Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Logocentrism

Tim Enloe, a leader of the “Reformed” Catholic movement, has reentered the inerrancy debate with the following:

http://www.societaschristiana.com/archives/000377.html

Before I comment on the particulars, a general observation is in order. “Reformed” Catholics know where they came from, but they don’t know where they’re headed. This is a fluid, shifting, transitional movement, and since they have no idea where their final destination lies, it is irresponsible, from a pastoral standpoint, for them to take any hitchhikers along for the ride.

There are people who use a blog as a public diary to think aloud. But a Christian should not be airing his doubts in public, and thereby planting seeds of doubt in other minds.

If I began to doubt the doctrines of grace, I wouldn’t advertise that state of mind at triablogue. Rather, I would withdraw from blogging, and run my doubts by a few trusted friends in private. If I have no idea where I’m going, I have no right to take anyone with me.

Of course, now that the horse is out of the barn, it is necessary to engage in damage-control.

<< The fact that I am posting links to these essays does not automatically entail that I agree with everything in them. In particular, just because I post a link to an essay that questions a certain form of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy (e.g., the 1982 Chicago Statement) does not mean that I am rejecting the doctrine of biblical inerrancy itself. Far from it. The reason that the questions raised about the Chicago Statement are important is the fact that the questions expose the unstated modernistic assumptions of that form of the inerrancy doctrine, and in the process end up shedding significant light on the very important issues of truth and epistemology and community that postmodernism raises against modernism. >>

1.This is a very convenient disclaimer. It affords Enloe the benefit of plausible deniability.

But if Enloe is going to publicly repudiate the Chicago statement, in whole or in part, as he has now done, he owes the Christian community an explanation. If he no longer subscribes to the “Chicago” school of inerrancy, then what does his alternative, postmodern version look like? What does he affirm that the Chicago doctrine denies? And what does he deny that the Chicago doctrine affirms? Specifics, please!

2.In fact, Enloe seems to agree with Joel Hunter. Enloe tells us that he doesn’t reject inerrancy itself, but only “form” or version of inerrancy articulated in the Chicago statement.

<< The third essay's discussion of logocentrism (especially the distinction between autonomous human concepts of the logos VS the biblical Logos). Also in the third essay note the incessant dualisms that logocentrism's metaphysics of presence ontology / epistemology creates, and think through the "take home test" of determining why knee-jerk identifications of postmodernism with "relativism" are false and do not themselves escape the metaphysics of presence view against which postmodernism is actually reacting. >>

1.The question of inerrancy is not a question about the Biblical Logos, if by that he means a title of Christ. Rather, the question of inerrancy is a question about the inscripturation of God’s word. Does inerrancy attach to the word of God as Scripture, not the word of God as Christ? And what is the nature of Scriptural inerrancy?

2.The Chicago doctrine, far from being a recipe for human autonomy, is its antidote. Is man answerable to God? Is our duty to God spelled out in Scripture?

<< Observe the discussions about the fluidity of language. Note that meaning "always surpasses intentions", and that the metaphysics of presence view of language is fundamentally based in pagan Greek thinking about the supremacy of the "soul" (in this case, speech) over mere "matter" (in this case, writing). For the metaphysics of presence view, speech is more fundamental than writing because speech is "closer" to the author's disembodied mind than is writing. Note that this binary opposition leads to viewing the Bible as the ultimate binary opposition-filled written preservation of God's direct speech--which means that by obtaining an absolutely undoubtable and forever fixed interpretation of the Bible we are ourselves attaining to an unmediated grasp of God's own speech. >>

This brief paragraph jumbles together a remarkable number of unsubstantiated claims, which are then strung along to form an argument for his position:

1.Is the Chicago doctrine “fundamentally based in pagan Greek thinking about the supremacy of the soul”?

a) The Chicago statement is a consensus document. Does Enloe happen to know the philosophical commitments of the various framers and signatories?
b) Is there a uniform Greek position on the supremacy of the soul? Is the view of Aristotle the same as Plato?
c) Would Enloe like to trace out a step-by-step history of how the Greek view cycles through medieval theology, the Reformation, Protestant Scholasticism, the Old Princeton school, and arrives at the doorstep of Chicago, Illinois? Or is this a warmed over version of the old, discredited, third-hand McKim/Rogers proposal?

