Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Lion, the Witch, and the iMonk

Michael Spencer has replied to something I wrote about him, which was, in turn, written in support of something over at Fide-0.

Here is the gist of his reply:

“Let me suggest to a number of bloggers that according to this article, Lewis was a ‘boilerplate liberal’ no different from ‘Fosdick,’ and logically, turning his back on Christianity.”

What Spencer has done here is to play a game of chicken. Like teenage drag racers, who will blink first? Who will swerve before hitting the oncoming car or slam on the brakes before careening over the cliff?

The way he’s set up his reply, this is an argument from analogy, based on a bluff:

“I dare you—I double-dare—you to call me a liberal, cuz if you call me a liberal, then you gotta call C. S. Lewis a liberal to!”

To begin with, this is an intellectually pitiful reply. A comparison between his position and Lewis’s, even if the parallel holds, does absolutely nothing to validate his own position.

And why does he think I would hesitate to criticize Lewis’s theory of inspiration? Indeed, I’ve done so in the past.

Apparently, he’s attempting to create a pragmatic dilemma. Lewis has a big following. If I force people to choose between my view and Lewis’s, then I will lose the popularity contest.

So, if I back down, he wins, and if I press the comparison, he also wins—wins by hiding behind the skirts of C. S. Lewis.

You could hardly come up with a better example of Spencer’s poor-little-me-centered theology. And it also illustrates his frivolity.

Instead of showing that the charge originally leveled by the Fide-0 boys is false, he turns this into a popularity contest and a game of chicken.

Instead of asking which theory of inspiration corresponds with reality, he indulges in sophomoric sophistries.

Spencer is way more concerned about his self-image, and public image, and massaging his wounded ego and hurt feelings and personal insecurities.

All of us have our share of fears and weaknesses, but not all of us erect kneeing-rails around the altar of our fears and weaknesses. Spencer is creating a customized religion—designed to insulate himself from outrageous slings and arrows to his persecution-complex. He’s beginning to erect a whole edifice around the Religion of Spencerism—to pad and pamper his felt needs and hurts. The time is past due for a grown man to grow up.

If this were a private affair, it would be no one’s business but his own immediate social circle. But when he goes public to justify himself, and to justify himself by assuming the role of a false teacher, then this needs to be publicly reproved.

In addition, Spencer as a rather revealing way of misquoting and misrepresenting his opponents. He attributes to me the claim that he is a boilerplate liberal, no different from Fosdick, that he has logically turned his back on Christianity, and that, by parity of argument, I should say the same thing about C. S. Lewis.

This is what I actually said:

“Jason reproduced part of an essay by Spencer to document his charge that Spencer has a liberal view of Scripture… The essay articulates boilerplate liberalism. It could have been penned by Fosdick.”

“If we can take him at his word, then it’s clear from what he wrote that Spencer has turned a corner on what he believes about Scripture (unless this is what he always believed, but kept mum about it in the past). He has given a series of reasons for his belief. There is no way for him to back down without retracting his arguments. On the face of it, he's crossed a line of no return.”

So, just to set the record straight, I made no sweeping claims about Spencer’s theology in general. Rather, my remarks were specifically targeting his view of Scripture, as articulated in his own essay on the subject.

Whether Spencer is liberal or conservative in other respects is not question on which I expressed myself. I have opinion one way or the other.

That said, if you have a liberal view of Scripture, then, at best, this makes you’re a theological moderate. And I’d say the same thing about Lewis.

Some professing believers have a way of compartmentalizing their faith, being more conservative on some doctrines, and more liberal in others.

In many respects, Lewis held traditionally orthodox positions, and his view of Scripture is well to the right of Bultmann—not that that’s hardly a very exalted standard of comparison.

But even though this is not what I originally said, yet, since Spencer chooses to frame the issue in these terms, it’s quite true that if you deny the inerrancy of Scripture, then, *logically* speaking, you’ve committed apostasy.

Now, there’s a difference between psychology and logicality. A mediating position represents an intellectually unstable compromise.

Yet some moderates, perhaps many, do not pursue their liberal views of Scripture to their logical conclusion. Often, though, their students or disciples do take their mentor’s position to its logical conclusion. So they are setting others up for the fall.


“Lewis’s statements may frustrate Christians who hold that Scripture is inerrant.”

Since Lewis is not my rule of faith, it doesn’t frustrate me. He did some things very well—mainly the fictional stuff. And his apologetic work was important at the time, although it’s be overtaken by more sophisticated treatments.

But he is not and was not a sound theological guide. For that you need to look elsewhere.

“One wishes that Lewis had taken more time to examine other apologetic responses to his objections against inerrancy, but the message of his writings remains clear. Lewis did not believe in an inerrant Bible, though he did believe that Scripture was in some sense inspired.”

Except that this is one of the areas in which the self-serving parallel between Lewis and Spencer breaks down. For there were mitigating circumstances in the case of Lewis. His culture dealt him a weak hand. His church was the church of Lux Mundi, Bishop Colenso, Pusey, and Fredrick Farrar. And we know from the Downgrade controversy that the dissenting tradition didn’t offer much of a counterballast.

