My previous post on this issue got a decent amount of feedback, both in the comments and elsewhere. Here is my promised rebuttal to those thoughtful comments, and while I want to address them in particular, I’d like to first take a moment to re-articulate the core of my previous article, before tackling the particular responses.

The reason for this approach is that the majority of feedback I received (certain persons notwithstanding) was largely off-topic from the central issue or addressed what were only peripheral concerns.

What I called the “central issue” of the last article was the idea of sola scriptura. Some people took issue with my definition, so I will expand it.

What I mean by sola scriptura can be boiled down to something like this:

The supremacy of the Bible over and/or against tradition (or any other means) as the primary authority, starting place, or standard for Christian life, morals, beliefs, etc.

As a matter of note, saying something like, “GOD is the primary authority, starting place, etc.,” doesn’t say or add anything to the discussion if reading and using the Bible is your primary way of communicating with/interacting with God. We’d still be talking about the same thing.

Fixing our definition of sola scriptura makes the arguments presented last time stronger and more to the point and makes for a wider target. Now, if sola scriptura is the “central issue,” the underlying issue is the issue of authority. This is the real center of the problem, which I will summarize like this:

There are certain things that are of central importance to the Christian: how we are saved, what is the church, are the sacraments real, how should we specifically live our lives, what it means to be a Christian, etc. These are very important issues. However, the Bible isn’t written as a rulebook or an instruction manual, and because the Bible isn’t crystal clear about these very important things, and because, moreover, no text can interpret itself, the text must be interpreted. If the Bible is the only show in town (because you believe in some version of sola scriptura), then the Christian who takes the Bible in this way is in for a bumpy ride: endless argument and discussion about interpretation leads us to the question of authority: who is the authority on interpretation? And then we’re at a standstill, since the question is actually impossible to answer in the realm of Protestantism. This leads to all the problems we detailed in the previous article.

The critique may be made even shorter by saying this:
At the end of the day, you and the Bible means YOU, because the Bible has got to be interpreted.

Put another way,

Sola scriptura means solus ego.

That is the central problem with Protestantism, and is the cause of all the splits and other consequences we discussed.

Now, our previous responses boiled down into four major categories:

1. The differences between denominations really aren’t that big.

2. Protestantism isn’t perfect, but this is okay (because nothing is perfect and/or we can make it better).

3. Different approaches (other than Protestantism) have their flaws too.

4. The Holy Spirit can do it!

I’ll address these four concerns in turn.

1. The differences between denominations really aren’t that big.

John McCormick writes,

“…there are some divisions within Protestantism, and to be honest the division between the orthodox and Catholics, that are derived more from cultural differences than differences in our understanding of the Bible or our faith in Jesus as the risen lord.”

Yes of course there are cultural divisions all the time, but we’re not talking about cultural divisions, we’re talking about theology. A friend of mine once pointed out that even the time-honored John 3:16 can (and is) read in radically different ways by different Protestant sects. Calvinists (who believe in determinism) would take the word “world” to mean something like “only the elect in Christ.” Arians (followers of Arius) would take “only-begotten” to mean “created.” Arminians would take “whosoever should be belief in him shall not perish” and add “unless he falls away and loses  his salvation.” Certain assent-only Christians (some Baptists or Lutherans) would take “believe in him” to mean intellectual assent, devoid and unrelated to works. The list goes on and on, and they go on and on about things that are utterly central to the faith, vital knowledge to our existence as Christians, and necessary questions that need clear, distinct answers if we are to live fully Christian lives.

James Chasteen writes,

“That is to say, divergent thought is possible while still maintaining saving faith within the individual and theological hegemony within the collective.”

Now, this can be true, but to a degree. Discussion about what order to do Sunday worship, what songs to sing, and any of the peripherals may seem to be fairly inconsequential to most, but that’s not what we’re talking about, as we pointed out. Someone who thinks that God sends people to hell and someone who thinks that heaven and hell are open to any who chose them do not have the same cosmology, do not have the same understanding of salvation, and probably don’t believe in the same sort of God. Lumping a massively large group of people with all manner of radically divergent ideas together because they all read the same text (albeit differently) and then calling them the same thing is a very confusing move, and hard to justify. For a more clear-cut example, Mormons, “Christians,” Muslims, and Jews all affirm the importance of the Old Testament. Are they similar, therefore, in distinct and important ways? Why, yes they are. Are they the same thing? Not even close. Obviously Protestant groups aren’t as radically divergent as the above examples, but when one examines the profound differences in their theology about fundamental, core issues, it becomes very difficult to call them all the same thing.

2. Protestantism isn’t perfect, but nothing is, but that’s okay, and/or it can get better.

John McCormick describes this as an inability to “enforce a consistent hermeneutic,” calls the inability in “developing a coherent system of thought” a “difficulty,” and invites us to developing a “coherent philosophical system” in Protestantism.

The problem with this sort of language is that the problem with Protestantism (the underlying issue of individual authority) can’t be solved by some further movement, some additional voice in the braying multitudes. There are tens of thousands of separate, distinct Protestant denominations, some with more organization, some with none, and any voice that tries to transcend Protestantism in order to rally Protestantism will not be able do that by the nature of the thing. You think that hasn’t been tried before? It’s been tried thousands of times, literally. Attempting it again will only add +1 to that huge 20,000-30,000 number we talked about. That’s all. This is due to no other reason that the issue of authority.

