10 March 2006

Fundamentalism, the ECM, Authentic Christianity, False Apostles, Deceitful Workers, Angels of Light—and a Coda for Adrian about "Tone"

by Phil Johnson

One of the difficulties of a gang-blog is that we all have a lot to say, and it's hard not to overwhelm the blog or constantly post on top of one another. But we do it anyway, because there's so much stuff that needs to be said. I keep trying to make shorter posts, but the subjects lately have been big and important. Like this:


After Carla Rolfe kindly made room for the looooong transcript of my seminar on the "emerging church movement" at Emergent No, an even more verbose and far-ranging discussion broke out in scattered places around the Internet. I can't possibly keep up with most of it. But I have commented on a couple of entries in the comments thread at Emergent No.

Tares

One of my comments prompted a question from a poster who seems somewhat sympathetic with "the New Perspective on Paul."

Rod: "How far beyond fundamentalism does 'orthodoxy' extend for you?"

Excellent question.

If you mean "the fundamentalist movement," then I would say that the boundaries of orthodoxy surely extend a long, long way past the fuzzy and fragmented borders of "fundamentalism." I myself am actually an outsider as far as most in the actual "fundamentalist movement" are concerned. (You'll find several megabytes worth of discussion about why I'm not "in" the movement at SharperIron.org.)

But, see: No one, including all who would identify themselves as card-carrying members of the most well-defined neighborhoods of the "fundamentalist movement"—no one who has any shred of credibility—actually believes you have to be "in the fundamentalist movement" in order to be deemed a real Christian.

The notion that fundies think everyone outside their movement is on a greased slide into hell is one of those famous canards that hard-core anti-fundamentalists (including many emergent types) love to repeat.

"Canards"?

It's sort of like the popular myth that we non-emergent, classic evangelicals love propositions only because we want to reduce the knowledge of God to a simple formula. (What kills me is the way such caricatures are invariably set forth in the very same contexts where someone is complaining about how critics of the ECM can't do anything but make false generalizations and attack straw men.)

Note: As a matter of fact, your profession of faith in Christ is itself a proposition. As such, it's either true or false. If you are going to post claims on the Internet about what the church should be like (claims which are themselves propositions), then it is right and good and necessary for other Christians to concern themselves on some basic level with the question of whether your profession of faith is a true proposition—and if so, whether you are spiritually and biblically qualified to issue pronouncements about what's good and what's bad for the church.

Anyway, here's the point I'm making: Some truths (many of which are capable of being expressed as propositions—e.g., "Jesus is Lord"; and "Jesus is God") are absolutely essential to Christianity itself. According to Scripture, if you deny those essential truths, you're not orthodox in any sense. See Galatians 1:8-9; 2 John 7-11.

Knowing Christ involves more than recognizing the truth of a few propositions, of course, but it doesn't involve any less. If the christ you worship is not the eternal One who is Lord of all, you don't really "know" the true Christ, and whatever religion you practice is not any kind of authentic Christianity, even if you insist that you are a Christian.

That's not to say you have to pass a doctrinal test on Trinitarian orthodoxy before you can respond rightly to the gospel. (That's another silly canard.) But it does mean that if someone knows full well what Scripture says about an essential truth regarding Christ or the gospel, and with full understanding, that person nevertheless rejects that very same truth, we are not to embrace or encourage that person as if he were a true believer (Titus 3:10-11).

If words mean anything at all, when we acknowledge that certain truths are essential to the Christian faith, what we are saying is that we cannot and must not accept as authentically "Christian" any point of view that deliberately rejects or ignores or otherwise eliminates any of those "essential" truths.

"Fundamentalism"?

Now, strictly speaking, to affirm that specific truth-claims are absolutely essential to the gospel is a kind of "fundamentalism." Those essential, non-negotiable truths are the "fundamentals." That's where the word fundamentalism comes from.

J. I. Packer defined fundamentalism as "just a twentieth-century name for historic Evangelicalism" (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, p. 19). He added that he thought the term itself neither very good nor very useful, and it's surely an even less helpful expression these days, because of the way it has been abused by its friends and foes alike.

But the main gist of what the expression originally meant is true and right: certain key biblical doctrines cannot be compromised without abandoning Christianity itself. (And a real fundamentalist would add that those fundamental doctrines need to be fought for.)

Which doctrines are essential and which are secondary is a much harder, slightly different, and very important, question. But at the moment, that's not really the main point of contention between "the emerging church movement" and most of its critics.

Here's the problem:

Of much greater and more immediate concern to the most serious critics of the emergent idea is this: Will the ECM ever be capable of reaching any consensus on the question of whether there are any essential, biblical, non-negotiable core-doctrines that we can preach with conviction as true and authoritative?

One sometimes gets the strong impression that the central idea of the "emerging church movement" is that no such certainties exist. As if no mere doctrine could legitimately be deemed essential to Christianity and proclaimed dogmatically and with settled conviction.

Seriously: As far as I can tell, no actual, inviolable truth-claim is involved in the prevailing Emergent notion of "generous orthodoxy."

Again, that's the error the best critics of the movement are most keen to confront. It has nothing to do with demanding that the body of Christ be defined and delimited by the borders of some visible movement.

But it just seems so judgmental to treat a proposition as a test of someone's orthodoxy!

Scripture is clear: the church has always been beset with false apostles, deceitful workers, and ministers of Satan who try to appear as ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). And they traffic in lies (John 8:44). It takes a really pernicious, obtuse unbelief to insist (especially at this particular point in church history) that ideas and propositions don't really matter much in the big scheme of things.

Aha! You are a fundy!

The problem with the label fundamentalism is that it has become a shorthand cheap-shot way of pinning the Islamofascist reproach and all the other evil implications of that word onto Christians who simply take the Bible seriously and want to remain faithful to the essential truth of Christ.

And that's really not nice.

Speaking of which...

On a somewhat related matter, our esteemed and genteel English friend, Dr. Adrian Warnock, has lately expressed repeated concerns about "tone" in the Christian blogosphere—especially when we air out our doctrinal disagreements, or when disputes arise about such basic issues as what distinguishes authentic Christianity from the many false varieties.

Since he keeps using me as an example of what he thinks is wrong, I'm hesitant to respond at all. There is, after all, an important kernel of truth in what he says. Christians do sometimes get overly zealous in their eagerness to set one another straight. And—more important—I'm not going to try to plead innocent to the charge that I have on too many occasions been guilty of this.

However, it's a real mistake to talk about "tone" in isolation from content. Some sins do warrant sharp rebukes (Titus 1:13). Some dangers are so serious that it's perfectly appropriate to sound a shrill alarm.

Paul responded passively and even graciously to people who were preaching Christ but otherwise made themselves his adversaries and even tried to add to his afflictions (Philippians 1:15-18). But his response to those who professed faith in Christ while undermining the foundations of the gospel took a whole different tone (Galatians 1:8-9). See Machen's excellent observations on why the harsh tone of Galatians 1 was valid, even though Paul's actual differences with the Judaizers could be boiled down to a single proposition regarding the ordo salutis.

Moreover, (and this is nothing personal against Adrian, but) it's a serious mistake to imagine that everyone listed in "The Blogdom of God" is a true angel of light rather than a poseur.

Tea, anyone?

The example we are given in Scripture for dealing with serious challenges to core Christian truths—particularly the apostle Paul's polemic style, which is not isolated but permeates most of his major epistles—is admittedly not well-suited to accommodate Victorian (or worse, postmodern) sensitivities.

Friendly dialogue over Earl Gray tea in a formal setting is about as far as I can imagine from the way the Apostle Paul dealt with the Judaizers, hyper-preterists, and divisive people of his time. The same goes for Peter (2 Peter 2) and even John, "the apostle of love" (3 John 9-10). It's not the way Paul encouraged Timothy and Titus to deal with gainsayers, either.

And for what it's worth in light of Adrian's most recent post on this issue, he might be interested to know that when the T4TG guys get together and certain controversial subjects come up—such as postmodernism, the emerging church, the erosion of clarity on the gospel, and the various popular redefinitions of core Protestant doctrines—the "tone" of our heroes' dialogue has lots more brimstone than treacle in it.

Friendly dialogue and mutual acceptance are not always the right strategy—especially when someone challenges our central biblical convictions. See Nehemiah 6:1-3 for one very practical example of this principle. In fact, accepting an invitation to "dialogue" about patently unbiblical ideas is probably the worst possible answer in an era when the promise of genial "conversation" is the very tool certain phony "ministers of righteousness" have employed to undermine resistance to an amalgamation of worldly ideas and out-and-out heresies that actually attack the authority of Scripture and the assurance of faith.

So while I am concerned about proper, Christlike and Pauline "tone," and I do (believe it or not) try not to be needlessly sarcastic or over-the-top harsh, I am much more concerned to speak truthfully and with clarity.

A final word about the supposed "blogwars":

Ironically, the recent post whose tone Adrian Warnock said he found so "deeply disturbing" was hailed by many others for its supposedly more kindly tone than my previous exchanges with the iMonk.

Both perspectives honestly surprised and baffled me. My tone and my substance in that post were exactly the same as every other substantive post I have ever written critiquing the iMonk and his drinking buddies: candid, but in no way uncharitable. Aside from a couple of comic-book parodies that honestly were not in any sense deliberately mean-spirited, no one has ever tried to cite an actual instance of ungodly or uncharitable speech in any of my criticisms of iMonk or the patrons of his tavern. Search and see.

So unless someone wants to quote my actual words and show me where and how I have sinned, I would appreciate it if all the popular mythology about the extreme nastiness of the Pyro-BHT "blogwars" could be laid to rest.

Oh, and by the way...

See also this post from the old PyroManiac blog.

Phil's signature

82 comments:

centuri0n said...

I want to insert the talking monkey ing you post saying "I AM A CHRISTIAN!" up around the place where you say that just calling yourself a Christian doesn't make you one.

Of course, iMonk is not telling me that he thinks it is reasonable to stop calling one's self a Christian because one thinks the term has lost its "usefulness".

And I thought I was going to spend the weekend doing sheetrock work for my wife ...

Steve said...

