But let me pose a question here. Either God was not clear in his revelation about these issues, or the Holy Spirit isn't doing his job in illuminating the truth of the Bible, or God doesn't care what Christians believe. If God doesn't care, then he's also partly to blame for the wars and inquisitions and heresy trials of the Christian past, which claimed many lives. You pick. Which is it? [This doesn't even begin to address the issues that separate different branches of Christianity].
In a previous blog entry, here, I asked why so many professed Christians disagree with each other when interpreting the Bible.
As a former Christian I had difficulty with why there were so many different ways that professed Christians interpreted the Bible. I could never answer that question. I just put it on the backburner of things I didn't know, and I proceeded to try to come up with what I considered the correct interpretations, because that's all I could do.
What I now believe is that history is not a reliable "point of contact" for God to speak with man, assuming God exists. Anyone who studies the philosophy of history knows that history (and historical writings) should be interpreted in light of the historian's present perspective. Why? Because that's all we can do...we cannot do otherwise. So women gain rights in Christian countries and Biblical historians (theologians?) interpret the Bible to say what they have come to believe on other grounds, and so forth, hell being another doctrine.
1.I’ve already given a general answer to this objection in the past. Since, however, Loftus has no new or better objections to the faith, he can only recycle oft-refuted objections to the faith.
It reminds me of a slightly senile old uncle whom my paternal grandmother used to visit in the nursing home.
He liked to read murder mysteries, so she’d check them out from the local library. Unfortunately, the small-town library only had about 10 murder ministries on the shelf.
However, her uncle, being quite forgetful, didn’t quite remember one novel from the next, so as long as she spaced them out and reshuffled the order in which he read them, he never quite caught on to ruse.
2.It’s also important to keep in mind that Loftus was a member of a backward, legalistic, cultish denomination.
Evangelicals generally have the maturity to realize that no one denomination is conterminous with the “true” church. Rather, the true church is exemplified in varying degrees in various denominations and independent churches.
If, therefore, they have an unpleasant experience with one denomination or local church, they don’t treat that as representative of Christendom generally.
Loftus, however, has a habit of treating his provincial experience as if it were the paradigm of Christian experience. And, what is worse, the denomination he belonged to isn’t even within the Evangelical mainstream.
So his idea of Christian theology, which supplies the frame of reference for his apostasy, is often very deficient from the get-go.
3.Notice the number of unspoken and question-begging assumptions built into his objection. For example, the “Holy Spirit isn't doing his job in illuminating the truth of the Bible.”
This assumes a definition of “illumination” which he doesn’t bother to defend.
In terms of theological method, one common mistake is to treat every theological metaphor as if it were a separate theological category or separate divine activity.
But that’s a methodological error, which commits a level confusion.
Different metaphors don’t necessarily stand for different objects or referents. One can use different imagery to illustrate the same truth.
Take baptism. The NT uses a number of picturesque metaphors to illustrate the nature of baptism. But these all share a common object. They all refer to baptism—where the context is baptismal.
In both Testaments, the distinction between light and darkness symbolizes the difference between believers and unbelievers.
Unbelievers walk in darkness. Their minds are darkened by sin.
Likewise, conversion represents a passage from darkness into the light.
What a good systematic theologian will do is to first determine the literal meaning of various theological metaphors. He will then devise a matching category.
In my view, “illumination” refers to the conversion experience. It covers the same basic ground as regeneration—another metaphor—although we might extend it to include an aspect of sanctification, which is, itself, an extension of regeneration.
In Scripture, illumination doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is teaching Christians what the Bible means.
Rather, the Holy Spirit “enlightens” the mind of the believer by making him a believer in the first place. Thanks to spiritual renewal, the believer is now receptive to the revelation of God.
4.Loftus also assumes, without benefit of argument, that doctrinal diversity is necessarily due to the ambiguity of Scripture. That it’s a hermeneutical problem.
But why assume that all such disagreements are a question of interpretation rather than, say, a question of sanctification?
People will often reject the truth if it happens to be an unwelcome truth. The problem is not an inability to understand the truth; to the contrary, they understand it only too well. And they understand what it implies for them.
They may reject a revealed truth merely because they dislike it. Take predestination or everlasting punishment.
Opponents of both are frequently quite candid about how their opposition is due to their personal animosity towards the doctrines in question.
To take a more extreme example: John Spong often understands exactly what the Bible is teaching. His problem is not with the clarity of Scripture, but with the authority of Scripture.
I’m not claiming that this is the source of all doctrinal diversity. The point, rather, is that Loftus is operating with a simplistic set of assumptions.
