22 May 2013

Irreverent, Silly Myths

by Frank Turk

OK - last week, you got two posts for the price of one, and then we went down the rabbit hole, on Twitter, with the scions of SGM and SGM Survivors. Sometime on Friday I tweeted that we'd cover that today, and that one should bring his helmet if one was interested.

My intent was to take one of the live ones demanding that the Reformed Blogosphere finally, finally, finally pay attention to them and their ever-changing, ever-evolving, ever-expanding set of complaints and do a blog interview of them so that they could get their fair hearing.  However, when I came to some of the likeliest spokespersons for such a thing, they balked.  That is: they wouldn't abide anything but a full denunciation of SGM from top to bottom, and certainly: no questions or examination of their list or their evidence or their standing.

Since they didn't want to participate, I'm left to continue with something mundane -- like whether or not the Bible is a mythological book or a treatise meant to convey real-world truth.  I'll be listening to the hymns of Keith and Kristyn Getty, and some of my favorite Bob Kauflin hymns as well.

This is part 3 of 4.  Enjoy.

We were talking about whether or not Paul (and then we will get to Peter) was able to perceive epistemological categories in his view of the written word when I was very rudely interrupted by my paycheck. Let's keep in mind that, as I continue to take a look at what Paul wrote relative to his use of the word "muthos" (which is translated "myth" in several English translations), I am not asserting that Paul would use the term "epistemological categories" to describe what he is saying, but that we can and should – because what he represents in these passages is an understanding that there is a difference between artistic or creative writing and historical or factual writing.

My second example comes from 1Tim 4:
    1Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

    6If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths (muthos). Rather train yourself for godliness; 8for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
We seem to be able to take at face value that here Paul is telling Timothy not to waste his time on "silly myths", and in that we can assume that Paul is saying that what Timothy ought to believe are not myths but facts. The question is whether Paul is telling Timothy that there are "silly myths" as opposed to "non-silly myths" in which he ought to believe.

That's why context is so important in looking at a question like this. In leading up to his admonition to young Timothy, Paul clearly spells out that one will depart from the faith if one accepts the teaching of "liars" and "demons". It cannot be any more plain on Paul's part that there are some who teaching something which is in a category in opposition to the teaching of the Gospel. That is to say, it is possible to believe something false which would nullify the claim of "faith" because its content would be at odds with true faith.

The other side of the "deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars" is what Paul directs Timothy to do instead: "being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed". Paul does not mince words on this matter. One is either following something not true which is intended to deceive and is itself false, or one is following "good doctrine". It is difficult to understand how the advocates against "Enlightenment categories" can muster the courage to tongue-lash those who practice exposition from Scripture when Paul is the one who provides the concrete basis for establishing the epistemological categories in question. There is no social context which changes the meaning of these words. Saying one kind of teaching is false and another "good" and "godly" is about as stark a contrast as one can imagine. And to be clear: those are not some exegete's words for these categories but the very words Paul uses to describe these categories.

We're going to pick up some steam as we observe the other uses of the word "muthos" in Paul, but let's not allow the velocity of the exposition to undercut the importance of the point: affirming the view that pre-enlightenment readers and writers did not uphold epistemological categories in their thinking or in their methodology is simply unsupportable in fact when it comes to the NT documents.


Paul Reed said...

The damage that SGM has done to the Church far exceeds anything done by Emergents like Brian McLaren and Mark Driscoll.

Tom Chantry said...

And comment 1 was as I expected. I'm betting the SGM/Muthos ratio in the meta will be about 5/1.

BUT, so that I'm not guilty of advancing such rubbish, let me say this is the payoff piece I've been waiting for since this series began. As soon as you started, I thought, "Well yeah, if the Bible is myth, then Paul was either completely deluded or entirely corrupt." And then I slapped my forehead and yelled, "Why didn't I think of that when I was in college and it might have helped me?"

Anyhow, since this, to my mind, is the big payoff, I'm now fascinated with where you'll be going in part 4.

DJP said...

Ah, the (never-)lost art of unconscious self-parody.

Daryl said...

Great post, and for whatever reason, so unnecessary and yet so necessary.

Do people really need to be told that the opposite of true doctrine is false doctrine and not just your version of true doctrine (or some other equally idiotic claim)?

