In the past I’ve expressed some half baked opinions on the ways in which Evangelicals smuggle extra-biblical conceptions into the heart of the gospel. I’m becoming more and more convinced that this is done both immediately and indirectly when secondary matters are included in the sine qua non of the gospel- secondary issues that are infected with modern categories, to which the advocate seems blind.
A recent blog post at Theologica reinforces that growing conviction. This is so for two reasons: The argument is ostensibly about issues on which the two sides agree- so what must the real controversy be? This happens because there are blatant and apparently unconscious conflations of key Xian ideas with prevalent extra-biblical models. For example, the theories of realism, foundationalism and the correspondence theory of truth- along with the various dualisms they assume, are assumed, when in reality they are the point in question.
The popular Evangelical battle cry that the denial of something called ‘objective truth’ is a denial of truth, reminds me of those Roman Catholics who insist that a denial of Aristotelian Transubstantiation is a denial that Christ’s body and blood are truly received in communion. It’s not, but it is proof of a good deal of…confusion.
The post is a continuation of a controversy that I had a hand in creating there. It revolves around a rather complicated set of issues: anthropology, Christology, epistemology, metaphysics, hermeneutics, and biblical theology proper. Now each of these specialties is worthy of a lifetime of study. There are brilliant people who specialize in each. If they were mapped out, each would warn the intellectual traveler by having Mystery written in archaic script across great swaths of territory.
But the post seems to have identified a very particular synthesis of these varied areas of study as ‘The Truth.’ Hmmmm.
The author confidently refers to other posts for indubitable support. I’m not interested in attempting some sort of exhaustive critique. I’m out of my league and not really keen on making that apparent, but I would like to offer a few comments on each.
I guess I’ll ‘think at them’ chronologically, and so we begin with this very subjective, emotional and mocking argument for objective truth: Philosophy Friday-A Conversation on Interpretation
Take a moment, and read it.
Though it goes on for some length, the air can be instantly let out with the simple clarification that the whole presentation is entirely beside the point. It misunderstands the claims of the position it seeks to belittle. This is bizarre, though commonplace. The same misunderstanding gets regularly batted around- usually among conservative scholars, despite the fact that it has been clarified repeatedly. Repeatedly. I mean repeatedly.
Derrida did not advocate some sort of linguistic idealism. He just didn’t. He explicitly denied this. For example, he wrote that affirming that there is nothing outside of the text ‘does not mean that all referents are suspended, denied or enclosed in a book, as people have claimed, or have been naïve enough to believe and to have accused [me] of believing.”
Acknowledging the rather obvious point (most evident on a site devoted to theological discussion!) that ‘all our understandings are interpretations’ in no way denies that there are both good and piss poor interpretations of the reality that is being interpreted.
Calling good, bad is an interpretation- though a bad one. Calling good, good, is an interpretation- a good one. Interpreting poison as something that is life giving is a bad interpretation. It carries consequences, but it happens all the time. Ask any drug court.
Derrida never claimed that no thing is ‘really’ poisonous, but naming makes it so. What silliness.
Israel woke to find an odd prophetic type wandering through her villages, and there were various interpretations regarding what it all meant. ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Christ asked.
I’m not sure why someone would set up a ‘boogie man’ understanding of others so that the defenseless can be protected from it. The charitable guess would be that they truly believe in boogie men, but it could all be avoided by actually going to the trouble of understanding those you feel the need to label as ‘your enemy.’ Otherwise, the odds are that your misinterpretation of their message has lead or will lead to a misinterpretation of them.
I thought the ‘derided’ phrase was very clever; it made me smile, but the rest is just ridiculous.
To quote Gob Bluth, ‘Come on!’
The next post referenced for support is Philosophy Fridays- Is Erring Human.
A few random thoughts: First the author misinterprets the statement that to err is human. He confused the claim that ‘when a human being measures, judges, affirms or theorizes, she does so with varying degrees of inaccuracy’ with..
‘Only those beings who measure, etc are truly human beings.’
Second, doesn’t he assume that one must be exhaustively inerrant, if one is to be generally trustworthy? I don’t know why he assumes that. I assume that there are many people whom he trusts, but none of them are exhaustively inerrant.
Third, he confuses what I understand to be the technical distinctions between ‘inerrant’ and ‘infallible.’ To say that one is inerrant is to say that they have made no errors. To say that one is infallible is to say that one cannot make errors. We all are inerrant from time to time, and yet none of us are infallible. This has something to say to the second point above, too- trustworthy claims from fallible and erring men. Happens all the time.
Fourth, I suspect that lurking under all of this is a commitment to the view that all knowledge is rational, consciously evaluated or prepositional- that it can be syllogized and judged with a truth table. I don’t know why he would affirm that in light of both scripture’s affirmation that truth is personal and human experience.