John McCormick writes,

“Why we have lost the public sphere I believe is related to our inability to understand how to engage in the public sphere without the use of force. There are good Protestant and Evangelical thinkers. They are just really bad at communicating to the masses of protestants.”

I’m not sure how that claim can be made, for it’s quite the opposite of the situation! We have some utterly FANTASTIC speakers and communicators in Protestantism, and some singularly brilliant men to boot (William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, to name two). The issue isn’t with the speakers by a longshot. The issue is that each individual Protestant can (and does) hear a fantastically communicated message from a brilliant theologian and then immediately begins thinking to himself whether or not, or to what extent, he agrees with it! The reason this happens is because there is no sense of obedience to authority (and no sense of authority to be obedient to) within Protestantism. Another way of putting this is to say that the true doctrine, if it is true, must be administered to the people and the people must conform to that true doctrine. But here again is the issue of authority: not only is this not really done (as the individual Protestant must decide if he agrees or not) but it actually isn’t possible: if I’m a Protestant, and the leaders of Protestantism all say contradictory things, how am I to choose who to conform to? How do you even begin answering this question, except by beginning a process of “figuring it out for myself”? And then we’re back to where we started: individualized authority. Not only does every Protestant tend to be his own Pope, he has to be!

3. Other solutions to this problem (from Catholics and the Orthodox) have problems of their own (with the hidden assumption that this invalidates their solution).

I’m not going to address the numerous referrals to Orthodoxy and Catholicism which I received on the previous article because they are off topic. As I said before, it is “vitally important to focus on the problems presented, and shouting bravely that Catholicism (or Orthodoxy)  is no alternative will not provide us with a solution to these problems.”

4. The Holy Spirit can solve these problems.

The excellent dissection of this problem done by Jon Bryan may be examined further and in more detail in a later article, but the holes with the solution(s) presented are simple:

  1. Who says that this is the way we should do things and why should we believe his authority? The Bible certainly doesn’t explain how this works in any specific way. Though, in fact, the passages in Acts about Pentecost seem to lean, if they lean anywhere, to a specific group of humans and a specific institution having a special interpretive relationship with the Spirit who is to “guide” them into “all truth” (I’ve never had a tongue of fire on my head, have you?) though that’s not really part of our discussion yet, just food for thought.
  2. No one’s denying that the Holy Spirit giving special insight can’t or doesn’t or won’t happen, only that it doesn’t seem to be the normative (as in “normal”) way things happen; it always shows up as some special exception to the norm. Further, we need something normative to guide us into the truth about these things, and we need to know with definitiveness what that thing is and how it works (see 1).
  3. The fact that people disagree about doctrine with such variety IS in fact an argument against the Holy Spirit working in this particular way. For your description of how this might work provides a compelling possibility, but doesn’t really seem to match up with the world we encounter. If the Holy Spirit were helping us in this way and guiding each individual person, we would expect to be living in a particular world. Let us imagine a world where there exists a hyper-active Holy Spirit (HAHS?) that behaves this way. In this possible world, we’d find a loosely organized (if at all) group of Christians carrying their Bibles around and praying all the time and ending up mystically on the same page as everyone else who did the same, all more or less as one group. In this world it would be the “traditionalists” endlessly splitting and fighting and fragmenting over man-made doctrines. We can surely conceive of this, however, when we look at our world, we don’t see this, instead we see Quite the Contrary: What we see instead are the Bible-only, HAHS-believing, and tradition-hating people endlessly splitting and fighting and fragmenting. Meanwhile, it is the “traditionalists” who have stayed unified in three very old groups (Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox). Each of these three groups is massively older and more similar with one another than with the group of fragmentors and are yearly growing closer in unity rather than further apart (Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox are actively working toward reunification, and there is constant cooperation and respect between Catholics and the Orthodox and moves toward unity and mutual acknowledgement).

That’s all for now, folks. Hopefully that was helpful. We are still waiting on an answer to the central question of Authority. Who says? Why should we listen to them? Why I can’t I do it myself? I Protest!

Some Videos on Orthodoxy

EDIT: I’ve included three more videos at the bottom.

There’s been a lot of chatter about Orthodoxy and Protestantism (and Catholicism, for that matter) in the last month or so, and I am preparing some more posts to help further discussion on the topic of denomination, and to answer many of the questions and concerns that people have posted and written to me about.

As I mentioned perviously, I am looking to do a follow-up post to my controversial Problems with Protestantism post which addresses the concerns many have raised. I’m also looking to do a few posts about Orthodoxy, specifically how Orthodoxy solves (or doesn’t have) the problems I mentioned about Protestantism, what is meant by “sacramental theology,” and a post which I hope to title Reasons to Believe in a Historical Church.

In the meantime, I’d like to offer some very helpful videos on Orthodoxy.

Church History

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tirUy13Q_L8&feature=relmfu
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h41JmCCH7AQ&feature=relmfu
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAJYdUW8DzY&feature=relmfu

This video series is a documentary with a very good synopsis of church history, and an overview of the current movement away from Evangelical Protestantism. Just ignore the fairly rabid youtube user who posted this video; the documentary is very level-headed.

Answering Objections

This five-part series is a lecture by Father Anthony, and is wonderfully informative in summing up and answering the most common objections to Orthodoxy that Protestants tend to have.

