02 September 2014

Truth worth dying for? Anyone? Bueller? Today, anyway?

by Dan Phillips

Privately and publicly, Phil Johnson and I have marveled at the spirit of some moderns regarding God's truth. We've wondered how Christianity could have survived, had it been animated by this spirit at its inception. We've wondered what the early martyrs would think of today's sofa-sitting latte-sippers.

One breed that apparently considers itself exempt from All That has long been the Academy, on which subject we've offered some thoughts previously. These are scholars; they're a breed apart from, well, from the folks who pay their salaries. That's because they've had the benefit of special training and special discipline, and thus are privy to special knowledge. They're specialists. They know facts and truths that mere garden-working pastors and ditch-digging churchgoers just can't understand.

It is important (to these folks) that we respect these folks, that we not malign or criticize them or make them feel or look bad. No matter what they say or write, we mustn't challenge their convictions or character. If they tell us that they fit in with a school's doctrinal position or confession, we must take their word for it. If they tell us that their books or lectures or articles are sound and orthodox, well then, they wouldn't lie or dissemble, would they? They're academics.

Their defenders and enablers surely communicate to all that not much is at stake, that it isn't anything to "get het up" about. They'll spill equal amounts of ink lauding the Christian characters of those who depart from anything the great unwashed would recognize as a commitment to inerrancy, and casting aspersions on less sanguine critics or opponents. Because it isn't as if we should expect someone to commit himself to a position as being binding on his conscience, as being something... oh, I don't know... worth dying for, or anything so drastic.

For instance, we recently read this:
Belief in the truthfulness of the Bible, then, like belief in the truthfulness of Christianity or materialism or anything else [!], is provisional—scholars hold to it (or not) on the basis of the evidence they've seen. Affirming the Bible is true, just like affirming the Christian creeds, is a statement of current conviction: “Based on what I know now, I believe that the Nicene Creed/the New Testament is correct, when properly understood.” It doesn't prevent individuals from researching carefully, nor from abandoning or adjusting their commitment if the evidence takes them that way; the changes of conviction, affiliation, and worship practices of many of the “aha” scholars, as well as those who have moved the other way, should be evidence enough. In some cases, no doubt, belief in inerrancy is associated with fearmongering, closed-mindedness, misrepresentation, and rudeness. But the same is true of evangelicalism, and Protestantism, and Christianity as a whole, let alone atheism, Islam, feminism, materialism, and virtually all beliefs held by human beings. I’ve seen a fair bit of it on Pete Enns’s own blog, and I imagine he’d say the same of mine.
Where did I see that? Patheos? BioLogos? Huffington Post? No; in the rarified air of TGC — which, I remind you, ostensibly stands not for The Great Clubhouse, but The Gospel Coalition; and which, I am sure, is funded and read and has its conferences swell with people who certainly are fiercely committed to the Gospel and the truths that underlie it.

This was a post at that site. And since one of the commenters dubbed this article "incredibly thoughtful and nuanced," well then, from one perspective, it must be considered a rousing success, a paradigm of carefulness and all that.

I made a comment in the meta; Phil shared this in Twitter:
Which provoked this wounded-sounding, bemused response from the author:
Now, ponder that, for a moment. Here's a scholar, who knows more than we all know. He professes Christian faith, at least "provisionally," according to what he knows right now. (Well, it's what he knew when he wrote the article; I suppose that may have changed since then.) Yet, speaking of his own fellow-believers ("Christians") in the third person, he professes bewilderment at Phil's eleven-word comment.

Remarkably enough, though, while unable to make sense of Phil's eleven words out there in print, he can read Phil's mood from the unknowable privacy of Phil's heart— and it's angry. Perhaps Phil is one of those scholarship-despising, progress-slowing fearmongerers lamented in the article? Phil certainly isn't being treated to the paeans of praise that the author heaped on those "thoughtful, insightful Christian brothers and sisters" and "good guys" in the Academy who find fault with the Bible.

