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Knowing other than creation

Is All Truth God’s Truth?

“All truth is God’s truth” is a common paraphrase of Augustine of Hippo’s writings, such as On Christian Doctrine, (II.18):

“A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God or give thanks but became enfeebled in their own thoughts and plunged their senseless minds into darkness. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for the image of corruptible mortals and animals and reptiles’ [Rom. 1:21-3].”

But that is different from the meaning today that “Christians should recognize that whatever people say is true, must be true for God, too.”

In that vein, I append an excerpt from The End of “Christian Psychology” by Martin and Deidre Bobgan. EastGate Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA, 1997, pp. 45-47:

Is All Truth God’s Truth?

Individuals who want to make psychological theories and therapies available to Christians and who attempt to integrate such theories and techniques with Scripture justify these practices by saying, “All truth is God’s truth.” At first such a statement sounds plausible and even true. However, we need to look at what might be included on each side of the equation of “all truth = God’s truth.”

First of all, what is truth? While there are several definitions of truth, one generally assumes that truth represents that which is true, real, and actual. Truth is the perfect expression of that which is. If what is put into the category of “all truth” is limited to “the perfect expression of that which is,” then that would be “God’s truth.” However, the assortment of ideas, opinions, and even apparent facts under the designation of “all truth” reduces truth to meaning “imperfect human perception of that which is.”

The broad field of psychology at best involves human observation and interpretation of Creation and therefore is subject to human error and the blindness of the unregenerate heart as described in Ephesians 4:18, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.”

Psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies have the further problem of subjective imagination also proceeding from unregenerate individuals. They represent a further departure from expressing that which truly is. Instead, they present some subjective observation, reasoned analysis, creative imagination, and much distortion. If these ideas are included under the declaration, “All truth is God’s truth,” one must conclude that those who use the expression have greatly misunderstood the nature of truth, let alone God’s truth.

In raising human observation, interpretation, and opinions to the same level and authority as God’s truth revealed through Jesus and in the written Word of God, those who promote psychology among Christians demonstrate their high view of human opinion and their low view of Scripture.

In his discussion of “all truth is God’s truth,” John Moffat says, “I think that, in many ways, this slogan is the verbal equivalent of a graven image; something that appears to represent truth but does not.”3 He explains:

None of the people that use this “all truth” expression actually say that they consider man’s thoughts equal to God’s revealed Word, it just happens to work that way in practice; just as at first the graven images were not meant to replace God, only to represent Him.4

Then to show where “all truth is God’s truth” thinking can lead a person, Moffat says:

I can imagine Nadab and Abihu talking before the early worship service in the wilderness. One says to the other, “All fire is God’s fire. God made all fire; therefore it is all of him.” Or while Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the children of Israel could have said to Aaron, “All worship of God is God’s worship.” These analogies have the same deceptive sound of being logical at first glance, but they are full of the same ambiguity and deceit as the expression “all truth is God’s truth.”5

In contrast to the broad category labeled “all truth” by those who want to include what humans perceive through their senses, achieve through their reason, conceive in their minds, receive from one another, and interweave with Scripture, the specific category of “God’s truth” includes only what is perfectly and flawlessly true. God Himself is true and He has made known His truth through His Son, who referred to Himself as the truth (John 14:6); through His written Word, which perfectly states what is true (John 17:17); and through the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of Truth who will guide believers into all truth (John 16:13). With all that God has provided in His Son, His Word, and His Holy Spirit, one wonders why people are so enamored with the psychological opinions of men.

All humans have partial perception, fragmentary knowledge, and incomplete morality through common grace and general revelation. While these are gifts common to all mankind, they are contaminated by human depravity. Whatever truth people have perceived is contaminated by their unrighteousness. Apart from special revelation and special grace, all stand guilty before God, because they hold whatever truth they have gained through general revelation or common grace in a state of unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Do such people appear to be reliable sources for Christians to seek counsel for godly living? Indeed, general revelation and common grace serve as very weak and even dangerous justifications for dipping into psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies, all of which were conceived and developed by unredeemed minds.

