Monday, April 27, 2009

Sean of the Dead


“The problem you pose Steve is not just a problem for Scripturalists.”

Everyone should play close attention to this concession. Not surprisingly, Sean states this concession as briefly as possible, then tries to hurry past. it

But Sean is conceding that, on Scripturalist grounds, he doesn’t know if Clark, Robbins, or Manata are real people. He doesn’t know if Manata ever said what he attributes to Manata.

A further irony of Sean’s position is that he’s demanding something from Manata which, if Manata were to comply, would be unverifiable. Sean is demanding a public recantation from Manata. But if, a la Sean, you deny the possibility of sense knowledge or extrascriptural knowledge, then what would a public recantation amount to?

Every time that Sean issues public demands for public apologies or public recantations, Sean is the one who is implicitly recanting his Scripturalist epistemology.

For, on a Scripturalistic epistemology, not only don’t these public demands, apologies, and recantations count as knowledge, but they don’t even count as probable knowledge.

I’m still waiting for Sean to explain his way out of his self-imposed dilemma.

“As John Robbins pointed out long ago and in response to M. Sudduth, ‘The statements and commands in Scripture apply to all our thoughts, whether they rise to the level of knowledge or not. We are to bring every thought into captivity to Christ, that is, into captivity to Scripture’."

You’re confounding a standard of knowledge with a source of knowledge.

“Now, I realize that RE folks have lowered the epistemic bar considerably to where opinion along with necromancy and so-called ‘Natural Theology’ (an enterprise Van Til rightly called antichristian) are now sources of knowledge.”

If you study Reformed historical theology, you’ll see that natural theology is a part of the Reformed tradition. It is your position that Reformed theology is antichristian?

“But if you think Clark and Robbins were real men and Paul's superiors then Manata's disgusting personal attack against these men is sin.”

i) What does it matter what I think? After all, you think my epistemology is fatally flawed. So what would be the value of my conceding your allegation on the basis of a fatally flawed theory of knowledge? My conclusion would derive form a false premise, would it not?

ii) I wouldn’t lump Clark and Robbins together. Clark was a better man and a greater man than Robbins. Robbins was simply riding on his coattails.

iii) Manta’s superiors in what sense? His ecclesiastical superiors? Ruling elders?

To my knowledge, Robbins avoided participation in a Presbyterian accountability system. Indeed, he was arguably schismatic. So in what sense was he, much less is he, Manata’s elder or superior?

Or do you mean “elder” in the loose sense of a professing believer who is older than us? Born before us?

Does that make Norm Shepherd Manata’s elder and superior?

“Sin that you clearly defend and endorse.”

i) Actually, I haven’t taken a position on Manata’s comparison. Rather, I’m holding you to the implications of your stated epistemology.

ii) Since you can’t win that argument, since you can’t even win on your own turf, you’ve resorted to the old debater’s trick of changing the subject.

You try to deflect attention away from your manifest failure to make good on your stated epistemology by a big show of feigned indignation. Wax indignant over an alleged slight to the honor of Clark and Robbins as a rhetorical decoy to throw us off the scent. Surely you don’t think anyone is taken in by this stunt. But, having dealt yourself a losing hand, your options are limited.

iii) And what was Manata’s “sin.” He made an argument from analogy. Of course, every argument from analogy also involves an element of disanalogy. What you have done is to studiously disregard the analogy and shift attention to a disanalogy which was no part of Manata’s actual argument.

It’s a transparent diversionary tactic. Just what we’d expect from a losing opponent.

iv)In your opinion, Manata “sinned” against Clark and Robbins. In my opinion, he did not. What makes your opinion special?

“But what really is Manata's objection to Scripturalism? That what we call knowledge is limited to those things either set down in Scripture or deduced therefrom? Wow, what a horrible thing for Christians to believe! (I guess we need to throw out the first chapter of the WCF). “

i) That’s a deliberate falsehood. The Westminster Divines do not restrict knowledge to the explicit or implicit teaching of Scripture. Indeed, in the very section you allude to, they also mention the “light of nature.”

Do you have any textual evidence that the Westminster Divines denied the possibility of sense knowledge?

ii) Even more to the point, how do you know what the Westminster Confession even says? Did you deduce WCF 1:6 from Scripture? From what verse of Scripture did you deduce the wording of WCF 1:6?

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Westminster Divines restricted knowledge to the explicit or implicit teaching of Scripture, you’d be in no position to know that on Scripturalist grounds, now would you?

“That we distinguish, along with the Bible, between three noetic states: knowledge, opinion, and ignorance.”

And if you apply your threefold distinction to your own statements, then your own statements don’t rise to the level of knowledge. So, by your own admission, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know that what you say is either true or even probably true.

“I realize that Manata and others here on Triblogue do not so distinguish and deny that knowledge requires any account or needs to be justified.”

i) First of all, you’re someone who likes to talk about justification rather than actually doing it. Talking about justification is a sorry substitute for offering an actual justification. When are you going to stop talking about it and start doing it?

ii) Knowledge requires no justification. Knowledge-claims may sometimes require justification, but knowledge itself requires no justification.

