23 June 2008

Postmodernism's favorite "virtues" vs. biblical faith

by Phil Johnson
ualities like diversity, ambiguity, mystery, and novelty—especially when blended with qualms about expressing our own certainty—will sound like positive virtues to almost anyone steeped in postmodern entertainments and mass media. But from a biblical perspective, those things are not inherently virtuous at all. In fact, they are all fraught with serious and significant dangers, especially when applied with lavish abandon to biblical theology and hermeneutics.

Sober, careful consideration of the biblical exhortations for Christians to guard sound doctrine would soon peel the mask of "virtue" off the postmodernist value system. Specifically, a better understanding of the biblical concept of humility would help correct the most glaring, fundamental flaw in the approach to Scripture and doctrine currently in vogue among post-evangelicals. I'm speaking of the trademark of the post-evangelical worldview: an almost impenetrable confusion about what's really true, blended with a nonchalant apathy about their own know-nothingism. It's hard to imagine any attitude more hostile to the biblical concept of faith.

In biblical terms it is anything but humble to imply that God's Word is not sufficiently clear—as if we can't possibly be sure what the Bible means, and as if we should never be so "arrogant" as to defend its truths against the enemy's relentless attempts to twist and subvert what God has said. For Christians blithely to accept (or even defer to) the postmodern premise that certainty and arrogance are essentially the same thing is to surrender a major portion of the very ground we are called to defend. This is no minor or incidental matter.
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59 comments:

IronWill said...

Absolute agreement from me. I'm often disappointed by the fact that so many in my generation who claim the name of Christ are completely apathetic towards the concept of truth, particularly in regards to Scripture. They don't know what's true, don't care what's true, and don't care that they don't know. They'd rather just hold hands with everybody and get along. A highly dangerous idea, in my opinion.

Penn Tomassetti said...

Pontius Pilate to Jesus: "What is truth?"

Jesus was telling the truth when He said, "unless a man is born again..."

Thanks for the powerful exhortations to resist the world's wisdom, which is always opposed to the truth of God.

a_simple_bloggTRotter said...

(I know this is way too long, and please feel free to delete it if it does not all to the discussion. I just am having a harder time than ever in separating Jesus from the Gospel. Because of that, maybe I see, what I call, pomo "virtues" as trying to change who Jesus is and his mission.)


"[D]iversity, ambiguity, mystery, and novelty", is this a Gnostic soup, or what?

I mean, right up to clinging to "new virtues" like
"an almost impenetrable confusion about what's really true, blended with a nonchalant apathy about their own know-nothings" as if they granted an insight that the body of Christ do not possess.

Didn't some of the major creeds come out of situations like this?

Calvin, in his comments on 1 John 2:20 - 23, lists those who would change Jesus.

" I readily agree with the ancients, who thought that Cerinthus and Carpocrates are here referred to. But the denial of Christ extends much wider; for it is not enough in words to confess that Jesus is the Christ, except he is acknowledged to be such as the Father offers him to us in the gospel. The two I have named gave the title of Christ to the Son of God, but imagined him to be man only. Others followed them, such as Arius, who, adorning him with the name of God, robbed him of his eternal divinity. Marcion dreamt that he was a mere phantom. Sabellius imagined that he differed nothing from the Father. All these denied the Son of God; for not one of them really acknowledged the true Christ; but, adulterating, as far as they could, the truth respecting him, they devised for themselves an idol instead of Christ. Then broke out Pelagius, who, indeed, raised no dispute respecting Christ’s essence, but allowed him to be true man and God; yet he transferred to us almost all the honor that belongs to him. It is, indeed, to reduce Christ to nothing, when his grace and power are set aside.

So the Papists, at this day, setting up freewill in opposition to the grace of the Holy Spirit, ascribing a part of their righteousness and salvation to the merits of works, feigning for themselves innumerable advocates, by whom they render God propitious to them, have a sort of fictitious Christ, I know not what; but the lively and genuine image of God, which shines forth in Christ, they deform by their wicked inventions; they lessen his power, subvert and pervert his office.

We now see that Christ, is denied, whenever those things which peculiarly belong to him, are taken away from him.”

greglong said...

[Emergent church leaders] forget that Scripture is divine revelation. It is not a collection of opinions of how different people see things that tells us more about the people than the things. No. It gives us God's perfect knowledge of himself and of all reality. It is given to us in a form we can understand. The reason God gave it to us is that he wants us to know. Not to guess. Not to have vague impressions. And certainly not to be misled. He wants us to know. It is not immodest, nor arrogant, to claim that we know, when what we know is what God has given us to know through his Word.

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, pp. 77-78.

a_simple_bloggTRotter said...

Did you get your copy at t4g?

eastendjim said...

"In biblical terms it is anything but humble to imply that God's Word is not sufficiently clear—as if we can't possibly be sure what the Bible means..."

Saying that we can't possibly understand what the bible says is also like saying that God is either not willing or not capable of communicating to us through His written revelation.

It strikes me as being not a very high veiw of our Creator.

Polycarp said...

Greg:

Excellent quote! Perhaps no single quote could better express the complete antithesis of the emergent worldview and/or their ill theology. This is something emergents/theological liberals most definitely do not want to hear because it is entirely true. I'm now going straight to Amazon for a copy of this Wells book! Thanks!

dac said...

Is the bible sufficiently clear for salvation and godly living? Yes. But surely we can not claim is completely clear in all things.

At least that is how I see it in my post modern eyes. And I would argue that is how many labeled as "emergent" also are.

greglong said...

a_simple_blogtrotter:

Yes, as a matter of fact, I did!

polycarp:

I would highly recommend it.