  1. John D. Moffat, “Is ‘All Truth God’s Truth’?” The Christian Conscience (May 1997), p. 27.
  2. Ibid., p. 28.
  3. Ibid.

The real literalists

There is a kind of scholarship that starts with a very literalistic reading of a source text, finds contradictions in it, and concludes either that it is a combination of contradictory texts or that a very non-literal reading is justified. This is a method that seeks to justify one extreme by criticizing another extreme. No serious thought is given to the many options between these extremes, that the text is meant neither as a literal extreme nor a figurative extreme.

For example, Genesis 1:1 to 2:2 contrasted with Genesis 2:3 to 2:22 has differences that are asserted to be in conflict and hence represent contradictory traditions. The Documentary (Wellhausen) Hypothesis explains perceived inconsistencies in the Pentateuch by asserting it was written independently by four different authors and subsequently woven together by redactors. While the presence of various sources in the Bible is not a concern, the assertion that these contradict one another is.

This line of scholarship leads in two directions: (1) discerning every contradictory thread and inferring various factions, and (2) interpreting the whole text by inferring poetic license. So a whole panoply of figurative devices is promoted for hermeneutics and a playwright’s brew of characters is encouraged for historical studies.

There is an alternative to this game: reading the text not too literally and not too metaphorically. That is how people normally speak and it works rather well. People who are called biblical literalists usually do this and are able to reconcile supposed contradictions through a natural but close reading of the text. Those who are most opposed to literalism are the ones who follow the kind of scholarship I have outlined and end up with a one-two punch of a very literal reading (rejected) followed by an excessively metaphorical reading that knocks out the intended meaning.

Religion in Ngrams

Google’s Ngram Viewer gives the frequencies of words and phrases in books since about 1800. It is an interesting way of looking at history in the last two centuries. What follows are some observations about the usage of words associated with religion and Christianity:

Usage of the word religion has gradually decreased since 1810, steeply until 1860. The words virtue, virtues and virtuous have declined since 1810. Trinity has decreased since 1815.

The words priest and pastor are parallel with priest more common and both declining moderately since 1860.

Several words have declined since 1840: irreligious, evil, wicked, church, God, Jesus Christ, Christianity. The word theology had a peak in 1890 and a trough in 1940. Christian declined from 1850 to 1920 then leveled off.

The words atheism and atheist decreased until 1920 then leveled off. The terms evangelical (or Evangelical) and reformed (or Reformed) declined from the 1840s to 1920 then leveled off.

The words moral and prayer declined from 1840 to 1940 then leveled off. Holy Spirit decreased from 1840 to 1940 then increased as Holy Ghost declined.

Contrary to this trend Christmas increased from the 1830s to the 1940s, declined until 1970 and then has increased since then. Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843 and likely contributed to the rise.

The words secular and secularism have increased since 1920. The phrase organized religion took off from 1900 to 1940, and has oscillated since then.

Bible peaked in the 1850s but has been on the rise since the 1970s. Bible study had a steep peak in 1915, declined to the 1940s, and a steep rise since the 1970s.

So the period 1840 to 1920 had a general decline in usage of religious words. Since then it is more mixed: some decline but also some increases, Bible study being the most dramatic.

Toward a biblical YEC philosophy

A biblical young-earth creationist (BYEC) is someone who believes that the Bible shows the earth to be relatively young, that is, created within the last ten thousand years. As such there are BYECs in all the major branches of Christianity and so while they agree about the age of the earth, they do not agree about many other matters. Yet it is clear that among those actively concerned with origins, the typical BYEC is someone who considers the Bible to be the first and last authority in matters of faith and science. So we will accept that as our starting point.

Now why would a biblical young-earth creationist want to develop a philosophy? One reason is to justify to others inferences made from the Bible about the created world. That may seem strange to some: why is philosophy required to justify inferences about the Bible? The answer is philosophy is not required but it may help. One might say, for example, after making an inference from the Bible: Meditate on this biblical passage until you see the validity of the inference. That might be sufficient for someone to understand the inference. But it might not. The person may come back and say: I meditated on the biblical passage but I still don’t see the inference. At that point one might explain how to make inferences from biblical passages in general. That would involve doing philosophy.

