21 August 2010

Weekend Extra: The Heresy of Orthodoxy

by Frank Turk



My series on Biologos is sort of a multi-headed beast because that's the problem with error: it's never a linear sliver in the body of Christ which you can extract with a sharp razor cut and the quick pinch of a tweezer, or a tick which you can pull off at once if you get a good grip on it the first time. Error, as the New Testament tells us, is more like leaven -- or maybe more like Athlete's foot: you don't just remove it, but you have to clean house and treat the afflicted in order to get it all out.

One of the key matters at BioLogos is the idea of a diversity of readings of the OT -- which is an interesting ploy as already shown in this series. The root of it is the slogan that if guys as diverse as Origen and Augustine could read Genesis non-literally, we can too and still be in the great cloud of witnesses.

My opinion is that this reasoning comes from an application of what is called "the Bauer Hypothesis", or "the Bauer-Ehrman Hypothesis" (hereafter, BEH). For those of you who live in the real world and don't find esoteric battles over the retelling of history either compelling or actually-interesting, BEH was established in the first half of the 20th century by Walter Bauer -- the same eponymous creator of the most significant lexicon of NT Greek in use today, the BDAG. Bauer's thesis -- which he never really substantially proved -- was that if you surveyed the cities in the first three centuries of Christian faith, you would not find Christianity, a unified body of beliefs and practices. You would instead find christianities, a loosely-connected body of beliefs which were not consistent from place to place and which did not all teach the same thing. This is relevant to Bauer because this is reflected in the texts of the New Testament -- there is not one orthodox faith reflected in the texts of the NT, but a diversity of confluent teachings which may or may not harmonize but are nevertheless accepted as all part of the same general faith in this fellow Jesus.

The theory is now called "BEH" because the ubiquitous Bart Ehrman resuscitated the theory after it had been widely disproven in the 70's and 80's. Ehrman's, um, improvements to the theory include the idea that the variation in texts and text-types demonstrates Bauer's thesis, and that we should see the sociological history of Christianity as one in which the narrower view co-opted the ground of "orthodoxy" from the diversity of the earlier age. If we are to return to the source, we should return to a more-diverse Christian faith in which many views -- even conflicting views -- be welcomed in as family.

So when it comes up that Augustine didn't read Genesis literally, (in the view of the BioLogos advocates) we should see that first as part of the diversity which orthodoxy ought to represent -- and not to read too closely to see that Augustine's view is actually much more radically-supernatural than the one BioLogos promotes. When it comes up that Origen read Genesis "spiritually" and not historically, and therefore BioLogos is just doing the same thing, it should not be inquired too deeply what Origen's view includes:
Origen theorized that before God created the universe, he created — before the start of time — a group of rational beings which he called logika, but which might be thought of today as “souls.” These rational beings, Origen suggested, had God-like qualities. With eternity on their hands, they passed time endlessly contemplating divine mysteries. Finally, however, these beings or souls tired of their contemplation and started drifting away from God. Time began. Souls began to have an existence separate and apart from God. The only soul who escaped this fate, Origen argues, was “the soul of Christ” who returned to point the path back to the true function of all souls, all rational beings: contemplation of divine mysteries. [source]
Certainly, the advocates at BioLogos wouldn't accept this as even remotely credible -- and whether this is an orthodox view I leave to the open discussion about Origen's own place in the history of Christianity.

The point being that BEH resides among the primary supports of the BioLogos approach -- and BEH is, frankly, a disreputable approach to the history of the faith.

Now seriously: don't take my word for it. Earlier this year, Andreas Köstenberger and Michael J. Kruger, through Crossway, published the excellent book, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, which exposes BEH for the unsustainable opinion that it is. D.A. Carson says it "patiently, carefully, and politely [exposes] this shameful nakedness for what it is." I honestly could not have said it better myself.

Köstenberger and Kruger take the time to dismantle the textual and historical misunderstandings which compose BEH, and they do it in a way which any reader can understand. Their well-documented research and arguments frankly outshine the object of their investigation because of the sobriety with which they approach the task.