Phil said, "In fact, accepting an invitation to "dialogue" about patently unbiblical ideas is probably the worst possible answer in an era when the promise of genial "conversation" is the very tool certain phony "ministers of righteousness" have employed to undermine resistance to an amalgamation of worldly ideas and out-and-out heresies that actually attack the authority of Scripture and the assurance of faith."

Phil, you really hit the nail on the head with this comment. What's especially sad is that these phony "ministers of righteousness" are able to peddle their ideas with great ease because Christians--even prominent ones--are so ignorant and undiscerning these days. I was grieved when recently the head of a major Christian publishing house commented that Mormons could very well be Christians. That's just one example of more I could give.

In each case, these people had been swayed by winsome, genial perpetrators of heresy who alleged it was "unkind" to discuss doctrinal differences.

If only more Christians cared enough to get to know the truth and defend it.

DJP said...

That title....

It's longer than my thesis title!

Dude!

I'm in awe.

Michael Spencer said...

Frank, you're mistaken and misleading in your comment.

http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/whats-in-a-nameT

Let the reader decide if that's what I am saying.

Please note that I call myself a Christian, devote my life to getting others to do the same, and critique leif's project for being a distinction without a difference. If you want to come to the IM comments and talk this on out, I'd be happy to continue the discussion there. You can ask me five (or more) questions free :-)

Gordon Cloud said...

"Dialogue", isn't that how Satan tricked Eve? It seems that every time that term comes up in church circles it leads to compromise.

Pastor Rod said...

Here's what I was responding to over at Emergent No: "In my assessment, much of what makes Wright's views distinctive has the aroma of unorthodoxy."

This seems a rather odd thing to say about someone who believes in the incarnation, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the inspiration and authority of the Bible and salvation by grace.

For the record, I never weighed in on "the new perspective on Paul." I don't know enough about it yet to take a position. What I do like is Wright's analysis about Jesus and the Kingdom he came to establish.

I don't have a problem with propositional truth. Neither does Wright as far as I can tell.

Here is an excerpt from Wright's book The Last Word:

There is a great gulf fixed between those who want to prove the historicity of everything reported in the Bible in order to demonstrate that the Bible is "true" after all and those who, committed to living under the authority of scripture, remain open to what scripture itself actually teaches and emphasizes. Which is the bottom line: "proving the Bible to be true" (often with the effect of saying, "So we can go on thinking what we've always thought"), or taking it so seriously that we allow it to tell us things we'd never heard before and didn't particularly want to hear?


As for Adrian, maybe he is ofended by bold, 32-pt. type in red. Just a guess.

Rod

Rob said...

Phil,

I think you're absolutely right about propositions. However, I've read many of your blogs and I have to say, the entire conversion experience cannot be summed up in propositions.

Jesus is Lord - Truth. God is powerful - Truth. God love us - truth. All propositions all truth. But until someone enters into a relationship with Jesus it doesn't mean anything. There just words written down on a piece of paper. I think it's that process that conservative Christians have reduced to the lowest common demoninator.

Believing those propositions is not the same as a relationship with the eternal, all powerful God. I wonder if that's what Christ meant when He said, "Depart from me I never knew you." Preach your propositions as good doctrine. It seems to be working for you. But why not say, doctrine isn't the sum of the experince. Right doctrine doesn't equal a transformational relationship.

Just thoughts,

Rob

ps. I would hope my comment wouldn't be viewed as threatening (or blogwars). Just 2 people talking and sharing ideas about how to point those who don't share our faith towards Christ.

centuri0n said...

My dad used to tell me when I was a kid that if I was going to play soccer, I had to learn to take a body-block once in a while. The other kids didn't hate me because they wanted the ball and wanted to stop me from scoring.

Apply that to this blog as you see fit.

donsands said...

So you're saying that all Christian children should play soccer? Right?

4given said...

If one is diligent in the hearing and studying and pursuit of God's Word, than there should be MUCH to say about Christ to others... as a fire that builds within that cannot be extinguished. It may die down a bit if not fed the timbers of truth... but because it was not given of man, man cannot destroy it. Not that I do not labour myself, but I appreciate the fact that I get to enjoy the fruit of your labour in this perfect Word of truth.

Ellen said...

I don't know what kind of diversity of blogs you read, but the female section has had a dispute over the last couple of weeks. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago a "dispute" erupted when a post was written about discernment when reading blogs that are not open about their religious affiliation (in particular, Mormons). Oh my goodness! You would have thought the sky was falling down.

It appears that for many "Christians" (those who share the same label) its all about coffee, mommies and sharing the "love".

Would you embrace the person (as a brother in Christ, who made the following statement? "We are Christians in a very real sense and that is coming to be more and more widely recognized. Once upon a time people everywhere said we are not Christians. They have come to recognize that we are, and that we have a very vital and dynamic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ."

Theis person calls himself Christian. He uses the same words that we do (but the words mean different things). He believes that he is a Christian (but he denies core Christian doctrines). The person who made that statement is
Gordon. B. Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I guess all that was to say that
1) If a person that comes up with a term other than "Christian" (disciple of Christ, Christ is my Lord and Savour) that would make a statement about what Christianity actually means, why is that all bad?

and 2) there are plenty of disputes out there, the females of the species just tend to be a little more...

chamblee54 said...

While the talking monkey is an interesting concept, the animal I have in mind is a dog that will not quit barking.

Phil Johnson said...

Rob:

Having "read many of [my] blogs," you must be aware that no one who hangs around here has ever suggested that "the entire conversion experience [can] be summed up in propositions."

My point, which I thought you originally said you agreed with, is that while believing true propositions is not all there is to saving faith, it is nonetheless an essential aspect of it.

The exact words I used were: "Knowing Christ involves more than recognizing the truth of a few propositions, of course, but it doesn't involve any less."

I couldn't help noticing, however, that your restatement of that point affirms only the first half of it, which was never in dispute anyway.

Why is that?

DJP said...

Rob -- "the entire conversion experience cannot be summed up in propositions."

So, that's your proposition about conversion?

Is it true?

Ellen -- that particular war has been going on a lot in ladies' homeschooling discussions in waves, hasn't it, for years?

Perhaps, for any recent "upping" of the heat, we can "thank" Richard Mouw and Eerdmans.

Ellen said...

Actually, in the ladies' section, it was an "award" style of carnival - hosted by a Mormon woman, with what appearted to be about equal numbers of Christian and Morman women participating.

A challenge was issued (The "Discernment Award) to see how many women could pick out which was which.

jerryb said...

FYI: Walter Elwell has an excellent article on "Fundamentalism" in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. It describes Fundamentalism through the 20's, 40's, 70-80's etc.

Phil, Keep up the good work

David said...

"Knowing Christ involves more than recognizing the truth of a few propositions, of course, but it doesn't involve any less."


From your fundamentalism presentation, you said

"In other words, if you understand the New Testament principle of sola fide correctly, it presupposes the deity of Christ, the exclusivity of Christ, and every other truth essential to the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. (If you want to understand why all those doctrines are inseparable from the principle of sola fide, you can listen to that message. But here I just want to make it clear that all those doctrines—all the essential doctrines of authentic Christianity—are deliberately implied in my brief definition of what it means to be an evangelical.)"

are the inherent concepts of sola fide the proposition that one needs to believe?

Pastor Rod said...

DJP & Phil,

I do not embrace post-modernism. N. T. Wright does not embrace post-modernism. Many others who see something of value in the emergent movement do not embrace post-modernism.

You seem to be so concerned with attacking post-modernism that you don't hear what else is being said in the "emergent conversation."

Post-modernism does have some valid criticisms of modernism and contemporary Christianity. These should be addressed.

The interesting thing is that you seem to be using the philosophy, tools and methods of the Enlightenment to battle against post-modernism.

Wright says something about "coming out the other side" of post-modernism with a better understanding of the "timeless truths" of Christianity.

In my opinion, the "emergent movement" is not owned by "post-moderns." It is a response to many issues raised by post-modern people.

It is not a "passing fad" as many hope. It is a seismic shift in Christian practice, if not theology. If believers label it heresy and encourage others to abandon the movement, then it could be co-opted by the post-modern fringe.

Then the critics could smugly say, “I told you so” while the world increasingly sees Christian faith as irrelevant and insignificant. (And don’t pull out your “sovereignty argument” on me. That same argument could be used against your attack of the “emergent movement.”)

Carla said...

pastor rod said "In my opinion, the "emergent movement" is not owned by "post-moderns." It is a response to many issues raised by post-modern people. It is not a "passing fad" as many hope. It is a seismic shift in Christian practice, if not theology. If believers label it heresy and encourage others to abandon the movement, then it could be co-opted by the post-modern fringe.

Rod,

the ECM may not be a passing fad as many of us did at first hope (and you better believe many of us did hope for that) but it is in fact, in many aspects, a rebellious, in-your-face, disobedient, disrespectful, flagrant deviation from the pure doctrine of Biblical Christianity.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, YES the folks involved in this "conversation" raise some valid criticisms against the modern church, but you know what? So do atheists, and so do Mormons, and so do unbelievers in the world, and so do believers not caught up in the ECM. The ECM folks certainly do not corner the market on keen insight & discernment into valid criticism of the modern church. There are issues, problems, things that need to change, and we all know that. We don't need to keep validating the ECM to acknowledge these issues. There were believers sounding a warning in their own local communities, and exhorting the household of faith to remain diligent in sound Biblical doctrine, LONG before the ECM came along. In fact, about 1900 years before the ECM came along, if my Bible time-line is fairly accurate. Point being, there have always been those who have professed faith with their lips, but who’s hearts (and attitudes, and speech, etc.) were far from Him. Suddenly the last 10 years (or so) we need the ECM to tell us these things? You may believe that, but I sure don’t.

You also said:

"Then the critics could smugly say, “I told you so” while the world increasingly sees Christian faith as irrelevant and insignificant. (And don’t pull out your “sovereignty argument” on me. That same argument could be used against your attack of the “emergent movement.”)"

I don't mean to sound snarky here, but do you NOT get it? The world has ALWAYS seen the Christian faith as irrelevant and insignificant. You say the world "increasingly" sees Christianity this way. The Scriptures tell me that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to them that are perishing, and that to the natural man, the things of God are foolishness, and he cannot receive them, nor understand them.