A couple warnings: first, the sounds quality is not perfectly great. Second, this guy is doing a play on the game show Deal or No Deal, in which someone calls up on a proverbial phone to ask questions. In this case, that person poses as the Protestant interlocutor. BUT I bring this up because when the “phone” rings, it’s really loud and starting, so you have been warned! Other than that this is a wonderful talk, and he presents a number of EXCELLENT points, well worth dwelling on.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJ7Y_eFq6l8&feature=relmfu
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNyJhbD9LRc&feature=relmfu
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJMVCGm0iVs&feature=relmfu
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gd2eFCqR3r8&feature=relmfu
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMXOzjdd32c&feature=relmfu

Scripture (Alone?)
As for the final video set, ignore the guy’s somewhat untraditional accent. The first two videos are an excellent discusion on the history of the canonization of scripture, while the last is a discussion on the issues with sola scriptura.

 

Stay tuned! I will have at least one thing up in October about this.

Introduction

In every place and time there comes about certain things which are taken for granted, which are not questioned or thought through because they have become so common place. I believe that the philosophy and practice of Protestantism is one of those things, and this is an essay to bring to light what I believe are very real issues with the body of Protestant ideas passed down to us from the Reformation.

For some people who do not know me very well, and who would attempt to accuse me otherwise, it is important to add that I am a believing Christian who wants to walk with God and do the work of the Kingdom. As St. Paul has charged us to test everything and see if it is good, I feel no irreverence for doing so now, and no one reading this essay of a Protestant background should feel attacked, nor should anyone feel that the Gospel of our Holy Messiah is being attacked. Far from it; I believe that by investigation we can learn how to better do the work of the Kingdom.

            It should be noted also that this essay does not, by itself, attempt to make any arguments for anything in place of Protestantism. That said, I think it vitally important to focus on the problems presented, and shouting bravely that Catholicism (or Orthodoxy)  is no alternative will not provide us with a solution to these problems.

            First, I will define the central issue. Then I will explain the four major problems with Protestantism: the first two, and then the two that follow from them. Lastly, I will detail what I think the consequences of those problems are and their ramifications on the church.

The Central Issue

The central issue is the idea of sola scriptura. Sola scriptura is Latin for “scripture alone” andis one of the five “solas” made by Martin Luther. It seems to be the most common belief shared by Protestants across the board. To put it weakly, this is the idea that the Bible is “all you need” to understand the life of the church, salvation, sin, and how to live one’s life. This idea puts most other means of understanding the Christian life as secondary to the Bible, and outright rejects other things, such as tradition. Some “stronger” forms of sola scriptura say that one shouldn’t believe anything that can’t be directly found in the Bible (or interpreted directly from it). Some churches say they believe in prima scriptura as a way to be less radical than those who have very strong versions of sola scriptura, but all forms of Protestantism make the Bible their epistemological foundation and starting point for truth, whether or not they are more inclusive of other means (such as reason, experience, or the Holy Spirit) or more exclusive. To put this another way, the problem is having the Bible as your starting point.

Problem I:

Protestantism Has No Reliable Method for Interpreting Scripture

The Bible is supposed to be authoritative in our lives and give us knowledge about the nature of Christ and Christianity, and especially of living the Christian life. Yet, the Bible is not always clear. Indeed, very often, between its parables and stories, it is not clear at all about one point or another. Interpretation about the Bible, what it says and what it means, varies wildly by Christian groups. The reason for this is that no document can interpret itself; someone must read the document and must interpret it. This is where the confusion and conflict comes in: churches split, heresies are formed, and truth becomes scattered and fragmented. Even if people are not aware of the extent to which this is a problem, we are all aware that some people interpret the Bible incorrectly. We say that they are not reading the Bible right, and they just need to read it the way we do. But of course, they say the very same thing about us. Most people are content with thinking that they are right, or that this is an easily surmountable problem. But this problem is the result of sola scriptura, of thinking that the Bible is all you need to live the Christian life fully or interpret the Bible. There are three misunderstandings about this issue.

