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What has God and Infallibility to do with -- Scientific Procedure?
F. Earle Fox
2010, F. Earle Fox.
See endnote for copy permission and for availability of printed version.]
-- The Source of Authority"
Also - Emmaus News - July 1997
A. The FAITHFUL (TRUTHFUL) BIBLE
B. The CONSTITUTIONAL BIBLE
C. The RELIABLE & TESTABLE BIBLE
D. The UNRELIABLE BIBLE
E. The INFALLIBLE BIBLE
F. The METAPHYSICAL BIBLE.
G. The REASONABLE BIBLE
H. The ANGLICAN BIBLE
I. The HEALING BIBLE
God hath created the mind free, and...all attempts to
influence it by temporal punishments...tend only to begat habits of
hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy
Author of religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose
not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty
power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone."
Thomas Jefferson -- from his Article of Religious Freedom passed by the Virginia Assembly, January 16, 1786. This is the Biblical principle of freewill covenant, and of "Come, let us reason together..." (Isaiah 1:18), the very basis of how God approaches us. We live by grace -- which requires the union of reason and revelation, not their opposition.
Jefferson errs, perhaps, only in being too narrowly focused on "reason alone". One must include as well revelation, love, and the Way of the Cross, all of which draw us into personal relationship. Love, revelation, and the Way of the Cross are not the same as reason, but in the Biblical world, they are without fail reasonable. So there is no conflict. On the contrary, neither reason, love, nor revelation can survive without the other. And they are the foundations of the Way of the Cross. We must, for example, interpret revelation reasonably, or forfeit our claim to a meaningful religion.
God is the supremely reasonable One, not we humans. God owns the intellectual, moral, and spiritual high ground -- and is inviting us to stand there with Him.
* * *
The authority of the Bible raises key issues which have made the Bible an inaccessible book for so many "modern" people -- issues of faith, infallibility, and the bogus opposition between revelation and reason which our culture wrongly imagines to exist. There is in fact no such opposition. The Biblical view of faith is the ground out of which science sprang, and which logically still sustains it. When science and Biblical religion are properly understood, the Bible is supremely accessible to those with a scientific training. (If you are of a philosophical mind, go to http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/EM/ShpMl/PEG/00PEG.htm and click on the *.pdf link for the cosmological argument for God as the foundation of the scientific worldview.)
Christians are themselves chiefly responsible for the confusion between reason and revelation because of the manner in which they chose to defend themselves against the perceived "onslaught" of reason. The problem was not really reason or science at all, but rather an ideologically secularized version of science which has been parading itself as objective science for over a century. Christians can recapture the high intellectual ground and put the Bible before the public in a compellingly reasonable manner -- if they will do their homework in both prayer and study.
The purpose of this essay is to point out that revelation and reason are not contraries. Rather they logically and necessarily require each other. Each presupposes the other. The relation between reason and revelation can be "reasonably" worked out. Biblical revelation is a reasonable foundation for the Christian faith because the Bible contains powerful and unique insights into divine-human affairs, reasonably deserving the name -- the Word of God.
This booklet originated as an appendix to Biblical Inner Healing, which develops a Biblical psychology and method for emotional and spiritual healing, hence both the emphasis below on healing and maturity as an aspect of spiritual and intellectual authority, and also the many references to Biblical Inner Healing. I have retained these references to keep up front our grounding in practical affairs.
Good theology arises, in many cases, out of the trench warfare we all fight, as we look to God for answers to the pressing issues about us. The issue of intellectual authority is not merely academic, it is not merely "Church" business. It is part of the stuff of life, that by which we all live. Or not. We all have needs for knowing the truth. When intellectual authority is combined with moral and spiritual integrity, the people flourish. When we fail at that task, the people suffer deeply. We meander like sheep without a shepherd. And, as we have noted often in our chapters on healing, a pathological society breeds pathological citizens.
A comment on the authority of the Bible in a book on healing seemed important because our attitude toward truth and authority is paramount for emotional stability. Emotional health is undermined by an attitude that is not open to exploration of truth. Such a hesitation feeds the dark areas of our lives and creates caverns of unknown and unknowable which have little to do with real mystery but are often mistaken for it.
Another bulwark of emotional insecurity is the notion current in western culture for several centuries that reason and revelation are somehow opposed to one another. It is a notion which splits our truth-testing functions right down the middle and pits them against each other. We become a house divided and are forced to "choose between" when we should be "joining together".