Some will claim, I suppose, that the problem is an eastern vs a western mindset, as if people in the east have no category for and "either or" distinction. But as Ravi Zacharias has been know to say, "In India when we're about to step off the curb and a bus is coming, we recognize that it's either the bus, or us. It can't be both."

Frank Turk said...

People with an axe to grind have done more damage to the internet than drive-by trolls.


Frank Turk said...

For the record: I'm deleting any further comments along the line of Paul Reed's in this thread. If you want to be the one who gets his Wednesday of Fame at PyroManiacs on this subject, e-mail me at Frank at iturk dot com and I'll give you the chance to be interviewed on this subject.

JackW said...

Nice post Frank. Text taken out of context leads to pretext.
Happy Birthday to Kristyn Getty today!

Tom Chantry said...

I'm deleting any further comments along the line of Paul Reed's in this thread.

There goes my ratio!

Kerry James Allen said...

I try to remember that in the military or police work, the first guy in on a "door breach" is either a hero or the first one shot. Think well before you make the first comment! And that's not to say you still can't be shot if you are the third or fourth guy in!

mstephan said...

That is why you should always make your own door. :) At least that is what my Soldiers do.

I suspect that is why Christ breaches the door for us. Becasue if we did, we'd never make it. (My attempt to be relevant)

Chris H said...

I didn't even know what this SGM business was till I looked it up. Hope you can find someone to interview.

However, I'm with Chantry: this has been well worth the wait. Thank you, Frank.

I work with post-secondary students in a secular setting, and I hear this sort of thing all the time, but especially about the Bible. That they haven't taught reading or comprehension in any classes these students have attended so far perplexes me.

It's one, or it's the other. It doesn't get to be neither, or both.

Daniel said...


I must summarily reject your reasoning here as my prior investment into a more elite (and therefore superior) theology, protects me from your bold reason, and plain and rational thinking.

The truth is never simple enough that the common man can simply read it in a straight forward manner and understand it. It must first be interpreted by someone holier than themselves, then explained until the hidden, and less obvious "true" meaning is made visible.


Tom Chantry said...

Daniel's comment (if I can look away from his terrifying avatar for a moment) reminds me of something I thought long ago and which could do with an update.

The liberal theologian (and that goes for both the old school Schliermachian liberal or the new school, uh, Bellian liberal) sees himself as having progressed so far beyond the Middle Ages with its heresy courts and burnings and so on. However, the liberal has this in common with the worst of the medieval theologians: he must obscure the scripture with faux complexity in order to keep it inaccessible to the peasant in the pew - if he doesn't, he may loose his "expert" status and actually become accountable to those whom he leads.

Unknown said...

Well, Frank, I will disagree with this: "One is either following something not true which is intended to deceive and is itself false, or one is following "good doctrine"."

It is not "good doctrine" that makes a faithful Christian life. Good doctrine is what nourishes us, what trains us for life. After all, one doesn't "follow" a nutritious meal like someone on Twitter, or make the nutritious meal all that life is. One eats so as to healthily and energetically live out one's day.

"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer."

This is a gorgeous invitation to go out and work/play without fear. The "word of God" is Christ (word made flesh) and his Holy Spirit (sent by the Word to enliven our words) and scripture (the message of the Word and what he means) and other Christians (co-laborers) and traditions (co-laborers gone before) and experience (our lived reality), all tied into our days with prayer (which is our communicating relationship with God).

When one over-emphasizes correct doctrine (that lovely academic extraction of scripture) rather than giving it the proper honor as a training mechanism, one tends to fall into traps. It can become harder to feel compassion for people, those messy ridiculous creatures on whom God spent so much blood/sweat/tears. It can become difficult to avoid an illegitimate certitude about one's own stance.

It can also cause one to miss out on the ever-changing, ever-evolving, ever-expanding creation that God called good, and conversely, to miss the ways that it gets twisted and damaged. And sometimes it can make one blind to those who are destructive to God's children, if they at the same time espouse "good doctrine".

And because of it, one might be mistaken into thinking that the real work resides in defending the Bible against the artistic issues of myth. And actually, it may be. We need a few theologians who pursue doctrinal issues. But it would be unwise for the church community to think that is where life lies or where the vast majority of the battle is fought.