Lewis was a layman, fighting on his own. Lewis improved on his circumstances. He parlayed a pair of deuces into, if not a royal flush, then at least a full house.

By contrast, Spencer has parlayed a royal flush into three of a kind on a way to deuces. Like a dissolute son of the peerage, he squanders his evangelical patrimony on the apologetics of self-pity.


  1. Re. Lewis, like D. R. Davies, whose works I have recently been perusing, Lewis was not an evangelical, but held to a position mid-way between liberalism and evangelicalism. Had he started his religious pilgrimage in evangelicalism, he would be considered a liberal, but since he did not, but was converted late in life and became a high(ish) Anglican.

    When dealing with a man's theology, knowing that man's starting point is important.

  2. Yeah, iMonk is like Shakespeare, Lewis, Barth, Martin Luther, the Lolards, the Waldenses, the Green Hornet, Howard Stern, and on and on.

    You have to trash them all if you trash him -- and if he ponies up a ridiculously-hollow opinion, telling him that makes you a persecutor of the church.

    btw, how did he get a picture of you for the BHT? I thought you were a recluse?

  3. If you deny the inerrancy of Scripture, then, *logically* speaking, you’ve committed apostasy.


    What could that mean? If you rig the definitions of inerrancy and apostasy so as to make them contingent upon each other, than yeah - amazingly there's logical dependence to be found.

    Questions of this sort obviously (as is indicated by the sheer amount of literature on the topic) can't be solved with a syllogism.

    But as long as all of this is rhetoric and showing off, I guess it doesn't matter.


    C'mon - who doesn't think of themselves more like Martin Luther than Benny Hinn (except for Benny Hinn)? If you wanna be helpful, address the spirit in which the comparisons are offered, namely "how is it that men like these are rightly revered and accepted while I am not, even though I share many of their views?" Answer that question in a way that might actually benefit the questioner instead of using it as an opportunity to stand on top of him and make your point.

    As for bloggers telling other bloggers to grow up . . . I don't know if that's a privilege they deserve. Maybe someone ELSE should be telling ALL of us to grow up.

  4. Steve, Your endurance for the sake of truth and clarity is an inspiration.


  5. What could that mean? If you rig the definitions of inerrancy and apostasy so as to make them contingent upon each other, than yeah - amazingly there's logical dependence to be found.

    Notice that in the very next sentence we have this:

    Now, there’s a difference between psychology and logicality. A mediating position represents an intellectually unstable compromise.

    So, what he's arguing is that the strictly logical end of such a denial would be apostasy. How might this work? Well, it would be the same sort of argument that says, "Arminianism logically leads to Socinianism." - an argument that has quite the historical precedent behind it as well. In fact, it was precisely that sort of Arminianism which began to emerge in Episcopius and Vortstius and Van Limborch, all of whom denied the innate idea of God and expressed their objection within a libertarian framework. Socinianism and Arminianism share a common currency, for they both carry within them, the latter preceding the former, the philosophically rationalistic principles to construct a theology around whatever principles are selected and defend that at all costs - even if it means undermining the faith, which is precisely what happens if you take libertarianism to its logical end. The literature on this is vast, and if you'd care to read it as carefully as you allege you have, you'd know that you don't have to "rig" the doctrine of inerrancy to arrive at this conclusion. One of the major criticisms of these middle positions is that they are unstable and go to great pains to avoid their logical ends, rather like evangelical Arminianism's constant attempt to distance itself from Socinianism - from the beginning Arminians have been criticized for not following their own libertarianism to the "logical" ends; rather they have "psychologically" crafted argumentation to avoid those ends. In that regard, the Socinians and the Augustinians have always been critical of the Arminians.

    The difference between "logicality" and "psychology" can be illustrated this way: Take the average SBC non-Calvinist. He accepts inerrancy but not effacious/irresistible grace. The logical problem for him is that they turn on identical principles. "Logically" he should deny inerrancy and/or inspiration, but "psychologically" he does not. That is, he does not follow his own logic to its end and takes offense when you point this out. In fact, many of them will relish their lack of systematic doctrine and prize their eclecticism in the process.

    An argument for Steve's conclusion - and I do not know if this is what he would employ - might look something like this:

    A denial of inerrancy is, at worst, a denial of inspiration, at best, it is implicitly so.

    A denial of either one logically entailsan affirmation of libertarianism.

    This logically entails a denial of divine determinism; which in turn undermines a claim to inspiration, which is an inherently deterministic process.

    Without this, how does one know that what was written by the author(s) is what God actually determined and intended?

    Ergo, all doctrines are up for grabs.

    This entails logically, ultimately, Socinianism.

    One who moves from Orthodoxy to Socinianism has apostatized.

    This does not "rig" the definition of inerrancy or inspiration at all.

  6. Based only on that last response, Sharad seems to think that any essential relationship between a denial of inerrancy & apostasy is artificial, which probably tells us more about his own bibliology than anything else.

  7. "Without this, how does one know that what was written by the author(s) is what God actually determined and intended?"

    The GHM doesn’t ask what God intended, it asks what the author intended, and it attempts to answer that question, not in purely deterministic fashion but a highly empirical one, then it assumes that what God intended to convey is what the author *most likely* intended to convey, which is a person dependent value judgment. Hello psychology.