So as you engage this topic, approach it with this book in-hand. Educate yourself on the history of the text of the Bible and on the origins of orthodoxy -- especially of the text of the Bible and how it was received. But don't let someone who is allegedly serious about "orthodoxy" tell you that that "orthodoxy" is about how inclusive you can be.








32 comments:

Steve Drake said...

Frank,
"Educate yourself on the history of the text of the Bible and on the origins of orthodoxy -- especially of the text of the Bible and how it was received."

Would we all not benefit from such a charge as this. Thanks for the reference. In spending time at the Biologos website this week, it became clear to me that an underlying and unstated objective is that if they can convince the pastors, Church leaders, and Christian scientists of their views, then by default the rest of us 'basic' Christians who don't fit into that category will come along as well. Quite deceptive, but strategically very powerful.

DJP said...

Turk swings and connects solidly with the ball Yet Again!

How do you do it? Thanks, Frank.

Zaphon said...

People considering Biologos' approach as having any validity should remember what kind of radical skepticism Bart Ehrman is steeped in regarding the certainty of anything ancient and textual.

Stefan said...

Is this the same basic school of thought that tries to delegitimate orthodoxy by splitting Paul's teachings off from the rest of early Christianity, and argue that the former was superimposed on the the latter?

Stefan said...

Some nice Saturday morning reading, by the way. Thanks, Frank.

Stan McCullars said...

Frank,
Dan is correct. You have solidly connected Yet Again!

I haven't commented of late but I have been enjoying your recent posts on the BioLogos situation.

Tom Chantry said...

Huh. I always wondered where Mike Kruger wound up. Solid guy.

Scott said...

I fail to see how the early battles orthodox Christians fought over Christological controversies have anything at all to do with your debate with Biologos. Literal vs spiritual interpretations of Genesis were never a dispute in the establishment of orthodox belief in the period about which Bauer & Ehrman write.

Frank Turk said...

Scott:

Did you read this post at all? What's the book I recommended about?

Scott said...

Frank,

Perhaps Biologos is making an appeal to an earlier diversity. That being said, I don't think that appeal encapsulates an adoption of the BEH approach in sum. I hope their supporters would affirm the deity, humanity, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These central tenets of Christian faith were the battlegrounds of early church strife and polemic. The BEH approach is grounded on diversity as it was manifested in these specific tenets, not on literal vs spiritual readings of Genesis.

Frank Turk said...

David -

Thanks for that reiteration of your last post. You did not, however, answer my question. Please re-read my question if you're interested in actual dialog. If you just want to say, "no it isn't," you've said that already twice.

Jacob said...

Dr. White on the interpretation of Scripture:
"The grammatical-historical method of interpretation is a means of guaranteeing that we are hearing what the text says, not what we want the text to say. This is a vitally important point, especially when it comes to the Scriptures. When reading secular texts we are not nearly as tempted to insert a foreign meaning into the words of the author, since it is rare that such a text would be given sufficient importance to warrant the effort. We naturally apply sound rules of interpretation to such documents since we are not at all threatened by the results. But when it comes to the text of the Bible, much more is at stake. But if we are consistent in our beliefs, and truly want to hear what the Scriptures are saying and not what we want them to say or feel they should say, we need to have a means of reading the text that does not allow us to slip our own thoughts into the text under the guise of interpretation. The Bible needs to say the same thing in each language, in each culture, in each context, or it cannot be the means of communicating the truth to us that Christians believe it to be. The grammatical-historical method allows us to be both honest and consistent with the text of the Bible.

The fundamental reason we must reject allegorical interpretation of the biblical text is really quite simple: it is unverifiable. That is, there is no possible way to determine that the results of using allegorical methodology have anything whatsoever to do with the actual meaning of the text. One man's allegorical understanding can have no compelling force upon the thinking of another, for that person may well see something completely different in the text. Since the means provided by human language to communicate meaning are by-passed in the allegorical method, there are no "safety nets" to keep one from wandering off into the most fanciful of "interpretations" of the text. Hence, the person who says "the allegorical meaning of this text is such and so" cannot claim the actual authority of the text for his interpretation, for the actual source of the interpretation is not the text itself but the mind of the interpreter. This is why we say there can be no compelling force to one's allegorical interpretation, for it is merely personal, and if anyone else accepts it, it is because they choose to trust the allegorical interpreter rather than the text itself. Allegorical interpretations can have no more authority than the one proclaiming them.