2.What historical evidence is there that the Chicago doctrine assumes the primacy of the spoken word? Isn’t the Chicago doctrine concerned with the inscripturated record of revelation? The final, canonical form? The inspired end-product?

http://boarsheadtavern.com/archives/2005/02/17/17027206.html

<< Debate over the meaning of ‘inerrancy’ is a never-ending task and leads to intellectual atrocities like Article 13 of the 1978 Chicago statement. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) begins with much of the traditional Protestant confessional language. Nothing seriously objectionable in my view until Article 9 at which point the wheels begin to come off. I don’t want to rehearse a list of bald assertions here, but I think it is worth asking whether the prediction in the affirmation of Article 19, a very admirable standard, has held up to the test of time and practice.

Is there a root to this problem? I think so. We get a hint from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (1982) which explicitly adopts a naïve version of metaphysical idealism in its account of language, meaning, and truth. See especially articles 6-9, 12, 14-22, and the denials of 1, 11, and 13. I think the real issue behind this controversy is our presuppositions about communication. How do we communicate with one another? What are the limitations? What is the difference between oral and written communication? What about communication between God and man? What is communication about? >>

1.The real issue “behind” this controversy? So Hunter is proposing to go behind the text of the Chicago statement. But how does he know what lies behind the text? How does he know that the framers of the text were committed to a “native version of metaphysical idealism?” Does the Chicago doctrine assume a particular theory regarding the relation of orality to textuality? Is that really relevant to the question of inerrancy?

2.”Naïve” is a slippery charge in this context. The Chicago statement does not pretend to be a philosophical monograph on the meaning of meaning, a la Thiselton or Wolsterstorff. For that matter, Hunter’s little essay is pretty “naïve” were we to judge it by standards of philosophical rigor and nuance. It is, at best, a very roughhewn, programmatic statement.

3.The Chicago statement is simply a set of guidelines to establish the broad parameters of what is out of bounds in Evangelical theology. Is there something wrong with a policy statement which summarizes the conclusions of a major debate?

Anyone conversant with this debate knows that there was a great deal of preliminary discussion which went into the Chicago statement. Naturally the statement itself does not rehearse the whole history of the debate.

<< First observation: the meanings produced through the use of language always surpass our intentions. Thus, a statement like this: “We affirm that the meaning expressed in each biblical text is single, definite and fixed,” asserts a prima facie false claim, unless some form of metaphysical idealism is true. >>

1.”Single” is admittedly a problematic choice of words. But how does the attribution of a single sense imply metaphysical idealism? Even if this were consistent with metaphysical idealism, and even if metaphysical idealism entails a singular sense, it doesn’t follow that a singular sense thereby entails metaphysical idealism, for there may well be other theories of meaning consistent with this assignment. The fact that I bring an umbrella to work may imply a rainy forecast. A rainy forecast does not imply my bringing an umbrella to work.

2.But assuming that we reject a single sense, what about a definite or fixed sense? Is Hunter assuming that just because the applicability of Scripture is open-ended, that the sense of Scripture is indefinite? But such an assumption would commit a naïve sense=reference fallacy. It is precisely because the Bible can have a fixed or definite meaning that we know how to apply it under a wide variety of circumstances.

3. The real question is not whether a Bible writer can mean more than one thing, but whether multiple meanings are mutually consistent and normative for the life of the church.

<< The assumption behind this foundationalism is the supposed transparency of a thought or idea to its expression in speech or writing. We search for the right procedure that will assure our interpretations will match the thought to the expression in a one-to-one correspondence (e.g., Article 6 of the 1982 statement). We ought to challenge (rather than adopt) modernity’s assumption that language is at our disposal in such a naïve fashion. We are not the masters of language; language is the master of us. Asserting inerrancy places us in the privileged position of standing in the relation of master to the Bible, for so we have rendered language according to the dictates of Western metaphysical doctrine. >>

1.Is that the assumption? And even assuming the transparency of thought in relation to the spoken or written word, how does this entail a singular sense? Why can’t a speaker or writer intend his audience to understand hin one more than one level? Dante reads on more than one level. And Dante meant his poem to be polyvalent, did he not?