So: It's all well and good to tell the unwashed that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). For them, maybe it is. For academics, however, it is at best a provisional conclusion tentatively reached, perhaps, at the end of investigation. It is held as today's conviction, which may be overridden tomorrow, depending on what our real starting-point dictates tomorrow.

Seriously: where would we be, had Doctor Martin Luther said "Here I stand —provisionally. At the moment. I think. Today. But tomorrow... who knows?"

Regardless, I wasn't going to say anything further about it — knowing the waves of anger and offense and indignation that it will provoke from folks who already haven't much use for me, if the usual "ignore it and it will go away" method employed for our posts doesn't serve as well as it usually does for them.

But then I came on this from Spurgeon. As so often, once Spurgeon says a thing, it can't be much improved on. So I'll give him the closing word, and he speaks for me:
I have often wondered whether, according to the notions of some people, there is any truth for which it would be worth while for a man to go to the stake. I should say not; for we are not sure of anything, according to the modern notion. Would it be worth while dying for a doctrine which may not be true next week? Fresh discoveries may show that we have been the victims of an antiquated opinion: had we not better wait and see what will turn up? It will be a pity to be burned too soon, or to lie in prison for a dogma which will, in a few years, be superseded. Brethren, we cannot endure this shifty theology. May God send us a race of men who have backbones! Men who believe something, and would die for what they believe. This Book deserves the sacrifice of our all for the maintenance of every line of it.
[C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 35 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1889), 264.]
Aha, indeed.

And amen.

Dan Phillips's signature


FX Turk said...

It's a good thing that nobody at TGC reads this blog anymore. Because if they did, they might have to respond to this in a way that either admits the original post is not its best work, or else they'd have to defend that post -- and I can;t decide which I would enjoy more.


Doug Hibbard said...

At what point did we cross from speaking plainly so as to be understood?

Let me clarify: if I said, from the pulpit, that I believed in the truth of the Word "provisionally" then I would be taken by the congregation to mean that I was waffling on whether or not I believed the Bible. Theologically speaking, that would be waffling on whether or not God has really spoken, really communicated, really revealed Himself to humanity--though the congregation would simply ask it as "Does the preacher believe the Bible or not?"

Yet we have folks considered great enough to blog for a national audience, and they make that statement but don't want it taken as questioning whether or not God has really said anything? That we're angrily over-reading their words?

I think this shows how thick I am, because I don't get it. Mean what you say, say what you mean...and if you can't do that, then perhaps you need to edit it again before you say it. Or not say it at all.

In a plethora of speech courses in college, we were taught that presenting the message clearly was the responsibility of the message sender. If you want to communicate, you have to anticipate the issues that might arise with your message, the interference that is out there, and the broader context of your recipients. If you then communicate poorly, that's your fault, not the receivers. Now, if someone's just thick and wants to redefine "is" or "Bible," then you can't really fault yourself for their lack of understanding.

But in this case, we're all supposed to be reading the same Book, using the same basic dictionary, and following the same concepts. Why, then, are people upset when their plain words are interpreted as...plain words?

I'll crawl back in my cave now.

Fred Butler said...

Andrew Wilson is the guy who wrote a scathing review of Strange Fire last year cheering on the "God's voice in my head, Quaker in light", view of spirituality. See here, http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/the_embers

He even seems to give a thumbs up to Sarah Young's Jesus Calling stuff.

If he starts here at the standard Charismatic supremacy of your little spirit man talking in your head view of spirituality, I can understand how he is down on the Bible as truth.

DJP said...

Yikes. Yep, well, autonomous man does not want an Authority Out There.

But conversion is supposed to strike a death-blow at that itch.

To the rest: wow. Someone should really devote a whole conference to developing and applying a robust doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Wouldn't that be great?

FX Turk said...

I'd only come if someone paid for my airfare and for that of my wife. The Bible tells me so.

Unknown said...


Sufficiently? Or provisionally?

Morris Brooks said...

The other thing that bothered me about the article was the use of the term "nuanced view of inerrancy." During the inerrancy war in the SBC, one of the moderate "scholars" wrote an article about the 8 different views/positions of inerrancy. All those 8 nuanced views of inerrancy did was to provide cover, so that those that really don't believe the Scriptures could call themselves inerrantists while hiding behind one of the 8 definitions.

