Friday, October 13, 2006

Adiaphora

***QUOTE***

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.

—John Loftus

***END-QUOTE***

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.

23 comments:

  1. 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.

    And Catholics generally say that Evangelicals are silly for thinking this -- that Jesus talked about a Church, rather than something which would be in the state of a doctrinal salad bar.

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  2. "In principle, God could operate by private revelation. But God has a common revelation because the church is a social organism."

    Another problem with private revelation is that it would be far too easy for false teachers to peddle their fraud. Having written revelation puts it out in the open for all believers to see and compare it to.

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  3. I'm sure that the Lord much prefers the preaching of the gospel by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone to the glory of God alone among those that differ on minor theological points, than He would the blasphemous doctrines of Rome. I'm sure when He said "church" He was not referring to the ecclesiastical heirarchy of Mary worshippers in Rome, but rather the whole body of believer whom He purchased with His own blood. But hey, that's just me...

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  4. another excellent blog post. poor loftus - i'm surprised he still has a presence on the internet...

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  7. "And Catholics generally say that Evangelicals are silly for thinking this -- that Jesus talked about a Church, rather than something which would be in the state of a doctrinal salad bar."

    I don't understand your comment. Are you suggesting that someone is endorsing a "doctrinal salad bar"? It's difficult to see that from Steve's comment. What you've written seems to simply be an unsupported assertion that Steve's definition of the church is flawed.

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  8. The problem, my dear Matthew, is that Roman Catholics are brought up to believe that 'a doctrinal slad bar' IS what Protestants believe in. Again, we are back at the gent who says a thing because of what he believes of others.

    I am interested to read that John Loftus came from 'a small, cultis denomination'. Would you mind awfully supplying a name?

    Again, I must smile. Having once been told by Loftus that I would follow his wayward path once I read liberal theology and discovered a wider world. See, I was brought up in a liberal Anglican church and among my first doctrinal reading was a confirmation notebook written by the (notoriously liberal) Bishop of Birmingham. But then, Britain is so very different from America.

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  9. Hiraeth said:

    "I am interested to read that John Loftus came from 'a small, cultis denomination'. Would you mind awfully supplying a name?

    "The Church of Christ."

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  10. Steve,

    Don't they believe in baptismal regeneration, and that they are the "one true church of Christ" and if you're not one of them you're lost?

    S&BL

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  11. The Church of Christ explains a lot now, considering that a large chunk of CoC-ites are flirting with the idea of "sinless perfection" and all (or at least, the vocal CoC-ites on-line are).

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  12. I was let go of my teaching responsibilities for questioning that baptism was necessary for salvation.

    There are actually a lot of CoC thinkers who question this but keep silent.

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  13. Shining and Burning Light said:



    Steve,

    Don't they believe in baptismal regeneration, and that they are the "one true church of Christ" and if you're not one of them you're lost?

    ************************************

    I don't know if he was a member of the ICC or the ICOC. He isn't that specific.

    My description would be applicable to either body.

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  14. cathlik said...

    And Catholics generally say that Evangelicals are silly for thinking this -- that Jesus talked about a Church, rather than something which would be in the state of a doctrinal salad bar.

    **********************************

    1. And "which" church did Jesus talk about?

    2. Also, Vatican II also talks about "ecclesial communities." So you own church has both a narrower and broader definition of what's a "church."

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  15. As _Iron_Sharpens_Iron10/13/2006 7:06 PM

    :::YAWN!!!:::


    Serious Steve....you sure have a "special" interest in Mr Loftus, don't you?

    Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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  16. Well, John, you were right to say that Baptism is not necessary for salvation. Dying thief, anyone?

    Wow, those were a crazy bunch, weren't they? But the sinless perfection what-not obvious applies. Again, as I say, it explains some of Mr. Loftus' more puzzling statements.

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  17. Let´s consider and compare the disciples of Ayn Rand (Objectivists) and those of Karl Marx. Both claim to be atheists and indeed share many assumptions: there is no revealed truth, humanity can and must control its own destiny, all religious authorities are frauds, etc.