  1. The things which are debatable in the Bible are just the details, not the main issues of Christianity, which all Christians agree on.
  2. There is only an interpretation problem if you look at one verse at a time: each part of the Bible can be (and needs to be) interpreted by other parts of the Bible.
  3. There is not really an interpretation problem because the Holy Spirit will guide one’s reading of the text.
  1. This is a common misunderstanding. People think that Biblical disagreements are about little things, and not “first-tier” issues, such as Salvation, redemption, and the nature of Christ. Unfortunately, this is not the case: things which Christians disagree about seem to have always fallen under what might be called “first-tier” issues. The nature of Christ and his relationship to the Trinity, and the Holy Trinity itself, was the subject of the majority of early heresies, and continues to be in such heretical circles as the Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Arguments about salvation, and the nature of salvation, persist within “normal” Christian circles as well: Predestination and Free Will, whether Communion is literal or figurative, the distinction (if any) between faith and works, what Baptism is, what the Church is, and so forth. These are pressing and real problems, both deeply theological and unavoidably practical.
    And of course, what is and what is not a “first-tier” issue is also an issue in great conflict! Disagreements about what goes in this first tier and what does not are themselves large issues and cannot be resolved by appeals to Scripture, for the Bible does not make lists of these things.
  2. This idea that the Bible can be interpreted via other parts of the Bible is true enough: prophecy points us to the Gospels, and the lens of the Gospels goes back to help us interpret the Old Testament. Yet, this isn’t the end of the story, because someone still needs to decide how to interpret the Bible with other parts of the Bible. The Bible doesn’t do this internal interpretation itself: a reader must do it.
  3. This is by far the strangest idea, and the most confusing. It is hard to know what it means: does one get a feeling that guides one? How does one know the feeling is reliable? Does one have a dream every time one reads scripture that interprets the entire text precisely? This strikes me both as a dangerous position and a foolish one. Dangerous for two reasons: first because whatever emotion you’re feeling or voice you’re hearing need not be the Holy Spirit. The Enemy speaks to people too, as do one’s own prejudices and preferences; both of which can be easily disguised in a vague claim like this one. It is foolish because of the arena of pride a claim like this establishes: the jump from “I have the Holy Spirit interpreting with me” and “your interpretation is wrong” equals “You don’t have the Holy Spirit,” a bold claim that is more often than not beyond the authority of the speaker. But the most logical objection comes from St. Augustine in the fourth century: if the Holy Spirit is guiding the reading of the text, why do not teachers send their students to the Holy Spirit directly, rather than try to teach their students from their own teachings, as if they were the only ones to have access to the Holy Spirit? But of course, the problem of disagreement and interpretation still remains, even after everyone has claimed illumination from the Holy Spirit.

So we see that the Bible must be interpreted by someone, and that those someones all disagree, and that the things about which they disagree are all very important issues, theological as well as deeply practical. This explains how there are now between twenty- and forty-thousand Protestant denominations in America, but it does not explain how to solve the problem. For indeed, when you have the Bible as your starting point, because its words can be used to justify any amount of heresy (as history has aptly shown us), what you really have at your starting point is each man. Each individual man interprets the Bible on his own, and the more educated he is, the better success he may have. But even among the highly educated, very little consensus has been shown. When everyone is their own Pope, no single voice prevails.

Point II:

Protestantism Has an Inability to Affirm Scripture as Authoritative, Inspired, etc.

For many of the same reasons given in point I, Protestantism also cannot affirm much about the Bible in terms of its own authority. How do we know the Bible, in its exact and particular 66-book form, is Authoritative, and what does that mean? In other words, if we are using the Bible as our starting point, how do we know that it is a good starting point?

            There are generally four reasons people give to think so:

  1. The Bible talks about itself as being authoritative and inerrant.
  2. The Holy Spirit affirms the Bible as authoritative and inerrant.
  3. The Bible has a singular message that would be humanly impossible to assemble.
  4. The Holy Spirit preserved the Bible intact to be passed down to us.
  1. This is the common argument and it has three huge problems.
    First, the Bible does not talk about itself as a whole. When verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 reference “the Scriptures,” it is not abundantly clear what Paul is talking about, since the word in Greek (graphé) just means “writing.” I think myself that Paul is referencing the Septuagint, that is, the Greek Old Testament used widely by everyone at this time. It seems the most likely and makes the most sense. What doesn’t make sense is that Paul would be referencing not only the Old Testament, but also the very letter he was writing, and all of the New Testament Books that had not been written yet. It is generally affirmed that many (or all) of the Pauline epistles were written before the Gospel accounts, so this means that he couldn’t even have been talking about the Gospels. Now, you could say that Holy Spirit guided Paul into writing that in the letter without his needing to know about the future New Testament that didn’t exist yet, but that is an assumption which has no footing in the actual text that we’re reading; it’s something we just read in to the text as a possibility. Now, possibilities make poor arguments: we need some reason to think that something which is possible is also the case. This problem applies to all other verses similar to the passage from 2 Timothy, specifically anywhere that the word “scripture” is used. It also applies to verses that talk about “the word of god.” Passages about the “word” of God are even more suspect and vague, since that word is a loaded word, and so often has so many meanings (chief among those meanings, I think, is simply “Christ”).
    Second, even if you were to grant that those passages are talking about the whole Bible, they don’t mention anything about inerrancy or infallibility. The best you get out of Paul is “profitable” or “inspired.” And it is a bit of a jump from “inspired” to “inerrant,” one that requires additional arguments.
    But third, even if you had the Bible talking about itself, AND you had it talking about itself in terms of “inerrancy” and “infallibility,” there remains the simple logical problem that it is circular reasoning to believe the Bible is infallible because the Bible says it’s infallible. If a man came up to you and told you that his words were infallible, therefore you should believe that his words were infallible ABOUT his words being infallible, you would laugh at him. Now, I happen to think that the Bible is indeed infallible, but the argument here is that you cannot get that belief from scripture alone.
  2. This is the same problem we had back in point I. It doesn’t appear to mean much, or explain how it works, and why that isn’t accessible to everyone everywhere. It is especially problematic in light of the fact that there are two major versions of the Bible floating around, one very old which includes the “Apocrypha” and one much newer which does not.
  3. I think that this is true, but I don’t see how this defines the Bible as a set collection of books (recall the two different versions that continue to exist) nor do I see how this shows that the Bible is authoritative or inerrant, at least not explicitly. We need some additional thing to make such a jump, and that thing is not found explicitly in scripture.
  4. I think that this is true too, but again, it’s an assumption that’s read into the text and not one that we get from the text. You can’t get there by scripture alone, and you certainly can’t use it to figure out whether or not your Bible should contain the inter-testamental books (the “Apocrypha”) or not.