2.The real question is whether God is the master of language. Can God make his intentions clear? Are we at God’s disposal?

<< Second observation: the biblical world-and-life-view implies that the aesthetic phenomenon is primordially significant, particularly literature. But the philosophically tainted theology of modernity dethrones artistic truth and privileges the significance of the natural or intellectual phenomenon. >>

This is an assertion without a supporting argument. Does the Biblical worldview place a premium on aesthetics?

<< The problem with inerrancy is that it washes out everything aesthetic from Scripture. It is locked within our horizon of expectation because we have predetermined what we can find in it. Nothing will surprise us or startle us because an overarching system filters it as propositions, sorts it, and distributes its components in their proper files: ‘historical’, ‘scientific’, ‘poetry’, ‘parable’, ‘letter’, ‘prophecy’, etc. >>

1.This has things exactly backwards. It is those asserting limited inerrancy who chop up Scripture according to subject-matter, and then assign inspiration to some parts, but not others. The focus in the Chicago statement is to restore what was denied by liberals.

2.For Hunter to reject all genre analysis is more naive than any fundamentalist. The Chicago statement simply takes into account the idioms and literary conventions of Scripture.

3. Inerrancy does not prejudge the meaning of Scripture. It does not anticipate what God will tell us, but only that God is the primary speaker.

<< Logocentrism grounds its concepts and the framework for understanding those concepts on the notion of presence, the positive. This bias permits us to exclude all meaning in any discourse which does not conform to the central logic of identity and non-contradiction. No fuzziness allowed; it’s an either/or structure of oppositions. >>

1. Hunter himself relies on binary logic, viz., modernism/postmodernism; logocentrism/phonocentrism; natural/aesthetic; intellectual/aesthetic.

2. And the Bible is quite fond of binary oppositions, viz. blessing and cursing, heaven and hell, God and Satan, Christ and Antichrist, the children of light and the children of darkness, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.

<< At this point, it might be worthwhile to note the typical path traced in inerrancy discussions that challenge the text we have (remembering my claim that they are founded on metaphysical idealism): (1) retreat to the original autographs (which will never be present) and (2) abandon written texts altogether and assert the priority of the concept of inspiration. (Don’t most definitions of the authority of Scripture place verbal inspiration first?) >>

1.To attack any recourse to the autographa is anti-intellectual on Hunter’s part. We know for a fact that scribal activity has a way of generating errors, and, what is more, errors of a particular kind. For example, names and numbers are especially susceptible to mistranscription over time.

In addition, some books of the Bible may have been issued in more than one Urtext. There is evidence for this as well (e.g., Jeremiah; Chronicles). If Hunter wishes to assume such an obscurantist attitude towards textual criticism, then he is welcome to dwell in darkness.

2.Any theory of inspiration must answer the question, to what does inspiration attach? Warfield, for one, has shown, through meticulous inductive study, that verbal inspiration is the Scriptural doctrine of Scripture itself.

<< Within the framework of Western metaphysics, what would inerrancy achieve were it successful? Full and complete unqualified presence. There’s nothing left to do (for theology). We have achieved stasis. Now we can just haggle. No new research, no creative work, only maintenance. >>

This is a total caricature, both in principle and practice. To say that God has spoken in Scripture is not to say what God has said. That is a separate step. But I'll choose my logocentrism over Enloe's illogical centrism any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

12 comments:

  1. My suspicion is that much of this silly philosophical-talk in academics is due in part to the continuing academic pressure to keep publishing papers and coming up with new approaches.

    The NT texts have been dissected and analyzed as much as any text in history, so I feel for those in NT scholarship. On the one hand, a conservative NT scholar has the faith once delivered to all the saints, but he may very well be in an institution or an environment where "new" and "revolutionary" are adjectives of praise that one desires for one's writings.

    Inerrant or not, there is only so much that the scriptures say.

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  2. Steve --

    You said:
    [QUOTE]
    But if Enloe is going to publicly repudiate the Chicago statement, in whole or in part, as he has now done, he owes the Christian community an explanation. If he no longer subscribes to the “Chicago” school of inerrancy, then what does his alternative, postmodern version look like? What does he affirm that the Chicago doctrine denies? And what does he deny that the Chicago doctrine affirms? Specifics, please
    [/QUOTE]

    You have obviously reading Tim and his friends for a little while, but keep in mind a couple of things as you continue to read them:

    (1) You're not the first person to identify their post-modernity; if you get a response from them, expect that they are going to tell you that they are not post-modern, but in very vivid language.