(continued...)

Jacob said...

(continued...)

When applied to the biblical text such a methodology is devastating. The authority of the text is destroyed. No allegorical interpreter can honestly say, "The Word of God says," for in reality, the Word of God has been replaced with the more or less fanciful thoughts of the interpreter himself. The Christian doctrine of inspiration sets the Christian Scriptures apart from all other claimed divine revelations in that Christians believe the Scriptures are God-breathed. This means the written word communicates to us infallibly the very speaking of God in a miraculously personal manner (Matthew 22:31). The authority of the Word is not based upon the interpreter but upon the inspired text itself. The message of the written Word is the same through the course of time. Without this affirmation, the Word becomes a purely subjective document, incapable of communicating divine truth with certainty.

This point cannot be over-emphasized. Allegorical interpretation destroys biblical authority. It replaces the divine message with the imaginations of the interpreter, and as such opens the door wide for every kind of abuse of the text. False teachers, seeking to draw away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:30), utilize such means to release themselves from the unchanging standards of Gods Word and insert, under the guise of "thus sayeth the Lord", their own pet doctrines and teachings. The Christian who is untaught and unstable, a novice in the Word, can easily be taken in by such a teacher who exudes confidence and often hides the false teachings behind a veneer of self-professed orthodoxy. So when we defend proper exegetical methodology, we are not merely arguing about tangential issues, we are, in reality, defending the very authority of the Word, and its ability to speak with clarity and force to each generation and in every place." (one or two verb tenses modified for flow)

I thought that summed it up pretty well.

Jacob said...

That's Dr. James White, btw. Just realized there's probably half a dozen Dr. Whites in orthodox Christianity circles. :)

Btw, if that large quote is unacceptable, feel free to delete these posts. I thought them rather apropos though.

Steve Drake said...

Jacob,
Can you reference Dr. White's work, book or article? I'd like to better understand this author. Thanks.

Jacob said...

I believe the quote is from his book Dangerous Airwaves but I know it from his blog where he referenced those four paragraphs in a post last year. I had the quote saved as a text file. Anyway, hope that helps.

Frank Turk said...

Woops!

My last comment was to "Scott" not the invisible "David". That's what I get for posting before Coffee.

bou2010 said...

Great book, IMO.

But are you saying that you can't be orthodox and hold an allegorical interpretation of creation?

DJP said...

Yes, Frank, and I was wondering: can you be orthodox, paint yourself green, and call yourself a pickle?

Jacob said...

I wasn't saying anything, just providing a quote that seems rather relevant to the discussion and provides a strong argument as to why choosing to overlook or ignore the straightforward reading of the text, to instead make an allegorical interpretation of it, is both to mistreat the text and to remove the authority behind what it says.

In the case of Genesis 1-2, we have a text that reads just fine when taken at face value (excepting the skeptic who presupposes doubt as to God's existence or God's ability) and one that has been rather solidly shown to be an historical account and not creative poetry (where the natural rendering of the text might be more uncertain and where one might more understandably allegorize).

bou2010 said...

DJP: Yes, Frank, and I was wondering: can you be orthodox, paint yourself green, and call yourself a pickle?

lolz

As long as its a dill pickle. Everyone knows that a sweet pickle is a heretical interpretation of a pickle.

=)

DJP said...

On that issue, we are in complete agreement.

Robert said...

I don't get how people think their were different doctrines. Have any of these guys read Galatians? If they have, did they miss the part in chapter 2 where Paul went to Jerusalem and the apostles there added nothing to what he taught and gave him the right hand of fellowship? Maybe they're just ignorant of what that means (I'm being REALLY generous here). Basically it means that they were partners in the SAME work. It is an affirmation that they agreed with his teaching. How could God be orderly and have the apostles going around and teaching contradictory doctrine? I guess I am just too demanding of people who put out these "theories" about the Bible and what it says...at least in their eyes.