“Perhaps this explains why Manata continuously attacks and ridicules Christians who deny Biblical paradox, limit the source of knowledge to God's propositional revelation in Scripture.”

If you limit all knowledge to Scripture, then you can’t even know Scripture.

“And who believe the proper role of the theologian is to solve apparent contradictions and harmonize Biblical paradoxes, not to defend and promote them as fetishes to promote devotion in worship.”

I don’t think Manata has any problem with the harmonistic method. I think his problem is with the axiomatic insistence that revealed truth could never strike a human being as paradoxical.

“FWIW I believe the idea that Scripture teaches insoluble paradoxes encourages laziness in Bible study, commends ignorance, raises biblical theology along with its ever elastic exegesis over systematics and sound Reformed hermeneutics, and elevate clerics and academics, especially those of the Vantilian stripe, into a new priestly class who alone can peer into the Biblical stew of apparent contradictions, antinomies, tensions, analogies, and insoluble paradoxes and demand assent to their contradictory view of truth on the basis of nothing more than their own authority.”

I, myself, don’t think that Scripture teaches insoluble paradoxes. But once, again, notice what Sean does and doesn’t attempt.

Sean substitutes a denial for a demonstration. He denies that any revealed truths are paradoxical, but he doesn’t offer a single argument to actually demonstrate his claim.

I’m still waiting for Sean to present a rational case for his position. Show us your reasons, Sean. Construct some formal arguments.

Of course, any argument he offered, even if he had the competence to argue for his position, would merely be his opinion.

That’s his conundrum. To argue for Scripturalism is a self-refuting exercise. To argue for Scripturalism, you’d have to step outside of Scripture.

The Bible is one thing while Sean is another thing. If Scripture is the only source of knowledge, then we’d be in no position to know that, for we are extrascriptural beings. If Scripture is the only source of knowledge, then we can’t know what Scripture knows, for we can’t get past the subject/object duality. If Scripture is the only source of knowledge, then we can never know what Scripture says from the inside out–in which case, we can never know anything.

In that event, we’re on the outside, staring at a windowless box. The truth is inside the box. But we can never open the box or see through the box or see into the box.


  1. BTW, Sean of the Dead...GREAT movie!

  2. Though the movie is spelled "Shaun".

  3. Steve,

    I agree with your statement that the Bible doesn't "present" insoluble paradoxes. We "receive" them by deduction as we naturally attempt to make God's Word conform to our understanding. The apparent contradictions are all in our perception, not in what is "presented" by God in the Bible. But I would argue that the human mind in its present state is so clouded by sin that it is incapable of receiving any other perception, or of logically resolving some of its perceptions without violating Scripture. Hence it is wise to accept paradoxes as an unavoidable part of our earthly existence. In other words, there are some things we can only understand up to a certain point, due to our inherent weakness. The paradox is there because our understanding doesn't reach the level of God's. By refusing to accept some perceived paradoxes we inevitably lapse into error. The historical development of orthodoxy bears witness to this. Weren't most of the early heresies created in an attempt to remove theological tensions? Some will say my view is extreme, but can we expect God's self-revelation to be fully comprehensible to mere mortals? This is GOD we're talking about.

    It's beyond comprehension (pun intended) for anyone to assert that embracing paradox (or antinomy, or mystery, etc.) automatically leads to laziness in Bible study. Is Gerety really trying to say that men like C.H. Spurgeon, John Piper and John MacArthur have been "lazy" in their study of Scripture? Those are some of the most dilligent expositors ever to bless the Church with their insights.

    Although I am a passionate proponent of accepting paradoxes, I spend most of my mental energy working on ways to resolve them. Whenever I reach the edges of orthodoxy, I stop putting stock in all the interesting theories I (and others) have developed and go back to resting in the plain words of Scripture. The exercise is immensely helpful, and generally leads to greater clarity even if the larger paradox remains.

    Thanks for pointing out the difficulties of the Scripturalist epistemology.

    Grace & peace,
    Derek Ashton

  4. Jugulum said:
    Though the movie is spelled "Shaun".

    You didn't find that in Scripture, so it's merely your opinion.

  5. Peter Pike said:


    You didn't find that in Scripture, so it's merely your opinion.


    You didn't find that in Scripture, so it's merely your opinion.

  6. To facillitate the discussion:

    GOTO my previous post every time you reach this one and repeat forever.

    Oh, and I almost forgot. If I'm playing at being a Clarkian, I need to add some curses and stuff. So, Paul Manata is a heretic meanie. Just you watch! He's going to respond with a personal attack, because that's the kind of evil demon-possessed psycho he is. Whereas I, on the other hand, am of course second only to He Who Will Not Be Named as a shining beacon of awesomeness in this putrid land of VanTillian filth.

  7. Peter,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your articles on how logic proves the existence of God, which I found at Very helpful. And yes, that is merely my opinion.