So, given a position of sola scriptura, or having the Bible as the starting point, we cannot seem to demonstrate that the Bible is anything that we say it is!

Checkpoint: So far we have concluded that Protestantism cannot affirm the authoritativeness of Scripture, and, even if it could, could not interpret scripture reliably. When you combine these two conclusions with the fact that Protestantism is based entirely on doing those two things (since it has nothing else, no tradition, no other books, no living apostles, etc., to guide it), the entire framework of the Protestant way of life collapses.

This is a bad situation to be in, and there are two more points that are direct results of this problem, and then some consequences I’d like to outline as a result of all of these problems.

Point III:

Protestantism Cannot Adequately Define or Preserve a Unified Body of Doctrine

This follows naturally from Points I and II, and the fact that the Bible does not speak about every topic. The Bible has nothing explicit to say about how the Lord’s Supper should be done, prepared, received, administered, and so forth. Likewise, it has nothing to say with any detail about Baptism. Should infants be baptized? DID they get baptized in the first century (How did people’s “whole household” get baptized if you shouldn’t baptize infants?)? The same is true for every other sacrament, of marriage, confession, church authority, and so forth. Neither does the Bible talk about the amount of sacraments or their nature. The Bible does not say whether or not, or to what extent we have free will (what does the word we commonly interpret as “predestined” even mean?), does not extrapolate on what “having faith” means in specific terms, does not explain if we are merely “sinful” or “totally depraved,” does not say if Mary can hear our prayers (or if she can’t), how Christ’s sacrifice exactly saved us, or what the atonement even means. The Bible doesn’t even explain the Trinity! All of that has to be interpreted from the Bible. Yet, as we have shown, there is no reliable method within Protestantism for doing so. So the result is that we cannot have a standardized body of doctrine. Indeed, Protestantism does not have a standardized body of doctrine about these issues. As we mentioned, there are an estimated twenty- to forty-thousand Protestant denominations in this world, and while some would like to say that this was caused by disagreement about the color of hymnals and other silly matters, it would be naïve to say that all the Protestant churches, or even most of them, split over such things. From Lutherans to Pentacostals to Calvary Chapel to Reformed Theology to Arminianism, Protestantism is a churning pool of contradictory doctrine and self-proclaimed authorities. And as we have noted, these disagreements are not even close to being exclusively about trivial matters.

Point IV:

Protestantism Cannot Tell Us How to Live Out Our Lives

This is the logical conclusion of Point III. Not only does the Bible not extrapolate a whole lot on doctrine in explicit terms, but it certainly does us no favours in terms of daily living. The Bible does not talk about at what stage a fertilized egg is a human being, or whether we should watch rated R movies, or when you should fast, or how often; it does not have any guidelines for young people about dating, nor does it have much of anything really explicit to say about the age of the earth, the universe which science has shown to us, or whether or not we should play video games or read Harry Potter. Again, verses can be obtained to back up (or shoot down) all sides of these positions, but if we don’t know how to interpret the Bible (Point I) and if, as a result, we don’t have a single body of doctrine (Point III), then there’s no way we can have specific guidelines about how to live our lives from the Bible alone. More practically than some of the above (perhaps trite) examples, we are told to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” How? How doe we do that? We are told to “trust in God.” What does that look like? We are told to “go and sin no more,” to “become transformed by the renewing of our minds.” How exactly are we to go about doing that? What tools do we use? How do we use them? How do we “have faith”? What does that mean? How does it look? How do I know I’m doing it right? We would not accept this kind of vagueness from an instruction manual on how to assemble a computer, but how much more important are our souls? The Bible has a wealth of orders for us, with very few explanations.

Checkpoint: Protestantism finds itself in a bind: it wants to do the work of the Kingdom and obey God, but it cannot find within scripture alone the specific tools to do so. Still less can it preserve a single body of doctrine (the many recent splits about homosexual marriage and ordination are proof enough) or tell us how to live our daily lives. I believe that there are several consequences of this predicament:

Consequence I:

Protestantism has Become Intellectually Impotent and Watered-Down

What has happened in the meantime is that Protestants have had to discard the majority of practices held by the overwhelming majority of Christians from the first century up into the present day. These practices include such things as the use of icons, prayer beads, beliefs and practices surrounding the Lord’s supper, the Sacrament of Confession, the power and authority of the Priesthood, assent to the Nicean Creed, classical theological beliefs about God’s nature and the nature of salvation, and many, many other issues. These things have had to be discarded as Protestantism tried to boil down more and more to things that actually could be proven out of the Bible, in a process of reductionism now spanning almost five centuries. The ultimate result of this is the “non-denominational” movement. This is a very watered-down version of Christianity, almost unrecognizable from the richly theological and powerfully practical church of the first century. It is not difficult, then, to see how Christianity has lost its carefully crafted theology and its honed use of reason and rhetoric. Because the church has not been able to present itself as an intellectually viable worldview, it has all but lost the culture war against secularism and atheism. This is the main reason why the resurgence of evangelicalism in this country has not altered its staunch secularism. David Wells writes that,

“The vast growth in evangelically minded people…should by now have revolutionized American culture. With a third of American adults now claiming to have experienced spiritual rebirth, a powerful countercurrent of morality growing out of a powerful and alternative worldview should have been unleashed in factories, offices, and board rooms, in the media, universities, and professions, from one end of the country to the other. The results should by now be unmistakable. Secular values should be reeling, and those who are their proponents should be very troubled. But as it turns out, all of this swelling of the evangelical ranks has passed unnoticed in the culture. … The presence of evangelicals in American culture has barely caused a ripple.”