The word there used for foolishness is from the form of the word moros. Do you realize that this word is the very same word that we get our modern word moron? In other words, the unbelieving world sees Christians as morons. They believe us to be lacking or exhibiting a lack of good sense or judgment, stupid or misinformed, unreasonable, insignificant and trivial. The is the dictionary’s definition of foolishness, the very same word that we get the word moron from.
So the ECM comes along with this brilliant idea that if we only critique the modern church & engage the lost culture around us, with things that appeal to the lost culture such as entertainment, the way we dress, the way we speak (yes, that means cussing and swearing like a lost person does), the way we preach (or not preach) the way we “do church” (or not do church) that suddenly we’re going to reverse this whole process of the lost & dying world finding us as irrelevant and moronic, and they’ll like us and become Christians because we’re now relevant to them. Our gospel makes sense to them, where it didn’t make sense before. Why? Because we’ve become relevant!

The fact is, in an effort (and I believe it really has been a genuine, good motive for many) to become “relevant” to the very culture that so many are trying to reach, they’ve sacrificed sound Biblical Christianity, to do it. They’ve won friends and associates, media attention and financial contributions, but they’ve done it at the cost of Sola Scriptura. Many will even brazenly deny Sola Scriptura in the first place.

What does Scripture tell us about how we go about proclaiming the good news of Christ? The very same thing that world finds so insignificant and irrelevant is the very thing God uses to bring His people to Christ:

1Cor. 1: 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

SDG...
Carla

Screaming Pirate said...

Amen Carla.

Pastor Rod said...

Carla,

You are painting the Emergents with the same brush as the Post-moderns. This is your primary mistake.

I said, "issues raised by post-modern people." You "quoted" me as saying, "YES the folks involved in this 'conversation' raise some valid criticisms against the modern church."

I said the "conversation" was trying to respond to these questions.

You said, "There are issues, problems, things that need to change, and we all know that." Apparently not.

You said, "I don't mean to sound snarky here, but do you NOT get it?" Translation: "I do want to be snarky, but I don't want anyone to call me on it."

You said, "The Scriptures tell me that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to them that are perishing, and that to the natural man, the things of God are foolishness, and he cannot receive them, nor understand them."

That is because you read the Bible through your 5-point grid. This is terrible exegesis. Paul is not saying that the unregenerate person cannot understand the things of God. He is saying that the unregenerate person thinks that the things of God are silly and unimportant.

You said, "Do you realize that this word is the very same word that we get our modern word moron?" Do you realize that this is a fallacious way to do Bible study? It may make for poignant sermon illustrations, but it doesn't necessarily tell us anything about the meaning of the word and especially is of very little help in telling us how it is used in a particular context.

N. T. Wright is right on target when he says that many have replaced justification by faith with faith in justification by faith. Many have also replaced the authority of God expressed through the Bible with the authority of the human doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

You said other things I take issue with, but this is enough for now.

I don’t see much dialogue going on here. I see a lot of preaching, condemning and cheerleading. My post probably doesn’t do much to increase the chances of dialogue, but here it is. Maybe it will spark some clear thinking on someone’s part.

Rod

Gaddabout said...

I'm going to pipe in here because Phil made a quick comment on my blog (and, as usual, was very pleasant):

1. Phil, your comments have been noted and I've edited my post to reflect what I was originally attempting to say.

2. Pastor Rod, I commend those in ECM who remain grounded in classical Christianity. I have a problem when those same people endorse a "conversation" that implies fellowship with "believers" that struggle to make a single normative statement of the same classical Christian faith. (The opposite of that would be subjective statements, which is the single major talent of Brian McLaren). It begs the question who's preaching the Gospel to whom and why? If all we need to do is join the "conversation," there isn't much need to receive and accept the Gospel, which is explicitly propositional and demands normative statements and behavior.

3. Carla, I loved everything you said. The only thing I would add, in contrast, is there is a difference between being a moron for Christ and just being a garden-variety moron. The fruit of the Spirit -- the very evidence of God in us -- should be our ambassador to the world. There are some, I think, that would prefer to wear their (pride-based) moronity on their shirt sleeves and thumb their noses at the world. That's not the Biblical template for engaging a world of unbelief.

Steve said...

Pastor Rod said, "I don’t see much dialogue going on here."

Rod, it's pretty obvious the reason you say that is because the the dialogue isn't taking place on your own terms. Yours is a classic ECM statement. If people agree with you, then you call it conversation or dialogue. If they challenge you, then it's no longer conversation or dialogue.

Carla, you shared some superb points there. Keep up the good work.

Pastor Rod said...

Steve,

There is nothing classic ECM about me. You guys are so quick to label people. (I did my thesis on Francis Schaeffer, so there.)

"My terms" for dialogue are engaging in the actual points a person makes and objectively responding to them.

I don't care if you agree with me.

But you just illustrated my point (in a single post) about "preaching, condemning and cheerleading."

Steve said...

Rod said in response to Carla:

You said, "There are issues, problems, things that need to change, and we all know that." Apparently not.

You said, "I don't mean to sound snarky here, but do you NOT get it?" Translation: "I do want to be snarky, but I don't want anyone to call me on it."

Rod, you claim that "'My terms' for dialogue are engaging in the actual points a person makes and objectively responding to them."

But take a look at how you responded to two of Carla's points. She acknowledged there are issues in the church and change is needed, and you bluntly responded that apparently she didn't see this.

She said she didn't want to sound snarky, and you forced your OWN spin on her words into her mouth.

I would hardly call that, to use your own words, "engaging in the actual points a person makes and objectively responding to them."

Your responses were non-responses.

Phil Johnson said...

pastor rod: "'My terms' for dialogue are engaging in the actual points a person makes and objectively responding to them."

Then do it, and stop claiming everyone you disagree with is "labeling people" when they really aren't.

I did not "label" NT Wright or you (or the ECM movement, for that matter) "postmodern." I chose my words carefully.

But you did a whole series of comments as if my whole complaint with the ECM has something to do with whether NT Wright is a pomo or not. That's not an issue that is germane to any point I have ever made anywhere.

Steve notes that your comment is a typical ECM complaint, and you accuse him of labeling YOU. The point he was making was actually a good one, and technically, it did not involve pinning any label on YOU.

Please: either engage in the actual points that are being made; demonstrate (by quoting the actual words we have used) where one of us has actually used any of the "labels" you insist are being slapped on you and Wright; or please stop replying to every comment you don't like with the same shopworn (and utterly false) accusations. OK?

Especially if you're going to post anonymously. I'm thinking of making a rule that prohibits anyone who posts without a profile from ever complaining about getting "labeled." If you're so keen for people to understand who you really are, why are you so secretive about it?

The Hungarian Luddite said...

Seems to me all this reaction to the emergent Church is nothing more than those who have the "power" reacting to those who are trying to dilute that power. It is a classic struggle.

What you have here is a modern version of being Amish. Pick a static point in time, adopt the culture of that time and no matter what the culture around you does, don't change.

If I didn't know any better I would think that some think that how we "do" Church in America (generally) is how it is supposed to be done for all time, and in every place. Any deviation from the Protestant Church methodology of the mid-20th century is to be rejected as heretical or a "rebellious, in-your-face, disobedient, disrespectful, flagrant deviation from the pure doctrine of Biblical Christianity."

Piffle.

Scream all you want but there is a legitimate shift going on in American Church life. It is ugly at times. It is even unbiblical at times. But it is growing and in time it will mature. Hopefully, though history tells me otherwise, it will not so mature that it becomes like this monolithic dead horse called the instituitional Church.

In the 1970's of the 100 largest Churches in America (after all isn't size what matters) 90% were Independent Baptist Churches. Where are those Churches today? The Church I attended while in College ran 5,000 people. Today they run 200 and meet in the College chapel. What happened? Instead of preaching the timeless gospel in a relevant way to THEIR culture they stuck to the Baptist culture of the early 20th century. Time passed them by. I lament their death but they deserve to die.

There are 100 Churches in our rural Ohio county. Little of spiritual significance is happening. People go to Church, leave Church and come back the next week and little happens in between. Whatever the faults of the emerging Church are (and I am sure they are many) they are spot on when it comes to the whole matter of the missional Church.

Count me as one old Baptist preacher who is quite tired and worn out from Church as we have always done Church. We don't have to abandon the truth to change this, but we must evaluate every other aspect of our practice and traditions and we should be ready to jettison any and all that keeps us from reaching our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For those who despise the whole notion of dialog, what do you want then? Obeisance? I remember a former Church member getting his shorts in a knot over our use of contemporary music in our services? His answer to the whole problem was for the young people to simply do what the old people wanted. That's what I hear in some of the writing here. We have the approved plan for doing Church. This is what a Christian is. Just do it our way and everything will be fine. No discussion. NO interaction (but plenty of reaction) Sorry folks, this won't fly.

I really think the institutional Church has a choice.......either join the discussion or the discussion will go on without you. The choice is yours. Of course you could always convince your self that you are a modern Elijah that has not bowed a knee to Baal, but the over on the other side of the street thousand of prophets are gathering to worship the true and living God.

Steve said...

Bruce asked: "For those who despise the whole notion of dialog, what do you want then?"

Bruce, those of us who have heartfelt concerns about what's happening in the ECM do NOT despise the notion of dialogue.

What we're concerned about are the solutions the ECM proposes for meeting the needs of postmoderns.

When you examine these solutions, to a large extent, they are nothing more than a grocery list of cosmetic changes. They want to exchange one way of doing church for another way.

And unfortunately, truth IS being abandoned--the very thing that you correctly stated shouldn't be abandoned.

If there's one thing that is ALWAYS relevant to the lost, it's God's truth. And if we shy away from proclaiming it (as the EMC is), then we're robbing the lost of the one thing we as Christians can offer that truly is relevant to them and can satisfy their longings.

Gaddabout said...

Bruce, you make this sound as if it's just a methodological disagreement. That's a gross over-simplification. I don't see anyone frowning on piercings and Peaveys here. No one's measuring the Mabiliene.