The erosion of the relation between reason and revelation was not always a factor in western thinking. Thomas Aquinas and others sought to show the reasonableness of the Christian faith as though that were a rather natural thing to expect. This erosion is largely responsible for modern man's difficulty in feeling at all comfortable with a religious faith because the believer is continually being told that, although his beliefs may be comforting and helpful in some ways, they simply are out of touch with objective reality. The refrain that catches the popular imagination is not any longer, "The Church says...", or, "The Bible says...," or still less, "God says...." Rather what arrests the attention of contemporary man is "Science says...."
Theology used to be known as the "Queen of the Sciences". But our fascination with what we have come to think would be the realm of certainty and of true knowledge, namely the empirical world of the five senses, has put a (temporary) end to that.
As a result, truth for us has taken on a "relative" character. The Bible is, for many, only one of the options, and in some cases turns out to be the less preferred, even the "enemy" option. Even within Christian circles there are powerful movements to say that, for example, Christians should not evangelize the Jews. And some well known spiritual leaders would include the Hindus and Buddhists.
We had Joseph Campbell telling us about the wonderful "mono-myth", an echo of Aldous Huxley's earlier "perennial philosophy", according to which there is a universal religion toward which all particular religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism, point. No one religion has special privilege to say, "I am the true religion" -- anymore than any point in space can any longer (since Einstein) say, "I am the center of all space." The Bible therefore loses its claim to uniqueness or special authority. It is just one of the many options in a pluralistic, take-what-suits-your-taste world.
The "conservative" response has all too often been to withdraw from open discussion and to throw in the stop card of "infallibility", a move which bears considerable responsibility, as we shall see, for the unhappy intellectual dilemma of the Christian community today.
This chapter was written originally as an “appendix” [to Biblical Inner Healing] because I was skittish about its content being read by conservative Christians who held firmly to the infallibility or inerrancy of the Bible. My own insecurities on the matter, however, have been overcome. The matter is too important to put off as an “appendix”, so it is now Chapter X, included in the basic text of Biblical Inner Healing. How we view the authority of truth and truth-testing is too fundamental to our emotional and spiritual health.
We now focus on perhaps the deepest cultural issue of all regarding health -- the authority of Scripture, which is a primary way we experience the authority of God. We have discussed how the Bible talks about healing. Now we discuss how healers might talk about the Bible.
What is specifically "Biblical" about the Christian community? What authority has the Bible when we also allow secular investigations to inform us, as psychology does in the realm of human nature, or astrophysics in the realm of cosmology? How are revelation and empirical investigation to stand side by side? Can one pull rank over the other? If we believe that the Bible is to be the standard by which we are to judge teaching in the Christian community, how is that position to be upheld when we are also appealing to other sources of information?
How we understand the authority of the Bible will either undergird or undermine our understanding of the Biblical community, of the nature of revelation, and of the nature of healing -- our central topic. How we understand our ultimate authority in matters of truth and morality will have a great deal to do with how we function as whole, rather than broken, persons.
In other words, if the authority embodied by the Church is not seen by health-seekers as built on the ordered freedom of the law and grace of God, the life of the Church will fall (once again) into legalism and bondage.
That means that we must address the issues of epistemology because how-we-know-what-we-know will have a powerful influence on our notion of intellectual, creedal, and spiritual authority. If what we believe is important to our faith, then whether or not we can give adequate reasons for what we believe will point us either toward freedom or bondage.
Although it is not possible to deal in depth with all of the issues here, I want to spell out in as clear terms as possible what I believe to be a viable and stable Biblical position on the authority of the Bible.
While I do not believe that either a book or a person within the created order can possess infallibility, there is an even more powerful sense in which the revelation of God is infallible -- discussed in Section E below. It reunites the tragic split between reason and revelation which has fractured Christendom over the last several centuries because Christians did not know what to make of science.
The controversy revolves around one's notion of "faith". Faith has come to indicate for many people, not a living experience of hope and joy in ultimate personal meaning in life, but an ostrich-like, stubborn clinging to fossils of dead belief in the face of obvious contrary, overwhelming, and, supposedly, scientific evidence.
We need to understand this discussion in the context of the radically shifting sense of knowledge-gathering, known as epistemology, over the last several centuries. Christians have allowed a hostile wedge to be driven between "faith" and "science".