[David F. Wells, No Place for Truth (Grand Rapids, Mich.” Eerdmans, 1993), p.293]

Consequence II:

Protestantism Leads to Relativism

Protestantism, taken not as individual churches but as an entire whole, is a philosophy of relativism. As we have seen, the Bible cannot be one’s perfect authority within the framework of Protestantism, and the real thing that is the authority is the individual self. Protestants answer to no one. It is true that Protestants all claim to answer to God, and I do not question their desire, but as we detailed in Points I and II, God is not calling down special revelation on each individual person about points of doctrine. Or if he is, he’s saying very different things to different people, or else he’s only saying the right things to some people, if at all. Because of that, Protestants must be their own authorities. Who else can be? And it does not take much effort to see the comparison between the world of the Protestant churches in which each man is his own theological authority (provided he plays nice with everyone else) and the world of our secular institutions, in which every man is his own moral authority (provided he plays nice with everyone else). When Protestants reply that the things about which they differ are “up for grabs” or “matters of opinion” and not the “fundamentals” of the faith, one cannot help but notice that we hear the very same arguments from secular people about moral issues like sexuality, abortion, and marriage. If moral relativism is not permissible, why is theological relativism? And again, who gets to define what is a “fundamental” tenant of the faith and what is merely secondary?

Consequence III:

Protestantism Leads to “Fundamentalism”

Because Protestantism is always besought by dichotomies and extremes, the other side of theological relativism is what the secular culture has dubbed “fundamentalist” Christianity. Fundamentalism is difficult to pin down and define, so it may be easier to paint a picture of it.

A stereotypical “fundamentalist” Christian tends to ascribe to a hyper-intensive version of sola scriptura. Far from acknowledging the problems with interpretation we outlined above, a fundamentalist usually insists that Bible doesn’t need interpreting at all (or very little), and its literal words can be read right off the page to supply us with everything we need to know. But as we have shown, this does not work, and the attempt to press even harder at the task results only in contradictions, strange positions, and out-of-context readings. Further, a fundamentalist tends to take such issues as the age of the earth, voting Republican, and not watching R-rated films as functionally equal to tenants of actual doctrine, at least in practice or attitude even if this is never verbally assented to.

The problem here is the kind of witness it gives to the secular culture at large: far from being intellectual powerhouses with good answers and robust explanations for their religion, “fundamentalists” tend to be the opposite: they make arguments about evolution with no real knowledge of science, put forth embarrassing explanations for their beliefs on doctrine, and generally “Bible thump” to the point where non-believers can very easily dismiss them as stupid, mean, ridiculous, or all of the above. In short, they “cause the enemies of God to blaspheme.” But of course, what else is one to do in the face of Christian relativism and armed only with the Bible?

Conclusion

As we have seen, when the Bible is taken as a starting point in isolation, as sola scriptura, many problems arise. With just the Bible, one cannot interpret the Bible nor affirm that the Bible is authoritative or infallible. Without either of those two things, one cannot preserve or define a clear body of doctrine, nor establish any specific guidelines for living one’s life. And of course the consequences of those two things are intellectual impotency, the relativism that inevitably crops up, and the sorry intellectual state which relativism affords.

            One may attempt to use more than the Bible, while always putting the Bible first, as Wesley and others do: employing reason, tradition, and experience, but where that ultimately leaves us is the problem of individual authority. When I sit down with my scripture, no matter how many tools I use, it will always be, at the end of the day, my interpretation. When everyone does this, there cannot be a single body of doctrine, not really, and therefore no shared Christian life, indeed, no body at all.

            We must now ask ourselves Paul’s question: “Is Christ divided?” It would seem so. Unless, however, there was some other way to affirm the power of scripture, to interpret it correctly, and to live the Christian life; but that is the topic for another discussion.

One of the most frustrating examples of the sad fact that we no longer learn logic in schools is the “debate” that’s been going on for the last few years about homosexuality.

Of course “debate” is used very generously here, as we have seen very few non-fallacious arguments put forth on this subject, on either side. I’ve talked a little bit about how “’cause the Bible said so” is a fallacy called “appeal to authority,” and requires some further premise (such as “the Bible is inerrant”) in order to succeed.

But what has the pro gay marriage camp got to say? Not a whole lot that isn’t strictly fallacious.

Here is an excellent article I stumbledupon earlier today.

The discussion we should be having about homosexuality involves what I’ll call its relatively “moral-ness”, for lack of a better word, that is to say, discussion over whether or not it is moral.

Let’s break down each of the points presented in this article and see if we can uncover any arguments about that question.

Point 1: “Blame yourself.”

Step 1: Blame yourself.

There may be other arguments to support the idea of blaming yourself, but the picture presented here presents an obvious fallacy by assuming heterosexual couples are intentionally causing the orientation of their children. Even if that were true, its not much of an argument, and tells us nothing about the issue.