Another reason a biblical young-earth creationist might want to develop a philosophy would be to justify inferences about the created world. That may also seem strange to some: why is philosophy required to justify inferences about the created world? The answer is again that philosophy is not required but it may help. One might say, for example, after making an inference about the created world: study these phenomena in light of the Bible until you see the validity of the inference. Again, that might be sufficient for someone to understand the inference but it might not. The person may come back and say: I meditated on the phenomena in light of the Bible but I still don’t see the inference. At that point one might explain how to make inferences from phenomena in light of the Bible in general. That would involve doing philosophy.

A deeper reason why a biblical young-earth creationist might want to develop a philosophy would be to justify the belief that the Bible is authoritative in matters of science. Here it is not unusual for creationists and others to say that belief that the Bible is authoritative in matters of science is part of their worldview and cannot be justified to those with different worldviews. That could end many conversations with those who are not biblical young-earth creationists. But if there were a philosophy that allowed the justification of biblical young-earth creationism, then there would be greater possibilities for conversations with those who did not agree with biblical young-earth creationism or did not understand how such a belief could possibly be justified in this day and age. So a philosophy would have an apologetic value for communicating and defending biblical young-earth creationism in general.

With that, let us see if we can at least begin to develop a biblical young-earth creationist philosophy. At this point, someone who knows something of various philosophies might very well tell us that we were embarking on an idealist philosophy. That is, they might well say that for us the Bible has provided true ideas of what reality is like and so reality for us is defined in terms of the true ideas in the Bible. We might reply, Not so fast — we’ve just begun this project. But this might make us a little more cautious about how we proceed.

At this point someone who knows philosophy might say, The Bible is a text so every word has to be interpreted; you must subscribe to the so-called ‘linguistic turn’ in modern philosophy. We look this up and read,

“Where word breaks off no thing may be”: this is the line from a poem by Stefan George repeatedly cited by Martin Heidegger to indicate his version of the linguistic turn, which affected many philosophers in the early twentieth century …

They explain that our version of this is, “Where Bible breaks off no thing may be”. Since the Bible defines reality, the science of hermeneutics – interpretation – is the key to philosophy and theology, too. Our head may start to spin a little here. No, that is not what we mean. But now we have to be extra careful how to proceed.

We have begun with the Bible as the first and last authority in matters of faith and science but is that really all we have begun with? The Bible is a book which exists on paper or in other forms such as audio recordings or digital representations – so do we accept that books and other media are real? Do we have to go to the Bible to assure us that books and other media are real? Surely we know that books and other media are real without consulting the Bible. And what about the chair we are sitting on or the floor under our feet? Do we have to consult the Bible to know that they are real? Surely not.

So we can safely grant that the commonsense things of life are real without consulting the Bible. Books and chairs and people and things we deal with in everyday life are real and no Bible or philosophy is needed to know this.

At this point someone who knows something of various philosophies might well tell us that we have turned toward materialist philosophy. We acknowledge the existence of material objects and that the Bible is a book on paper or other media which are material entities so for us reality must be primarily material and only secondarily what we get from the Bible. We might again reply, Not so fast – we’re still trying to think this through. But this might make us a little more cautious about the world of material objects.

At this point someone who knows the Bible might start asking questions. They might say for example, What about Abraham in Genesis 18? In verse one it says: “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.” Then in verse two it says, “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” In Genesis 18:1 it says the LORD appeared and in Genesis 18:2 it says three men appeared. Mere common sense would have seen three men but not the LORD. For that, Abraham needed revelation and we need the Bible.

Quite so. But note the fact that Abraham saw three men did not invalidate the revelation that the LORD appeared to him. The common sense perception of three men was perfectly compatible with the revelation that the LORD was there. So acknowledging the reality that common sense provides us is consistent with acknowledging the authority of the Bible.

