In part one, I broached the topic of valid and invalid inferential arguments -- or, put in English (and sorta chiastically), straw men and slippery slopes. The former is the misrepresentation of a position so that it is easier to knock down. While effective, it is always illegitimate. Slippery slope arguments, on the other hand, can be valid or invalid. It all depends on whether you can really demonstrate that each oof! and ouch! and crunch! on the way down the hill necessarily follows from that first step.
I dwelt more on legitimate slippery slope arguments in that post, and on cries of "Straw man!" raised to fend off what actually were legitimate arguments. In this post, I turn to consider two real, live, legitimate, illegitimate straw man arguments.
The apostle Paul was the victim of such arguments. We see some reflected in Romans 3:7-8; 6:1, 15. To wit:
But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?--as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:7-8)These verses carry a cluster of lessons, of which we'll just highlight a couple.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (Romans 6:15)
I lump these together because they all seem to have sprung from the apostle's teaching about the sovereign, invincible, justifying grace of God. The accusations reflect the apostle's preaching, by way of distortion. Paul preached that God's saving grace was visited not only without the assistance of man's good will and works, but in the face of his ongoing and definitional sinful rebellion and hostility (cf. Romans 1:18-3:20). The background of grace is not neutrality. The background of grace is militant opposition.
So these distortions depend on understanding Paul's doctrine of justification as meaning the monergistic, forensic, and positive imputation of Christ's righteousness to sinners -- by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
The argument of Paul's opponents seems to have run something like this:
"Okay, so if this Paul is saying that our lies serve to highlight God's truthfulness, and our evil showcases God's mighty goodness, and our sin merely gave an opportunity for greater displays of Divine grace -- well, then, hey: let's just sin a whole lot more, so that we glorify God a whole lot more, and give God a chance to show a whole lot more grace! I mean, the worse we are, the better He is, right? According to Paul? So let's be much worse, so that He can be much better and more 'gracious'? That's Paul's Gospel for you! See what a bunch of junk it is?"This is a straw man. Here's the recipe:
- Take a dash or two of truth (monergistic grace glorified against the black backdrop of human sin)
- Leave out everything else Paul says about the awfulness of sin, our death to sin in Christ, and the might power of genuine, God-given, gutsy grace to save and sanctify
- Set up the caricature as if it were the reality
- Knock down the caricature
- Do victory dance, move on to next conquest
This misrepresentation was of a life-and-death issue. The contemporary counterpart to which my mind now turns is also heavily-freighted with importance and implications. We hear it from an odd amalgam of various sorts: charismatics, liberals, apostates, and flat-out unbelievers.
(NOTE WELL: this grouping is an observation, and is not intended as guilt by association. For instance, one could observe that I agree with Jehovah's Witnesses that the Bible has 66 books, and with Roman Catholics that God is a Trinity -- but this coincidence doesn't associate me with either cult in any other respect.)
It is a commonplace that opponents depict folks who strive to hold and practice a robust belief in Sola Scriptura as if we had a "paper Pope," or as if we worshiped a book, or had a dead God. We're told we're making the Holy Spirit unnecessary, leaving Him with nothing much to do. We're making God distant and impersonal, since we think Christians are "stuck with a book," and "relate to a book," to "letters on a page."
Affirming the genuine, real sufficiency of Scripture -- with no need for extra supplements -- is depicted as necessarily producing a cold, intellectual, barren, formal, dead life. Search the comment threads of some of my past posts affirming the sufficiency of Scripture (as opposed to the "need" for fresh, semi-hemi-demi-sorta-revelation), and you'll see some of what I'm talking about.
So what is the nature and role of Scripture, anyway? Once upon a time, I wrote a statement of faith for a church I was pastoring. This is the article on Scripture:
The sixty-six books of the Protestant canon, in their original writings, comprise the verbally inspired, inerrant Word of God.This statement is simply an interpretive summary of the Scriptures cited. My learned readers will immediately recognize that much more could be said about the Bible, along these very lines.