    (2) I stress "if you get a response". While these guys seem to have opened a few books, they have closed down comments on their blog(s) and have apparently circled the wagons. Try e-mailing your comments to Tim or the new incarnation of reformed catholicism for best results.

    I always enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

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  3. Pedantic Protestant - I am quite sympathetic with your concerns about the unrestrained pursuit of the unique by members of the NT academy, but I don't know if I agree completely with your conclusion about the paucity of material left to be mined from the NT texts themselves.

    Since I think it is inescapable that the NT texts are informed by an understanding of their historical/social context(s), and since it is also seems to be true that our knowledge and understanding of that/those context(s) is/are subject to growth, I think more work can continue to be done to increase the precision with which we understand the NT texts themselves. Other avenues of inquiry (especially with regard to arriving at a normative hermeneutic derived from Scripture itself – an area I hope to do my dissertation in) can use further development as well in my opinion.

    Then again, I'm currently in the midst of a PhD in the NT - so maybe I'm just searching for some sort of vindication for the enterprise.

    :-)

    By the way - you nailed the epistemological dilemma faced by all communicative agents (which includes the claims made by fundamentalist Roman Catholics) in your comments on Eric's blog! I don't think, however, that your Catholic interlocutor quite understands the nature of the problem though. Specifically, he doesn't seem to understand 1) the innate constraints of language itself (he seems to think words are univocal as evidenced by his bald appeal to the word “everything”), and 2) that his own interpretation of Catholic teaching has been (and continues to be) inescapably influenced by other a priori interpretive commitments. This became most apparent when he was asked to provide the true Catholic teaching concerning inerrancy. He would have been more consistent (with his unstated assumption that Catholic teaching needs no further interpretation) if he had simply cited the texts from the catechism and left it at that – but he chose to "go beyond" the text and provide the “true meaning and significance” of these texts as they relate the questions that were raised – in other words – he chose to provide his unique interpretation of them (which he just assumes is the normative interpretation). Anyway – I’m not sure he understands the nature of the problem you raised.

    And C.T. - your comments were delightfully humorous! Good thing I wasn't drinking anything when I read them!

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  4. I had no idea "C.T." had such a flair for offensive language. This is my first time at your blog.

    I retract my comments about his comments being funny.

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  5. Der Fuersprecher,

    Sorry about the rude introduction. But as you can see, disciplinary measures are being taken to weed out the source of the problem.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Der Fuersprecher:

    There are no objections to anything you've said.

    Upon completing your dissertation and becoming Herr Doktor Feursprecher, you may have your pick of a complementary Pedantic Protestant tee-shirt or Pedantic Protestant coffee mug [choose one].
    When your colleagues see your shirt or your mug, they'll know you have discriminating taste in weblogs. =D =D

    PP

    ReplyDelete
  7. By the way, speaking about Eerdmans publishing Millet's book, has anyone noticed how liberal supposedly Evanglical publishers have become?

    I have a book by Baker which contains a number of contributers, and everyone uses "CE" and "BCE." I assume this was imposed by the editor or publisher.

    ReplyDelete
  8. A couple of comments, as I found your post via a link on Internet Monk.

    (1) Steve: I am not a "leader" in any "movement". I am just a guy trying to get his B.A. in liberal arts (with an eye to future graduate work in Medieval studies) but who currently pays the bills by working at Wal Mart. I have no standing in Christ's Church beyond that shared by all Christians in Christ. I am not a teacher in the Church, much less a "leader." I am shortly to be married and will at that point be the leader and the teacher of my own household before God, but that is it. What I do on the Internet does not constitute a "ministry" in any sense that would be recognized by any Reformed Church. The hysteria that has begun to erupt amongst self-proclaimed Reformed Defenders of The One True Narrowest-Ever Orthodoxy over laymen's blogs is really astonishing. I read your profile and do not see that you have any authoritative ministerial standing in Christ's Church, either. Rest assured that I am submitted to proper ecclesiastical authority. Who are you, anyway, that anyone should listen to your judgments?