Mike Riccardi said...

What isn't it clear about dac?

Daryl said...

"But surely we can not claim is completely clear in all things."

Well no, Dac, of course not. The Bible is not clear on Global warming...so what.

The Bible is clear on it's condemnation of homosexual practices for instance. Yet much/most of the emergent movement wants to remain ambivalent about that. So no, that's not an accurate description of the bits the emergent movement wants to label as "unclear".

dac said...

Lets start with eschatology. There should be a reasonably short discussion as we come to the "clear" understanding of end times.

Mike Riccardi said...

Dac,

I don't think it's right to equate widespread confusion with lack of clarity on Scripture's part. In other words, the broad disagreement on a particular subject doesn't mean Scripture isn't clear about it... it means men are sinful.

dac said...

Then solve for me I Cor 11 2-16, and if it is a current requirement that women wear head coverings, consistent say with your interpretation of if women should be allowed as elders

i.e. if the first is not prescriptive for today, why should the second be considered prescriptive for today?

Mike Riccardi said...

You're not getting my point. Even if I had no hope of clearing this up for you, it'd be no blight on Scripture's perspicuity resume. It would only reflect my (our) inability (and perhaps laziness) to apprehend the clear teaching of Scripture.

But so you don't think I'm copping out, I'll venture to give an answer. Take it or leave it. But remember, the answer isn't: "I can make everything clear for you." The answer is: "Everything Scripture teaches is clear even if men misunderstand it."

But anyway, each passage teaches a principle of submission for women.

In 1 Tim 2, Paul appeals to creation to demonstrate the validity of the consequence of the principle of submission. Creation shows us that women should not teach men, nor have authority over a men.

In 1 Cor 11, Paul appeals to creation to demonstrate the validity of the principle itself in the context of a particular illustration or example of that principle. Creation shows us that women should be in submission. The principle of submission in that culture meant a woman covered her head and a man didn't. Saying that a woman whose head was uncovered was the same as a woman whose head was shaved (i.e., a rebellious feminist or a prostitute) shows that Paul is speaking about the attitude of submission and not necessarily the symbol of head coverings themselves. In other words, the principle -- the substance -- is, "Do not be rebellious, but rather be submissive," in the way your culture dictates. In our society, heads covered vs. uncovered mean nothing in regards to headship or submission. And, in our society, the lines of headship and submission have been so blurred that it's almost impossible to apply this on a strictly cultural basis. One thing we might say is that men shouldn't wear dresses. That is, one shouldn't endeavor to present oneself as if one was of the opposite sex. Again, our culture makes these examples sparse.

We can apply this in the church, however, which actually brings us back to 1Tim 2. We apply this in the church by not letting women assume the position of elder, by having them teaching only women or other children, and affording them no other arena in which they might exercise authority over a man.

Hope that works for you. Again, remember that the point isn't that I can give you clear-cut responses. The point is that given the discipline and the devotion to the Word of God, it's possible for the child of God indwelt by the Holy Spirit to discern the mind (intentions) of God in every word of Scripture. Just because I'm a poor example of it, doesn't mean that God stuttered and wasn't able to get us a clear revelation.

Phil Johnson said...

dac:

That's not even an honest evasion. Emergents aren't merely questioning head-coverings and eschatology. They are raising doubts about everything from the doctrine of the atonement (McLaren, Bell, etc.) to the personality of God (Spencer Burke).

We've said here repeatedly: no one suggests that everything in Scripture is equally clear. But the essential things are sufficiently clear.

The problem with Emergent uncertainty and all the postmodernized epistemologies is that they want to put virtually everything on the table for debate and dissection. By the time they are done with their postmortem on Christian certainty, the patient has died. Then they act all indignant at those who wanted to call a halt to the proceedings when the pulse was still plenty strong.

I do think this reflects a willful blindness--rooted in a thoroughly sinful skepticism--on the part of most postmoderns. Careless, half-baked arguments such as the one you have just put forth only strengthen that suspicion.

Bible Burgh said...

I stand in awe of Mr. Riccardi's ability to convey his thoughts . . . on a very delicate section of scripture . . . and at such a young age!!

I do have a seminary degree, am twice his age, but could never explain that section of 1st Corinthians so well (this also is to be no reflection on the seminary I attended :-) ).

Excellent post/response as well, brother Phil.

a_simple_bloggTRotter said...

"Is the bible sufficiently clear for salvation and godly living? Yes. But surely we can not claim is completely clear in all things.

At least that is how I see it in my post modern eyes. And I would argue that is how many labeled as "emergent" also are."



Did I read the wrong post, or is this not what is being said at all?


Unless, I miss the mark altogether, the "habit" of taking examples of what God, in his wisdom, has left to the mystery of His council, and using it as a springboard to cast doubt on the clarity of gospel itself, on the doctrine of wrath-taking, substitutionary atonement, on the existence and purpose of hell, and on the Person of Jesus Christ.

a_simple_bloggTRotter said...

...is part of what Phill is addressing in his post.

IronWill said...

Is the bible sufficiently clear for salvation and godly living? Yes. But surely we can not claim is completely clear in all things.

At least that is how I see it in my post modern eyes. And I would argue that is how many labeled as "emergent" also are.


Ok, then let's bring up some of the issues that emergents are always harping on, that they claim that the Bible isn't clear on. I think Phil said it very well in his above post concerning what emergents are most commonly question. I have yet to meet any emergent who is questioning issues that are seriously gray areas in Scripture. Most often they are question Biblical doctrines such as atonement, evangelism, the infallibility of Scripture(this is the most often questioned doctrine in my experience), and others. How do you explain this?

-Will

Polycarp said...

