this hermeneutic. The book is more extensive in using a series of eighteen criterion to derive its conclusions. Webb’s hermeneutic has been used in response to slavery as depicted in Scripture along with perceived injustices against women in the bible, though it covers a variety of issues from government style, parental discipline, and practices like primogeniture.
The Redemptive Movement Model looks at Scripture through a Progressive lens as outlined below.
X = The original cultural context
Y = The words of Scripture
Our Culture = The place we are in the process right now
Z = The ultimate ethic, where we are being led by Christ
X ———> Y ———> Our Culture ———> Z
This hermeneutic views Scripture as improving the ethics of the surrounding environment rather than providing the ultimate ethic from God in the original writing of the Scriptures. The model is used to advocate for female pastors and was employed by Bridgetown Church in their written justification. Rather than lump the argument with the other bad arguments, this being a hermeneutic is worthy of a rebuttal in totality while speaking against the various issues the model is employed against as it is errant in other issues too.
The good news is, this model is uncommon, though informally its ideas have broader reach and are indirectly paralleled by other false teachers. In 2003, Wayne Grudem wrote 45 pages in response to Webb, ultimately concluding the following:
I believe William Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis is a deeply flawed book which nullifies in principle the moral authority of the entire New Testament and replaces it with the moral authority of a “better ethic,” an ethic that Webb claims to be able to discover through a complex hermeneutical process that is entirely foreign to the way in which God intended the Bible to be read, understood, believed, and obeyed. Because a denial in principle of the moral authority of the New Testament commands is at the heart of the whole system, and because the system denies the historical accuracy of the creation account, I do not believe Webb’s “redemptive-movement hermeneutic” should be accepted as a valid system for evangelicals to hold today.
Edgy atheist love to bring up slavery as an objection to the bible, and Americans are indoctrinated with the notion that slavery was a sin, or America’s Original Sin, despite nowhere being outright condemned, but instead regulated in Scripture. Almost in an appeal to soften Scripture to appease modern sensibilities, this is the Redemptive Movement’s “strongest” application.
The above screenshot comes from Bridgetown’s application of this model. The reason the bible does not condemn slavery as an institution is because it is more concerned with how people are treated then their particular station in life. There are plenty of circumstances where it is better to be a slave than to be “free” or where labor relations are better in bondage than with “freedom.” The Prodigal Son believed it better to be a slave to his father than to be free with the pigs. Even African slavery on a Mississippi plantation likely offered a superior quality of life than being that same slave in Africa, as there were Western amenities and the greater chance of salvation, which should be the supreme goal.
Is the abolition of slavery desirable? Yes. But does it mean our culture has achieved a superior ethic in comparison to the past, whether antebellum America or in Biblical times? No.
Labor in America in the 1950’s was certainly more desirable than the 1850’s. Contrary, the 1950’s were better than the current 2023 circumstances, despite the abolition of slavery, Jim Crow, and passage of Civil Rights. Americans had manufacturing jobs, could survive on a single income, had top-notch education, and started vibrant nuclear families. Currently, the manufacturing base is hollowed out, housing is unaffordable, cars are vastly more expensive, global societies are built on usury, public schools are indoctrinating not educating, and wages lag inflation while the rich get richer. But at least there are smart phones and flatscreens. To quote the World Economic Forum, “You will own nothing, and be happy!” Sounds like slavery, but without chains.
In other words, economic institutions might change, but the sinful nature of man remains the same. Instead of slavery, we have usury, which is unambiguously condemned throughout Scripture. Debt is itself a form of slavery and bondage, and our culture is built on debt. So has slavery been abolished, or just changed forms?
Men and Women
Webb would be one to use this model on the relations between men and women to articulate egalitarianism within the church. Rather than refute the words of Paul, he implements this system to reinterpret Scripture to what he perceives to be the superior ethic.
Did the bible moderate patriarchy? As was explained against the case for female elders, the dignification of women, which is present from Genesis to Revelation, does not mean that patriarchy is absent or moderated, just present and assumed. Yet is the “improved status for women, increasing secular opportunity” a positive facet of our culture? No. The 19th Amendment has been a disaster for society, along with every other society that has permitted women’s suffrage. Feminism gave women a great deal of secular opportunities, much to the detriment of secular society through lower birthrates, fewer marriages, no-fault divorce, promiscuity and “the pill,” and the ubiquity of abortion as a so-called right. Even the homosexual agenda, which is religious in many ways, is an extension of feminism in its belief of the interchangeability between men and women. Except for needless wars, every element of the current cultural rot has been advanced by women.