Point 2: “Realize gay marriage is inevitable. Statistics show people’s views rapidly changing on the subject.”

Step 2: Realize gay marriage is inevitable. Statistics show people's views are rapidly changing on the issue.

This argument may be phrased as a peer-pressure fallacy: “The majority of people think that A is moral. Therefore A is moral.” This is obviously fallacious.

It could also be phrased as, “Behavior A will inevitably be sanctioned by the government. Therefore behavior A ought to be sanctioned by the government.” This is fallacious because it attempts to jump from how something IS to how something ought to be, a jump that requires additional premises.

Point 3: “Imagine how stupid you’ll look in 40 years.”

Step 3: Imagine how stupid you'll look in 40 years.

This argument is also twofold. First it makes the following argument: “Cause A is morally equivalent to cause B.” Why is this so? They are similar situations, yes, but are the morally interchangeable? This is a different question.

This point also tries to appeal to “looking stupid” as a normative force for action. I think we all know better than that.

Point 4: “Listen to Louise CK.”

Step 4: Listen to Louis CK.

Louise CK presents an argument (and a rather convoluted one) stating the usual argument that if things don’t affect you, you shouldn’t have any input on them. But the real argument that he’s making is deeper: he’s essentially asserting that there are no objective moral values and that therefore the only things that matter to people are the things that affect them directly. Well, I would like to see some arguments about why or how he thinks that there are no objective moral values. Indeed, that is the argument that needs to be had first, before we start talking about what is and what is not moral.

Point 5: “Let go of the idea that same-sex marriage is ruining the sanctity of marriage argument.”

Step 5: Let go of the idea that same-sex marriage is ruining the sanctity of marriage argument.

This one is the most obviously fallacious. It states that “Because A is ruining the sanctity of marriage, B is not.” It essentially creates a false dichotomy.

Point 6: “Take a closer look at the Bible.”

Step 6: Take a closer look at the Bible.

There are three problems with this point. The first picture makes a very poor argument based on the (Protestant) idea that the entire text of the Bible is authoritative in the same way and with the same weight. Also because there is no citation there, I am able only to guess, but I believe he is referencing the Levitical code, which applied only to Levites. If that is the case, that would be irrelevant on top of being fallacious.

The second imagine makes the opposite mistake of the first. The first was rested under the assumption that the entire Bible was one long rule-book wherein each rule needed to be obeyed to the letter. The second makes the assumption that only the specific words of Jesus are authoritative. Such a reading of the Bible would be quite unhelpful.

Thirdly, both arguments miss the far more relevant passages. 1 Corinthians 6:9 is sort of hard to work around:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…”

Point 7: “Read their story and watch their video. Try not to cry.”

Step 7: Read their story and watch their video. Try not to cry.This whole point is an irrelevant and dismissible Appeal to Emotions. Now, dismissing such an appeal does not mean that I, or anyone else, is apathetic to the real sufferings of human beings; what it means is that appeals to emotion are not valid arguments, and amount to anecdotal evidence.

Point 8: “Take a look at the people in your own life. How many couples do you know that have stayed together as long as these couples?”

Step 8: Take a look at the people in your own life. How many couples do you know that have stayed together as long as these couples?This too is irrelevant to the discussion at hand: “staying together” and the implication of fidelity and true love, is not an argument! Least of all is it an argument about the moral value of such actions.

Point 9: “Imagine their wedding.”

No argument here is really offered, so I’ll skip it.

Point 10: “Look how happy these people are.”

Step 10: Look how happy these people are.This too is an appeal to emotion, but its argumentative content might look something like this: “Whatever makes people happy is morally right.” Such an argument is not a priori true, and needs many, many premises to have any sort of intellectual weight.

Point 11: “Ask yourself if you could say no to these kids?”

Step 11: Ask yourself if you could say no to these kids?This too is an appeal to emotion and carries little to no cognitive weight.

Point 12: “As yourself if you could say no to Neil Patrick Harris?”

Step 12: Ask yourself if you could say no to Neil Patrick Harris?This is just point 11 redressed in a different and cognitively indistinguishable manner.

Point 13: “Look at the consequences.”

Step 13: Look at the consequences.

The reason this isn’t fair is its use of hyperbole. Here’s a possible consequence: “A culture endorses a morally reprehensible behavior.” Now, if it turns out that homosexuality is is in fact morally reprehensible, that would be a consequence. But we haven’t had that discussion yet, so this “pie chart” is running on assumed premises.

Point 14: “Imagine the alternatives.”

Step 14: Imagine the alternatives.

I’m not really sure what sort of argument this is putting forth. If someone else is, please let me know.

——————————————————————————————————————–

So, did you detect any real arguments in that article? Neither did I!

If you support gay marriage and think you can do better, please feel free to post your arguments in the comments, but please make sure they are real arguments, they are not fallacies, and they are related to the actual question posed above.

Until then, happy logic-ing!

The last year is also my Last Year and, given the letters I’ve been getting, many of you are concerned about my physical health from school, as well as the lack of posting.

Not to worry! In just a few short weeks, it’ll all be over, and then I can finally put up all the articles (some of you have been almost constantly reminding me of certain of these) and the scholarly comics I’ve been assembling during lectures and lunch and late-night study breaks.

