Adam Hamilton’s “buckets” and responses from David Watson, Bill Arnold, and Brent White


Adam Hamilton

In a recent promotional blog entry for his upcoming book on understanding the Bible, the Rev. Adam Hamilton utilized the case dismissal of the Rev. Thomas Ogletree to make his points. Ogletree, a retired United Methodist minister in New York, had his case dismissed for performing a same-sex union for his son.

“The real issue for the church is not homosexuality, but the Bible,” Hamilton writes. “And the underlying issue regarding the Bible is what kind of book the Bible is and how God has spoken, and continues to speak through it. The answers to these questions determine how we read the handful of passages in the Bible that seem to speak to some form of same-sex sexual activity.”

Hamilton proposes in his soon-to-be-published book that there are three “buckets” into which scriptures fall:

1. Scriptures that express God’s heart, character and timeless will for human beings.

2. Scriptures that expressed God’s will in a particular time, but are no longer binding.

3. Scriptures that never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God.

“Most conservatives, moderates, and progressives that I know in the United Methodist Church seek to be biblical Christians,” Hamilton writes. “They read their Bibles, study the scriptures, and seek to live them. Where they disagree is whether the handful of scriptures that condemn same-sex sexual activity belong to bucket one, two, or three. Do these passages describe God’s heart and timeless will, or might they have been addressing specific forms of same-sex activity in ancient Israel and in the first century Greco-Roman world, or perhaps they may not have captured God’s heart and character at all?”

Not everyone shares Hamilton’s enthusiasm for using the bucket list for biblical interpretation.


Bill Arnold

“Why is this a bad idea?” Dr. Bill T. Arnold asks. “For several reasons, beginning with the fact that Adam’s categories – the ‘buckets’ – are extraneously imposed upon the canon of Scripture. The Bible’s self-claims rule it out of order (beginning with 2 Timothy 3:16-17). This is a foreign concept, imposed upon the flow of the canon and the whole tenor of Scripture.” Arnold is the Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary and the author of Seeing Black and White in a Gray World: The Need for Theological Reasoning in the Church’s Debate over Sexuality (Seedbed).

“Beyond this simple reminder that ‘all scripture is inspired by God,’ we need also to remind ourselves that we United Methodists view the Bible ‘as sacred canon for Christian people,’ specifically the ‘thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament’ (2012 Book of Discipline, ¶105, page 82),” Arnold writes. “When we join a local UM congregation, we proclaim that we ‘receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.’ At ordination, we proclaim publicly that we are persuaded the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus, and that those Scriptures ‘are the unique and authoritative standard for the church’s faith and life.’”

In his analysis of Hamilton’s theory, Dr. David Watson believes that most Christians utilize the bucket method even though it is misguided. “I believe God can teach us through any passage of scripture,” he writes. Watson is academic dean at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. “We don’t have to regard a scriptural passage as prescriptive or normative in order for God to teach us. God might in fact teach us through the passages of scripture that we find most difficult. God might teach us through passages that make us mad, sad, or confused. The Holy Spirit is a teacher who will consistently surprise and stretch us in our walk of faith.”

David Watson

David Watson

Watson points to a response when approaching hard-to-comprehend Bible verses. “Rather than setting out the three buckets and sorting scriptural passages into one of the three, perhaps we should simply ask this question: Given what I know to be true about God, how can this passage of scripture inform my understanding of God and the Christian life? Yes, this question presupposes that we know something about God before we begin to read the Bible, but Christians should be catechized before they launch into Bible study,” he writes.

“I don’t blame anyone, in this day and age, for feeling like the Bible is wrong to condemn homosexual behavior,” the Rev. Brent White admits. “Opposition to homosexual behavior is as countercultural as it gets! But feelings aren’t an argument.”

White is the pastor of Hampton United Methodist Church in Hampton, Georgia, and uses his own blog to engage Hamilton’s logic in biblical interpretation. “If you’re going to adopt Hamilton’s interpretive strategy — not to mention to loudly trumpet your commitment to being a ‘biblical Christian’ — you better have principled biblical reasons for deciding which scriptures belong in these different buckets,” White writes.

For Adam Hamilton’s full blog entry, click HERE.
For Bill Arnold’s full blog entry, click HERE.
For David Watson’s full blog entry, click HERE.
For Adam Hamilton’s response to David Watson, click HERE.
For Brent White’s full blog entry, click HERE.