    Yet Objectivists and Marxists sharply disagree on some key points. Most notably, Objectivists believe true atheism leads one to favor a laissez-faire capitalist economy and a highly libertarian form of government, while Marxists believe true atheism will lead one to favor a centrally planned economy and broad authority of the government to control dissent.

    You generally do not find Objectivists and Marxists inviting each other to speak at each other's conferences or publish in each other's journals. In fact, since Objectivists are not pacifists, if Marxists rose to power in a former capitalist, libertarian democracy and imposed tight controls on the economy and freedom of expression, it is not unlikely that at least some Objectivists would join an armed resistance movement. Likewise, it is not unlikely that a Marxist minority would plot the overthrow of the kind of libertarian regime that Objectivists favor.

    So if the free exercise of common human reason simply and naturally leads one to atheism, how does one account for two highly divergent interpretations of "true atheism"? I thought not having to accept the authority of Scripture freed one from this kind of dilemma.

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  18. So if the free exercise of common human reason simply and naturally leads one to atheism, how does one account for two highly divergent interpretations of "true atheism"? I thought not having to accept the authority of Scripture freed one from this kind of dilemma.

    That seems rather silly for you to assume. Human beings cannot claim that there is some "one true path, via reason, to perfect government and economy," so far as I've ever seen. I've never even heard such a claim.

    Contrariwise, Christians claim that everything God reveals is perfect Truth. Too bad God didn't feel it necessary to reveal something of interest and usefulness in the visible realm.

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  19. I am not assuming anything. Marxists and Objectivists both claim theirs is the true path, via reason, to perfect government and economy. I would note in passing the bloody struggles between Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Trotskyites, Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists and the like. If these people did not all think that theirs was the true path toward perfect government and economy (in other words, heaven on earth without God), what were they fighting about?

    And speaking of unfounded assumptions, why do you say humans cannot claim to have discovered the foolproof model for a perfect society? That assumes a limit to what humans can accomplish, which only makes sense if you assume a God who has imposed such limits.

    But my real question, is if the existence of various Christian denominations and sects proves the Bible is not a reliable source of truth, does not the existence of various atheist sects prove the same about human reason?

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  20. I am not assuming anything. Marxists and Objectivists both claim theirs is the true path, via reason, to perfect government and economy.

    I should qualify my earlier statement -- an argument is as strong or weak as its premises, and we all know that those are rather tenuous when it comes to politics and government.

    Therefore, although lots of people claim to have some sort of "lock" on the "perfect" way to structure govt, I find it a bit delusional. So far, history and peace have shown us that the best governments are the most libertarian (the antithesis of fascism) -- democratic or republics with underlying legal protections [constitutions]. But, can we say that something "better" won't come along? Or that we've already attained perfection? Hardly.

    Another thing people have to consider is that humans do not live in a vacuum -- technology rapidly changes the environment in which we live. Other nations change the necessity of our government and its laws. In that sense, technology and/or global coalitions may one day dramatically improve or decrease the relative "goodness" of the government we see today. Ditto towards Marxism and Objectivism.

    I would note in passing the bloody struggles between Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Trotskyites, Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists and the like. If these people did not all think that theirs was the true path toward perfect government and economy (in other words, heaven on earth without God), what were they fighting about?

    You're right. I should've made myself more clear.

    And speaking of unfounded assumptions, why do you say humans cannot claim to have discovered the foolproof model for a perfect society? That assumes a limit to what humans can accomplish, which only makes sense if you assume a God who has imposed such limits.

    Now this was more what I meant in my harried and unqualified statement above. I see exactly the opposite logic at play here: some humans claim to have knowledge of perfect truth via revelation -- this would be a limitless sort of knowledge. Those people who recognize that humans are but another part of nature, and a nature which doesn't divulge her secrets without toil and tears, would be less likely to make grandoise generalizations about "T"ruth, I should think.

    What good reason do humans have to think that they should know the answers to such questions as, "Why is there something, rather than nothing?" [something/nothing would include God, btw] What good reason do humans have to think other than that their brains are limited in capabilities to those things that have, so far, generally provided an advantage in survival?

    I see the opposite logic as more sound: people without a claim to divine revelation seem much less liable for disagreeing about "T"ruth. Atheists just don't believe in God. It doesn't mean they believe in infinitely-capable humans.