One quick note for now: in Metaphysics last week, Dr. Key mentioned a logical fallacy that I had never heard before. He called it the “My dear boy” fallacy, which occurs when an argument is put forth as proof for one conclusion, but could just as easily have been used in defense of the opposite conclusion. That is to say, the argument could offer proof either way, and a second argument is therefore required to explain why the first argument supports the side of the speaker.

Apparently it was coined by a Cambridge professor who knew Dr. Key (or one of his colleagues, I’m not sure), as a summary of the phrase, “My dear boy, couldn’t that just as easily prove the opposite?” I’ll have to ask him who it was that coined the phrase, but when I heard it I remembered all of the times when it was applicable, and wondered that we never had a name for this most useful of fallacies!

Anyway, six more weeks or so and I’ll be catching up on a lot of posts, answering letters, and all that jazz.

See you then!

Ever since the Enlightenment there’s been a lot of talk about science, mostly about how great it is. The scientific method of observation and hypothesis-forming has lead to innumerable discoveries and advancements in technology of every kind, from industry to medicine. There are T-shirts, now, which read, “Science: it works, bitches.” No doubt it does! I don’t actually think there’s anyone who denies this. But in the great success of the scientific method, I think people got carried away. They started to think that science was “all one needed,” and somehow (I cannot quite discover how) the jump was made from the success of empiricism to total assent in materialism, and the buzzword of “science” permeating through it all. Empiricism raised its banner in defiance of all other truth-claims. “Truly,” its adherents sighed, “with this we can master all things.”

But wait, we have a problem. The problem is that the empirical method of science is not philosophy. Not philosophy? What does philosophy have to do with this? Well, philosophy was the discipline that used to claim the capacity to answer all of life’s questions, and I think its quite safe to conclude that it still firmly sits upon that throne. What I think was not realized was that science was only a sub-discipline of philosophy, only a small specialization of the great study of Reality. Why is that? Because science cannot answer a number of questions about reality. Which ones? Start at 1:10 if you want to cut to it:

The dubious claim is Atkins’, that “science is omnipotent.” Craig shows by counterexample that this statement is obviously false, and I want to dwell on the last one in particular. Whether or not you buy Craig’s example about the Theory of Special Relativity (or even his other examples) is not the issue, the point he raises is profound: The empirical method is entirely circular: it cannot justify itself. Empiricism lays great emphasis on the superiority of its method, because it yields results which we can touch and see. But what does that mean? Essentially, it’s a claim to the superiority of empiricism because its methods yield empirically-verifiable results. One is appealing to empiricism to prove empiricism to be true, and hence becomes entirely circular.

What are we not saying here? No one’s saying that science doesn’t “work.” Of course it does. What we have discovered is that empiricism cannot itself be its own justification, and therefore is not a substantial, self-subsisting worldview, not to mention the number of other things Dr. Craig points out which science lacks the ability to explain. Why? Because those things are not scientific questions. To quote CS Lewis in Mere Christianity,

“Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, ‘I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2.20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so-and-so,’ or, ‘I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such-and-such a temperature and it did so-and-so.’ Do not think that I am saying anything against science; I am only saying what its job is.”

And science’s job, we might add, is not to create a self-subsisting worldview or to “achieve omnipotence;” for it cannot, even in potentiality, do either. Those tasks are the duties of Philosophy and the philosopher, to which Science and the scientist must ever be subservient. The last few centuries have shown science to be a usurper; but the time has come for its humbling.


One gets these Hegel headaches sometimes, and after  a particularly long grapple with Phenomenology of Spirit, “Geist” was constantly on the tip of my tongue. It became a fast meme, culminating in “Geistliness,” so that when, in the aftermath of the Platinga lecture, we were thinking of other theologians to bother, and Norman Geisler came up, “Geistler” became an instant construction.

Thinking that we obviously needed to go and see Geisler, we asked the internet where to find him, and lo! he would be speaking not 45 minutes away from us in a few weeks.

Further research revealed something I had not realized about Dr. Geisler, that he had left the ETS because they would not kick out Clark Pinnock, an advocate of open theism. You can read all about it in Geisler’s own letter. Now, granted, this isn’t really that much of a scandal given that it was about eight years ago that this happened, but it was news to us, and we felt that this was a bit harsh. We felt that Norman Geisler needed to be more…open, to Open Theism. After some scrambling around, scribbled plans, shirt making, and rushed driving, we managed to both attend the conference that Geisler spoke at as well as get our picture with him. But, additionally, we managed to get THIS picture with him (Click to enlarge!):

Zachary Porcu, Norman Geisler, Andrew Cuff
 

And, thanks to zippers and buttons, none knew the message of our shirts, either before it was too late, or after.

Two points. First, I want to dedicate this trouble and time that we went through to Craig Boyd, who first took the time to painstakingly explain open theism to me when I was but a junior undergrad, and who humored us enough to sing Bob Dylan songs on the last day of class.

Second, to Dr. Geisler himself, for whom I have nothing but warm affection for. Your arguments got me through many difficult times in my youth and I hope you will take this as an opportunity to laugh about that narrow range of scholar jokes which (unfortunately!) not everyone can enjoy.

As has been noted in other places, if you want your own “be open to open theism” shirts, you will, unfortunately, have to make them yourself.

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