Fourfold Gospel

There is one Gospel but four ways of understanding it.  These correspond to the four “Gospels”, that is, the Gospel according to Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.  They each emphasize different aspects of the good news of Jesus Christ.  For example, see Characteristic Differences of the Four Gospels (which Kregel Publications calls “Four Views of Christ”) by Andrew Jukes.

The fourfold Gospel includes a fourfold atonement corresponding to the key roles and accomplishments of Jesus Christ:

(1) Victor:  He overcame death, hell, sin, and Satan, that is, evil and all its manifestations, without denying the rights of Satan and his minions.  Christ is Lord, King, and Ruler of all.

(2) Sacrifice:  He provided a way for God to forgive us without compromising righteousness.  He did this by satisfying the requirements of justice on our behalf.  Christ is Priest, Lamb, and Temple for all.

(3) Mediator:  He restored our relationship to God, that is, overcame our alienation from God, without ignoring the development of our alienation.  Christ is Prophet and Intercessor for all.

(4) Exemplar:  He embodied the way, the truth, and the life of God, showing us how to live, what to think, and which actions to take.  Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

2005

Faith that works

Is this a dispute about words? It could be but these are key terms and so much is bound up with them that it is important to get their meanings right.

What is this faith that works? In the first place, this faith always leads to some action, and such action is always more than saying that one has such a faith. However, the Apostle Paul affirms that verbal confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ accompanied by belief in the heart is sufficient to ensure one’s salvation. Rom. 10.9.

We can begin to see a difference between the confession of faith in Romans and the mere claim that such faith exists in James’ letter. Here is a financial analogy: One person has money on deposit at a bank and they trust that the bank will return the deposit with interest on request. Someone else owns a financial derivative that is based on this deposit and they believe this will benefit them financially. In the latter case a deposit exists somewhere but the person does not own it; they own something related to it. In the former case the person owns the deposit although they can’t see it except in documents they trust. In the analogy, these documents are like the Bible which provides assurance that salvation is ours to possess. The derivatives are like an assertion that such faith exists but are not personal possessions.

So we see the danger of a derivative faith, which is mere assent without conviction.

There is another aspect of saving faith: follow through. Jesus gave a parable about a farmer planting a seed and not knowing how it grows but trusting that it does. This is implicitly contrasted with someone who plants a sees and doubts that it is growing so they dig it up frequently to check it out. Such a seed doesn’t mature. The former is saving faith that follows through and the latter is faith that is undermined by doubt and doesn’t follow through. As Jesus said in another context, “He who endures to the end will be saved.”

While the formula “sola fides” is rejected by the scriptures as a formula, it expresses scriptural truth when accompanied by further explanation. What is the scriptural formula? Why do we need formulas? The scriptural truth is clear enough: salvation is by faith and saving faith confesses the lordship of Christ and follow through with corresponding actions. The particular actions are not specified; the content of the faith is specified: Jesus is Lord. Believe it and act accordingly.

2008

The necessity of philosophy

The contemporary world is characterized, among other things, by the cult of the expert.  It is widely and officially accepted that the expert and only the expert can speak authoritatively on a given subject.  So extensive is this cult that once someone has become a certified expert in one field, they are often assumed to be experts in other fields, whether or not they actually have the qualifications.

How do we know who is an expert on what subject?  The experts tell us!  As long as the experts support one another’s claims to expertise, they constitute a closed system and everyone else is supposed to accept them all.  But if some experts disagree with other experts, no end of problems can result.  This is such a disastrous possibility that it is often suppressed.  If an expert disagrees with the predominant expert option, their expert status must be taken away.

So the cult of the expert becomes an all-or-nothing proposition.  Either one accepts all the certified experts or one rejects the whole idea.  And this basic proposition must be decided by people who are not experts.  That is the irony of the cult of the expert.