    (2) I have not "reentered the inerrancy debate". The comment about the Chicago Statement in my entry was aimed SOLELY at those Evangelical readers whom I KNEW would read the articles to which I linked and instantly go "Gasp! Tim's rejecting biblical inerrancy now! Will his compromises never cease?" I do not reject biblical inerrancy, but affirm it.

    (3) The Chicago Statement is not some kind of creed literally and ministerially defining basic Christian orthodoxy, deniable only by heretics. It's not a statement of a Church court, but only the result of a scholarly conference amongst a sub-group of conservative Evangelicals, that's it that's all. It's not a sin to ask questions about things like this. I do not "[owe] the Christian community an explanation", and in any case I would deny that the set "Christian community" is restrictable to conservative Evangelicals. Again the only reason I mentioned it was because I KNEW knee-jerk reactions would ensue the moment certain people read the articles to which I linked and saw Hunter's discussion of the Chicago Statement.

    (4) I want to know who you are, Steve, to pontificate about my supposedly needing to keep "doubts" private and not using blogs to "plant seeds of doubt in others minds." Good grief, man, get some perspective. I am not a leader in some movement, much less do I have any authority in the Church. I am just a guy with a blog. I am in lawful biblical submission to local elders, to whom I have made my internet activities known. They, and not you or any one else like you, have the care of my soul so I don't see why I should care about your opinions of what I am doing in the first place. Who are you to me?

    (5) Since my post was not about the Chicago Statement itself, I am under no obligation "to trace out a step-by-step history of how the Greek view cycles through medieval theology, the Reformation, Protestant Scholasticism, the Old Princeton school, and arrives at the doorstep of Chicago, Illinois". In fact I do think that there are serious problems with the metaphysics of presence view that undergirds so much of Western thinking, and additionally I do believe I can see broad outlines of how this sort of view cycles through history from the Greeks to our own day. I don't see it in a "doctoral dissertation" manner, but since I base a lot of my thinking about these issues on a wide variety of respectable Evangelical scholarship I really don't feel all that bad about what I've said. A person can be wrong in what he thinks and not be some nefarious deceiver publicly airing sinister doubts and trying to plant similar doubts in the minds of others. Again I ask you who are you to me, and from whence comes the air of authority in your demands upon me?

    (6) Mr. Turk, Kevin gave me your letter to CS about my sola Scriptura post. I choose not to respond to you for a variety of reasons, and you may certainly speculate to your pleasure about those reasons. I really don't care.

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  9. Guess what?

    Anybody can say anything they want on the Internet, and anyone can believe anything they read on the Internet. Here, an accountant, a homeschooling mother, or a waitress in a donut shop with a novel idea and a penchant for language can trump a Th.D., a +bishop, or a ruling elder.

    Does it influence people? You bet. Has Tim influenced my thinking? You betcha. For the better? Probably not, by your lights.

    So kwitcherbitchin and make your point, as cogently and as winsomely as you can.

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  10. Steve (and the others reading this blog) --

    Apparently I said something bad in my response because Tim has stopped calling me "Frank" and now calls me "Mr. Turk". You can read my letter to Tim and the fellows at reformedcatholicism v2.0 at my blog.

    http://centuri0n.blogspot.com/2005/05/from-communiosanctorumcom.html

    And I strongly encourage anyone reading that letter to read the original post for the sake of not "knee-jerking" against them -- it is linked in the blog post.

    All that said, you (Steve) have driven the point exactly, and now it wants to come back out of the lumber rather than be screwed to the sticking place.

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  11. I’ve now read Frank’s letter to Tim for myself. I can better understand why Tim would be reluctant to respond—not because Frank’s letter is poorly written, but because it is so well written that it would be very difficult for Tim to gainsay. Frank writes in a dry, deadly accurate style, patiently and painstakingly taking apart all of Tim’s strawman arguments, and examining them from all different sides. Tim is intelligent, but he would benefit from this disciplined mode of reasoning, instead of winging it as much as he does, or lobbing a Malakoff cocktail and then melting back into the crowd.

    ReplyDelete
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