The points Phil made are fundamental to Biblical faith in Christ. That's nothing to do with "how we do Church" and everything to do with "how we get to heaven." I don't care how you do the former, but, as Larry Norman once sang, there is only "one way" to do the latter.

(Side note: This whole discussion is warming me to the idea of being called a fundamentalist, though I have little culturally in common with the capital 'F' Fundies.)

Rob said...

The exact words I used were: "Knowing Christ involves more than recognizing the truth of a few propositions, of course, but it doesn't involve any less."

Phil certainly it involves less. Otherwise only those who could articulate propositions could be Christians. Then my question is whay propositions must I be able to recite? Who decides that? Me? You?

Jesus talked in a lot of stories, not propositions. Most people it seemed to me were very confused by Him. He didn't have a need to break everything down into it's lowest common denominator. (Like preaching the Bible one verse at a time, or 3-point sermons every day etc). It don't see that model from Christ at all.

I think that model of preaching has been very effective over the last 200 years. Mostly, now it's not though.

Don't create propositional hoops for people to jump through. I didn't see Jesus doing that. For Him it seemed that the heart mattered more then the last 3 point sermon you preached or heard.

Rob

Chuck said...

"That is why I like reading the blog over at Boar's Head and the Internet Monk."


Can we say that here?

James Spurgeon said...

bruce gerenscer, I know little of the emergent church, so I'll ask you. Since you seem to think that it is just about practice, if that be true then can you:

1) varify that there is no pragmatic watering down of truth and doctrine in order to make the church more relevant and acceptable to the world?

2) clarify whether or not the change in practice is the result of a wish to greater glorify God and please him or the result of an effort to be more relevant to sinful man?

3) tell me whether it is God-centered or man-centered at heart?

These are honest questions from one who wants to know.

Phil Johnson said...

moonlight blogging: "Can we say that here?"

Yes, but we can't say words that have to be bleeped—even if we disguise them. See rule 2.

Bruce:

Your comment is long, so I'm hesitant to delete it quickly. But I would appreciate it if you would edit and repost it without the expression that would offend my wife and mom. They both read the blog. (Hint: the expression "they tick me off" or a dozen others would work just as well, without flouting the blog's simple guidelines.)

Otherwise, I'll delete the comment myself, not because I disagree with you (which I do), but because it's always been a guiding principle in the conversation here. I've said before: we're not a virtual tavern or smoking establishment; more like a virtal pancake restaurant. It's a family-friendly place, and we have a lot of homeschool moms. Let's respect them

Rod:

I'll respond to your comment later. Right now I have to get ready for church. But in the meantime, could you just say what you said once more—but this time don't use any propositions?

Maybe that would help me understand better what it is that you're talking about. Because frankly, I don't even see how it's possible to tell a story without propositions. I can't for the life of me understand why you would treat stories and propositions as if they were antithetical.

Steve said...

Rob said, "Don't create propositional hoops for people to jump through. I didn't see Jesus doing that."

For lack of time because I have to leave for church, this will have to be brief. While it's true Jesus taught via stories, He also taught using an abundance of propositional statements--two of the supreme ones being John 3:16 and John 14:6.

What's more, we cannot get around the fact that for someone to receive Christ as Savior and Lord, he or she needs to be aware of at least three propositional truths:

1. All have sinned
2. Christ alone is the way to heaven
3. Salvation is a free gift received by grace, not works

Note that I said at least. I'm not trying to quibble here about how many are necessary. The point is, to bring a person to the point of decision requires the verbalization of some very basic points.

Also, as for styles of preaching, again, Jesus' teaching was not devoid of propositions, and Paul was what we could call proposition-heavy, given us the command to "Preach the Word."

I'm not saying there's no place for stories. It's fine to have them. But Rob, you appear to be dismissing them and misrepresenting the whole picture of Jesus' teachings.

Finally, others are mixing apples and oranges in the discussion here. Yes, we want to reach the postmodern lost. But don't forget that that's NOT the primary purpose of the church worship service, which is to build up believers in the faith. Yes, we can include the gospel message in the worship service and hope to reach the lost--Spurgeon did it all the time--but that's not the primary function of the worship service. There are all kinds of opportunities all week long to do that, and it's not the pastors and teachers alone who can do it, but all believers.

The Hungarian Luddite said...

Some of the problem with this whole discussion is that we use terms like emergent, fundamentalist, or even the term Christian and we think the terms represent a mono culture. Perhaps the discussion would go better IF words like some, many, the ones I know, etc preceded the term. There is far too much "painting" with a broad brush.

It is like saying a Southern Baptist is____________. There is no way to answer that question. I pastored in the SBC and the SBC ranges from apostasy to charismaticism. Oh yes, there is the Baptist Faith and Message but most SBC Church members don't have a clue what it says. (but they sure know exactly what the Church by-laws and constitution say)

Same goes for the term fundamentalist. We can define it classically as a reaction to the liberalism of the early 20th century. But when one says I am a fundamentalist what does that mean? A Hyles fundamentalist? A MacArthur fundamentalist? A Bob Jones fundamentalist? A Pensacola Christian College fundamentalist? A Southern Baptist fundamentalist?and on and on. There is no fundamentalist mono culture.

Try it with any term we use. Calvinist? There are more shades of Calvinist than you can count with many saying only their brand is the truth. Witness the Gillites battle the Fullerites.

Here is my point..........the emergent Church is made up of a lot of different people with differing viewpoints. No one is the Emergent pope, in spite of you who think Brian Mclaren is. The best way to understand the view of another is to dialog. Phil and I participated on Internet mailing lists for years and I found them as a good way to attempt to understand the views of others. Patient interaction among EQUALS.

I am not convinced that a lot of this is NOT about methods. Some of it is not, I agree but a lot of it is. The emerging Church uses methods we don't and so it must be wrong....end of story. Sometimes, we all need to take a deep breath, step out of our rut, and take a hard look at how we do what we do and why. Let's compare ourselves with the early Church. Any similarities? Any differences? Why? Do those differences have anything to do with culture?

I for one have profited greatly from the writings and sermons of men like Brian Mclaren and Mark Driscoll. I look forward to reading some Tim Keller. These men force me to think, ask questions and then look for answers.

I appreciate men like Rob Bell who challenge me to ask questions about WHY I believe the things I do.

That is why I like reading the blog over at Boar's Head and the Internet Monk. I don't always agree. Some times they
tick (my apologies) me off, BUT I appreciate the fact that the writers are honest and are willing to expose themselves to the judgment of the "religiously correct." All of us need to be exposed to the thinking of those outside our rut. A little Thomas Merton would do us all good. A little Henry Nouwen would be helpful. Throw in some Wendell Berry, a little John MacArthur, a few old Puritans, some Brian Mclaren, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever, Mark Noll and even Mark himself and we are well on our way to being a thoughtful, understanding Christian.

One of the greatest errors of my fundamentalist years was to only buy approved fundamentalist books. The only world I knew was that world. I was intellectually deficient and spiritually ignorant.........and I still am. That's why I read.

So, bring on the Emergent books. I am reading 2 to 3 a week. Take the meat and throw away the bones.

Steve said...

In my haste to type the above, I left a point unclear. The statement "I'm not saying there's no place for stories. It's fine to have them. But Rob, you appear to be dismissing them and misrepresenting the whole picture of Jesus' teachings" should have said, "I'm not saying there's no place for stories. It's fine to have them. But Rob, you are dismissing propositions and misreprsenting the whole picture of Jesus' teachings."

The Hungarian Luddite said...

James,

Here is my take on your questions.....

1) varify that there is no pragmatic watering down of truth and doctrine in order to make the church more relevant and acceptable to the world?

There is no need to verify anything. In Churches everywhere there is a watering down of truth and doctrine in order to make the Church more acceptable, not only to the world but to those who sit in the pews every week. That there are Emergent Churches that do this is granted........and there are a lot of non-emergent Churches that do also.

The question on the backside of your question needs to be asked. Are there Churches who have made doctrine and truth difficult to understand. Churches that have turned the pulpit into a puritan experiment or a seminary classroom? Who love systematic doctrine but rarely preach anything that remotely relates to where the average person lives?

2) clarify whether or not the change in practice is the result of a wish to greater glorify God and please him or the result of an effort to be more relevant to sinful man?

In virtually every change we make there is a spot of pragmatism. What works. There is nothing wrong with that. There is no award in heaven for continuing to do things the way we always have done them even if no one has a clue why. If relevance means making a connection with our fellow man and culture then I am all for that. I am convinced it is not the message, it is the methods that have everyone in an uproar. (in general) We take our cultural norms, give them the weight of Biblical law and then call everyone liberal, or man centered who does things differently.

3) tell me whether it is God-centered or man-centered at heart?

In the main it is God-centered or its intention is to be God centered. It would be impugning good the character of good men to suggest otherwise. We act as if man-centeredness is a new thing the emerging church has brought to the Church scene. Far from it. I spent most of my life in fundamentalism that was as man-centered as it could be. When I began fellowshipping with Sovereign grace/ Reformed Baptists, for all their talk about God-centeredness, there was a lot of man-centeredness to go around.
___________(name of well known preacher) this or that.

I am inclined to think you want to paint the emerging Church with a brush that the entire Church is worthy of being painted with. The American Church is in a deep decline. In fact it is broke. IMO the emergent Church is an attempt by good people to find a better way. Not perfect. But, in general, a good corrective.

What do you make of the fact that it is primarily the "reformed" or "calvinist" who are screaming about the emerging Church?

This blog comment section is not probably the best place to continue this discussion because it requires a lot of interaction and long posts. I am not even certain we are all talking about the same thing yet) Perhaps I will write some on my blog about this.

Scott Hill said...

Phil, I have always felt you were more than gracious to iMonk and the Boar's. Escpecially considering some of thier comments. I even felt like sometimes you were too nice to them.

That last post to iMonk was in no way mean spirited. I felt you gracefully dealt with criticism and clarified your position. All in all I thougth you were nice.

I think Adrian is being unreasonable. Of course some would say I don't know what nice is.

Carla said...