Theology, once called the "queen of sciences", came to be understood as the blind faith antithesis of science, which had come to be identified with either a purely rationalist, logical, mental approach, or, on the other hand, with a very this-worldly empirical, sensory approach. The notion of the personal creator God of the Bible seemed to have no place in either of these two ways of looking at things.
The Christian intellectual community of 18th and early 19th century America was largely Calvinist, but it had lost its drive and credibility in the eyes of increasing numbers of Americans, including Christians -- hence the influence of Unitarianism, which appeared to have an intellectual credibility.
The alternatives to Calvinism developing among Christians tended to seek refuge in “personal” (meaning private and emotion-driven) religion -- which they hoped would be immune from the intellectual attacks from secular folks, paying little attention to “book larnin’”. So they increasingly distanced themselves from public policy debates -- other than firing occasional salvoes of Biblical language and quotations at people who were no longer paying much attention to the Bible.
Because Christians were not able to keep up with, let alone respond to, the new developments in epistemology, they were not able to respond to the newly emerging secular worldview, nor to connect their own worldview with developments in science and culture. Marx, Freud, and Darwin, all of whom before the ending of the 20th century had lost much of their original credibility, had nevertheless defined the terms of debate for the 19th century. Their momentum carried right through most of the 20th century, but that momentum finds itself slogging ever more slowly (and deeply) through the quicksands of post-modernism and relative truth.
In the meantime, however, the Christian world has suffered a deep loss of intellectual integrity and credibility, which has only in recent years shown beginning signs of effective remediation.
Secular philosophers did not have any better grasp of how-we-know-what-we-know than did Christians, but they had a much better PR program, and so won the public trust that only secularized science was indeed “neutral”, provided a level playing field, and was therefore to be trusted. Real science does all those things, but systematically and arbitrarily secularized science does none of them. But Christians, having for the most part, misunderstood and rejected science, are at the mercy of the secular momentum.
Christians have struggled over the application of scientific principles to the Bible, an issue still, to our discredit, unresolved.
After over a century of absence from the public intellectual arena (with a few familiar exceptions: e.g., G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer), Christians at large, mostly outside the boundaries of official churchdom, are beginning to do some serious intellectual homework responding to secular challenges, and effectively reentering the open debate.
The emerging “Intelligent Design” movement (which is transforming the worldview debate) is currently the clearest sign of this recovery, but many other signs are cropping up. I recommend, for example, The Rise of Christianity (and his many other books), by Rodney Stark, who applies his talents as a sociologist to the early centuries of the Christian era with powerful results.
Emotional and spiritual maturity requires of us Five Decisions:
1) Faith decision -- to seek the truth at any cost to ourselves;
2) Dependency decision -- to rest the weight of our being on that which is truly substantial and dependable;
3) Personal responsibility decision -- to take personal responsibility for our behavior and attitudes, to give an honest report of ourselves, to "live in the light";
4) Moral responsibility decision -- to accept my obligation to obey the moral authority of the universe, that is, to pursue my purpose for existence.
5) Love/Community decision -- to love all other persons regardless of whether or not they love me.
These decisions are designed to be “generic”, applying to all persons, not merely to Christians, in order to provide a common ground of discussion with all mankind. They are decisions which every living human being will make, well or poorly.
The questions are generic. It is the answers which are partisan, competing with each other for human loyalty. There are Biblical answers to these questions and there are secular/pagan answers. But the neutral, generic questions provide a level field upon which to compare answers.
The first two decisions are most significant for unfolding the authority of belief. An emotionally healthy person will root his life in truth, the most significant truth of which is dealing with one's own dependent nature and the search for some object upon which to rest that dependency -- that is to say, the "God" issue.
We also discussed (in Biblical Inner Healing) the four levels of "faith" as the open the way to the common ground:
1) openness to the truth,
2) personal trust,
3) one's creed or belief system, and
4) willingness to risk the venture into the unknown -- the mistakenly named "blind leap".
Faith #1, openness to the truth, whatever it may be and at any cost to oneself, is the foundation making the other three levels of faith a meaningful and rational enterprise, distinguishing faith from blind guessing and arbitrary bias. It points to the ground common for all mankind upon which issues can be discussed, the ground onto which God invites us: “Come, let us reason together...” in Isaiah 1:18.