Daryl (and dac):

I couldn't agree more with your response to fallacious reasoning! Good answer. However, I would venture to add that there is indeed a Biblical principle in which to apply to every circumstance that occurs in every facet of life (this may be exactly waht you are saying as well), thus making the spelling-out of specifics emergents require in their supposed "gray areas" quite unecessary.

Emergents and theological liberals don't want to hear this though, because then they would have to cease celebrating in that which they deem as right in their own eyes... through their own faulty and sin-corrupted reasoning. For example, in one of the most ludicrous conversations I ever had with a person (emergent) who considered themself a follower of Christ, and was ironically the worship director at a church we attended years ago (which later revealed itself as emergent), this person was using countles four-letter words and proceeded to try and convince me (and herself) that restricting such language from our discourse was merely a social construct of the "prudish" church of the last century or so (i.e. implying that we need to be more "progressive" than that).

This person presented what she perceived as a brilliant question when she asked: "if these words are wrong in the eyes of God and 'you' believe the Bible teaches we shouldn't use them, then what words do you keep and which do you reject?" This person then proceeded to toss out every foul word possible to make this absurd point stick somehow. She at least had enough knowlege of the Bible to be aware that specific, contemporary cuss words by name would not be found in the translations; however, she simply generalized the whole subject and erroneously asserted that God cares little about our word choices because she couldn't find the equivalent of "using cuss words" anywhere in scripture. Of course, Proverbs--among many other places in the Bible--has much to say about our speech and cares a great deal about what we say, but she wanted none of that.

Nonetheless, this was emergent thinking in action, revealing itself for all of its deep-seated rebellion, denial of so many obvious characteristics of a truly Christian life, and riddled with both logical and Biblical error.

Simply put, the carnal mind does not understand the things of the Spirit, as rebellion dominates their being. Clearly, this way of thinking (common among emergents in particular) cannot understand what it means to have a desire for personal holiness, willingness to humbly submit to God's Word, desiring to truly know God's Word and conform to it, welcoming the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin (in order to lead us to continual repentance of such sin), transforming our lives through sanctification, and/or a general desire for Christlikeness brought about through humble submission to God's perfect will and desires. Such folks are not interested in rejecting the corrupt will and desires of the flesh or human reasoning, but rather prefer to indulge in it.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ: "In biblical terms it is anything but humble to imply that God's Word is not sufficiently clear—as if we can't possibly be sure what the Bible means, and as if we should never be so "arrogant" as to defend its truths against the enemy's relentless attempts to twist and subvert what God has said."

What an Emerger or a LibProt might say in response:

"Okay. I'm sure that I'm unsure about what I know and how I know things.

This is proper humility for a follower of Christ. Stop being so divisive with your doctrinal dogmatism. It's unloving and harsh, and not of Christ.

It's better for Christians to be certain of our uncertainty. Epistemic humility is the way to reach out to our postmodern neighbors."

Mesa Mike said...

"Epistemic humility"

That's what my children exhibit when I want to know who made the mess in the living room.

I like that phrase. Maybe I'll try it on my wife....

DJP said...

Mesa Mike"Epistemic humility"

That's what my children exhibit when I want to know who made the mess in the living room.


Oh, that's good.

Phil, I think we have a Comment of the Day.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Mesa Mike: "Maybe I'll try it on my wife...."

Good luck with that. Never worked for me when I tried that approach with my wife.

DJP: "I think we have a Comment of the Day."

I agree. That was funny. Do I get an assist for setting it up?

david rudd said...

Mike R.

Even if I had no hope of clearing this up for you, it'd be no blight on Scripture's perspicuity resume. It would only reflect my (our) inability (and perhaps laziness) to apprehend the clear teaching of Scripture.

I think a lot of people who would not consider themselves emergesque (but would be considered such by the majority of the commentors here) would agree with you 100% on this statement.

They don't doubt the clarity of Revelation. They doubt the ability of men to "CLEARLY" discern it.

Thus the widespread disagreement of "godly" Christians who are all committed to the trustworthiness, yea, even inerrancy of Scripture on issues like:

eschatology
spiritual gifts
ecclesiology
yada yada yada.

As I have no desire to extend this discussion, I'll back up slowly now, saying "thank you" to Mike for making such a "CLEAR" statement on which most (yes, there would be some exceptions) would agree...

Mike Riccardi said...

David,

I'd certainly like to think we agree, but it seems that you've misunderstood what I'm saying and are agreeing with a phantom Mike R. That really stinks, but it's the case nonetheless. Let me try to clarify.

What I'm trying to say is extremely different from the emerging notion of "Scripture's clear but we just can't get it cuz we're sinful." That statement is true, of course. But it's entirely changed when the person spoken of is a child of God, indwelt by the Spirit, who searches all things, even the mind of God, and reveals that to us by giving us the mind of Christ.

Those are heavy words. And far from my implying that we are unable to understand what Scripture has clearly revealed, more of what I was trying to say is that we are unwilling to understand what Scripture says because we don't want to do the work.

To understand those things that are "hard to understand," one has to be very intimate with the text of Scripture and very intimate with God Himself. There can be no pretenders. No academicians. No head-knowledge posing as heart-knowledge. This is a litmus test like we've never seen one. It comes from much apprenticeship at the feet of Christ, poring and laboring over His words, in sweat and tears, and wrestling with the text and calling out in prayer to Him over it, yearning for the revelation of His intentions. Our mind must not be polluted by the world when we come to discern the "hard things" of Scripture. We must be fully gripped by Christ Himself and after His glory and nothing else.