Bruce,

you said (in response to James):

I am convinced it is not the message, it is the methods that have everyone in an uproar.

Honestly, if you're convinced that this is the reason so many people are so concerned, you couldn't have possibly read a fraction of the critique of the ECM that is available.

The concern is due in part, to the methods (and there are many Nadab & Abihu Methods to be concerned about) and in a larger part to the message itself.

There are numerous websites & blogs out there taking a hard look at the ECM message. I'd post numerous links here but that wouldn't seem proper since this is not my blog. Feel welcome to take a closer look at ENo, and the resources available there.

Our standard is Scripture and the one question is "does the message line up?". Many are seeing that it does not.

SDG,
Carla

The Hungarian Luddite said...

Sister,

I am sure you write thoughtfully but think about what you have just said........if I believe what I believe about the emerging Church then I couldn't have possibly read the critiques of the emerging Church. This is a nice way of sayinf someone is ignorant. No problem. I plead guilty.

But, I can tell you this much..... I prefer source material rather than a second hand rehash of what someone supposedly believes or practices. SO I read the books of the Emerging Church writers..

Then..........I check out the critics. Hey, you might even want to check out a website I go to on a regular basis. Emergent No. Maybe you have heard of it. :)

Your post belies the whole problem. It is the assumption that IF a person had all the facts you have they would certainly come to the same conclusion as you. Perhaps, your facts have been weighed in the balance and found wanting? Please give credit to your opponents (who are your brothers and sisters in Christ)........that they have a brain and actually use it.

Habitans in Sicco said...

Bruce, your line of argument doesn't work. To paraphrase:

All you people are really concerned about is methodology, not theology....and let's stop making unfair generalizations, shall we?

By the way, lots of people "force me to think and ask questions"--from Ghandi to Nietzsche to Charles Manson. The fact that they challenge what I think shouldn't exempt them from my vigorous criticism.

From what I can piece together out of what you've said regarding your spiritual pilgrimage, I wonder: are there any firm convictions you hold now that you have clung to since you began your pastoral ministry, or (now that you have been disillusioned a few times) is everything up for grabs?

Patagonia Mike said...

James Spurgeon said...

bruce gerenscer, I know little of the emergent church, so I'll ask you. Since you seem to think that it is just about practice, if that be true then can you:

1) varify that there is no pragmatic watering down of truth and doctrine in order to make the church more relevant and acceptable to the world?

2) clarify whether or not the change in practice is the result of a wish to greater glorify God and please him or the result of an effort to be more relevant to sinful man?

3) tell me whether it is God-centered or man-centered at heart?

These are honest questions from one who wants to know.

James, thank you for your comment. I am a missionary working in Church Planting and I struggle within myself at times trying to keep faithfull to the gospel and sharing in a manner that is clear and understandable.

I think by turning your 3 points into positive statements they make for a good brief mission statement For starting new work.

Patagonia Mike

The Hungarian Luddite said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Hungarian Luddite said...

Brother,

It is the methodology that is up for grabs. How do we best do Church? How do we best reach our culture? How do we best represent Christ to a lost andy world?

I believe the Bible to be God's Word. When it speaks, it speaks authoratatively. We are to believe and to obey.

Having said that I am under no compulsion to follow another man's doctrine. Talk about man-centered. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and guide. He promises to guide us in all truth.

I have argued for years, and I will continue to do so, that our penchant for sytematic theology is killing us. Note I am not against theology.........but we have come to the place where it seems, at least to me, that if we have all our t's crossed and i's dotted that is what makes us a "good" christian. I am weary of such thinking.

We have all our ducks in a row on our little pond. The problem is the world and culture we are to reach are on another pond. In fact most of the Christian world is on another pond.

This really must be my last word here. I am sure I am infringing on Phil's good graces and I do not want to do that. I would be glad to dialog (love the word) with anyone via email if they would like.

Thank you brethren.

12:32 PM, March 12, 2006

Carrie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pastor Rod said...

Steve,

For the record John 3:16 begins a commentary by John. If people read the text objectively, this would be obvious.

Rod

Pastor Rod said...

Phil,

You said, I did not "label" NT Wright or you (or the ECM movement, for that matter) "postmodern." I chose my words carefully.

Then we're even, because I didn't accuse you of any of those things.

You said, ”Steve notes that your comment is a typical ECM complaint, and you accuse him of labeling YOU. The point he was making was actually a good one, and technically, it did not involve pinning any label on YOU."

It was not a good point. It was dismissive, and it used the label "ECM" to dismiss the comment as not worthy of consideration.

You said, “Especially if you're going to post anonymously. I'm thinking of making a rule that prohibits anyone who posts without a profile from ever complaining about getting "labeled." If you're so keen for people to understand who you really are, why are you so secretive about it?”

I’m not posting anonymously. Just because I don’t have a blogger profile doesn’t mean that you can’t easily find out who I am. Other people have done that without breaking a sweat. I didn’t say I was keen for other people to understand who I am. I was simply asking for my argument to be considered at face value without being labeled and dismissed.

The favorite form of argumentation over here seems to ad hominem.

Pastor Rod said...

Steve,

You said, “But take a look at how you responded to two of Carla's points. She acknowledged there are issues in the church and change is needed, and you bluntly responded that apparently she didn't see this.”

She said, “There are issues, problems, things that need to change, and we all know that." I said, “Apparently not.” I did not say that she didn’t see this. My point was that “we all” apparently do not recognize this. It wouldn’t make much logical sense to say that she doesn’t acknowledge problems right after quoting her acknowledging problems. If you were more focused on following the discussion instead of picking a fight, I think you might have understood that.

You said, “She said she didn't want to sound snarky, and you forced your OWN spin on her words into her mouth.” I stand by my interpretation. This is a common rhetorical technique. People use the phrase “with all due respect” just before disrespecting a person. They say, “I don’t want to be mean, but…” and follow it with something mean.

You said in response to Bruce, If there's one thing that is ALWAYS relevant to the lost, it's God's truth. And if we shy away from proclaiming it (as the EMC is), … This is where you guys are dead wrong. The “ECM” is not shying away from proclaiming the truth. There may be some in the “ECM” who do not believe in objective truth. And there may be some who are trying to “soft-sell” the gospel. But the reality is that many who are attracted to the “ECM” are motivated by a concern to proclaim the truth more effectively and more clearly.

Pastor Rod said...

Phil,

You said, “I'll respond to your comment later. Right now I have to get ready for church. But in the meantime, could you just say what you said once more—but this time don't use any propositions?” I think you should have directed that comment to ROB. I can’t speak for him, but since you dragged me into this I’ll speak for myself.

Christianity is rooted in many propositions. But it is much more than a list of propositions. The church has tended to reduced it to a list of propositions. It reminds me of the Pharisees’ misguided attempts to practice their faith.

donsands said...

"There may be some who trying to soft-sell the gospel."

This is so true, and Brian McLaren is one of those.

I read an excellent book on this whole movement, and I felt is was done with compassion and genuine concern, and by someone who's reputation is excellent, and someone who did his homework.
It's D. A. Carson's, "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and it's Implications."

I also agree that there are those in this movement who love the Lord and love His Word.
Brian McLaren is scarey to me. Others aren't.

"For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, ... Also from amoung yourselves men will rise up speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves." Acts 20:29
"And their message will spread like cancer. ... And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, .."

James Spurgeon said...

patagonia mike, thank-you and feel free to use it as a missions statement. It may not be complete, but it is a good start. Be sure, however, to spell "verify" correctly instead of the way I did it last night.

:>)

Rob said...

Phil,

If you're comment to me was not to ever speak in propositions, then that's just silly.

I'm NOT saying propositions are bad. I'm just saying you've reduced the entire message to propositions and forgotten the story.

It's interesting to me that science has tried to reduce everything over the years. Eventually we got to the Atom. But is that where it stopped? No, we split the Atom, then we discovered sub-atomic particles. Now we've discovered Quarks, and a new theory called String Theory. Now after 200 years of trying to reduce the universe to the lowest common denominator we've discovered Quantum Physics. And this is much bigger then anything we have ever imagined.

It's very similar to the scripture. I think you've reduced it to sub-atomic particles. But you don't seem to talk about how how Big the story really is. How Big God is. How He is so much more then anything our propisitional statements say about Him.

Just thoughts,

Rob

Phil Johnson said...

Pastor Rod, sorry, my typo. My comments to you have all been addressed to "Pastor Rod." One comment to Rob was hastily and clumsily addressed "Rod." Sorry for the confusion. I was rushing to get ready for church.

Regarding your anonymity: I still haven't been able to identify any reliable link that tells me who you are. And I'm no novice when it comes to figuring out who is commenting at my blog. Your identity seems to be a more closely guarded secret than even you realize.

RoB: Sorry about the typo.

I did not suggest you should never use propositions. I simply asked you to give me an example of one message (or story, for that matter) in which no propositions were used.

I agree that it is silly in the extreme to contrast stories with propositions. But it was you, not I, who did that. "Jesus talked in a lot of stories, not propositions," you said. What does a "story" without propositions sound like? That's what I'm asking.

Plus, you expressly denied that knowing Christ entails knowing and affirming the truth of any propositions. The notion of "believing" apart from assenting to some proposition somewhere is ultimately no less "silly" than a request for you to repost your message without propositions.

My point is not that everything in Christianity can be boiled down to a few bare propositions. That's the caricature you (and much of the rhetoric from Emergent types) seem intent on perpetrating. But no one is saying that. What we're saying is that you cannot possibly have a coherent concept of faith apart from some element of propositional truth.

In other words, you don't believe anything at all if your so-called faith" is devoid of propositional content. And if you doubt that, I challenge you again: either tell me what you believe or tell me something about whom you believe in, but don't employ any propositions to do it.

If you can't do that, instead of replying angrily or pretending I'm saying something I have already explicity denied, you really ought to rethink your position.

Denise said...

Great post--great points!!!

steve said...

"Michael Spencer said...



Frank, you're mistaken and misleading in your comment.

http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/whats-in-a-nameT

Let the reader decide if that's what I am saying."

Notice that Spencer's "rule 40" doesn't inhibit him from posting a link on a "banned" blog to his own blog. Just not the reverse.

steve said...