Faith #1 presupposes an acquaintance with the methods of truth gathering and truth testing by which one can have a reasonable dialog with other persons. A common commitment to truth and a sharing of methods for getting and testing truth provide the only solid common ground for communication between persons.
Any effective discussion of epistemology requires that the discussion be placed in this "common ground" where it is accessible to all parties who are genuinely interested in the truth of the matter at hand. No one has a copyright on truth. Truth exists forever in the public domain, and is thus the common ground of all life.
And so any attempt to define (as against describe) truth in terms of a specific set of conclusions, whether Christian or otherwise, compromises the search for objective truth and denies the possibility of a common ground of inquiry. All theories of infallibility (except one) have the effect of defining truth in terms of a specific position on the truth.
Christian humanism is based on this openness to academic researches and the public wrestling of differing minds with the questions of the day. Judeo-Christian humanism is, in any culture, the strongest possible bulwark for responsible academic and scientific freedom and for the liberal arts tradition precisely because it has the determined authority of almighty God behind it. No Christian is allowed to fudge the truth, not even (nay, especially) in favor of God.
Will you speak falsely for God, and speak deceitfully for Him? Will you show partiality toward Him, will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when He searches you out? Job 13:7
God does not appreciate a dishonest defense of His case -- which dishonors Him just as it would any of us. God will risk His case on "living in the light" as per John 1, or I Kings 18:17 ff. on Mount Carmel. There is nothing in Biblical history to suggest that God is interested in brainwashed or brain-dead adherents to His Kingdom.
This four-fold notion of faith implies that God Himself puts truth ahead of Himself. He wants us to believe in Him if and only if He is the real God. Elijah state’s God’s point with absolute clarity:
How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. Isaiah 18:21
As Elijah show’s, God, in an astonishing act of grace, puts truth ahead of Himself in His relation with us. God, author of intellectual credibility, requires that credibility of His people, and so submits Himself to that test of truth. Before asking us to lay down our golden crowns, He first lays His in the arena. Kenosis. (See Philippians 2.)
But in that arena, the stakes are all or nothing -- light or darkness -- heaven or hell -- John 3:19.
And then, to engage in intelligent debate with non-believers about God, we too must stand there, inviting our respondents to stand with us on that level playing field where alone we can expect to meet -- and introduce others to -- the true and living God.
If God puts truth ahead of Himself, then we also must put truth ahead of God. That is not demeaning to God, rather, to the contrary, it makes truth the royal road to God. Truth is the only possible ground upon which any two persons can communicate. If truth is indeed the road to God, then we have substantial reason for believing in and following Him.
As one lives in openness to truth (faith #1) and in his own vulnerability searches out what is dependable in life, he lives in a basic faith relation to that object of dependency. Whatever that object is will be his "God". This is the "faith-dependency" relation. One may be related to an idol, which, as the prophets pointed out, will eventually betray whoever depends upon it. Or one may be related to the living God, who alone is substantial and trustworthy.
By that very dependability the true God shows Himself. The false God is unable to keep his promises.
If one is committed to truth, then faith #2, one's perception of who is personally reliable, will have the only reasonable chance of being correct.
Likewise, faith 3#, one's intellectual roadmap to reality, his personal creed (which evidence suggests begins even as early as conception), will have the most reasonable chance of conforming to reality.
And as the first three levels of faith operate, faith #4, the "blind leap", will progressively diminish from being a leap into the dark to being movement into the light. But so long as there is even a possibility of uncertainty, some as yet unresolved issue, our faith commitments will always have a certain blindness about them, a risk of being wrong.
The logic of finite creaturehood tells us that only God has the impossibility of being wrong. That built-in human blindsidedness is a heritage of our created nature which prevents infallible knowledge. We approach infallible certainty only as an unattainable limit, asymptotically, as we progressively move into the fullness of the faith-dependency relation with God. We can approach it, but, being creatures, we can never have it. We can, as it were, keep cutting the difference between ourselves and absolute certainty in half, but we can never eradicate it.
The dynamics of these four levels of faith operate in any kind of knowledge gathering whatsoever, whether it be in the natural sciences, history, mathematics, philosophy, or religion. The differences between the intellectual disciplines common to human culture and life (e.g., between natural and theological science) do not lie in contradictory forms of "knowing", as some suppose, but rather in the different methodologies which the differing subject matters require in the gathering of the appropriate knowledge.