Now, that's hard work. It's not really, because His commands aren't burdensome. But to people who refuse to die to self and who love to nourish their flesh (i.e., all of us), it is difficult. We like our stinking, rotting flesh, and would prefer to sustain it while stifling the life of Christ Himself within us. And when we do that, we cut ourselves off from knowing Him and knowing His mind.

But we don't have to.

Because Christ is in us, and we indeed do have the mind of Christ and the Spirit that teaches us all things, if we are willing to do the work of devoted study, we are able -- even in our sinfulness -- to understand all of what Scripture says, because Christ Himself has made us able. So even if we are sinful and totally depraved, as those who are born again we are not only sinful and totally depraved.

My point, specifically, was to explain to DAC that if my explanation of 1 Cor 11 and 1 Tim 2 was lacking or if he couldn't see the clear connections Scripture makes for us, that it's in no way due to God's botched delivery, but from my lack of study and meditation on the subject. It was a fairly off-the-cuff answer (though not without previous study, but certainly not with the comfort and confidence of Spirit I would have liked), and so I was feeling very convicted about not being able to represent the clarity of Scripture in a way that it is worthy of being presented.

So... I disagree with the emerging crowd (I'd probably call them that too) when they say Scripture is clear, we just can't understand it. What I was saying is that Scripture is clear, but most of the time most Christians refuse to understand it.

Bible Burgh,

Thank you for your kind words. It means very much to me. Over the past 10 days or so, I have been experiencing the consequences of laziness in the Word in my local church. Over this time I have not sanctified my mind and my time with the Lord as I've described above and so I've experienced a lack of usefulness to the body. It's like not breathing for me to exercise my gifts of teaching and exhortation to a point where people are helped. It's so refreshing and revitalizing and exciting to know that Christ is using me to encourage His body through this medium. I thank Phil, Dan, and Frank for allowing me to do so as well.

Mike Riccardi said...

Oh,

And if I do say so myself, I think Mesa Mike's line deserves a comment of the week award -- even though it's only Monday -- and perhaps it's own PoMotivator.

Mesa Mike said...

Oh, for crying out loud!

I only injected that flippant humor because I'm not clever enough to add anything of substance to the conversation.

Mike Riccardi said...

Listen dude... I liked it. And you're just going to have to deal with that.

:o)

Mesa Mike said...

Well, I remain epistemically humble about whether it's worth a quote of the week.

david rudd said...

Mike R.

I have no disagreement with anything you say here. We can call it laziness and I won't quibble...

but...

If I reach a point where I am "certain" I understand what Scripture is saying, do I then automatically assume that my brother who disagrees is lazier than I?

I used to. I used to look at charasmatics, wesleyans, pedo-baptizers, amillenialists, etc. that way. I used to say to myself and sometimes to them, "Scripture is clear on this; if you'd just put in the time and effort you'd come to see that."

I'm just not there anymore. Its not that I have less confidence in Scripture. It's that I have less confidence in myself. Which means I've recognized that it is okay for me to say things like:

"That part of Scripture just isn't clear for me right now."

I'm not blaming Scripture. I'm simply stating a truism. It's not an excuse to not pursue clarity, it is a reality, though...

Does that make sense?

Phil Johnson said...

David Rudd: "If I reach a point where I am 'certain' I understand what Scripture is saying, do I then automatically assume that my brother who disagrees is lazier than I?"

Well, admittedly, that scenario is a bit hard to imagine, given things you have said from time to time in the meta here. But if you ever did reach a point of certainty about some truly important point of biblical truth, you could first try teaching those who contradict, instead of affirming them in their doubt (or unbelief, as the case may be).

I'm curious, David: Where in Scripture do you see any example of the squidgy approach to understanding and certainty you advocating? Wouldn't your silly-putty epistemology have set you firmly against all the Old Testament prophets?

Twolyp said...

It seems to me that many Christians who decry the horrible evil that is postmodernism do not really know what postmodernism is, but yet rail incessantly at its evil! There are two common mistakes that I run into often that I would like to point out:

1. There are different forms of postmodernism and much disagreement among those that adhere to some position of postmodernism

2. Postmodernism cannot be understood as a one to one correlation to relativism

Often when you read Christian’s response to postmodernism (really an attempt to invalidate any point a postmodern would make) you will encounter these two mistakes, and you can be rest assured that the apologist has most likely read comments about postmodernism without actually studying it themselves. A sure sign of someone that is unfamiliar with a topic is generalizing and creating a caricature. All of postmodernism is not absolute relativism or nihilism. To assert or suggest this shows some amount of misinformation concerning the topic.

Now this is not to suggest that postmodernism does not contain some elements of relativism or that there is not a branch that runs toward absolute relativism but that is the more radical version and something I would not characterize as the norm in Christian circles. It is impossible in a blog comment to write everything that postmodernism is or isn’t but let me give you a couple ideas of why I think postmodernism has some valuable ideas to add to our conversation.Not uncritically excepting everything but a few valid points.

First, we have the ability as fallen human beings to get things wrong; sometimes horribly wrong. For example, Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon all held geocentric views of the universe (the earth is at the center) because of their interpretations of Scripture. Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli all taught and believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. A position that is not held by a lot of five pointers I would assume. This does not mean that the Bible is “wrong” or that they are “heretics;” However, it does highlight that finite beings can make mistakes, but also that they can come to a better understanding of Scripture and reality. Christians views on these topics (even great Christian leaders) were not ‘fixed’ and ‘timeless’.

Secondly, I am not God. Most reading this are very happy for that I assume. God is infinite, I am finite. I do not know everything that God knows. I may say that I believe God created, but certainly I could not say how he spoke an expanding universe into existence and created such diversity on a planet with limited building blocks. There are simply things God has done and is doing that I am not privy to. Therefore, I do not know all things.