Now, William Webb does not venture to promote homosexuality as somehow permissible using his hermeneutic. In fact, his book exemplifies the biblical condemnation of homosexuality as improving upon the original culture and does not override the New Testament prohibitions as is commonly done in Side A or Side B theology. However, there is nothing that precludes this hermeneutic from being employed to advance the homosexual agenda, and one of the failures of this model is that there are no limitations since it injects moral relativity into Scripture. Moreover, it clearly promotes tolerance of that which God deems and abomination.
Bridgetown Church would use Webb to argue that female pastors does is not a slippery slope argument, despite their church being soft Side B.
The progression from X to Y in this model is sufficient, but the “Our Culture” box is clearly a degradation from the biblical model, not an improvement. It should also be noted that nothing is distinguishable from Y and Z, as the latter is expressed in Scripture. Our culture has merely debased itself. Tolerance of sodomy is antinomian, as is the abolition of restrictions of sex based on consent. Nowhere in Scripture is consent the basis for sexual morality, nor is it sinful to restrict consensual acts that are immoral. Consent as a moral standard is a quintessential element of liberalism.
Adopting this mindset that the current tolerance is preferable to the biblical condemnations is a compromise far too many true Christians have made. For Bridgetown, they have already compromised on the issue of homosexuality, but how much difference is there for those who in the church believe that society should not criminalize homosexuality? They might not hold to Webb’s hermeneutic, but the believe the results because it is more palatable to the worldly culture.
This one is another example that Webb applies his hermeneutic against, that while many in the Church do not hold to his methods, they believe the conclusions. His model could be devised as follows:
X = Kings and Warlord. Might Makes Right. State of Nature
Y = Better Monarchy. Law of Moses introduces superior legal code.
Our Culture = Democracy. Universal Suffrage. The People are Sovereign!
Z = People as angels, without need of government.
Even if people reject this hermeneutic, many implicitly agree with its findings, believing that democracy is preferable to monarchy, despite being wholly absent in Scripture. Rather than Redemptive, it might be concluded under the guise of Common Grace or Natural Law. But is Democracy a better form of government than Monarchy? No. In fact, it is worse. Rather than a singular elite, democracies become as oligarchies, where elites pit groups against one another to acquire and obtain power. When in power, there is every incentive to reap a harvest with little long-term orientation, because democratic pendulum swings often mean the opposing faction will succeed the incumbents; thus, short-term orientation would encourage fiscal irresponsibility and myopic policies whereas a monarch must think in terms of decades, not election cycles, while ideally focused on building up a successor.
The classic biblical view of monarchs is that they are as fathers to entire nations, or as shepherds over their sheep. This knowledge has been lost for generations, as modern societies loath the notion of an authoritarian leadership structure, while unironically living under authoritarian regimes that have elections. Perhaps this is the real objection to movements as Christian Nationalism or the Christian Prince, that people would prefer secular democracy over a Christian Monarch. They object to anything that could be construed as authoritarian despite modern democracies being more intrusive and wanton than pre-industrial monarchs ever were.
The Redemptive Movement Model is the embodiment of the Enlightenment within a biblical hermeneutic, built upon the premise that history is progressive and that the status quo is superior to that which existed during biblical times, all while under the delusions that there will come a superior ethic to that expressed in Scripture. Time is not progressive, but cyclical. Just as there are seasons within years, so there are cycles of nations whereby societies are subject to the cycles. This is commonly understood in the 80 year cycle or the Weak Men-Strong Men paradigm. Humanity is not progressing, but the nations are merely subject to the waxing and waning of their collective sins. These cycles tend to repeat throughout history, sharing many parallels in civilizational demise.
Moreover, the Enlightenment brought about liberalism, which has inevitably resulted in the leftist regimes. The pure delusion that our societies are superior to that which came before, that it is more humane to tolerate—no, promote, degeneracy than to expunge it is antinomianism. As Wayne Grudem wrote, it “nullifies in principle the moral authority of the entire New Testament.” The real problem how many Christians nullify the moral authority of Scripture because they have ingested the poisons of liberalism.