We recognize an independent discipline of knowledge as a science when it can establish consistent and reliable rules for the gathering of knowledge which can be reasonably related to other bodies of knowledge, are publicly usable, and neutrally applicable to all participants. There is no reason to exclude theology from such a definition of ‘science’.
There may be reason to exclude some theologians, but then there is, on the same accounting, reason to exclude some mathematicians, some physicists, and some chemists as well -- those who fudge the evidence, are intellectually lazy, or ill trained in their trade. A scientific community, by its very nature, requires a moral commitment to truth.
We will be either truth-seekers or we will be position-defenders. If we do not become truth-seekers, we will become bondsmen to position-defending, and get trapped in whatever errors of the position we defend. Our spirits flag over time, and retreat from joyful engagement with reality. We become pedestrian believers, unaware, and unable to comprehend why we are apathetic in our belief, or over-reacting. Only if we continually keep truth-seeking, can we keep spiritually alive. That is the faith-adventure.
Example. Western Christendom became wedded to some fundamental epistemological and metaphysical errors, largely due to importing subversive aspects of Hellenic and Roman philosophy, not realizing that the Bible had its own (undiscovered) philosophical undergirding. When we failed in our position-defending during the 1800's because of those subversions, we had no place to go. We could not investigate the Bible intelligently, i.e., scientifically, that is, as truth-seekers, to learn how to defend it -- because we were not willing to risk the trauma of finding out that the Bible (and we) might be wrong, which meant that we could not really find out whether we (and the Bible) were right.
So Christianity became increasingly irrelevant to the public arena. Gary North in his book, Conspiracy in Philadelphia - Origins of the United States Constitution ( http://www.scribd.com/doc/7396435/Conspiracy-in-Philadelphia-Origins-of-the-US-Constitution-by-Dr-Gary-North ) superbly describes this growing irrelevancy as Western Civilization adopted the depersonalizing Newtonian worldview (see especially pp. 1-95). But many, if not most, Christians, having alienated themselves from reason and science, could only thump on their old mantras about the infallibility of Scripture -- to which fewer and fewer were paying any attention. Christians increasingly refused to get into the open, honest contest of ideas to have our ideas tested. They probably did not think our beliefs would survive. That was betrayal of the mind of God, the Logos, leading directly to the continued demise of Christian civilization, and to the rise of the most brutal culture ever known to man -- the 20th century. [See R. J. Rummel's website at www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/]
Controversy over the authority of Scripture arose because secular viewpoints, in the wake of Enlightenment rationalism and English empiricism, had co-opted "science" and "scientific method" to their own ends, giving the impression that religious knowledge did not qualify as legitimate, i.e., scientific, knowledge. What they should have been saying is the obvious, that religious knowledge does not qualify as secular or materialist knowledge. There is no inherent reason why religious knowledge cannot be scientific.
The Roman Catholic Church responded in the late 19th century to this secular success with an official pronouncement of the infallibility of the Pope. And Protestant evangelicals followed suit with their own spiffed up doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture.
Infallibility as a personal belief had been held among Christians for centuries, but it was not made a hard and fast article of faith until the Christian community felt its back to the wall facing an aggressive, hostile, and seemingly invincible secular culture.
Christians then tended to withdraw from the arena of academic debate and increasingly to fire salvos of infallible Biblical quotations or Papal pronouncements at a society which no longer took either the Church or the Bible very seriously.
Both Christians and non-Christians were operating on the false assumption that "science" had disproven or made irrelevant belief in God and things spiritual. And so Christians gained for themselves the paradoxical reputation of being interested in the Bible but not in truth, pasting that unhappy reputation on God as well.
And, secularists have put themselves in the equally paradoxical position of being interested in science but not in truth. Yet they have much more successfully (until recent Intelligent Design proponents began pointing out their failings) kept their reputation clean, if not their behavior.
The result is evident in western culture which has all but abandoned the Bible as its foundation, not only for its cosmology, but, as would be inevitable, for its morality and spiritual life as well. For at least two centuries, the intelligentsia of western culture have looked with scorn at the Bible. And even within the Church at the beginning of the 21st century, it is difficult to find educated persons both willing and able to give an articulate defense of Biblical authority.