This is very much what many Christian writers mean when they use the words “epistemic humility”: I can make mistakes and I am not God. They do not mean the Bible is completely unknowable and we know nothing; that is a false characterization. There is a theory of knowing that some call practical realism; basically it asserts that we have useful and adequate knowledge, but it is impossible to have a God’s eye view of everything, and we sometimes make mistakes. Let’s do some proof-texting to support this position.

Pro 1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”

Isa 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I Cor 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

The reverent awe of Yahweh whose thoughts are much higher than yours is the beginning of knowledge. Adopting a position of extreme spiritual and intellectual arrogance and thinking that with a fallen finite mind you have somehow cognitively grasped all that God is doing and everything that he thinks is a sure path to a knowledge that is incomplete. Insisting that you can see at the same level as God in all things is sure to lead to a special blindness. God is way bigger and smarter than us. You can always spot people that have made this error when they are “worshiping;” standing there sullen and unemotional. They have shrunken God down so far that God thinks the exact way they do, and they know intuitively that God is not worth worshiping.

Postmodernism is more complicated than a mere one to one correlation with absolute relativism; until we stop and really listen to what some Christians are saying and writing, instead of labeling and dismissing them before we listen thereby misunderstanding, it will be impossible to see some of the valuable points of postmodern ideas, as we also dismiss what may not be profitable.

In the end “postmodernism” in some Christian circles has become almost a useless word because of negative connotations and misunderstandings. A word that can end any dialog before it even begins. Perhaps, we may need a new word to express some theories of knowing and worldview before we can continue, but at the very least let us stop generalizing and wrongly associating all of it as relativism.

If an atheist were to come to you and say "Oh you are a Christian you must believe the EXACT same thing as Westboro baptist, Yisrayl Hawkins, and Catholics" you would not accept that generalization. The caricature of all postmoderns believing in some sort of absolute relativism is not much different.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Twolyp:

(1) "A sure sign of someone that is unfamiliar with a topic is generalizing and creating a caricature."

And then...

(2) "Adopting a position of extreme spiritual and intellectual arrogance and thinking that with a fallen finite mind you have somehow cognitively grasped all that God is doing and everything that he thinks is a sure path to a knowledge that is incomplete. Insisting that you can see at the same level as God in all things is sure to lead to a special blindness."

Nuff said.

david rudd said...

Phil,

thanks for your questions.

since you clearly don't understand who i am or what i believe, and because you insist on making personal attacks and mischaracterizations, i probably won't engage this discussion with you.

my only intent in this comment thread was to commend mike and agree with him. if you're reading anything other than that, you're misreading.

Mike Riccardi said...

David,

Thanks for the questions. I'll try to answer.

If I reach a point where I am "certain" I understand what Scripture is saying, do I then automatically assume that my brother who disagrees is lazier than I?

I would hesitate to blame another's laziness outright unless I was pretty sure that's what was causing a misunderstanding. Because the reality is that God will reveal things to whom He will in due time. Was I just stupid and lazy when I was an Arminian, and then became smart and diligent in order to become a Calvinist? Maybe that was part of it for me, but I certainly wouldn't put it in those terms for everyone. The reality is, God was growing me at pace directly correlational to the commitment to His Word that He was working in me.

So I might say that God simply hasn't revealed that to someone yet. The reason I can't just say: "That part of Scripture just isn't clear for [you] right now," or "It's OK that we think differently about this passage," is because it's not OK. If I'm certain that Scripture teaches something, and someone else disagrees, one of us is wrong, and that's not something that should be taken lightly. In one sense, it's OK to think differently because God is sovereign and gives little to some and much to others. But in the other sense, we're either saying Scripture can mean more than one thing or that it's not all that important to figure out what Scripture teaches. And the clincher for me is that God isn't a God who hides Himself. He's a God whose very benevolent nature requires Him to communicate His fullness. If we go hard after Him and do our best to keep undefiled by the world, I have a tough time He'd punish that with stupefaction or withdrawing grace. I think He would honor Himself and show Himself more clearly.

I guess I'm walking the divine sovereignty and human responsibility line.

I've certainly said things like, "I don't understand that passage yet," because the reality is I don't understand some passages. But, again, with the mind of Christ, the Spirit who searches even the depths of God and reveals Him to me, and the desire of God for Himself to be known by His people, I have no excuse for that but my own laziness.

david rudd said...

Mike,

first, i really appreciate your statement:

Was I just stupid and lazy when I was an Arminian, and then became smart and diligent in order to become a Calvinist?

About five years ago, that's where I would have been. I would have said, "yes. if you're an arminian, you simply haven't studied enough."

while i would still consider myself a calvinist, i just don't find any warrant in Scripture for me think that of my brother.

I look at a passage like Romans 14 and realize there are areas where my brother and I are going to come to a different conclusion. My concern is that if I claim "certainty" (which really is a very strong word) about my position on issues like that, I run the great risk of diminishing the meaning of "certainty" when it comes to the issues where I really am certain.

So i became much more comfortable being able to say, "I'm not clear on that".

I think probably epistemically (sp?) we're in pretty much the same camp, just using different words... and likely (and i mean no ill in this statement)i have a slightly higher degree of tolerance?

thanks for your thoughts, though. it's good to find agreement!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I nominate Mike Riccardi's last comment as comment of the week!

Wow!

Twolyp said...

Truth Unites...

A classic maneuver. Try to create an apparent contradiction so that you do not have to deal with what is actually written.

But I'm not the one interested in "real" dialog, right? So typical as to be formulaic.

'Nuff said.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Try to create an apparent contradiction so that you do not have to deal with what is actually written."