Universal human experience is that knowledge is communal and fiduciary. Much of our knowledge is tacit, inexpressible; and underneath it all are trusted commitments that go largely unexamined. These are caught from the communities that raise us. Our life, continued existence, our basic understandings, the language in which they are structured, formulated and expressed are all given to us. We receive them from another. These others are finite, errant and situated in a particular context.
This is a basic given aspect of humanity, because men and women are made to image a god who exists in community. It is of relevance that the incarnate word was born of a woman and raised in a family within a community. It was so because he was truly human, and grew in wisdom as every human must through the human inheritance of those to whom he belonged.
This is the meaning of Augustine’s dictum that we believe in order to understand.
Anyway, infants know, regardless of what a modern baptistic anthropology might affirm.
Fifth, adequate and true knowledge is not identical nor dependent on exhaustive or exhaustively inerrant ‘knowledge. For the majority of history people had a working knowledge of the world around them, that was richer and in many respects truer than that of modern man; and yet they were wrong about the ‘mechanics’ of most things. It seems more than likely that we are, too. It doesn’t follow that we or they know nothing. Does it?
My experience is that we all are able to function because knowledge can be adequately true, without being exhaustively true.
Sixth, the temptation to know immediately (as God knows) was the original ploy of Satan. We wonder, guess, imagine, test, judge and discard. This has been God’s way for mankind since he brought the animals to Adam for a lesson on Adam’s condition. Adam watched and discovered something. Men and women were meant to grow in stature and wisdom and favor with God and men…
Seventh, …which makes me think that underneath all of this is a dissatisfaction with time and waiting. Another example of America’s vision of flourishing trumping the biblical story.
Eighth, why are mistaken notions equated with sin. For example, are a child’s misunderstandings of the world something that must be confessed or repented of? Really? How does that work itself out in your household? This seems to be the heart of the matter.
We know from the referring ‘Hebrews’ post that all of this is meant to establish that people with my suspicions have fallaciously conflated categories. Bad breath and miscalculations are on one side, while erroneous beliefs are on the other, but… I’m not at all clear on why a miscalculation is anything other than an example of an erroneous belief. One believed the wall was two feet away when it was really a foot and a half away. Seems like a distinction without a difference… except that the first appears undeniable to the author, while the second seems distasteful.
I’m just not sure that is a solid enough basis to go all whoop ass on one’s brothers and sisters, though.
Apparently it is the fear that ‘erroneous beliefs’ will open up the possibility that even morally wrong beliefs might end up being affirmed. I don’t think such a thing is possible in the mind of Christ, but that isn’t really the controversy at hand. This is really and explicitly a discussion about scripture- as the scriptural examples of possible moral compromise show: slavery, monarchy, patriarchalism.
All the speculation isn’t necessary, though. From my perspective the one example that wasn’t given is the one that removes the feared phenomena from the realm of ‘the possible’ to ‘its just the way it is’- at least for those who look to what scripture actually says, not what they know it can’t have said.
According to Jesus, somehow or other God ended up giving inspired instruction regarding divorce, despite the fact that it wasn’t exactly what God wished to say, morally speaking.
The next supportive post was written by another author. She writes of ‘Kenotic Arianism.’ When I first read the term I worried that I had definitely waded in too deep. It made no sense to me. It obviously made sense to her.
Seriously, this is a brilliant woman, but this seems so obviously problematic.
I’ve always thought that to affirm the Kenotic position is to affirm that Jesus is God. Otherwise kenosis makes no sense, but to affirm the Arian position is to deny that Jesus is God. Its an odd combination- the sort of thing that one would expect to immediately vanish in a huge explosion upon coming into existence- like an alloy of matter and antimatter; but that seems too obvious. Surely… though, it was admitted that the term seems to be without example in all previous theological discussion. Might this be because it is nonsensical….
What I do think I understand of the argument is its affirmation that a mistake is made when we don’t take into account that Christ was unlike us. He was ‘fully’ human, while we are not.
Now that confuses me. The Father’s do insist that Christ was both fully and perfectly human, but the point being affirmed by these men seems the exact opposite of the one made in this post. The fullness and perfection of his humanity consisted in his not lacking anything that is included in our humanity. He was one of us. He came in the form of sinful flesh. Otherwise, there is no redemption of sinful man.
If I understand the position of the ‘Kenotic Arianism’ post accurately, then it affirms that this fullness distinguishes us from him; while the church has affirmed that such fullness identifies him with us. One would imagine that this would be a huge problem for an admirer of Athanasius, but it’s a funny world.
Regardless of the innovation introduced by this interpretation of ‘fully’ man, scripture seems to affirm a different reality. Christ was glorified, but only at his resurrection. In the meantime (in regards to his understanding) we have it on good authority that he both grew and learned.
We get what he was given on Easter. Before Easter, he got what we had to offer.
So, I don’t know what to say about this argument other than to admit that it is pretty much unfathomable to think that God truly and fully met us where we were. The gospel is so hard to believe.
I have a few thoughts about the original post itself. Don’t have the heart for it tonight. Maybe tomorrow.