Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Blasphemy of Calvinist Predestination

This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. On this I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? that God is worse than the devil? I cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never an prove this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, "What is its true meaning then?" If I say, " I know not," you have gained nothing; for there are many scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it mean besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will it cannot mean that the Judge of all the world is unjust. No scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination. - John Wesley from his sermon Free Grace.

Amen to that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Redefining the Infallibility-Inerrancy Conflict

Over the past few weeks, there have been several discussions I have involved myself with regarding infallibility and the inerrancy of the biblical text. Some have gone well. Others have been contentious and resulted in separation and enmity on the part of some. I share in the responsibility for some of these end results and certainly acknowledge the issues should have been discussed in a more amicable manner on my part as well as by others. The experience has caused a redefinition of the issue. While this conflict has been among the church for some time, there has been considerable discussion in several venues recently regarding inerrancy and its relationship to what the Bible actually presents as revealed divine truth. What seems to be missing in much of the debate is an acknowledgement in some quarters of the close agreement that both inerrantists and infallibilists share with regard to the truth of scripture. Conservative, evangelical Christians who prefer the term infallible will likely agree with nearly every position of the same who prefer “inerrancy”. I am baffled as to why this simple observation escapes some. To that end, I’ve redefined this conflict with the use of a simple line chart that I think expresses a realistic representation of how these two terms interact.

Those who find themselves on the far edges of this line most likely would not acknowledge it as such but I know from my own experience with such people that it is a fair representation of my perception of them. Liberals and many emergents would reject the notion that they suffer from unbelief of much of scripture but I think an examination of what they espouse argues otherwise. Of course, this is again from my own perspective which is theologically conservative. The same is true on the other direction. They do not regard themselves as separatists yet their actions witness that very thing. Recently, a disgruntled inerrantist took offense at my suggestion he was acting like a fundamentalist with his responses to my inquiries. I was not suggesting he is a fundamentalist but rather he was using fundamentalist tactics with his replies. Nonetheless he broke off the exchange in anger. True to separatist mindsets, he has since deleted me from his “friend” list on Facebook even though he likely has not considered that as such. I personally do not give two cents one way or the other regarding social networking media but it confirms for myself that this simple chart can be validated.

As a conservative evangelical, I strongly believe we need to be as a body united in the circle in order to avoid the unpleasant extremes of inerrancy and infallibility. Whether that collective of believers can grow depends much on amicable discussions without the animosity and misrepresentation from either side. I believe it can grow in fellowship and at the same time keep the church from straying into reactionary camps.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Modern Inerrancy Debate

Dennis Bratcher’s CRI/Voice website has an article addressing the issue of inerrancy that goes to the heart of the issue with regard to my own dislike of the term.

… Beyond the problem of communication, one of the main problems with the argument for inerrancy of Scripture, or even the companion argument for near total historical reliability of Scripture, is that it is based on a very modern and quite rationalistic premise. The modern debate arose between 1900 and the 1920s, and was developed into the 1970s, as a defense against historical skeptics who were launching some very scathing attacks against the authority of Scripture from the perspective of historical positivism and scientific naturalism. However, in the zeal to defend Scripture, many simply capitulated to the rationalistic mind set and tried to defend the Bible on that alien turf by ground rules set by the critics. The ensuing "battle for the Bible" is thus a battle largely fought in an area far removed from Scripture itself, and by the premises and logic of very rationalistic categories. …

The full article can be read here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Calvinists are Green Eco-Nuts … er … Seriously

According to the sages of Huffington Post, Calvinism is a green, ecologically benign faith that is a great Sunday excursion after a hard week of carbon cap and trading.

The ecological implications of a Calvinist spirituality of desire are particularly important today. They suggest a delight in the earth's reflection of God's beauty as a foundation for environmental ethics. The world in the end will be saved by beauty. "We will not fight to save what we do not love," says Stephen Jay Gould. Desire, therefore, is both the problem and the solution of our ecological crisis. The Reformed tradition, through its careful attention to desire and its distortions, has resources for criticizing the twisted desires of a consumer society. In its call for a reorientation of desire, delighting in the created world as a mirror of exquisite beauty, it offers a surprisingly green and passionate theology. – Beldon C. Lane, Huffington Post

My belly hurts from the laughter ...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Fallible Doctrine of Inerrancy – Part II

From the outset it needs to be stated that I am an “Infallibilist” in the sense that there is no single error in the teaching or instruction of revealed Divine truth in what we deem the sixty six books of our Protestant Bible. I am not willing to state that the Apocryphal or pseudo-canonical books assembled over the centuries and millennia can be held to that same standard. I certainly would not rule out other books and writings that have been lost to the ages for I have nothing to base that decision on. The Book of Enoch as an example is quoted in Jude but not included or generally regarded as canonical except among the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches. I am involved with neither of those churches so I have no background to comment on their canon. It is important to make this distinction of holding to the infallibility of scripture but it is equally important to distinguish this infallibility from that espoused by other certain elements of Christendom. The infallibility stances arising out of the Princeton and Fuller seminaries in reaction to the modern inerrancy debates is a separate issue from the infallibility expressed here. Those of Princeton and Fuller consider that the Bible may indeed contain mistakes, both in the original autographs and in the various copied manuscripts although not with regard to faith and morals. My own infallibility stance regarding the integrity and reliability of scripture is hardly a hair’s breadth of difference (to borrow from Wesley) from most inerrantist positions.