The different tonal sensitivities probably has something to do with the fact that Phil grew up on rock music while Adrian grew up on harps and cellos and violins. Too much dissonance hurts his ears!

Michael Spencer said...

Steve:

Thanks for pointing that out. For those who need it spelled out.

As a group blog, the BHT has rules for posting. Rule 40 is a BHT house rule because the other members of the bar can't stand my carping about....well....you know. It's to shut me up.

InternetMonk.com, however, is my blog. I haven't written any rules for myself yet, but I have a committee working on it :-)

joel hunter said...

It seems taken for granted here that when we use the word 'proposition' or 'propositional' we all agree what that means. It has a very precise meaning, but I doubt that we're all reading from the same page of the dictionary. I have written quite a bit about propositions and theories of truth over the last year at the BHT if one doesn't mind getting a little, er, muddy whilst nosing around for my posts there.

In short, I think it is a mistake to put all of one's theological eggs in this philosophical basket. The basket is positivism. Many good christian thinkers (much better than I) have wrestled with this problem and argued that this commitment to positivism and the usual propositionally-inclined theory of truth that follows in its wake is a commitment that ought to be reconsidered and ultimately rejected when we are talking about the way in which the God-breathed literature of the Scriptures is truthful.

Positivism creates conflicts with a christian world-and-life-view. When I read your claim "your profession of faith in Christ is itself a proposition," it sounds as if you had said, "all squares are triangular." A profession is not a statement appearing in an argument. A holy-spirited confession, a cry of "Abba, Father!" or a promise to my wife are not propositional, nor does their truthfulness depend on whether or not their content is reducible to propositions.

In point of fact, some have argued that insisting on the primacy of propositions entails a low view of the Scriptures. Many neocalvinists contest the inroads that positivism has made into orthodoxy since the 19th century. These are conservative theologians and christian philosophers who are deeply interested and concerned to uphold a very high view of the Scriptures. These are reformational, Reformed, 5-sola-confessing kinda folk who would challenge your commitment to the connection between faith and propositions.

It's a big calvinistic world out there, and I would urge you and your readers to investigate this literature and the arguments for a biblical notion of truth that is at root nonpropositional (NB: not anti-propositional). This nonpropositional root grows from the fiduciary nature of God and His revelation. He has chosen to communicate with us in a mode that is not reducible to the third person present indicative. Propositions and propositionally-inclined theories of truth are not concepts that are normed by the Scriptures.

There is no need to have a propositional safety net under our professions of faith, promises, questions, confessions, and so on. I agree with those who have argued that the propositional safety net is a philosophical prosthetic to one's faith that is biblically unwarranted. If you think that the propositional safety net must be in place in order for one to be in possession of genuine saving faith, then I would simply ask: "Why?" Then we can see what kind of theory of truth is at work in your thinking and then evaluate whether it is a tenable theory or what other theories might be (possibly) better normed by the Scriptures.

Phil Johnson said...

Joel Hunter:

You wondered if the dispute over the propositional content of Christian belief might stem from a misunderstanding about terminology, and then suggested that the word proposition "has a very precise meaning."

Well, yeah. But it's also a very simple definition—a whole lot simpler than your comment let on.

A proposition is a statement of affirmation or denial. It is a truth-claim that is either true or false. (I think I did give that definition somewhere at the start of this discussion, not long ago.) It's not a complex idea, and it's not the least bit fuzzy, as your comment seemed to imply.

Positivism, likewise, has a very precise meaning. It is the belief that all propositions may be scientifically falsified or verified.

No one here has ever suggested that.

It's not particularly helpful (or honest, for that matter) to load your definition of propositions with all the philosophical baggage of positivism, and then attack positivism as if that made your case against propositions.

(BTW, I nosed around in the "mud" of some of your BHT posts on this issue, and you seem to make the same error in all of them: You associate "propositions" with "positivism," and then imply that by debunking the latter you have justified the abandonment of the former. It's a classic category error. Or should that be "bait and switch"? I suppose it depends on whether you are doing it intentionally or not.)

Positivists did not invent propositions, and they are not the only ones who believe rationality demands them.

If you doubt it, read a little of John Robbins' stuff. He's a guy who actually might fit the caricature of someone who wants to reduce faith in Christ to nothing more than bare assent to some propositions. Yet he is no "positivist." In fact, I don't think you'll find a more persistent foe of positivism (and every other kind of empiricism) anywhere in the world today.

So here's a suggestion: go propose your theory about propositions and positivism to Robbins. (If Robbins is busy, Vincent Cheung will do.) And if you can walk away from that fight still insisting that everyone who thinks biblical truth has propositional content has essentially embraced "positivism," then come back here and we'll talk about it further.

In the meantime, let's save a little time, shall we? I reject philosophical positivism. I agree with those who say modern positivism is a dead-end street "that ought to be reconsidered and ultimately rejected when we are talking about the way in which the God-breathed literature of the Scriptures is truthful." So that's a sidetrack we don't even need to pursue. I would concede the point that positivism is a byproduct of modernity and not a valid approach to dealing with biblical truth. Because there are lots of biblical propositions that simply cannot be scientifically verified or falsified. Otherwise, the Christian faith would not be "faith" at all.

But that says exactly nothing about the actual issue under discussion in "the emerging conversation." That argument is about whether the truth revealed to us in Scripture actually has any propositional content, and if so, whether "faith" involves assent to and affirmation of any of those propositions.

To be clear: When I deny the proposition that "faith" can be utterly devoid of any propositional content, I am not defending "positivism"; I'm defending the coherence of biblical truth.

Ditto for absolutely every evangelical or fundamentalist Christian I have ever met who thinks it's a serious mistake to overhrow the propositional content of biblical revelation in favor of a post-modern approach to epistemology. Not one of them could justly be classified a "positivist."

Josh S said...

Phil, having taught on propositions and logic at the 100 level now for two years, your definition of proposition is inadequate.

A proposition must be clear, have a single, well-defined meaning, and have a single binary truth value.

Questions, commands, promises, advice, analogies, metaphors, opinions, and generalizations are not propositional. They either have no truth value, a non-binary truth value (such as a promise), or fail to be well-defined.

As an implication, propositions are subject to negation, inversion, conversion, and contraposition with the attendant changes in truth value.

While there is some language in Scripture that fits this mold, the bulk of it does not.

David said...

personally, my favorite definition of a proposition is:

An unusual or offbeat betting opportunity.

closely followed by any discussion with my wife....(never mind, that will get me banned)

David said...

and Phils definition does seem to correspond to the almight Wiki

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proposition

Phil Johnson said...

Josh S:

You've expanded the verbiage nicely over my definition of a proposition, but I don't see where you have added anything of substance or pointed out anything wrong with my definition. "A truth-claim that is either true or false" is simply a different way of saying "a single, well-defined meaning, [with] a single binary truth value."

And none of your subsequent arguments (viz., "Questions, commands, promises, advice, analogies, metaphors, opinions, and generalizations are not propositional. . . . etc.") actually addresses any point I have ever made.

As a matter of fact, if it were not for your insinuation that "the bulk" of Scripture is devoid of propositions, I'd be in full agreement with everything you said, and I have already said all those things in my own little contributions to "the emerging conversation."

However, the implication you seem to draw from that one troublesome statement is disturbing.

What if there were only five core, essential, non-negotiable propositions in Scripture that you could not deny without abandoning the faith? Wouldn't that be enought to establish that propositions are important to believing?

In point of fact, there are a lot more than five essential propositions in Scripture. But that isn't really germane to the point under discussion.

So let's try to stay on point.

joel hunter said...

Thanks for the honor of your reply, Phil. You have just leapt over Doug Wilson in the category of those I hold with no little esteem because of it. This comment is horribly long, but I think we’d agree that the burden is on me to mount a reasonable challenge to something that you and many others take for granted. Evidence that you take a propositionally-inclined theory of truth for granted is that you have limited your response to terminological issues (which I did raise, to be sure) with the remainder occupied with a red herring, merely waving off my challenge to you and your readers. Very well, take two.

A proposition is a statement of affirmation or denial. It is a truth-claim that is either true or false. (I think I did give that definition somewhere at the start of this discussion, not long ago.) It's not a complex idea, and it's not the least bit fuzzy, as your comment seemed to imply.

The first form of your definition is confusing. A “statement of affirmation or denial” is the expression of a judgment, not a proposition. This definition conflates the cognitive act or mental process involved in expressing assent to (or denial of) an assertion with the assertion itself.

The second form, however, is quite revealing. “A truth-claim that is either true or false.” Three questions: (1) What is the criterion by which we are to determine whether these purported truth-claims are true or false? As I mentioned in my first comment, I think it would be helpful to make your theory of truth explicit. (2) What are the principles of validity by which we can determine legitimate claims from illegitimate claims? For example, is epistemic validity necessary and/or sufficient? Why or why not? Again, from my first comment: there are philosophical commitments at work in your establishment of the primacy of propositions as truth-bearers. I am not implying anything untoward about that; we all have such commitments. But isn’t it legitimate to challenge one another about the tenability of those commitments, the consequences of those commitments, and most importantly, whether the Scriptures challenge, undermine or would reorient those commitments? (3) Are there other speech acts besides those expressible in the third person present indicative which are truth-bearers? If not, why not? If so, what kinds? And how are we to rank them? If the third person present indicative is the primary or privileged mode of disclosing truth, then what is the categorical and methodological guarantee of “getting things right?” Are any of these concepts normed by the Scriptures? (Okay, three questions, but several sub-questions.)

I tie propositionally-inclined theories of truth to positivism because such theories are the calling card of positivism. I am not in the business of “debunking” propositions (I don’t know what that means). But I do argue and have argued that a propositionally-inclined theory of truth is inadequate to account for how the Scriptures communicate truthfully, how the Bible tells the truth on every page. If you think a propositionally-inclined theory of truth is adequate for this purpose, I would like to read a defense of that position that does not entangle one in some form of positivism.