But Christians and Jews are, of all people, the most committed by their faith to the truth of the matter, and therefore to a pursuit of truth, wherever that may lead. Faith #1, openness to truth, is the primary foundation stone of all Biblical revelation.
A teachable spirit in Biblical history is not a gullible spirit, nor a spirit open to religious brainwashing at the hands of nefarious clergy. It is a spirit open to "what really is", examining with a critical mind all claims to truth. And Tradition is the unfolding and interpreting of that revelation within the community as the community faces the changing and challenging circumstances of life. Never once in Scripture is reason mentioned in anything but a favorable light.
Our relation to truth is absolutely fundamental to our normal spiritual life and also to the emotional healing process. Authority in matters of belief is at the center of the fathering parental image and of our image of God. It is essential therefore to know just how that authority is supposed to operate in a maturing and healing way.
"What is truth?" The Church has rarely adequately answered that question from Pilate to Jesus. Christians have far more often engaged in "position-defending" than in "truth-seeking", that is, embarking on an honest search for the truth of whatever matter was at stake, and letting the truth and the Lord of truth speak for themselves, and prove their own case. Our attempts at position-defending have proven disastrous, leaving the Church in the dust of social rejection, and smearing God with the reputation for being anti-intellectual and an enemy of open, honest reasoning (as in "Come, let us reason together...."). God gave us science precisely (among other reasons) to inform His own people about how to sharpen the 2-edged Sword of the Spirit, reason and revelation welded back to back. God meant to remind His own people that the Bible is full of appeals to evidence (e.g., Matthew 11:2-6, or I Kings 18:34 ff.).
Truth-seeking and truth-speaking mean knowing how to find and to point others to the relevant evidence. Then the evidence does its own convincing. That is the way honest positions are discovered and then defended, and that is the way God reveals and promotes His position on who He is and what He expects of us. God is a truth-speaker, not a position-defender. Jesus is quite clear that He does miracles to show evidence for who He is.
It is tempting to conclude that the Biblical view of the Bible is that the Bible is an inerrant book written by the hand of God, verbally inspired. And some would read out of the Christian community persons who do not adhere to that kind of Biblical infallibility. But on Judgement Day, our Lord is not going to ask us whether we believe in the Bible, but whether we believe in Him, in what He did for us on the cross, and in what He continues to do for us today.
Inspiration and infallibility are concepts which apply primarily to persons, not to books or objects. Written words are only the tools which persons use in order to communicate thoughts or intentions. Words and books are not fallible or infallible, only the persons who write or speak them.
The category that applies to written or spoken statements, as contrasted with the person who produced them, is "true vs. false". We may want to know of a person whether he is fallible or infallible, but of a statement we want to know whether it is true or false. Fallibility or infallibility is not an option for statements, concepts, ideas, theologies, or the books that express them.
In that sense, the Roman Catholic Church was at least more logically consistent than her Protestant brethren who chose to label a book as infallible. The Pope, being a person, was at least a logical candidate for the position, whereas the Bible (literally "the Book") never was. Nevertheless, the problem of circularity continues to dog any argument for the infallibility of a created being, whether of book or person.
All this means that our primary concern with any statement, whatever its source, is whether it is true, and how do we know? If we know that God said it, then we have reason to believe it to be true, because God speaks infallibly. But that is precisely the point at issue: Did God really say just what the Bible says in precisely the manner that the Bible says it? If we have reason to believe that He did, then the issue of the truth of the Bible is a settled matter. If we do not have sufficient reason to conclude that the Bible is exactly as God would express it, then we have the problem of sorting out the wheat from the chaff.
To respond, "Well, any chaff at all spoils all the wheat," is a sign of spiritual immaturity, not faith.
Let us imagine ourselves in the uninformed inquirer's position. Suppose someone came with a copy of the Muslim Koran, someone else with the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita, another with the Buddhist Tibetan Book of the Dead, and another with the Bible, each claiming his book to be the true word from God. How would we know who was telling the truth? Or if indeed any were?
It is no help to assert that the Bible says it is the Word of God. Any book can say that. An argument that uses the item in question to prove itself is a circular argument. The book must have evidence not only from its own internal consistency but also from its relevance to the human situation and from external evidence. How then do we decide between them?
Christians have at least two commitments prior to their commitment to the Bible: first, a commitment to truth at any cost, to stand on the common ground of truth, and second, a commitment to God.