Richard Miles said...

We should be grateful to God for Andrew Wilson, he has been standing for Biblical truth in areas such as penal substitution and Christian marriage.

As for the Strange Fire conference, some of the views there would make Martyn Lloyd-Jones a heretic!

DJP said...

I'm grateful for any good position Wilson provisionally held to be true at the time until he learned a better one, and glad if he still holds them at the moment. Then insert the entire post, above.

As to Lloyd-Jones, since you use the plural ("some of the views"), it should be child's-play to source one direct quotation from Strange Fire that would make him a heretic. Thanks in advance.

Phil Johnson said...

So let me get this straight: my exact quotation from the key sentence of his climactic paragraph somehow came across as an angry misrepresentation?

They're right: I don't have enough academic degrees to make sense of that kind of logic.

DJP said...

May need one more Po-Motivator. To wit

I hate it when you quote me and disagree

LanternBright said...

I made this point in the comments section of Andrew's blog, but I'll make it again here:

There comes a point at which 'nuance' only serves to utterly destroy the possibility of a definition at all. If I called a view that advocated for little-to-no government interference in the free market "a nuanced view of Marxism," then I've only really destroyed the definition of Marxism and made an already-confusing discussion all the murkier.

Andrew did the same, unfortunately, in the TGC piece--that someone can comment on Andrew's piece that he's in doubt whether or not he's an inerrantist even though he openly admits that there are contradictions and errors in the Bible indicates pretty forcibly that Andrew (who I am certain would disagree with each of those things) has failed to serve the conversation in a pretty significant way.

FX Turk said...

I Love You, Sock Puppet. Never change, and never stop smoking that pipe!

FX Turk said...

I also love when people cite Lloyd-Jones as a conventional "he walks with me and he talks with me" Charismatic. It proves to me that the internet is still what it has always been, and on it, someone is always wrong.

FX Turk said...


We have covered the idea of "nuance" before, and the idea of what it actually ought to do should embarrass those who use it to obscure truth.

DJP said...

Now Frank, be fair. To speak so sweepingly, surely Richard has listened to all of the Strange Fire conference sessions at least once. And, having alluded to "some of the views," he must have a pile to sift through. We should picture him even now, hard at work going through the pile to pick out just the one best representative of a speaker who would consign Lloyd-Jones to Hell.

We have to give him time.

LanternBright said...

Wow. Thanks, Frank--amazingly, I'd somehow missed that Pyro piece the last time (possibly the last TWO times?) around.

Not the first time I've said something only to find out afterward that you or Dan had already said it better than I could.

DJP said...

Pair that with the one I link to in the post, and we've pretty well got the whole hopeful-thoughtful-careful-nuanced weaselfest surrounded.

Anonymous said...

Man alive.

Are we going to have to re-write "The Fundamentals" at some point and endure the rise and fall of fundamentalism all over again?

It seems to me that the trash spewed out of eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe (i.e. Tubingen) is somehow ending up being proudly paraded in evangelical circles again...

...and we always have around 5 seconds of memory when it comes to the impact of horrible and heretical ideas.

I mean, it's not like a few select thinkers, reacting to the hollow and vapid "Christianity" that was left after the liberals had burned down the house, had ANY effect in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Hegel, Kant, Marx, etc.).

Is anyone paying attention to history anymore?



Unknown said...

Here was my comment:

I'm pretty sure that the author would need to clarify his basic epistemological commitments, including his idea of "evidence", in order to make any sense of his "Belief in the truthfulness of the Bible, then, like belief in the truthfulness of Christianity or materialism or anything else, is provisional...". It seems quite plain he is assuming that there is a clear, common, objective archimedean point from which all "good guy" scholars are working. Short of a defense of this philosophical vantage point, I think the article just equates to "hey guys, I'm smart too, I just have a little different opinion, but we're all smart together, right?"

And is Mr. Turk the latte drinker you speak of at the beginning of the post?

DJP said...