Twolyp, there was no "create" or "apparent" about it. Your words and a real contradiction. You self-immolated yourself with hypocrisy, thereby undermining your own argument. If you're going to rail against caricatures, then you're not permitted to create caricatures yourself.

"... you do not have to deal with what is actually written."

Sure I do. You deal with a boneheaded argument by identifying it as a boneheaded argument and calling it as a boneheaded argument.

Don't get mad. Just write a better argument. Like Mike Riccardi's last comment.

Twolyp said...

A) I am not creating a caricature: there are those that are very optimistic to the extent of what they can know and have little issues with speaking for God, and expounding on what God is doing, and claiming to have a God's eye view of many issues. Perhaps, as I identified the differences in postmodern thought I should have identified the differences for optimist, but it can be intellectually and spiritually arrogant to hold to some views of how much we can cognitively grasp God; especially, if our thoughts become a one to one correlation to every thought of God being the same as ours. God is infinite we are finite.

B) Using a word like boneheaded does not lend your argument any validity. Name calling is the refuge of those that cannot argue or think. You have shown NO ability to handle any issue I have brought forth in a critical manner. My children can talk through issues better than this. At the end of the day I am probably wasting my time as you most likely have only read blog comments about postmodernism and epistemology, so are not really sure what I am trying to say, but will respond to it with name calling anyways. Now that's what I call boneheaded.

The Spokesman said...

twolyp: Often when you read Christian’s response to postmodernism (really an attempt to invalidate any point a postmodern would make) you will encounter these two mistakes, and you can be rest assured that the apologist has most likely read comments about postmodernism without actually studying it themselves. A sure sign of someone that is unfamiliar with a topic is generalizing and creating a caricature.

How did you come to that omniscient and certain conclusion? Did God tell you that the Christian who associates relativism with postmodernism hasn't read and studied what postmoderns believe? It should be obvious even to the casual observer that postmodernism is rife with relativism and a disdain for a sure and certain "Thus says the Lord."

And haven't you generalized and created a caricature of the Christians who decry postmodernism? Is all they have to say about postmodernism that it is absolute relativism? And because someone is certain about what God has revealed in His Word and speaks from that certainty is he really believing that his thoughts have become a one to one correlation to every thought of God? Maybe you are unfamiliar with the topic and are generalizing!

Phil Johnson said...

Twolyp: "A sure sign of someone that is unfamiliar with a topic is generalizing and creating a caricature. All of postmodernism is not absolute relativism or nihilism. To assert or suggest this shows some amount of misinformation concerning the topic."

I nominate that comment for the irony of the week.

Twolyp, here are some questions for you:

1. Who "assert[ed] or suggest[ed]" the fallacious point of view you have so deftly debunked?

2. Have you listened to any of the oral critiques of postmodernism I have given in various seminars and conferences here and there, and if so, what would your critique of my critique of postmodernism be?

It seems to me that you have just caricatured Christians who are critical of postmodern trends, under the guise of deploring precisely the kinds of caricatures you just made. I'd love to hear your further thoughts on this.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Using a word like boneheaded does not lend your argument any validity. Name calling is the refuge of those that cannot argue or think."

It's clear that you are being overcome and overwrought with emotionalism. Nonetheless, I shall still endeavor to point out a clarification that looks to have escaped you.

I called your argument Boneheaded. I did not call you Boneheaded. There is a difference. Or at least I hope so. Or do you so closely identify with your arguments, that when your argument is thoroughly refuted and rebuked, you take it personally?

Also, please read the Spokesman's fine rebuttal which echoes much of my argument.

Polycarp said...

Twolyp:

FYI: I'm certain that plenty of people here have taken philosophy 101 or a course or two in logic, so rehashing everything you can recall from your texts from such courses in your attempts to defend a postmodernism you do not really understand sounds rather silly to be quite honest. Clearly you are enthusiastic about your discovery of this silly ism, or secular academia for that matter, and have even tried to find congruence between postmodernism (rebellion) and true Christianity. Perhaps your determined approach in forcing these foreign bodies of beliefs together stems from your own deep awareness that you know such a pairing is impossible? Of course, this is the essence of emergent is it not? Forcing congruence between clearly opposed elements??

Postmodernism and true Christianity mix together like water and oil, as the essence of the latter is paradoxically opposed to the former because it is marked by such characteristics as humble and full submission to the innerrancy of God's Word (of which you mocked on a previous post), absolute and perfect structure in God's design, a faith like the men of God demonstrate throughout scriptue, a desire for the leading and conviction of the Holy Spirit to correct or discern, and an embrace of the faithfulness among men of God in the past established for us today--on whose shoulders we stand upon. Please name one or two prominent postodern theorists--in any academic discipline--that even come close to embracing orthodox, histoprical Christianity (in other words, genuine Christians). You will be hard-pressed to find anyone in this category.

Most of your rhetoric in defense of postmodernism is little more than a smokescreen for something; I do not know you, so I will not speculate upon what specific beliefs, or lack therof, might be conveniently shielded behind your embrace of this relativistic philosophy of man, driven by the spirit of the age. What I do know for certain, as one who has not only studied postmodernism extensively through literary and social criticism in grad school, but who has regrettably embraced much of this poisionous nonsense for many years as a miserable prodigal (writing several articles within literary criticism through this lens and being esteemed by colleagues for essentially saying nothing of any worth--nothing in substance, and nothing I ever want to associate with again in my life!) Whether it was deconstructivist, reader-responsive, Marxist, feminist, revisionist, or even reconstructionist interpretation of the various works of fiction I basically slaughtered, I was indulging in the rebellion of postmodernism and my readership was like-minded. They enjoyed every reminder they could get that nothing in this world is--or ever was--absolute. I for one knew I was conveniently shielding my own sin of unbelief behind postodernism as an ideological worldview, along with my other sins of rebellion and pride. Having once believed before these years, I found myself eating with, and feeding for that matter...the swine.