  1. And finally, with Dr. Hamilton’s well-timed literary offering, we arrive at the logical conclusion of this entire same-sex, homosexual marriage, gay Christian conundrum. What better way to justify the goal of some UM churchpersons than to embrace sexual deviancy by way of devaluing scripture? Despite any number of foolish attempts to reinterpret the definition of sin, God’s word stands. The real harm that will be done in the next few years will not be accomplished by those who wish to embrace sin as acceptable or normative; rather, those who time and again try to bridge the chasm between those who seek God’s word and those who seek to dilute God’s word will be the most dangerous. The time for conferencing, compromise and capitulation is over; the dismissal of the Ogletree case brings this into stark relief. The road has a clearly defined fork; each one simply needs to decide which way to go.

    • Come to think of it, it was Adam Hamilton who sponsored the “agree to disagree” resolution on the sexuality conflict at the 2012 General Conference, and it was defeated. This looks like an attempt to keep that idea alive. Unfortunately, many will read his book and find comfort in the three bucket approach to Biblical interpretation, giving them the green light by a leading UMC minister. With Biblical illiteracy running rampant in our denomination, this three bucket approach would legitimize the wide ranging interpretations of the Bible that the left is pushing so hard, and many could fall victim to this false teaching. With this approach, even atheists could find comfort under this version of the “open door” welcome of the Methodist church. They would toss the entire Bible into the third bucket, and who could challenge them since every possible Biblical interpretation has equal standing? Thus, we achieve unity at last by standing for nothing, except each individual’s own, personal, Bible edited designer brand of Christianity.

  2. This confirms my decision a year or so ago to toss a Adam Hamilton publication in the trash after we, unfortunately, used it in a Sunday school class. This would likely head the list of one of the most preposterous assertions of a UMC leader of the past forty years.

  3. More smoke and mirrors from Mr. Hamilton. To have a good relationship with God, follow the rules. This is very confusing to many ministers today, so if you are a minister, pay close attention. To have a good relationship with God, make your life fit God’s Word. Any time you catch yourself making God’s Word fit your life do something about it.

    The bible says you can please God or please the world. Choose God!

  4. I am astounded by the response of so many conservative United Methodists to Adam Hamilton. In my opinion, his simple and helpful remarks have been over-analyzed in a frenzy of hair-splitting. Seriously: no one I know thinks women need to have long hair as Paul insisted. Or that we should follow any number of OT or NT Scriptures. Clearly, there are numerous cultural statements that have nothing to do with God’s eternal intentions for the church. Hamilton’s “buckets” provide a way for most people to understand why that is. In my opinion, the furor is rooted in the extreme fear of evangelicals that God may actually be calling LGBT persons to love and serve him exactly as they are. So Adam Hamilton has to be silenced. When I was a Beeson Pastor at Asbury Seminary, Adam Hamilton was a hero of evangelical United Methodists; visiting the Church of the Resurrection provided an example of how churches grow and thrive when they reject liberalism. Hamilton has gone from hero to pariah, and it is amazing how quickly people are lining up to shoot him. Anyone with any sense should know that it takes incredible courage and integrity to advocate for a very unpopular position. Rob Bell and Brian McClaren and others like Hamilton are paying a heavy price to advocate for LGBT persons because they simply believe it is right to do so. I admire them and am grateful for their witness.

    • James Lung says

      Rather, Hamilton is attempting to find some justification for capitulation to the culture. This one is embarrassing.

      • When you are pastor of a megachurch and have been admired and deeply respected throughout your vocation by Christians who are likely more conservative than not, capitulating is generally more to “church culture” than to the wider culture of society. Adam Hamilton has very little (if anything) to gain by advocating for LGBT persons and has much to lose. Truly prophetic voices are always criticized by those who want to hold on to power within the religious community.

        • Please explain “prophetic voices”. Are you suggesting that Adam Hamilton is a 21st century AD prophet? Exactly how does that work AFTER the first coming of Jesus the Christ, his death and resurrection?

          • Huh? The word ‘prophetic’ has to be limited in that way? Have there not been prophetic voices heard in our own century?