But it was not always this way, nor must the cult of the expert necessarily continue.  Let us briefly consider what life would be like without the cult of the expert.  That is, what if people were encouraged to think for themselves?  Would civilization crumble?  Or would it flourish in ways that no-one can predict?

The starting-point for this project must be something that is available to anyone that is close at hand, that is within the grasp of anyone who wants to think for themselves.  There must be no expertise required!  Sometimes it is called “common sense” although that is an ambiguous term.  I prefer to all it high-level thinking in contrast to the detail-level thinking that requires special education or experience.

One of the problems that experts are prone to is seeing the trees but not the forest – missing the larger picture because they are focused on details.  Of course, they can retort that the amateur sees the forest but not the trees, meaning they make mistakes by overlooking important details.  Agreed; there are potential problems either way.  In taking a high-level approach, we shall have to take care to avoid hasty generalizations and mistaken identifications.

This is the task of philosophy.  With nothing more than a love of wisdom and a curious mind, we launch out to gain sufficient understanding to live wisely – that is, to gain wisdom.

One method to approach a question is to look at extreme answers in order to frame the issue.  In common experience, extremes are rare so we make expect to find answers somewhere in between.

2009

Radical orthodoxy

Radical Orthodoxy is a movement (or ‘disposition’) among some theologians which attempts to articulate Christian orthodoxy in the context of post-modernist critiques of modernism, post-liberal critiques of liberalism, and post-secular critiques of secularism. They’re not creationists but they do make some similar points about creation, fall, and redemption contrary to evolutionism.

According to its best-known exponent, John Milbank, theology should speak “directly out of the Biblical tradition, without any recourse to external supplementation,” and should be using “the resources of revelation alone.” And Paul Tyson in the online journal Radical Orthodoxy makes points that creationists could approve in “Can Modern Science be Theologically Salvaged?” (2014) http://journal.radicalorthodoxy.org/index.php/ROTPP/issue/view/3. Here are some excerpts:

“Entirely de-temporalizing the cosmological and teleological horizons of the biblical narrative does profound damage to the biblical narrative, for that narrative is inescapably temporally constructed. History is the texture of Judeo-Christian revelation, even if history is certainly not understood in modern historiographical terms.” p.130

“… the texture of history cannot be extracted from the Christian revelation, and that history has an Edenic age just as it has an eschatological age, and those alpha and omega ages are ages located within Christ, yes, but they are ages of a different yet real nature to the present and somehow less than fully real nature.” p.132

“Modern naturalism recognizes only one age, only one nature. Life is a strange and transitory visitor in such a picture of reality. Without some sort of true meaning to Eden, the radicality of goodness in creation, which persists but is marred by sin, death, scarcity, and disease, is lost, and the radical eschatological horizon of total redemptive hope for nature is also lost.” p.133

“For in the final analysis, there is a profound imaginative dissonance between a reality outlook embedded in a three age canonical narrative of salvation history and modern naturalism, particularly in relation to cosmogony.” p.134

Looks like a movement worth watching.

November 2014

Links

Here are various links worth exploring.

Seeking Answers?

Religion and Public Life

Help the Persecuted

Defending Liberty

Review of Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox

On Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox (Conciliar Press, 1992)

This book presents an engaging story and defense of the transition of a group of evangelicals into the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Parts One and Three tell the story and Part Two presents a defense of Orthodox positions on issues sensitive to many evangelicals. The key point in their journey he says was letting history judge them instead of the other way around. This meant giving priority to the faith and practice of the ancient, undivided church.

The group of leaders that Peter represents did careful historical research, were open to what they found, and were willing to change if necessary.  Their guiding desire was to find the one, true church if possible. They ended up starting their own Evangelical Orthodox Church that eventually merged with (if that’s the right term) the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

He addresses several issues that are hot buttons for some evangelicals: tradition, liturgy, calling priests “father”, the Virgin Mary, and the cross. Their background is apparently the anti-liturgical wing of evangelicals who are suspicious of all tradition and liturgy because they are associated with dead ritualism. But there are many evangelicals in Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist communions, for example, who don’t have such attitudes. Though admittedly the high church “smells and bells” type of liturgy he defends is the liturgy of only a few evangelicals.