The thirty-nine books known as the Hebrew Old Testament are God-breathed, products of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, and thus free from error in all that they affirm (cf. Deuteronomy 18:18, 19; Psalms 19:7, 8; 119:89, 142, 151, 160; Matthew 5:17-19; John 10:35; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21).
Similarly, the twenty-seven books known as the Greek New Testament are the eternally abiding words of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:35), and are thus the words of God (John 7:16; 12:49). The Holy Spirit enabled the writers both to recall what the Lord said (John 14:26), and to continue to receive His revelation (John 16:12-15). As a result, the writings of the New Testament are the commandment of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37), are Scripture (2 Peter 3:15, 16), and are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).For this reason, the sinner finds the way of salvation through Scripture (Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 2:1-3). The believer is made fruitful (Psalm 1:2, 3) and successful in the will of God (Joshua 1:8), warned and kept from sin (Psalms 19:11; 119:9,11), made holy (John 17:17), given wisdom (Psalm 9:7) and freeing knowledge of the truth (John 8:31, 32), taught the fear of God (Psalm 119:38), counseled (Psalm 119:24), taught, reproved, corrected, and disciplined in the way righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) by Scripture. Scripture is, in short, the fully adequate revelation of the person, ways, and will of God.
Now, if the Bible is what the Bible says it is, is it from Biblical, Christian faith that anyone denigrates the Scriptures as exampled above? Read that over one more time, think it through, before answering.
I'll be candid: I think it is an unbelieving position. It certainly comes from unbelievers. It comes also from believers; but I would say that these believers are not walking consistently with their professed faith.
Phrased differently: if anyone puts the Word down, he is denying the Word's self-testimony -- which, according to the Christian position, is God's own testimony. This does not come from Biblical faith.
If rejecting God's own testimony as to the vitality, power, authority, and sufficiency of His word is not unbelief, I could not imagine what would be. This rejecting or devaluation certainly is no fruit, no work, of the Holy Spirit -- who Himself created that Word (2 Peter 1:21).
Therefore, I conclude that the caricature of Sola Scriptura cessationism is a real, live, card-carrying straw man. Nothing to it, as to its factual contents. What is more, I will say that it is born either of ignorance, laziness, unbelief, or some combination of the three.
But now comes the perfectly reasonable objection: "But what of Rev. Dr. Joe Orthodox Coldboogeyman, who affirms Sola Scriptura, abominates every claim to ongoing revelation of any octane-level, and is as cold, distant, heartless, passionless, loveless, graceless, and lifeless a lump of frozen clay as you could ever hope to meet? What of him?"
First I'd say that no position is proven or disproven by the quality of any one of its adherents. I'll see your Rev. Dr. Joe Orthodox Coldboogeyman, and raise you a Benny Hinn -- and then maybe we can get back to arguing the facts of Scripture.
Second, I'd say the exact same thing. The problem with Rev. Dr. Joe Orthodox Coldboogeyman is not that he needs to be slapped on the foreheard. It is not that he needs to sing "Breathe" fifteen or sixteen times. It is not that he needs to shift his brain into "neutral" and start babbling incoherently. It is not that he needs to seek an experience, or emotions, of any sort.
The problem with Rev. Dr. Joe Orthodox Coldboogeyman is the same as the problem with Bud Wildeyedcharismatichead: unbelief.
Joe does not need to set his Bible aside, take his shoes off, and run after an experience. No, he needs to do the same thing as his tumbleweed Charismatic friend: he needs to believe what he says he believes. He just needs to believe it more heartily, more robustly, more consistently.
The solution for not believing what God says is never not to believe what God has said. The solution is a deeper, and a better-instructed faith in what God has said. For the Charismatic, it is faith that the Bible really is as sufficient and marvelous as the Holy Spirit witnesses that it is. For the cold, dead intellectual, it is faith that God is as beautiful and glorious and astounding as Scripture says He is.
Zombielike disbelief is never remedied by wacky misbelief.
It is remedied by sound, Biblical, God-centered belief. It is remedied by faith. And Biblical faith always has its genesis in, and focus set upon, the revealed Word of God (Genesis 15:6; Romans 10:17; Hebrews 3:19 - 4:2 [NKJV]; James 1:18).