I thank God that there was no such entity as the emerging church then, nor the internet in which to find other like-minded rebellious prodigals to validate my sinful ideology, as it was rather black and white at that time: those IN the faith thought and operated one way and those in rebellion thought and operated in another way. Two paths--the way of righteousness and the way of folly. Postmodern relativism is and was most certainly that "other" way, so to deny the fundamental elements of both rebellion and relativism (relativism is rebellion to structure and truth) intwined within postmodern thought is sheer denial of the obvious.

Twolyp said...

Truth,

"when your argument is thoroughly refuted and rebuked, you take it personally?" I'm sorry but you did not refute anything, and certainly not even in the area code of thoroughly.

Spokesmen,

My point is that I am not omniscient and I do make mistakes. All of the time. Sometimes my writing is unclear and people misunderstand me. But so do you and everyone here, even "truth unites". Luther, Calvin, and made some theological errors. None of us are infallible. This is often what many pomos mean by epistemic humility. Is there some that go too far with relativism? Certainly; but not all. I have an undergrad in Religion and Theology with a minor in Greek and Hebrew and I am entering MA studies in the fall, so where I am not the world's greatest expert I have done some extensive studying on the topic at hand. My point as clear as I think I can make it: there is more than one form of postmodernism, it is not all entirely only relativism. I am not saying there is not relativistic tendencies or that the radical approach is not absolute relativism but to generalize it all as relativism is improper. I have noticed SOME people doing this. Not everyone that has ever written on the subject or everyone here.

Phil,

My comments were not directed at you. Rather at the error of some that I have noticed that think postmodernism is relativism. Not like it, not rife with it, but the exact same. Postmodernism is actually multifaceted and there are branches that cannot be correlated on a one to one level with relativism.

I would think that we would agree that in a blog post or comment it can be difficult not to generalize in the attempt to be brief. Yes, I am guilty of that. Merely another instance of many where as a finite being I make mistakes but learn and soldier on. It seems to me though that many evangelicals assume a little to high of a degree of certainty of their thoughts being God's thoughts. If I have overstated this with a generalization I'll try to clarify better in the future.

I'm in Canada so I have never seen you speak but if you were talking on the subject somewhere I was I would certainly come out and listen.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Twolyp: "I'm sorry but you did not refute anything, and certainly not even in the area code of thoroughly."

I didn't have to. You refuted yourself.

My point is that I am not omniscient and I do make mistakes.

Trivial point.

All of the time.

Granted.

Sometimes my writing is unclear and people misunderstand me.

Then wouldn't the responsibility for any misunderstanding fall upon the writer?

Luther, Calvin, and made some theological errors.

I don't think anybody asserted otherwise. Nor do I think they thought that they were infallible in their theological writings either.

None of us are infallible.

Again, trivial.

This is often what many pomos mean by epistemic humility.

Then many pomos are making a trivial point.

My point as clear as I think I can make it: there is more than one form of postmodernism, it is not all entirely only relativism.

I knew that already. For some, that may be a revelation.

Overall, to self-refute yourself in making a trivial point is quite a feat.

I suggest you read or re-read Polycarp's excellent comment at 3:12.

Twolyp said...

Truth,

You are perhaps one of the least charitable persons I have interacted with on the web. It seems very difficult to actually have any sort of dialog. The self confessions that I made apply to you as well. In fact, you are a much, much sadder case. At least I can recognize my own flaws, which is a good step to getting better.

To call things trivial that you would rant about elsewhere is at this point in the conversation just silly. I am making an assumption at this point granted, but I am fairly certain that in a different setting i were to say that we can be mistaken about our theology in some instances I would be attacked from many sides. I could be wrong, but probably not. To say that someone self refutes does not mean they have just because you type those words. I can write that you are purple it does not make it so. Not well played by you.

At the end the best you can do with any substance is say "Look at the spokesman comment, look at polycarp's comment." Now I know they use polysyllabic words and you probably really can't follow what they are saying but it seems against me, so you say to yourself, "Me think that to, I type name to him," but at the end when all you can do is scratch some negative words together without any substance and say "you self refuted" when it hasn't happened, and finally only able to point to another comment indicates what little of value you have to bring to any dialog.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

You are perhaps one of the least charitable persons I have interacted with on the web.

I'm honored to be one of the few people who don't allow you to perpetuate your self-delusions unimpeded.

To say that someone self refutes does not mean they have just because you type those words.

The Spokesman: "How did you come to that omniscient and certain conclusion?"

"And haven't you generalized and created a caricature of the Christians who decry postmodernism?"

"Maybe you are unfamiliar with the topic and are generalizing!"

Phil Johnson: "I nominate that comment for the irony of the week."

"It seems to me that you have just caricatured Christians who are critical of postmodern trends, under the guise of deploring precisely the kinds of caricatures you just made."

Twolyp, you are simply in stubborn denial that you self-refuted yourself.

At this point I see that I am rebuking an unteachable fool. I shall cede the floor and let you have the last word.

The Spokesman said...

twolyp: My point is that I am not omniscient and I do make mistakes...None of us are infallible. This is often what many pomos mean by epistemic humility.