        • Adam Hamilton, in fact, does have something to gain in the eyes of the world by engaging in these dubious mental gymnastics when interpreting the Bible. Anyone paying attention has noticed his popularity among secularist media that have been all-in for years regarding alternative sexuality. This publicity can only help his book sales and interview requests. That all translates, potentially, into greater fame and forturne.

          One of Hamilton’s biggest critics would be the Adam Hamilton of a few years ago (see “Confronting the Controversies”). God bless him…I wish him well, but he needs to prayerfully re-think this, particularly in view of his solemn vow to uphold the Discipline.

        • Hamilton embraces the anthropology of America’s pagan culture that assumes a human person is defined in his/her essence as “homosexual” — innately ordered toward same-sex sex or “heterosexual” — innately ordered toward sex with the other. A Christian anthropology does not frame the issue in categories that only exist in the minds of degenerate moderns.

          A second way in which Hamilton channels the culture is in the notion that “same-sex intimacy” is somehow transformed if it occurs in a “loving, committed relationship.” The self-deception engaged in by the participants cannot change the inherent disorder of the acts.

          The man has become a legend in his own mind.

    • God is calling those who practice homosexual intercourse, as He does all those who are caught in lives of sexual sin, to “go and sin no more.” The God of the Bible hates all sin. He does not tolerate any sin in a believer’s life. And He never calls anyone to “love and serve Him exactly as they are.”

  5. Adam Hamilton is, obviously, one of those high profile ministers in the UMC. That, in itself, can be a problem, but when looking for leadership in our denomination, Hamilton’s name usually comes up. However, this will significantly diminish his credibility among many observant Methodists. When credibility is questioned, trust is diminished or broken. And, this situation, along with the many others, highlights that issue of trust. The breakdown of trust across our church is devastating and crippling. All who are paying attention cannot help but fell the sting of mistrust. Having to approach matters of church with doubt in its leaders is most disheartening. Almost everything has to be filtered and analyzed, always looking for the real meaning, the real agenda behind the words and actions of our leaders. This is, indeed, a sorry state of affairs for a body that calls itself united. I believe that this atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion is the major contributor to the paralysis that has engulfed our church.

  6. Gary Bebop says

    At last we are getting some credible PUSH BACK to the “intellectual” stampede intended to swamp the church with contradictions and disobedience ahead of General Conference 2016. For the health of the conversation, that push back, coupled with the UNMASKING of the pretensions of (sadly) Adam Hamilton, among others, needs to get stronger.

  7. Praying for unity in the UMC says

    This article and some of the responses sound like the religious leaders who persecuted Jesus and his message. I believe God is using Hamilton to begin holy conferencing in the UMC. We have nothing to gain by attacking one another from either side of hot topic cultural issues. Hamilton’s book sounds like an opportunity for laity and pastors to study Biblical texts like we did in seminary. What a wonderful gift Hamilton has provided for the church no matter what conclusion has been drawn. Young people are leaving the church in droves because of attitudes that are similar to ones posted on this site. What if we were able to dialogue in love so that we can discern God’s revelation for today? Perhaps we would have large churches like Church of the Resurrection. Praying for unity, not conformity, for the United Methodist Church.

    • “God is using Hamilton to begin holy conferencing in the UMC”. “Hot topic cultural issues”. “Discern God’s revelation for today”. “Unity , not conformity”.


    • Yes. Thank you. Your reasoned, conciliatory words are much appreciated.