Goodness, no. Even if he drinks latte instead of biting the beans off and roasting, grinding, and brewing them in his mouth as I suspect, no.

Unknown said...

Hahaha! Hilarious. Just hard not to see his pic and then read that opening...

An37 said...

It strikes me that we conventionally use "aha!" when we find something that we were already looking for. So, "Aha! Now I know who was stealing the cookies!"

When we come across something that runs contra our beliefs and pre-commitments, we are more likely to say "hmm..." and investigate further.

I humbly submit that the problem with the "Aha!" moments is that they _are_ "Aha!" moments rather than "Hmm..." moments.

DJP said...


FX Turk said...

You know: I have waited all day to say this, but I can't hold it in any longer.

I thought Phil Johnson had retired from blogging ... ?

Angela said...

The problem is emoticons. They would clear up all the issues... well, except with the aforementioned article. I still have no clue what it was trying to say... Bible inerrancy good? Bad? Only matters if you experience it?
It leaves me with a confused emoticon.

One good thing, I have just been schooled in all the nuances of nuances. :) see you know I'm sincere because of the happy face emoticon

Now if I could just find the "I'm just joking, don't kill me" emoticon... Except about that bible inerrancy article, not joking. Still perplexed.

Unknown said...

I think the article is a gonner. Haven't been able to view it for some hours.

trogdor said...

I was going to take another pass at the article, make sure I wasn't misrepresenting it when I started to ridicule it, but it appears to have been disappeared from TGC's website. (because if we delete it and pretend it never happened, it's all good) So, I'll have to go on memory here.

You can't help but marvel at his excuses/accusations. First he pulls a Charles Barkley (who once complained that he was misquoted in his autobiography) by claiming a direct quote is misrepresenting him. Then he wrote this whiny follow-up to take the NT Wright stance - if his post denigrating inerrancy seemed like it was denigrating inerrancy, it's only because you're too careless, or maybe stupid, to understand it properly. It can't be that it was a poorly-written piece of garbage that never should have even made it to a complete draft let alone actually being published, oh no, you're just a low attention span moron. Of course.

I had an idea for a parody post (feel free to rip this off, anyone with time to write it well!) where I interview historical personages for their A-Ha! moments. You know, Arius, Pelagius, Socinus, Joseph Smith, the Pope.

Then I realized where I had seen this article before - Elephant Room 2. How is his handling of inerrancy different from Jakes on the Trinity? "A-Ha! If I say I'm a Trinitarian, but then define the Trinity in Modalist terms, these man-acting suckers will lead lots of fresh victims my way!" How is that any different from his parade of anti-Christian views all being called Christian because, well, they say they're Christians who honor scripture, and who are we to judge?

DJP said...

I've clicked on the link in this article twice, and it worked both times.

Robert said...

I wonder if any of these people have considered where the church would be if Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wycliffe, Knox, Huss, etc., hadn't actually taken a strong stand against false teaching and the RCC? Why were these men willing to die in order to go against false teaching? Was it because things were provisionally true? Here is a definition for provisional:

Provisional - arranged or existing for the present, possibly to be changed later.

So belief in the truthfulness of the Bible can be changed later based upon evidence? I'm sorry, but the Bible itself obliterates this thought and, in my opinion, establishes Scripture as pointing to presuppositionalism in 1 Corinthians 2 6-16:

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,

“Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Where does Paul mention evidence here? He is making a sharp contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. The author of the blog post seems to not be worried about making such distinctions from the way that I am reading it. Maybe I am wrong, though.

Anonymous said...

That whole paragraph where AW discusses the provisional nature of various scholars' beliefs for or against inerrancy premised upon evidence is a train wreck, to be sure. That whole paragraph has POMO written all over it.

In AW's defense, his last paragraph states: "for my part, I think Jesus treated the Scriptures as the unbreakable Word of God, and therefore those who follow him should assume the Bible does not contain mistakes. I’ve written and taught about this point a fair bit, and I imagine I will carry on doing so." In the immortal words of Carl Spackler, "So he's got that goin' for him, which is nice."

Perhaps there will be a bit of a wake up call over at TGC and for AW over their downward slide toward postmodernism (which is getting more and more prevalent under the new editorship).