My point is that you spoke with both a high degree of certainty (you can be rest assured that the apologist has most likely read comments about postmodernism without actually studying it themselves) and with absolute certainty (A sure sign of someone that is unfamiliar with a topic is generalizing and creating a caricature) thus caricaturing Christians who decry postmodernism as unlearned (without actually studying it themselves), idle babblers (the apologist has most likely read comments about postmodernism), and generalizing caricature creators (generalizing and creating a caricature).

Pomos specialize in caricaturing. They caricature preachers who have a word from God through God's Word as immodest, arrogant, Pope-ish, omniscient, excathedra speaking, pontificators of doctrinaire arrogance. Why? Because of their hatred for absolute truth.

However that is only a caricature because the man of God speaking a clear and definite "Thus says the Lord" is not immodest, arrogant, Pope-ish, etc. and in no way believes that he is omniscient and knows everything that God knows - on the contrary - he knows that he can only know what God reveals and illuminates. Therefore, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us..." (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Twolyp said...

Truth,

I have admitted to making mistakes that I try to learn from. I am accountable to godly men that keep me responsible in my daily walk as a Christian brother and leader, but I don't agree with you and I am an "unteachable fool."

Wow. Think much of yourself?

Twolyp said...

Spokesman,

Yes I am guilty of creating caricatures while arguing against caricatures. I humbly prostrate myself and beg your forgiveness! But we are both guilty. Perhaps this is the first step in meaningful dialog. Now instead of railing against what the other person isn't saying we may be able to listen to what they are saying.

"Why? Because of their hatred for absolute truth" (a caricature). I do not hate absolute truth; however, as with some of the examples from Calvin and Luther's life I used, sometimes we can claim absolute truth and be wrong on some aspects; not the majority, maybe hardly anything, but I think it is better to be open to the possibility that we may be wrong than to think we have absolutely everything perfect. I'm using first person plurals in an attempt to talk and understand and not be combative.

Not that God or his Holy Word is wrong or deficient but that fallen sinful human beings can sometimes use it improperly. I love the tradition of the church and I agree that a postmodern trend to jettison all tradition is going to have a negative effect. But if a part of a tradition is wrong (say the perpetual virginity of Mary) then I also prefer the freedom to reject that using Scripture and reason, and not in a "rebellious" rejection of absolute truth. And yes polycarp because you wrote in rebellion it does not mean that you can project that attitude on me. I love my church and the people in it.

And I never once said anything about anything being Pope-ish.

Mike Riccardi said...

...sometimes we can claim absolute truth and be wrong on some aspects...

Nobody disputes this.

I think it is better to be open to the possibility that we may be wrong than to think we have absolutely everything perfect.

Can you produce any evidence that anyone thinks they have absolutely everything perfect?

The Spokesman said...

twolyp,

A caricature is a picture or description ludicrously exaggerating the peculiarities or defects of a person or thing (Websters Universal College Dictionary). It is an untrue, ridiculous, and absurd characterization.

A portrait does not involve ludicrous exaggerations but is an actual and true portrayal or depiction of a person or thing.

Here is the problem: one has to know truth before he can determine which is which. For example, the Lord Jesus Christ never caricatured His enemies - His was a truthful and accurate portrayal, calling them a "brood of vipers", "liars", "white-washed tombs", "hypocrites", "lovers of darkness", etc..

On the other hand, the enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ gave a caricature of Him and not an accurate portrayal, calling Him "Beelzebul", "a deceiver", "demon-possessed", "born of fornication", "a Samaritan", etc..

Pomos specialize in caricaturing. They caricature preachers who have a word from God through God's Word as immodest, arrogant, Pope-ish, omniscient, excathedra speaking, pontificators of doctrinaire arrogance. Why? Because of their hatred for absolute truth.

This is not a caricature of pomos as you say - it is a truthful and accurate portrayal. If you do not hate absolute truth then you should come out of their midst and be separate because God is going to send a deluding influence on those who will not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved, so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness.

I did not say that you said anything about anything being Pope-ish - I said that showing some of the ways pomos caricature preachers who speak with certainty - and that is an accurate portrayal of what they do.

Twolyp said...

Hmm...

What I do is a caricature because (sarcasm on)no one is wrong about anything concerning postmodernity; and never confuse anything "they" say. It is a clear (as mud, even-handed, and fair portrait you present.

But what you do is not a caricature because clearly every single person that holds to even a smidgen of postmodernity "caricature preachers who have a word from God through God's Word as immodest, arrogant, Pope-ish, omniscient, excathedra speaking, pontificators of doctrinaire arrogance. Why? Because of their hatred for absolute truth" (sarcasm off).

If you are not presenting a caricature, then at the least it is an outrageous generalization to say that ALL pomos do this.

However, I suspect that the authority you are ultimately most convinced of is not God's or Scripture, but your own. I admitted my over generalization but you can write anything, any generalization whatsoever, and it is "accurate" and a "portrait".

Hmmm.... seems I may have been wasting my time.

The Spokesman said...

Twolyp: I suspect that the authority you are ultimately most convinced of is not God's or Scripture, but your own.

So do you mean that I am or might be immodest and arrogant, maybe even Pope-ish, an excathedra speaking pontificator of doctrinaire arrogance, holding to my own omniscience and authority? Because if what you said is true then surely that is what I am!

But - if what you said is not true and my appraisal is based on what God has said in His Word characterizes rebellious, truth-rejecting, despisers of authority - then you are a classic pomo fitting the portrait - one that no pomo wants to admit accurately portrays him.

Polycarp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Bushong said...

Wow- reading through this blog reminds me of the old saying regarding giving someone enough rope to hang themselves with! We're in the middle of a 7-week series on the ECM and in a couple weeks the topic is on how pomo (and by extension emergent philosophy) is self-refuting. So can we all go home now?

I'm certain!