The Christian's commitment to the Bible is therefore third in line, not first. Our first priority is to the truth, whatever it is. Our second priority is to God, whom we have found to be that substantial and reliable Being upon which to rest our dependency and our obedience.
We follow the Bible, then, thirdly as the constitutional basis of the Christian community because we have reason to believe that it testably and reliably (not infallibly) reveals and describes the person and will of God.
We choose a political constitution because we believe it expresses the highest possible political order. We choose the Bible as our creedal constitution because we believe it spells out the truth about the nature of God, the world, and ourselves. The worldview is not true because it is constitutional. Rather, we stand on it as our constitution because we are persuaded of its truth.
But we cannot then turn that around and say that either truth or God are defined by the Bible, which is essentially what theories of infallibility do. To make the Bible infallible is to define truth testing in terms of the Bible (whatever the Bible says is true), which is always circular reasoning. God defines revelation, revelation does not define Him. Revelation describes God, which is a different matter. One cannot argue with a definition, but one can ask of a description: Is this alleged description of God in fact true?
The authority of the Bible does not rest on God having spoken more infallibly to people in Biblical times than to us. Its authority rests
(1) on its verifiable worldview (with its faith-epistemology, and its ontological and moral stability);
(2) on its record of lives lived in history touched by God leading to enormously fruitful consequences for the human race; and then,
(3) within the Christian community, on its "constitutional" nature as decided at the great Church councils.
A constitution "constitutes". That is, it defines the nature of that to which it applies. The Constitution of the United States is the covenant which defines the political body of the people of the United States in the world community of nations.
Likewise, a community of people, the Christians, have banded together and said to the world: "This book is the constitution upon which we take our stand and which defines our spiritual identity. All persons are welcome to enter this community to share this vision and experience of life."
In saying that, we are thereby standing on the two prior commitments, our commitment to the truth as a matter of general principle, and our conclusion in particular that God in Christ as revealed in the Bible really is the true God from among all the possible choices.
Just in the sense then that the Constitution of the United States defines, not describes, the political identity of the United States, so also the Bible defines the Christian faith, and therefore also defines the word 'Christian'. One cannot argue with a definition as one can with a description.
And thus to change the constitutional role of the Bible, to substitute for it other foundational sources, is not to propose a different brand of Christianity, it is to invent a new, non-Christian religion. The political parallel would be a revolution in which a new national identity emerges, as in the American or French revolutions.
Once the constitution is accepted, then faithfulness to that religion (or body politic) is a matter of interpreting the religious (or political) circumstances of one's life in terms of that constitution. In the political realm, we have a civil government to help do that for us. Christian bodies likewise also have their councils and creedal statements which spell out the implications of living by Scripture.
So-called liberal interests are reinterpreting the constitutions of both the Christian community and of the United States using the same philosophical presuppositions of pluralism and relative truth. And they are trying to do this as though it were a natural and legitimate unfolding of the original constitutional document, when in fact it is an overthrow of the original historic intent of each document, a revolution, not a reinterpretation.
These forces are working to overthrow, not merely the documents per se, but the experience of and reasoning about God, the world, and ourselves -- the faith-dependency relationship out of which they both sprung.
The Christian community in response is being called to a radical act of faith (not a blind leap), to risk the whole of our lives in a commitment to truth testing, as did Elijah on Mount Carmel, and to trust God to prove His own case in the process.
Christian denominations have been notoriously in disagreement over their creedal statements and interpretations of Scripture. But, one also has to note, during the last century and a half it has been significantly to the degree that the Christian community has allowed (too often grudgingly if at all) the Bible and the historicity of the faith to be subject to scientific and empirical investigation that the splintering of denominations has at least begun to reverse itself.
One of the most powerfully unifying forces in the Christian community today is the growing pool of commonly agreed scholarship concerning the nature and content of the Bible, Biblical history, and Church history. It is safe to say that, had there been no scientific investigation of the Bible and Biblical history, there would be no effective ecumenical movement. There is not a single case where honest scholarship has effectively turned to the destruction of the Christian faith -- despite what secular folks and many frightened Christians would have us believe.
The Bible is legitimately, not an infallible book, but one which reliably directs us to the One who is infallible. Reliability is a testable characteristic. Infallibility is impossible to test, let alone prove, because it always gets one into circular arguing and endless regress of justifications. To prove infallibility one would have to have an infallible argument for the infallibility, and there are no infallible arguments for anything at all.