    But my real question, is if the existence of various Christian denominations and sects proves the Bible is not a reliable source of truth, does not the existence of various atheist sects prove the same about human reason?

    I hope I clarified this in the last point.

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  21. If these people did not all think that theirs was the true path toward perfect government and economy (in other words, heaven on earth without God), what were they fighting about?

    You said this when I disagreed with your assumption that:

    So if the free exercise of common human reason simply and naturally leads one to atheism, how does one account for two highly divergent interpretations of "true atheism"? I thought not having to accept the authority of Scripture freed one from this kind of dilemma.

    Let's say that some proposition P is either true or false.
    If Q follows directly from P in a straightforward manner, then we could use the judgment of how Q is handled to judge P.

    In our case, if government follows directly from the question of whether or not God exists, then we could use the way humans resolve the former to, in some cautious way, try to learn more about P.

    When I said:
    That seems rather silly for you to assume. Human beings cannot claim that there is some "one true path, via reason, to perfect government and economy," so far as I've ever seen. I've never even heard such a claim.

    I should've said: Humans cannot claim that the "true path" flows from 'God to X', or 'not God to X'. That is more accurate -- the question of politics and government is not automatically resolved by the question of God's mere existence or nonexistence. Additional premises must be adopted to begin to evaluate what God/not God means, and what impact, if any, this would have upon X/Y/Z.

    Thus, tying atheism to some necessary X/Y/Z is a leap.

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  22. So far, history and peace have shown us that the best governments are the most libertarian (the antithesis of fascism) -- democratic or republics with underlying legal protections [constitutions]...

    A Marxist would say the above is a delusion. Libertarian governments allow those who are already wealthy and privileged to profit even more at the expense of the working classes. No one who has to worry about how they will find shelter or put food on the table is truly free. There is no justice or true prosperity if the balance of economic power remains in the hands of a few who control the material assets of a society for their own benefit. Constitutions and other legal guarantees are just tricks to make the lower classes feel better about their lot in life.

    I am not a Marxist. My point is that there are people who start from a set of truths very similar to what you regard as axiomatic and arrive at a drastically different, and in fact, incompatible world-view.

    Atheists may say their set of basic truths is derived from "reason", "science", "common sense" or whatever. Christians derive their set of basic truths from what they believe to be divine revelation. By the way, the sacred text itself repeatedly states that God reveals only as much as He wants to reveal to humanity, so your assertion that if divine revelation must be an "unlimited" source of knowledge is unwarranted. You may not believe there is such a thing as divine revelation in any form, but that does not give you a basis to define the nature of divine revelation for others.

    Regardless of the supposed origin of a set of basic truths, people throughout history have developed different interpretations of beliefs that they allegedly hold in common. This is true of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, socialists, libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, vegetarians or any group that you care to name. No matter what you or I personally believe, at some point in our lifes we are likely to confront people who refute truths we hold to be self-evident, even if they have started from a common set of assumptions.

    Yet does the existence of such disagreement in itself prove the common set of assumptions false? The fact that there are atheists who hold different opinions of what atheism means in practice does not appear to have shaken your own belief in atheism. So why should I as a Christian doubt my own beliefs because there are others who call themselves Christians with very different ideas? As I read somewhere, God will be the ultimate Judge of these things.

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  23. the jolly green giant10/16/2006 10:23 AM

    Anon,

    Thanks for the nice exchange.

    Yet does the existence of such disagreement in itself prove the common set of assumptions false?

    No it doesn't. As I said, it just makes us become a little suspect about things if someone says:
    1) God is perfect and all-knowing
    2) God wants us to know X
    3) God revealed X to us via Y

    Between 2 and 3, we have some problems, those problems being whether or not God revealed X as X, or X as X', as one asserts; another problem we have is whether or not (2) is true, by virtue of X', X'', etc.; the largest problem we have is in Y -- analyzing how well Y works to convey X, and why Y would be the choice [given 2] over Z.

    I hope you understand my major contention here is that it is silly to use proposition Q [about government and politics] to analyze proposition P [about the non/existence of God], when P --> Q is very very shaky.

    Thanks for the polite and thoughtful exchange.

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