Frank Turk said...

bou2010 asked:

But are you saying that you can't be orthodox and hold an allegorical interpretation of creation?

If that's your question, my answer is "yes".

I think you could do a better job of asking the question so that my "yes" makes less-insulting a dn less-confusing sense.

bou2010 said...

FT:

Hmmm.

I just don't see how you can be orthodox by elevating a secondary issue to a primary issue.

I'm with you on the BioLogos guys and how they're really going down a bad road. It's very sad that either science or pride (in wanting to be accepted by the world) is their idol and this is revealed by the way they are conducting themselves.

But regardless of their poor representation of their view, I think that this issue is a gray area.

They're are lots of black and white issues like sin, Jesus, Gospel, etc.

But your views on creation?

Is Scofield not orthodox then?

Jim Pemberton said...

"My series on Biologos is sort of a multi-headed beast because that's the problem with error: it's never a linear sliver in the body of Christ which you can extract with a sharp razor cut and the quick pinch of a tweezer, or a tick which you can pull off at once if you get a good grip on it the first time. Error, as the New Testament tells us, is more like leaven -- or maybe more like Athlete's foot: you don't just remove it, but you have to clean house and treat the afflicted in order to get it all out."

An essential point. This is why the work of an apologist is never done.

Frank Turk said...

bou2010:

Aha. So given that I said, "I'll say yes, but your question is biased and you might think about asking it a different way," you're not interested in thinking about why your question is flawed, yes?

That's what I thought: you know it all already. Nice work. I hope to catch up with you some day.

Just saying'.

bou2010 said...

Aha. So given that I said, "I'll say yes, but your question is biased and you might think about asking it a different way," you're not interested in thinking about why your question is flawed, yes?

That's what I thought: you know it all already. Nice work. I hope to catch up with you some day.

Just saying'.


I'm honestly confused.

It was awkwardly worded, yes. But how was it biased?

Serious question.

bou2010 said...

BTW, your guest post responding to Rick Warren on Challies was awesome.

Seriously good stuff.

Frank Turk said...

bou2010 asked:

But are you saying that you can't be orthodox and hold an allegorical interpretation of creation?

And also:

I'm honestly confused.

It was awkwardly worded, yes. But how was it biased?


Your question seems to sat that Genesis is crying out for an allegorical reading, and that all allegorical readings are equally-admirable.

I think that's biased.

bou2010 said...

Your question seems to sat that Genesis is crying out for an allegorical reading, and that all allegorical readings are equally-admirable.

I think that's biased.


Ah. I understand. With that I am in agreement.

There can be no allegorizing of the fall of man.

I would agree that you can't be orthodox and do that.

halo said...

Ligon Duncan on Augustine:

Let me say that historically the church has always viewed these days to be literal days, speaking of the same kind of days that you and I know about. But within the last 150 years, even within evangelical circles, there has been considerable difference and discussion about the nature of these days. In church history, prior to 150 years ago, you can name on one hand the folks who viewed these days other than literal days, other than six natural twenty-four hour days. Among them is the giant, Augustine. And some also include Aquinas in that group. Augustine, you remember, believed that the Apocrypha was scriptural. And there is a book in the Apocrypha called the Wisdom of Ben Sirak, often times called Ecclesiasticus, not to be confused with the book of Ecclesiastes. In that book there is a phrase which asserts that God created the world instantaneously. And Augustine felt that it was his obligation to square the teaching of that apocryphal book with the scriptural account which spoke of creation being done in six days. And Augustine’s response to the attempt to harmonize those two views was to argue that the world had been created instantaneously and that the six days were merely a literary device that the Lord had developed to explain the way that he had created the world. But I want you to note that that wasn’t a pure literary theory. It was a desire to harmonize two views which he sought to be intention. Other than Augustine, everyone else has accepted these to be six literal days up until about 150 years ago or so.