A Friendly Word
Our Reasonable God
Infallibility & Honesty
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Some time ago, I received a birthday report from a Crisis Pregnancy Center run by a friend in Unionville, CT. The CPC reports a name list of 557 boys and girls, some now young men and women, whose lives were saved over the years because their mothers sought help in a time of terrible stress and temptation. In the report:
And on it went....
10 of us learned to drive a car
20 of us became old enough to babysit the 527 younger kids
234 of us officially turned into Teenagers
53 of us learned to read
55 of us got dressed by ourselves
If someone asks you whether abortion is a good idea, try this:
That response tells the person that you are not closed-minded, that you do not deny the depth of the problem some people face, and it puts the real question right back into their lap. You do not answer it for them (dont even try), rather in a very compelling way you invite them to answer it, showing that you are interested in them making their own decision (which they must). You provide the terms upon which you would be willing to accept abortion, and you do an end run around the deceitful "pro-choice" language. And most importantly, you make yourself vulnerable.
Perhaps. I will stand with you -- if the evidence shows
(1) that the fetus is not a person, or
(2) that God approves of taking the life of an innocent and helpless person as a way to solve your problem, and
(3) that having an abortion is a safe and healthy procedure for the mother.
If you stay graceful and stick to the evidence rather than focus on personalities, you will almost always find an openness on the part of the other person to discuss the issue.
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I have gotten myself into the middle of a rather intense debate on the "infallibility" and "inerrancy" of the Bible in an email loop. In order to respond adequately rather than piece-meal to the issues raised, I am going to do a series on the subject in Emmaus News. So we will be getting off education, sex, and politics, which has occupied my mind for so long.
I have long believed the questions of "how we know what we know" to have been the primary point of Christian failure. So these next issues will be expressing my thoughts on answers to this most profound of western and Christian failures.
I began this series in the last issue with comments on a letter from Bishop Holloway of Scotland to Bishop Sinclair of Argentina. We continue this month with a reference to Hugh Ross, one of the best Christian apologists around.
In the meanwhile, items are already available in the Shopping Mall which do address these issues. Postpaid prices are as follows (make checks out to Emmaus Ministries):
The Authority of the Bible in a Sophisticated World (28 pp.)- $4.50The Authority of the Bible... was originally written as an addendum to Biblical Inner Healing, because honest reality contact is absolutely essential to spiritual and emotional health.
Faith, Infallibility, and Spiritual Maturity - 2-hour audio tape - $5.50
Reason, Revelation, and Politics - (62 pp.) $9.50
Faith, Infallibility... was recorded shortly after I had done an Inner Healing weekend conference at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Darien, Ct., (around 1984 when the Rev. Terry Fullam was still there), at which I made the tactical error of saying that the Bible was not infallible. It was not a situation in which I was able to explain such a comment, and some folks heard nothing else after that. There was no little flap at St. Paul's. So on another occasion at another place, I taped this lecture to spell out why I would make such a comment. Later, Fr. Fullam affirmed the tape. He is too good a philosopher, and has too high a respect for intellectual integrity as part of our Christian heritage and as part of our duty before God, not to affirm it.
Reason, Revelation, and Politics addresses many of these issues, and describes how God gave us the gift of scientific method precisely to arm us for the present strife. However...., rather than trust and obey, we gave the weapons from the Lord (two of them, actually) into the hands of secularists, who have clobbered us with them.
All these items will be on the website (yeah, I know... "When I get it up...." Patience. Patience. Getting Transformation Christian Ex-Gay Ministries underway in new directions, and getting settled in a new house, is wonderfully stimulating and rewarding and bracing. But it is taking lots of energy and time.)
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Balint Vazonyis excellent quote lacks only a foundation on the law and grace of God -- without which it cannot survive.
I fear that we may have one more vocal conservative who believes that it is more important to get a large following (Big Tent theory) than it is to stand publicly on obedience to God -- and let God win His own case. Leaving out God is both morally and practically indefensible -- both sinful and stupid. Pray for Americans to reawaken to that only foundation possible for a society which is both just and free.
Faithfully in Christ,
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In his May newsletter, Hugh Ross, astronomer and Christian apologist, describes opportunities God has put in his path. Speaking to
university faculty and lab researchers, I proposed as clearly and deliberately as I could a creation model for life on Earth. My talk focused on how well this model fits the observations, and I suggested eight different ways the model could be tested by future scientific discoveries.