5.Loftus further assumes, without benefit of argument, that violent, ecclesiastical persecution is attributable to different ways of construing the Bible.
But that's a non sequitur. Such a consequence only follows if you interpolate some other assumptions, viz. (i) only one denomination qualifies as the true church; (ii) theological dissent should be subject to forcible suppression.
It’s obvious that Christians can differ over various issues without resorting to violence. Just look at modern-day America.
6.Apparently, Loftus never learned about the notion of adiaphora when he went to seminary. But there are many areas of belief and practice on which Scripture is silence. Many things which Scripture doesn’t prescribe or proscribe.
If we disagree on these issues, it’s because we’re free to disagree, and we’re free to disagree because God has no disclosed his will in these matters. So it’s a point of liberty.
7.One reason Christians disagree with one another on certain issues is not because God’s revealed will is unclear, but because God has not revealed his will on certain issues.
Some Christians are looking for more specific or detailed answers than the Bible was designed to give. They are not going to find the answers they’re looking for because they are asking the wrong questions.
They’re posing questions which the Bible was never intended to answer, so the answer is not to be found in Scripture.
There are no ready-made answers for every question in life. And it’s unnecessary for there to be, because there are many occasions in which more than one licit option is available.
It’s not as if it always comes down to one right way of doing something. There can often be more than one right way of doing something.
8.It wouldn’t be possible for the Bible to answer every possible question because there are too many possible questions.
A book that answered every possible question would be infinitely long. Such a book could not be written. Such a book could not be read.
9.You don’t always need to know God’s will to do his will. God, in his providence, can guide us by opening some doors while closing others. Directing our lives in large part by the opportune circumstances in which he puts us. My options are limited to the situation in which I find myself.
10.On a related note, Loftus fails to appreciate the fact that God often works through means. The journey can be just as important as the destination. The journey is a learning process as well as a maturing experience.
The church is a family. Believe it or not, family members have actually been known to argue with each other. Imagine that!
That’s part of the social and emotional maturation process.
11.In principle, God could operate by private revelation. But God has a common revelation because the church is a social organism.
12. Christians do not simply reinterpret the Bible to make it say what they have come to believe on other grounds. Many Christians retain traditional, countercultural, politically incorrect positions.
13.To some extent, doctrinal diversity is due to social conditioning. Historically, different Christians belong to different nationalities and subcultures. They reflect their respective theological traditions, rooted a national church in the old country.
But in a country like the United States, where there is no social stigma attaching to a change in one’s religious identification, people frequently move from theological tradition to another—or none at all.
The preexisting options were supplied by closed cultures from the past. Choice between preexisting options, or modification of preexisting options, is supplied by an open society. That’s the dialectic.
14.The question of perspicuity is, itself, ambiguous. Clear to whom?
Needless to say, 1 Corinthians is clearer to the Corinthians than it is to us. Deuteronomy is clearer to the Exodus generation than it is to us. Deuteronomy is also clearer to the Exodus generation than it is to the Corinthians.
Yet Deuteronomy may be clearer to us than it is to the Corinthians, because we know more about ANE history than 1C Christians.
So clarity is a relative notion. This is only a problem if you fail to make allowance for the obvious.
15. If Loftus is going to contend that Scripture is inscrutable, then he will pay a high price for his contention. Loftus tries to disprove the Bible by claiming both that Scripture is self-contradictory as well as contradicted by history and science.
But if Loftus is also going to claim that Scripture is too inscrutable for us to arrive at any confident interpretation of what it means, then Loftus can never establish either an internal or external contradiction.
If the text of Scripture is fatally ambiguous or equivocal, then it doesn’t contradict anything.
So Loftus, if he wants to be logical for a change, needs to withdraw one objection or another.
16.Finally, I see that Armstrong has tried to horn in on this debate in order to put in a plug for the Roman Catholic rule of faith. But one problem with this alternative is that if you run your thumb down through the list of titles which Loftus has passed along from Babinski, many of these books are debating issues for which there is no official position within Catholicism.
What, in Catholicism, is the de fide position on the mind/body problem, or the Millennium, or economics, or divine foreknowledge, or divine eternality, or evolution, or the spiritual gifts, or apologetic methodology, or OT holy war?
Or take the question of conventional warfare. Although Catholicism has a just-war tradition, is this an article of faith?
And even if it were an article of faith, how are just-war criteria to be applied in any particular case?
For example, the late John-Paul II opposed the Iraq war, but this was not an ex cathedra pronouncement. As such, many conservative Catholics felt free to go their separate ways on this particular issue, treating the issue as a prudential question.