Your definition of positivism is too provincial and does not define positivism in the general way in which I was using it (I should have been clearer about that). There are theological and religious positivists as well as scientific, linguistic, legal, logical, etc. They do not share the principle of the scientific verifiability or falsifiability of propositions as a common characteristic that you (and/or your sources) assert. As you probably know, that is a narrow form of positivism called scientism. No supernaturalist can advocate scientism. But supernaturalists can be positivists; for example, Karl Barth. Or, if he’s too liberal to be taken seriously, then we could consider Charles Hodge as an advocate of positivism:

"The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science. It is his store-house of facts; and his method of ascertaining what the Bible teaches, is the same as that which the natural philosopher adopts to ascertain what nature teaches…. The duty of the Christian theologian is to ascertain, collect, and combine all the facts which God has revealed concerning himself and our relation to him. These facts are all in the Bible.” [Systematic Theology, 1:10-11].

The connection between a positivist system of philosophy and a propositionally-inclined theory of truth is the restriction of truth disclosure to linguistic and conceptual truth-bearers. This is what the classical positivism of Comte, the critical positivism of Mach, the logical positivism of Ayer, and the theological positivism of Barth and Hodges have in common. None of these thinkers is slouches; that’s pretty good company, Phil.

I did not claim that positivists invented propositions, nor do I believe that rationality can avoid propositions. As I said, when considering the Scriptures, I hold to a non-propositional theory of truth, not an anti-propositional theory of truth. There’s a universe of difference. It does not advance your view to shoehorn those who disagree with the importance you place on propositional truth into outright deniers of propositional truth.

It is not possible to “overthrow the propositional content of biblical revelation.” I am as uninterested in such an anti-propositional theory of truth implied by that assertion as you are. And there is nothing distinctively postmodern about such a theory; it reaches back at least to Pyrrho and the ancient skeptics.

Now to your additional remarks in the “Tuesday Odds ‘n’ Ends” post.

It's annoying, and fatuous, the way defenders of postmodern epistemologies invariably fire back the accusation that if you won't get on board with the pomos' renunciation of certitude, it can only be because you're stuck in modernity; you're a Cartesian foundationalist; your point of view is indebted to Comte; you have uncritically adopted modern scientific methodology and presuppositions, or whatever.

I will agree with two things: I am annoying (no argument from me there) and fatuous (I’ve never been called that, but I’ll take your word for it). About the rest of your remarks, however, I deny that I am a defender of “postmodern epistemologies” (whatever they are) except when critics of postmodern themes mischaracterize or misconstrue those themes (and plenty of postmodern advocates do that as well). I do think that a critical appropriation of postmodern themes is wise counsel. If your comment above was not aimed at me specifically, then you can now add “over-sensitive” and “defensive” to my list of vices and shortcomings.

It is possible to be “stuck” in (or better: influenced and shaped by) modernity and not be aware of it. Who of us knows our own prejudices with objective clarity? Yes, Spurgeon and Machen opposed theological modernism. But their opposition to this Enlightenment-influenced movement by no means responded to modernism as a comprehensive worldview. It is still with us and it still very much shapes Christians politically, socially, artistically, philosophically, and so on. If a christian world-and-life view is genuinely fully orbed, as the saying goes, then it should be responsive to our complicity in the metanarratives of modernism. That is largely unfinished work, imo.

Have "postmodern evangelicals" learnt nothing from history? Obviously not. They are too tied to the notion that the latest prevailing point of view in the secular academic world must finally be the dawn of true enlightenment. And they hold this point of view while they laugh at the coherence of biblical truth and label those of us who defend it as "slaves to the Enlightenment."

Actually, those good Calvinists (amongst many others) I mentioned in my first comment who are trying to engage and respond to the postmodern critique are just those who seem to me to be most faithful to historical reality. I have no idea who is laughing at you, but please don’t conflate whoever they are with all Christians who are engaged in academia and trying their best, the Lord establishing the work of their hands, to be distinctively christian in their thought and work in a sometimes hostile environment. Yes, we are often pointy-headed, uncool and socially inept, but we wouldn’t be in the arena if we didn’t believe that there was a diaconal role for us to play in the culture and for the church, small though it may be.

You don’t have to listen, of course, but at least grant some charity and not lump us in with whatever adversary you find threatening to your views. Or perhaps that is not possible if you think our work is aiding and abetting your enemies. Even so, just because people you disagree with on doctrinal grounds might appeal to someone like myself for intellectual cover (such as it is), that is no rejoinder to me. Furthermore, I am not aware of any triumphalism or braggadocio coming from philosophers and theologians who espouse views like my own. FWIW, I think those who do advocate an anti-propositional theory of truth are more likely to fall prey to these sentiments, as it is, in many respects, simply derivate of modernistic, Enlightenment theories (i.e., they wouldn’t exist were they not reacting or contrasting with some polar opposite view).

In your original post, you made some very strong claims. I am not trying to dissuade you from your views; I am trying to challenge you and your readers, however, to think through the philosophical commitments involved in such claims and whether they are normed by Scripture or something else; and if something else, how conducive they are to theorizing about the Scriptures in our systematic, biblical and practical theologies. And I am further suggesting that there are legitimate, reformational, Reformed, distinctively christian alternatives to the commitment to a propositionally-inclined or inflected theory of truth. I think these would be worthwhile for you and your readers to engage and consider.

Phil Johnson said...

Joel Hunter:

Thanks for the lengthy reply. I had a major computer problem today and don't have time to respond in detail at the moment. It's an old comment thread that (in all likelihood) only you and I are tracking anyway. Maybe I'll revisit this issue with you in a proper post when time permits.

In the meantime, unlike Bill O'Reilly, I really will let you have the last word.

TheBlueRaja said...

Wonderfully said, Joel. Truly.

mxu said...

Thanks for this post. I've linked it here

Mark L said...

To Joel - Are you suggesting that the Bible makes truth claims without using propositions or are you suggesting that the Bible makes truth claims that cannot be expressed as propositions?

If you mean the former, then I don't see the weight of your argument, you are agreeing that there are truth claims and they could be represented in propositional ways. If you mean the latter, I would like an example of a truth claim that the Bible makes that cannot be expressed as a proposition.

joel hunter said...

I would like an example of a truth claim that the Bible makes that cannot be expressed as a proposition.

Sure, Mark. But I would prefer not to frontload the example with the logicistic prejudice implied by the technical term 'claim'. Let's just say: where does the Bible speak truthfully but not propositionally? s'alright?

One of my favorite examples in such discussions is Psalm 19. The Bible says that the sun is God's messenger, proclaiming his glory from east to west. Now, before we pick up our analytical instruments, before we fix on a method of Bible-reading that orders and arranges texts according to genre, just hear, with humble, expectant, trusting reception of the richly variegated yet integrated true story of God'’s saving presence on earth. Let the Bible render us rather than collect, arrange and display the "content" of Psalm 19 as atomically reducible bulletized proof-texts. In my view, attempting to distill propositional content from Psalm 19, while it may be logically possible, irremediably alters the way the text acts to communicate truth by imposing logicistic or sensationalistic restrictions. This shucks the literary dimension as disposable aesthetic excess and entangles us in competing "claims" about the sun (e.g., it's a medium-sized fusion-powered ball of gas that our planet orbits). But Psalm 19 is a not a claim about the sun; it's the gospel of creation, and it takes the Bible to tell the truth about the sun, which it does literarily.

Another example is the book of Proverbs. Reading it as a collection of atomic propositional statements strung together like pearly quips on a string, a rapid-fire succession of oracular one-two punches of inspired insight, transforms Proverbs, because of a positivistic theoretical commitment to what constitutes truth-talk, into an anthology of moral maxims, of sanctified common sense. But if we approach Proverbs literarily (which I think is appropriate), then we find instead a book of parables, not precepts; oblique runes rather than a how-to-do-it textbook manual. It is a chorus of nuanced “Yes, but” dialogic reflections that are common throughout the Bible (Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Songs, and Jesus’ beatitudes). I have written before on this at imonk's site in an essay called "Can I Have My Bible Back?" and I would refer you there rather than continue to guzzle the bandwidth here.

Pastor Rod said...

Joel,

Thanks for expressing much of what I was thinking and feeling in a more articulate way than I could have.

Rod

Michael Spencer said...

Joel's IM essay is
http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/can-i-have-my-bible-back

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Very interesting views, Joel. However, have you interacted with any of Doug Groothuis's material? He and Phil, I think would be very much on the same page, in that a "proposition theory of truth" can only be really one theory: the correspondence theory of truth." One can infer from reading the NT that Jesus rose from the dead. Thinkers like NT Wright believe that this is best expressed in the evangelion (s?), "Jesus is Lord" (another proposition). Pragmatic and Coherence theories of truth cannot tell us if these things are true or false--they simply tell us if they make sense or if they "work."

Perhaps this leads to Positivism, I am not convinced this necessarily so.

Pastor Rod said...

Adam,

I'm not an expert on N. T. Wright, but I think he would take issue with your assertion that the statement, "Jesus is Lord," is a proposition.

It certainly contains propositional content, but it is more than just a proposition. To miss this is to miss Wright's point.

That's what I think anyway.

Rod

roomdog said...

While I find Joel interesting to read and his prose paint wonderful pictures, I cannot help but wonder what his points are. Indeed, there should be no points because that is proposition. However, I keep seeing (I paraphrase) 'this is how to read the Bible' and 'this is not how to read the Bible,' All couched in positivistic language on why his way is correct.

Joel, I think your criticism is good. It makes people think, another good thing. I don't think your position is tenable from a pomo foundation, similarly I have trouble with modernity's attempt to find stuff in scripture that is not there. 'Truth' stands opposed to modernism's attempt to "Enframe" it and commoditise it as a material-reserve. Why, because Faith becomes a casualty. In the same way, 'Truth' scoffs at post-modernism's effort to muddle and relativise its purity. Why, because Hope takes it on the chin.

BTW, systematic theologizing formally started (I think Augustine got the ball rolling far earlier) during the scholastic period of the High and Late Middle Ages.

Habitans in Sicco said...

Joel: It looks to me like you rephrased Mark L's question in a way that avoided his whole point. Can you answer the actual question he asked without equivocating? His question was not about whether Scripture uses other forms besides raw propositions to present its truth, but rather whether there are any vital truths in Scripture that cannot possibly be expressed as propositions--and if so, what are they?