Jaws dropped at first, then I noticed that resistance had dropped, too. Everyone in the room, believers, atheists, and the undeclared, came to my side. During the Q-and-A time, several guests joined me in proposing ways (and means, such as research grants!) to test the model. The discussion grew more animated and moved easily into spiritual and Biblical issues.
... In one meeting, more than 30 people said "yes" to Christs offer of salvation, at another, more than 90 out of the approximately 170 unbelievers in attendance did so.
... it occurred to me that I stumbled onto an evangelistic approach that communicates boldly and yet with the kind of "gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15) todays academic and professional people can recognize. It shows them a level of confidence and academic integrity that literally stuns and disarms them.Now, in our culture, that is astounding -- but exactly what we should have predicted and what I have found as Christians honor intellectual integrity rather than demean it, as we often do -- which disgraces us and sullies the honor of God.
Ross was doing what Elijah had long ago discovered on Mount Carmel when he proposed an experiment to see who really is God (I Kings 18).
If Christians would become vulnerable, i.e. be willing to put their case up for open discussion, looking, as Ross does, for honest ways to test our beliefs, we would find many willing to jump in with us. If we are not willing to be put to the test, our witness is really not worth a tinkers dam.
Yes, there are people who will just play games with honest discussion. So what? Dishonesty is an excuse for not enforcing honesty? God will use our efforts to touch the hearts and minds of those who do want the truth. The truth-seekers will thus be sifted out from the game-players -- who will then have to deal with the judgement of God when it comes. But judgement is not our business -- which is to get out the truth in any graceful way we can, and to let the truth and the Lord of truth do the sifting and judging.
Rosss newsletter is a constant encouragement to honest
intellectual and spiritual engagement (the two must go together). You can contact Reasons
to Believe, Rosss ministry, at 626 335-1480, or
But the paradoxical effect of that is to make his belief in infallibility irrelevant.
What would be the motive for believing in infallibility? Either because one has good logical or empirical reasons for doing so. (I have not discovered any.)
Or because believing in infallibility is the "in" thing to do in ones circle of allies. Sometimes we are not willing to take on the flak of our own allies who will disagree with us. The primary enemy of truth, then, is not the opposition but our own emotional dependency on our allies.
Or (most commonly, I suppose) because one wants to have a high measure of certainty in ones beliefs -- in fact infallible certainty. For one holding an "infallible" position, no contrary evidence is allowed to count against that position. That is the whole point. My position is right, no matter what the evidence says. Which really means I am right, no matter what the evidence says. I am safe in my beliefs, no matter what the evidence says.
The need for a high measure of certainty is almost always occasioned by a challenge to ones beliefs -- as happened in the late 1800s when secularism began to drive Christians from the public arena. We do not worry much about certainty when no one is challenging us. We may be curious about other views, but we never on our own resort to such extreme measures as claiming infallibility.
So the primary point of infallibility is to protect oneself from intellectual challenge when one does not feel the ability to meet those challenges by open and direct counter-attack.
That is why resort to infallibility and inerrancy is very often a defense mechanism, a wall erected when we feel our basic integrity threatened by forces beyond our control. To the degree that that is true, infalliblism is a retreat from reality, and thus a self-blinding, leading only to further trouble down the road.
The history of the 20th century bears that out. The more we Christians appealed to infallibility, the more we got ourselves into trouble: more marginalized from public debate and less able to present the Lords case openly and reasonably.
Thus, if one is willing to meet the opposition openly, putting ones case at risk to honest evidence-gathering, and willing to admit that contrary evidence can count against ones case, then appeals to infallibility are unneeded and irrelevant. Truth and the Lord of truth then can speak for themselves.
The way to honor Scripture (or anything else) is not,
out of ones own need, to declare it infallible. To honor Scripture is to let it
speak for itself, to give its own legitimate testimony in an open and free arena of
discussion. When we sandbag our position with artificial props, we are telling the world
that we really to not believe our own case, and that we really do not trust God to defend
His own case. That is insulting, not honoring.
The difference between orthodox Christians who do and do not believe in infalliblism is not that one supports and the other denies belief in objective truth. Both understand that truth is objective. The difference is in the understanding of how one gets to that objective truth. How do we come to know what we know?