The Bible provides teachings about a variety of events and circumstances that I believe are true in every respect. The creation of Adam and a woman formed from Adam are true, very real happenings in my belief in the infallible scriptures. We all have our origins in a single man called Adam in scripture. A lot of the Princeton and Fuller infallibilists might reject that Biblical teaching but I do not. There is a diversity of beliefs within the fold of infallibility as should be obvious. It was this thought in mind that spurred me to title these musings as the fallible doctrine of inerrancy for we find the same degree of diversity of beliefs among the inerantists. How can that be among those who hold there is not one single “error” in scripture? Well, the dichotomy of inerrancy is easily demonstrated with the varying opinions regarding the “world flood”. I know several inerrantists who believe as I do that the great flood of Genesis was global and occurred literally as the Bible teaches. I also know inerrantists who reject a global flood dismissing it as lacking a context that must be added to the discussion in order to understand what God meant by the “world”. There are others whose opinions are held in reserve because as inerrantists they just don’t know what to believe. So, with the various fallible doctrines of inerrancy, we have varying opinions of what is true and what is not. Somebody believes the truth and somebody else believes a falsehood. Which inerrantist is correct?

Lastly, there is the accusation among inerrantists that if we reject their stance (whatever that stance of the day is) we are somehow stating that God makes mistakes. Let’s be clear about this. God does not make mistakes (even though some will point to language in scripture indicating that God repented of making man and then proceeded to destroy all but eight souls but let’s not go there). Did Jesus err (make a mistake) by using the mustard seed example as the smallest of seed sown in the earth? Unless one denies the omniscience of God, Jesus was certainly cognizant of the fact that the orchid is much smaller so there was no mistake if we hold the scriptures infallible. Instead, Jesus allowed the error to make a much greater point. Whether the Hebrews were familiar with orchids or not is beside the point. It is all speculation in any event. What remains true is the infallible teaching regarding faith and in the fullness of that teaching there is no mistake even though by empirical measures there is an intentional deviation from absolute “correctness”. Again, it is an intentional deviation most likely for the benefit of the audience and their limitations but we can only speculate on that matter. Unfortunately for reasonable Christian apologetics, speculation becomes the ground for dogmatic assertion and dust flies, clothes tear and brothers turn away angry.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Fallible Doctrine of Inerrancy

Is there really such a thing as a doctrine of inerrancy? I suppose if we open a dictionary and provide the definition of “inerrancy” we could state that there is a teaching as such. However, if we take that dictionary definition and build a teaching that requires us to qualify the term to allow varying circumstances that excuse empirical falsification, we are shifting the proverbial goalposts. Sometimes that shift is mere inches. Other times it is half the field. Regardless of the motive for the qualification, Christians are usurping terminology. We are redefining a term that disallows meaningful and rational discussion with skeptics and unbelievers. Determining something to be an error is the result of verifiable observation and/or measurement. Inversely, stating something to be inerrant demands that it not be falsified. From a scientific perspective and the realm in which the term inerrant originates, the claim must be empirically testable. The question asked is “Can this statement or evidence be falsified”? Inerrancy cannot logically rest upon a foundation of faith and have credibility with those you are disputing with. Of course one could dismiss the objection without care for what the skeptic considers and if that is the case then the discussion need not occur at all. However, if we are going to insist on using “inerrancy” then we by association are acknowledging an intellectual discussion with those who challenge such.

One of the difficulties I believe theological inerrantists have to come to terms with is the understanding that a statement must be true in every aspect, that it cannot be falsified in whole or in part. Every sentence must be empirically true unless it is accompanied with a qualifier in context. If a skeptic demonstrates with empirical evidence that a sentence or part of a sentence is not factually true and there is no qualifier accompanying that sentence in the context of that instruction, that sentence has failed its falsification test. It is not inerrant regardless of how much dust is tossed in the air and how many clothes are torn. Inerrancy demands reliance on a TRUE/FALSE test remedied only by an accompanying qualifier (itself being verifiable). This is the price of playing with terminology that has no place in matters of faith and philosophy.

Perhaps a distinction should be made between error and mistake. Error indicates a deviation from accuracy whereas a mistake indicates faultiness. With this in mind, an observable error could represent either a mistake or be incorporated within a true doctrine. Claiming inerrancy as a philosophical ground “hard codes” the former while promoting the doctrine of infallibility allows the “error” to fit within the auspices of the latter. Given that inerrancy was not used as a theological device until the early 19th century and only then in response to the growth of rational scientific and humanist thought, I think it is more than appropriate to stay focused on a faith based doctrine of infallibility rather than the empirical measure of inerrancy.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Choking on Ecumenical Bones

Are Mormons Christian? Well, without writing an insufferably long post, my reply is, in a word ...


I still can hardly believe I read a supposedly orthodox Christian theologian claim otherwise but then this is an age when definitions shift to suit the desires of the day.