Also, I kind of doubt Roomdog and I would find very much else to agree on, but I think he makes a good point here. I think you have wedged yourself between a rock and a hard place, because your declarations about the nature of truth seem to undermine the boldness with which you make those assertions. You need to go one way or the other.

Josh S said...

Joel isn't making a universal claim about the "Bible." Treating the "Bible" as a single book with a single author, thought structure, method, motif, etc for literary purposes is just a mistake. Thus, he's not saying "propositions are bad," "there is no propositional language in the Bible," nor even "there is nothing in the Bible that can be approached propositionally."

A propositionally-driven hermeneutic is, at its heart, a claim about what "true" and "false" literature consist of and as such isn't dependent on the Scriptures per se. It's a rather bold universal claim to make, and the problem (as any student of literature can tell you) is not only that it's insufficient to study literature, its use simply mangles the text, and trying to use such an approach would simply reveal you as thoroughly inept. For example, the truth (or falsity) of Shakespeare's sonnets has little to do with whether or not true, contrapositional statements that generate orderly truth tables can be distilled from them.

Given that propositionally-driven hermeneutics are horribly insufficient for other literature, why then do we assume that this is the foundational way to approach the biblical texts?

Certainly there are books that should be studied propositionally. I have many books that are almost pure proposition; for example, my numerous texts in mathematics and systematic theology. In fact, as a mathematician, I study, develop, and teach propositions by trade, which is why I find the attempt to propositionalize Scripture a bit silly, like if you knew what real study of propositions looked like, you wouldn't be saying half the things you say. But anyway, many of the Scriptures bear little simiarity to truly propositional texts, which is why I think a propositionalized approach just doesn't fit all the time.

joel hunter said...

roomdog and Habitans,

I believe I've addressed your concerns thoroughly enough in my previous three comments. But I will try to reset briefly:

I cannot help but wonder what his points are. Indeed, there should be no points because that is proposition. (roomdog)

your declarations about the nature of truth seem to undermine the boldness with which you make those assertions. (Habitans)

1. I am propounding my views in an argument. Arguments require assertions, propositions, claims. If I'm right or wrong, we must agree on some propositionally-inclined theory of truth and validity criteria(on) to evaluate them (as well as yours). I'm all for that. I don't think I've denied that in any of my remarks. How is truth disclosed through the kind of discourse we're pursuing here? Correctness. In theorizing, in analyticity, in logic, truth = correctness and knowledge is the correct correlation of concepts to facts. The questions I am raising relevant to this are: (a) is this the only form of truthfulness and knowledge? (b) If not, what are the other forms and what validity criteria(on) are needed to evaluate and understand them? My answer to (a) is "No," and my answer to (b) is very long, but, being a theory of more or less decent systematicity, arrived at by (hopefully) allowing the Scriptures to shape my philosophizing, remains in the realm of propositions. But it points to an understanding of truth and knowledge that cannot be comprehended by analytically informative statements. It is an invalid inference to say that just because we are communicating here via assertions, propositions, and claims that that is the only way of communicating truthfully or that it is the primary way of communicating truthfully or, for that matter, that it is the most humanly important way of communicating truthfully.

2. When we're talking about the Scriptures speaking to us in a saving way, as wisdom-making knowledge, then we're using the limitations of analytically informative statements to (at best) point to the way truth is disclosed when we hear the Scriptures. But that does not entail that the Scriptures speak truthfully in the same way as when we speak truthfully about them. IOW, I am maintaining that the Scriptures speak truthfully in ways other than mere correctness. Truth as correctness is perfectly appropriate for what we're doing here, or for systematically laying out doctrines and theological dogmas. But I contend that's not what the Scriptures are doing in their grand narrative, irrespective of genre. Then the question becomes: how does the Bible impart faith knowledge, convicting us in our hearts by Spirit-led story of repentance, changing lifestyles, setting our consciousnesses on the Lord’'s ordinances, and growing in us knowledge for walking around doxologically in the world? A philosophical commitment in advance to logicism or positivism is not going to be adequate to answer this question because truth as correctness is a matter of total indifference. Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor affirmed all of the "vital truths" of Christianity, but nevertheless rejected Jesus. His judgments about who Jesus was and is, all of the historical facts, His Lordship, etc., were all correct. And yet the Inquisitor rejected Him.

Is the difference clear? Do you understand how I can here speak in the language of propositions, affirm it as a valid mode of discourse, but not hold to a view of knowledge and truth that makes propositions the exclusive or even the primary truth-bearers? I think we get on the right track if we comport ourselves toward the Scriptures more faithful to what they are than as a treatise like Euclid's Elements or Newton's Principia. We need to discern what the Bible is and then allow its nature to norm our concepts.

Does a work of art tell the truth? Is its truth only explainable or discernible if we formulate some set of propositions from it by some rigorous abstractive protocol? That seems odd. Even if we could, it isn't at all clear that we would be "getting" the work of art at all in its historical, social, political, or other dimensions. Now extrapolate this to the Bible, which gives us a comprehensive story of reality (a human work of art only gives us a specific, contextualized slice of life to understand), and you will see why I think discerning "vital truths" of the Scriptures is a much bigger project than x-raying its skeletal innards, the propositions corresponding to verifiable facts. In no way am I claiming that the Scriptures are devoid of propositional content; I am claiming that a theory of truth that ensures correct knowledge of that content is not adequate to understand how the Scriptures communicate truthfully, nor the scope of what it communicates.

Oh, and Habitans, just one more thing: love your suit!

Mark L said...

Joel,

Habitans hit the proverbial nail on the head. I am not concerned in this discussion about biblical interpretation or whether the Bible ever makes statements ( I will avoid the term “claims”) in non-propositional ways.

Of course it does, the truth that is contained in the Bible is expressed in many different forms, i.e. story, poetry, narrative history, etc…(and I have read your essay on imonk’s site, which I frequent and enjoy quite a bit.)

I asked, can the Bible’s truth be expressed propositionally? You did miss my question.

We started the propositional discussion of truth because, if I can summarize, the thought was raised that there are propositional truths in Christianity and some of these truths cannot be denied and have one still be considered Christian.

My questions came about because I thought that you had a problem with propositions. Which apparently from your last post, you do not. However, you did caution about relying too much on propositions and that by doing so there was the danger of falling into the trap of positivism.

Is there such a concept as truth that cannot be expressed propositionally? I cannot think of one. I am not saying that we break the Bible down into a set of truth statements, but there is a body of truth which God has communicated and which if we deny or ignore we cannot call ourselves Christian. I found your warning about positivism unnecessary to the discussion and did not see how it related unless you had in mind some body of truth that could never be expressed as a proposition.

Macht said...

Mark, you asked:

"can the Bible’s truth be expressed propositionally?"

Yes and no.

"A man named Jesus died on a cross some 2000 years ago" is a true proposition that the Bible teaches.

"I am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ" is a truth but it isn't a proposition. (Obviously it can be a proposition, but when I speak it isn't.) It is an utterance of faith, a credo, a confession.

A credo is an orientation - a way of living. And I would argue that this is the kind of truth that Scripture is concerned with, not propositional truth. (Note, I'm not saying propositional truth isn't important.)

BTW, Joel's already given an example of non-propositional truth - aesthetic truth. We can't use propositions to express aesthetic truths because propositional truths require clarity and no ambiguity while aesthetic truths require nuance and subtlety.

Mark L said...

Macht,

I agree with your comments on how the Bible communicates to us using forms that are sometimes propositional and sometimes aesthetic.

However, the point I was trying to draw out was that there is propositional truth in the Bible and that it is important. I would caution against the idea that the Bible is primarily concerned about “a way of living.” It surely it is concerned about that, but the reason for that way is built upon propositional truth. Without the propositional truth, we are to be men most pitied. This logic is clearly shown by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

Even Joel’s example of Psalm 19 has propositional truth buried in it. I can summarize the first 6 verses by saying, “Creation shows the glory of God.” I take that as a propositional statement.

I agree that God is calling us to live a different life, but he gives us reason for doing so and those reasons are propositional. Christianity is not simply a way of life and it is not simply a list of truths that you need to know. I don’t think you can throw the propositional truths out without gutting the gospel. Just for clarification I am not saying you wanted to do that.

Macht said...

"Without the propositional truth, we are to be men most pitied."

I don't think anybody has suggested we go without propositional truth. As I said, "I'm not saying propositional truth isn't important."

My point (and I think this is what Joel is saying, too) is that truth is much "bigger" than propositional truth. What I mean is that the right, the good, the stewardly, the loving, the playful, the creative, the just, the trustworthy - to name a few - are all different aspects of the truth. Truth is multifaceted. And when we reduce truth down to only propositional truth (or even to make propositional truth the most important), then we have a weak view of truth. I won't use the label "positivist" since people didn't seem to like that word, but when we reduce truth to propositional truth we are working from a certain metaphysical/epistemological standpoint and I would argue it isn't a Christian one.

My use of the phrase "a way of living" and the word "orientation" was alluding to "I am the way, the truth, and the life." I'm quite certain that this is what Scripture is concerned with. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me."

I think what Joel said earlier bears repeating:

"When we're talking about the Scriptures speaking to us in a saving way, as wisdom-making knowledge, then we're using the limitations of analytically informative statements to (at best) point to the way truth is disclosed when we hear the Scriptures. But that does not entail that the Scriptures speak truthfully in the same way as when we speak truthfully about them. IOW, I am maintaining that the Scriptures speak truthfully in ways other than mere correctness. Truth as correctness is perfectly appropriate for what we're doing here, or for systematically laying out doctrines and theological dogmas. But I contend that's not what the Scriptures are doing in their grand narrative, irrespective of genre."

Mark L said...

Macht,

This is my last post on this, as I think we are in fairly close agreement. However, the statement, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." is a propositonal statement. There are truths behind why Jesus is all of these things. The statement, "...trust in God, trust also in me." is a command, it is not even in the catagory of truth. It is not a true/false statement.

You need both aspects of God's communication, the truth about God and his call on our lives to respond to that truth.