I hope you post this in your comments, Frank. I wish you well, loving and humble, with your usual acerbity.

Tom Chantry said...

So, um, the Word of God is Jesus, the Spirit, the Bible, fellowship, history, existential reality, and prayer? You do know why people hate anonymous profiles, right? I can't tell if you're Patrick Madrid or John Frame. How are we supposed to respond to this?

Robert said...


There goes my ratio!

Well, you still qualify to be a modern day prophet, though, right?

Frank, great post. This strikes a chord with a lot of things that I have been reading lately. And when I think about it, it makes me a bit sad to look at the landscape of modern philosophical thought. You can just see people all over the place saying anything and everything about the Bible because they've never taken the time to read it or just don't like the truth.

Unknown said...

Most gracious Tom: The larger number of internet bloggers are fine with anonymous commenters? Many get a kick out of info coming without context, because it allows them to take the words at face value and to see where it does/doesn't fit? If I continue to comment here, I'll be glad to divulge more info. I haven't made up my mind. "Hate" isn't very attractive, however.

And yes, I obviously that you pyromaniacs have an excessively narrow definition of the word of God. I think it is at the source of your difficulties regarding this fascinating and mysterious world that God gave to us. My definition is perhaps overly broad, depending--I use it to make a point.

Life is an adventure, Tom. Partake! Disdain, fear and hate only get in the way.

Tom Chantry said...

Oh for pity's sake! Please come out in the open so that you can be mocked properly! How's that for fear and hate?

Tom said...

I've found that hatred of evil, disdain for vice, and fear of sin's consequences are how one actually keeps adventuring.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Unknown, you are the case in point of why Paul warned Timothy to stay away from myths and stick to the revealed Word of God.


Kerry James Allen said...

Chantry, always remember, "A bulldog can beat a skunk but it isn't worth it."

And, "Most gracious Tom?" I almost think TC would take that as an insult!


Unknown said...

Webster: Glad to be of service in your battle against mythical beasts.

Kerry: Insult? Say it ain't so! Bulldogs and skunks; lions and lambs, too.

Tom Chantry: I'm sure you can do better than that re fear/hate, although, why bother?

Tom: Never useful to hate evil--it merely embroils you at their level. Disdain for vice? Yeah, maybe, depending. Fear of sin's consequences? If you keep from sin only because of fear of consequences, sin has defeated you before you act. And if you walk through life in fear of sin, you lose your imagination. Probably better not to fear sin's consequences but instead feel grief and anger when they appear. Which brings us back to the enclosed material at the top of this post.

I'm sure it's fun to sit in the tower and shoot whatever strays by--one stays clean that way, for eg--but it must eventually get a little dull. Do none among you want to argue my points?

By the way, Frank, I'm using my daughter's friend's email address (on vacation); so don't blame her for what I write.

Tom Chantry said...

Do none among you want to argue my points?

Make one.

Daryl said...


I'll bit, although I think Tom's got you pegged correctly.

You said "Well, Frank, I will disagree with this: "One is either following something not true which is intended to deceive and is itself false, or one is following "good doctrine"." "

So you're suggesting a "third way" then. One that involves neither following good doctrine, nor deceptive doctrine.

So what's your third way?
Remember that anything you say you believe and anything that forms how you see the world and interact with it, is doctrinal at it's core.

So let's hear it. What kind of doctrine is neither good, nor deceptive?

Frank Turk said...

Unknown said:

Well, Frank, I will disagree with this: "One is either following something not true which is intended to deceive and is itself false, or one is following "good doctrine"."

Take it up with Paul. He's the one who said it. Your only hope from here is either (1) to prove that's not what Paul said, or (2) admit you don't give a snot about what Scripture says.

Feel free.

Also: anonymous comments have a short shelf life here. You personally are accountable for what you say. Hiding behind a blank account doesn't make you unaccountable: it makes you obviously-shifty. It makes it obvious you don't want to be known for your opinions and other wordy things. For that, I count two strikes against you.

Next swing-and-a-miss sends you to the dung-out, "unknown".

DJP said...

...and if TUAD shows up?

Frank Turk said...