Infallibilists get their truth from some source which they allege to guarantee accuracy. Others get their truth by engaging in honest relationships with the world around them -- by observation and reasoning. Most especially with God, but also with one another.
Objective truth does not require infallibility to survive. It works out in practice to be just the opposite. An idolatry (attributing something to a creature that belongs to God alone) will always betray us into the opposite of what it promises. Infalliblism promises to secure the objectivity of truth and moral values, but in fact has helped topple us pell-mell into subjectivism. Our present state has come about much more from the failure of Christians to maintain intellectual integrity than from the "powerful" case of the Freud, Marx, or Darwin. There is no substitute for the hard work of reality contact, including hard intellectual work -- common sense paying attention to the details.
If we Christians had done what we should have done over the
last 200 years, western culture would not have fallen into this mire of subjectivism. God
gave us scientific method as a means of refining our reality contact. He showed us the way
through this Desert of Subjectivism to the Promised Land of Objective Reality, and we
said, "But no, Lord! There are GIANTS in the land!" But we chose rather to
wander in this desert over these last, not 40 but 400 years, and can expect to stay in it,
going from bad to worse until we honestly integrate the intellectual life as a fundamental
part of the spiritual life. (See Reason, Revelation, and Politics for more on
When Peter refers to the saints as the living stones of the spiritual temple of God, he is pointing to an ontological reality. The cosmos is all about the Temple of God, or the Kingdom of God, or the Community of God, or Heaven -- all pointing to the same fundamental reality.
In such a world, revelation is not an extraordinary thing. I cannot know your thoughts unless you share them with me. That is revelation. You are revealing your thoughts to me. "Religious" revelation is God sharing His thoughts with us, telling us things which, by the nature of the case, we cannot know until He tells us. We cannot know His intention for the world unless He tells us any more than you can know my intentions unless I tell you.
In a world of personal relations, revelation is thus a very rational and reasonable process. There is nothing particularly mysterious about it. If God, the creator of the cosmos, is speaking to us, then it is very reasonable to listen. It would be the height of stupidity to refuse to listen.
Revelation becomes a "problem" only in a world where persons are not the basic entities, i.e., where physical objects are (as in secular materialism), or where ideas or ideals are (as in various forms of Platonism and rationalism).
Such views cannot take a personal creator God seriously, which, quite naturally makes revelation from Him a problem. But if there is a God who created us with personal intent, then revelation, and paying attention to it, are supremely rational.
Most anti-revelation theories have already concluded that
the Biblical God does not exist, and so it is not hard for them to conclude also that
revelation makes no sense.
That notion of reason persisted into modern times because the secularized version of scientific method was (and is) held to be a "source of information" over against religious revelation. So reason, identified with secularized science, is seen to be in competition with the Bible. It has been precisely that threat which has formed and inspired most contemporary theories of infallibility and inerrancy. Christians felt a need to protect themselves from the dangers of "reason".
Pilate asked, "What is truth?" In two words, truth is "what is". As in "Tell it like it is..." Truth is what you bump into when you get up in the morning. Truth is what you meet when you are not interfering with your own reality contact.
Reason is not primarily a source of information about what is true. Reason is rather a set of rules for finding the truth. What we call "reason", whether with admiration or disdain, is made up of the laws of logic (non-contradiction, excluded middle, etc.), which are the rules by which we understand ourselves to get at truth.
Reason, thus, would not tell me your phone number, but it would tell me how to go about finding your phone number. Reason is the set of rules by which we organize our truth-seeking.
The science of logic is the most general set of such rules. But we have lower level "sciences", other sets of rules, e.g., physics, history, psychology, or theology. (Theology used to be called the Queen of Sciences -- in the days before theologians and scientists became contemptuous of each other). All of these sub-sciences are governed by the highest level (logic) which gives the most general rules for truth in any aspect of life at all. We shall discuss how these rules are the "operational definition" of the word truth.
[Note: See June and August issues for more on the infallibility issue, also "The Authority of Scripture in a Scientific World"]
Quote of the MonthAmerica's mission is to show the world
- Balint Vazonyi - Washington Times, 4/20/99 p. A16 -
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Copyright, Earle Fox 1998