  8. Paul Humphrey says

    Wouldn’t it be great to hear someone say, “I really don’t know how to handle the issue apart from love?” What if I can not convince another of their sin, is it time to reject them? Does that mean deny membership to the church (which is Christ’s table). I think we need to look at each person as though they were our own relative. That means using common sense and love. If you are a pastor in a country church and have no homosexuals in attendance, it is pretty simple to preach with the choir and condemn acts as not being in line with Christian teaching. Yet, if you are in a city church and have a couple of homosexuals sitting in the congregation it doesn’t seem right to have every eye focused upon them in preaching about incompatibility between their acts and Christianity without also pointing out that everyone knows that Billy Bob who is sitting over on the right side of the church is having sex with his girlfriend. Nor would it be right to mention that without mentioning Aunt Bessie has been gossiping again. If the obvious are to be pointed out, then would it not be proper to apply the principle equally? One would not want to showcase all of this without mentioning those who were sitting as chairs of boards because of pride? Let’s not forget those who bring about divisions within the church to get their way. We would certainly not want to leave out that some of the biggest givers in the church had been controlling the pastor, saw him or her as their inferior, someone they should be able to boss around, judge and control. By giving the most, that does make them superior to the pastor, right? The sin of causing divisions in the church is listed right along with murder. How about gluttony? That is a sin of excess, as is being drunk with wine. Actually it is the same sin in accordance with Scripture. Yet, have we not drawn a Pharisaic hedge around the means to the sin of drunken behavior by saying to sip wine is a sin in and of itself (which would no less make Jesus a sinner), while we have totally done away with the sin of gluttony (the sister sin)? Yep, there is not a safe chicken in site of our pastor but he has made it clear that homosexuals and those who drink alcohol are going to hell. And, hey, it was Jesus who made mention of “greater sins.” The crap never ends. It is a top ten sin list any way you look at it. The church is not a museum for saints, it should be a hospital for sinners. Decide which sinners you want to run off first… we are all in line. Oh, it is the Baptist model of unrepented sin…. Let me tell you, if you don’t have repetitive sin, then you are unique. Is salvation the starting point of Christ-likeness or the end all? Right there is the biggest difference between doctrines today. And who is the judge of all this? We sing “Just as I Am,” but do we mean it? How about the old tune, “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Need?” That is one of the most powerful songs in Christianity with a verse that says come to Jesus first, let him straighten out your life. Those who plan on fixing things up and then turning to Christ are going about it backward. Jesus said, “You can do no good apart from me.” So, where does this notion of instantaneous perfection come from? You do not have to explain sin. As a matter of fact, you can’t. It is inherent. People will repent of it as it becomes manifest to them, and they will reject the notion of sin until Christ brings them to terms with it. And, further, sin for some is not necessarily sin for another unless it is called such by Scripture. Some things are sin for all, and yet, it takes time for some of those things to really register to individuals as sin. Just look at the disciples.

    What a bunch of nonsense we have made of coming to Christ! Meet the preachers top ten list and then he will allow you to come to know God’s grace? I see today why so many reject Christianity as nonsense. We need a new walk as Methodists, and we need to do away with the nonsense of the last 100 years of wrong interpretation of Scripture. We are all totally dependent upon grace. Why do we have a top ten list. We lean on Christ for justification and he begins a process of sanctification. Why would we have a top ten list for membership or baptism. Our preachers are often preaching it backward. It is not just the sexual sin needing fixed, it is Aunt Trula who has spread gossip, talked about the preacher, caused divisions to get her way, ate ten times what she should have, put her self first…. on and on and on,….. is she not devil driven and going to bust hell wide open? Are we not all such? But for grace? Is he not working on u all? ~Just some thoughts, Pastor Paul

  9. Allen Pierce says

    I randomly found this blog after having read Hamilton’s article from the Houston Chronicle. I was at first shocked, but then asked myself, “Why not?” So I opened my mind to just try and accept what was being said to see if perhaps there is overall biblical unity to what was being stated. After giving it some thought, following Hamilton’s logic that a loving relationship between two men was not that to which the Bible was referring in Sodom, it occurred to me that this logic is actually dangerous! How far is it from a loving relationship between the same sexes to the same between humans and animals? Leviticus 18 expresses numerous sexual prohibitions, and verse 22 seems fairly straightforward with no way to re-interpret it to refer to only “non-loving” unions. Then this is followed in 23 with the prohibition against bestiality. Verse 24 makes it even more clear that this is one of the reasons God chose to depose the other peoples who committed such abominations. I have no problem with same sex relationships, but it is as much a sin as me lying with my step-mother! Can God forgive this? Yes! But should the church, that which has been given the role of providing light to a perverse world, condone sin as though it is nothing? As the Apostle Paul exclaimed, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” (Romans 6:15)

  10. Jonathon Hunt says

    Can’t wait to read this one from Hamilton and see if he talks about how “Jesus exaggerates” like he has in his other books.
    Funny how a pastor can publish a book with a statement like that and still be allowed to be a pastor, unless the church itself thinks that way also. Looking at you UMC.

  11. Read “washed in the blood” at this site: The sinner’s


  1. […] News (?), “Adam Hamilton’s ‘buckets’ with responses” at Good News =…. Good News is apparently a group or movement within the United Methodist Church that is trying to […]

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