Yes. I did delete Julie-Ann's self-serving tweet. She was the first one to get the offer to be interviewed here for the sake of her cause, and she declined. She can't both demand I talk about her pet project here in accordance with her rules for engagement and also refuse to talk about her pet project here uninvited with no rules of engagement.

She knows what the rules are, and she has my e-mail address. We can start whenever she wants to start -- according to some rules of decorum.


Frank Turk said...

DJP: go and do the same.


Unknown said...

Well, it's your house. I'm sad that you can't enjoy an open argument without feeling the need to assert tight controls.

Good bye, young man! God be with you.

Frank Turk said...

... the tight control of you taking the same risk I do by putting my own name on my posts on the internet?

That's practically menace-level authoritarianism, and of course, it must be stopped.

I'm sure you'll be back under another assumed name. Don't be so obvious next time -- pick a pseudonym which disguises your pseudonymity.

Unknown said...

Relax, Frank. I shan't be back. I needed to pass a few hours waiting for the women to finish their shopping and simply plugged into what had been left open on this computer.

Rather uncongenial here and I prefer to enjoy myself. Not sure why my daughter's friend reads this site. Ah well, it'll give us something to talk about at dinner tonight.

So best to you. Strike three, over and out.

Tom said...

Hating evil does not embroil you at its level; it gives you extra will to fight it, if you love what is good as well.
Fear of the consequences of sin may hold you from it when morality fails you, and a sin-clouded imagination is far less free than one without.

Frank Turk said...

Yes, yes: my fault entirely. As always.

jmb said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

I deleted that last one, sparing Frank.

Did you know:


* The phrase "frivolous lawsuit" exists only in fiction?

* ANY lawyer can file a complaint that makes ANYONE sound like Osama bin Laden's evil twin?

True facts!

Now: if you don't have something to say about THIS POST, then email Frank who, along with me, is one of the most easily-contactable individuals in Christendom.


Andrea said...

I learn so much from you, Mr. Turk, but your posts usually raise as many questions as your information clarifies. That's not meant as an insult, God's Word is like that, too, only of course far more so.

HSAT, This series is fascinating and helpful for me, as I live in a nest of Unitarian Universalism, and know lots of people even beyond my own community who would find the idea that the bible is myth rather than truth very satisfying. I can even vaguely remember the days when I would have leaped on such an idea with delight.

And I pray with tears for my brother who, while still calling himself a Christian, considers the substitutionary atonement a "small 't' truth." In other words, a nice idea that he likes, but not essential to his "faith."

You have amply demonstrated already that Paul, at least, had a clear distinction in mind between truth and error. I am now wondering if you intend to show the same about Peter, John the
Apostle, the gospel writers, the OT prophets from Moses on, and our Lord Jesus himself. It strikes me that this would be a simple project, enlightening and enjoyable, if perhaps time consuming. The difficulty would not be finding passages, but determining which ones best and most clearly make the case.

In fact, if that isn't your next step, I might enjoy tracing it out myself.

As to my questions, for once few of them come from your bizarre and menacing viewpoint or quirky writing style.

No, I am stumped about the SGM reference. I looked up the acronym, ruled out "Scissor Gang Mafia," "Sleepytime Gorilla Museum," "Shanghai General Motors," and a host of others, and narrowed it down to "Sovereign Grace Ministries," "Scripture Gift Mission," and "Southern Gospel Music."

This is what I get for resisting Twitter, I guess.

It just started thundering, so I don't have time to google each of them now, but if anyone wants to enlighten me, I would appreciate the saved minutes.

Thanks all, and goodnight.

Tom Chantry said...

Nope, sorry, he did mean the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

DJP said...

Oh, Chantry.

Andrea, SGM is (A) Sovereign Grace Ministries, and (B) not the topic of the post. So in missing that, you missed nothing essential.

But now you know!

Frank Turk said...

Andrea --

The purpose of my series here has been a lot more narrow band than your question. I'm just speaking to the category of "myth" as religious writing, and making a case that this category is present in the writings of Paul (and Peter, next week) to say that they would be able to tell us if they thought of Genesis as "myth" if they indeed did think that way.

And for the record, I am completely fine with saying that "SGM" really means "Super Gorilla Montage," but only if someone will assemble said montage.

Frank Turk said...

Comments are closed.