To wit, I wonder how much longer Joe Carter can last around all of the emerging and submerging going on over there??

Keep up the good work, Pyros.

DJP said...

Oh yes, right now he's got a position that could be taken to be something like acceptable. Provisionally. At the moment. Based on what he knows.

Well, when he wrote, anyway. Today? Tomorrow? Who can say?

Richard Miles said...

To clarify, I am not spending time doing as you said. The sense that I had from reading about/listening to the conference is that anyone who refuses to say that miraculous gifts ended when the Scripture was complete is in some way a heretic. That includes the Doctor. And no I don't believe he was a Charismatic, and neither am I. At that conference, a few non- charismatics were called out for not espousing cessationism.
Incidentally, that is a separate issue to AJW's view on inerrancy.

FX Turk said...

Ruchard - it's a shame, then, that you aren't going to listen to the Strange Fire conference talks. They would have served you well.

However, as part of our goal here at PyroManiacs to reduce the amount of aggregation of ignorance on the internet, you aren't going to be allowed to comment on this topic here until/unless it is about specific statements about specific talks you have listened to from that conference.

To make sure you;re being treated fairly, I'm not going to comment on the content of Chinese news reports which I have not listened to. Those reports may or may not be useful or factually correct, but since I haven't heard them and have only heard the opinions of others about them, I'm not qualified to comment. I'll keep up my end of the bargain to avoid commenting in ignorance; please do the same for me.

Kevin said...

What's really rich is that they're advertising Kevin DeYoung's book "Taking God at His Word" at the bottom of the webpage after this article. What???

DJP said...

Of course you're right.

But don't you think that the real effect at this point in the game is what we've been saying for a long time? Isn't it the impression, "Sure, we believe these things you believe in... but it's not like it's all that big of a deal. Nothing to get worked up about. People who believe the exact opposite are good people, good Christians, good scholars — good guys! But do come to our conferences and buy our books, because we do believe those things."

Robert said...

I guess at the end of the day my question to proponents of inerrancy is this: What does Scripture say about how we are to interact with false teachers? Because if they really believe that the Bible is inerrant, they should be following what Scripture says, right? Especially since these are the scholars who should really know what Scripture says, right? Am I missing something here?

Anonymous said...

We're not really surprised that TGC published this article, are we?

David Alves said...

I read the article when I found it in my newsfeed via Phil. To say it was painful would be an understatement.

I am unsure which is worse: (1) The statement that belief in the Bible is provisional (why am I thinking of a certain BioLogos contributor right now?), or (2) that the statement was being used in an article which gave an altogether too friendly, dainty, gentle defense to unregenerate scholars who profess to be Christians but who think far too highly of their own opinions and far too little of the binding, inerrant authority of God's revelation.

Unrelated to this article, a Facebook friend posted as his status the following: "We do not pet wolves, even when they eat the snake in our yard."

It would appear Mr. Wilson would have us not merely pet the wolves, but insist -- with great earnestness and bewilderment at contrary opinions -- that one can view Scripture like a wolf and still be a "thoughtful brother or sister in Christ." (Or worse, that such bibliology is not even "wolfly" at all.)

My heart breaks for the darkness coming upon the Church.

Unknown said...

I remember what Phil Johnson wrote before ER2 about how The Gospel Coalition would have to choose whether the gospel or the coalition was more important. Their current trajectory isn't making me optimistic.

DJP said...

Absolutely seriously: isn't it remarkable that the most prophetic words are being spoken by cessationists?

threegirldad said...

I remember what Phil Johnson wrote before ER2 about how The Gospel Coalition would have to choose whether the gospel or the coalition was more important

Just shy of three years ago.

Unknown said...

Is there a nuance then in changing your mind as a way of maturing? Like someone new to the task of Eschatology might be rotating every week depending on what he reads. Or a newly Reformed person looking at baptism?

I guess here (in this article and comments) the chat is more about whether or not the Bible is evidentially true, but what about the difference between new winds of doctrine and exploring new options in attempts to mature?