The only issue he addresses that comes close to a core evangelical issue concerns the Virgin Mary. Both Catholics and Orthodox consider Mary the first Christian and the model for all Christians. He calls her the greatest woman who ever lived, a model of obedience, purity and holiness, royalty and intercession, and the mother of God. He distinguishes Orthodox teaching from Catholic teachings of her Immaculate Conception and Assumption. And he criticizes Protestants for slighting her.

Let’s consider this in detail. Gillquist asserts that Mary is the “most blessed” (which he uses interchangeably with “greatest”) of all woman. With all due respect, being the most blessed sinner is still infinitely less than being the Sinless One. But it’s a point that one can accept without accepting his other assertions.

The importance of the identity of the first Christian is in what it means to be a Christian. He asserts that in her role as mother of our Savior she is the first to accept Christ as her Savior. He doesn’t elaborate but the argument seems to be that a good work may translate into salvation. A parallel might be Zaccaeus who gave half of his goods to the poor: “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.’” Was Zaccaeus the first to give away his goods? Probably not. Is that what it takes to become a Christian? Of course not.

In fact Scripture doesn’t support Gillquist’s assertion. It shows that Jesus’ family didn’t understand him any sooner than the apostles. When he was found in the temple at age twelve, Jesus said to his mother: “‘Why were you searching for me?” he asked. Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Luke 2.49-50. While getting flak in Nazareth, Jesus said: “Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” Mark 6.4

The first one to profess Jesus as the Christ was of course the apostle Peter. In the rest of the New Testament it is the profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ that is the key act that makes one a Christian. Acts 2.36; 10.43; Rom. 10.9. Baptism is also part of becoming a Christian but the first Christian baptisms were not until the Acts of the Apostles.

Gillquist then asserts that Mary is our “supreme example, or prototype”. He says, “Everything we aspire to become in Christ she already is.” The only defense he offers is to assert that hers was the first ‘decision’ made for Christ. That’s quite a jump from first to ultimate! Does the first man on the moon know all there is to know about the moon? Is any sinner already perfected? The logic is impenetrable.

Gillquist goes on to assert that Mary is our model of obedience because of a few acts of obedience record in Scripture. What about Abraham, etc., etc.? He says she’s our model of purity and holiness but in defense merely asserts this isn’t unthinkable. He says she’s our model of royalty and intercession but his defense is only that we’re all kings (Rev. 1.6) and we’re all called to pray (Eph. 6.18).

In the next section he affirms Mary’s title as the mother of God (p.106). He starts by quoting Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary: “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk.1.:35, Gillquist’s emphasis) I’m left wondering why Elizabeth isn’t the first Christian.

Then he explains the Nestorian heresy. We needn’t go into the details except to note that dogmatizing the title (and anathematizing “mother of Jesus”) was an effort to protect the doctrine of the Incarnation. This was analogous to the Jews “building a hedge around Torah.” The logic of these protective dogmas is this: if God says X, we must say X + Y to make sure we’re not even close to denying or failing to do X. Such an approach led to Pharisaic dogmas that put heavy burdens on the people and were condemned by Jesus. (Mt. 23) The same motive led Catholics to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Once the Orthodox have accepted the logic of protective dogmas, they really have no grounds for disagreeing with the Catholics.

Next he says we must honor Mary and call her blessed. No Christian would deny that though he takes this to mean that she must be honored in the liturgy in certain ways. Other ways apparently don’t match some unspecified standard.

Then he asserts that Mary is ever-virgin. It’s not clear whether this is a dogma but as long as it’s not, evangelicals would have no problem with someone believing it. Otherwise, it lacks positive Scriptural support (explaining away problem verses isn’t enough).

Finally, he distinguishes Orthodox from Catholic doctrines. But they are very close. Both Catholics and Orthodox read much about Mary into a few Scriptural remarks. Such eisegesis may seem pious to some but does little to promote the faith.

May 2002