The very fact that we have to make arguments at all to justify our beliefs rests on the fact that none of us is infallible. Our beliefs could be wrong. We therefore have to prove our case. We do not have to prove our case infallibly or perfectly. As the story goes about two fellows running away from a bear: one asked the other if he thought he could outrun the bear, to which he replied, “I do not have to out run the bear, just have to out run you...!” Our “proving” provides only better evidence than the opposition’s, not infallible evidence.
But that is not a deficit specific to religious faith. There are no infallible arguments in any other field either, yet those who berate the Bible are constantly are willing to risk our lives on things which have not even a small fraction of the weight of evidence which stands on the side of Biblical reliability -- for example (to be very current) so-called "safe" sex programs, for which there is not only no positive evidence, but clear evidence that they are terribly destructive.
The problem for the Christian community has not been the fragility of the Bible, but rather our own unwillingness to understand what proof and evidence are about, and our unwillingness to trust that God could and would establish His own case to those who were willing to engage in honest inquiry.
The immaturity and faithlessness of the Christian community has allowed secular people to persuade most Christians that the reliability of the Bible has been disproven -- without ever taking to the field themselves to see whether this were in fact true. If we swallow the unproven and gratuitous assumptions of the secular world (everyone knows that miracles do not happen, therefore there must be some other explanation for any alleged intrusion of God into human affairs), we need not be surprised to find that we fall prey to their conclusions.
Christians too often stop with a book which we believe to be infallible without looking beyond the book to a relationship with the infallible God who inspired the book. Jesus took to task some of His own people who made the same mistake:
You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. John 5:38
Jesus was talking to those of His day who pored over the pages of Scripture thinking they would find in those pages the answer to life. They did not realize that the answer to life was a Person, not a teaching, and that the true teaching pointed beyond itself to the Teacher. And so the very Scripture which was meant to lead them to life became a death trap.
No Christian can doubt that God is infallible, or that He speaks infallibly. The question is rather whether we either hear God infallibly or communicate infallibly what we do hear. The Bible is a book written by human hands used to communicate things which the writers believed they heard from God. We are tempted to believe (in our deep humility, of course) that we would not hear God infallibly, but certainly Isaiah might, or Moses. But that conclusion begs the question, for if Isaiah or Moses can hear God infallibly and transcribe that message into writing infallibly, then why might not any one of us? Or, if we cannot, then why can they?
One can say, that is God's business. And indeed it is, God can speak to anyone any way He likes. But that still begs the question, for we do not know beforehand without inquiry, that God did indeed speak to them in such a manner differently from the way He would speak to us.
The Bible does not picture a God who is picking favorites so that He will speak clearly to some (those in the "Biblical" age), and only in muddled language to others (all the rest of us). His desire is always to be clear and intelligible. Why else would He speak? If there is a word from God today, that word is no less true than the words Isaiah would have heard. And if it is today really from God, it has all the authority of God behind it.
The difference then between what is heard today and the content of the Bible is not a difference of clarity, believability, or authority with respect to the person who brings it. The difference is rather (as history is quite clear) that, through the community consensus, confirmed and clarified by the Church councils, the Church at the guiding of the Holy Spirit declared the Scriptures to be the constitutional basis of the Christian community. The Bible thereby became the objective anchor point, which, if intelligently used in obedience to the Spirit, will protect the Church from false doctrine and keep our spiritual journey on course.
All of which leads to the conclusion that our focus is often mistakenly on the Bible when it ought instead to be on the history, events, and Person to whom the Bible bears witness. God acted in history, not merely to get a book written, but precisely to act in history. Anybody can get a book written. But to move decisively and redemptively in the history of this fallen world takes, as we say, an act of God.
One suspects that infallibility became important to the Christian community to the extent that the community lost its confidence in the truth and reliability of the history to which the Bible bears witness. We could not reproduce history to examine again, but we had the Bible which seemed to have words of life. And so mistakenly we became compulsively possessive of something which was meant to point us beyond itself.
And that means that we have been concerned more about our own infallibility than that of God.
My experience of the Bible, both intellectually, from studying various explanations on how it was written, and experientially, from my own personal meeting of God through the Bible, has led me to the following conclusions:
a. The faith-dependency relationship is the foundation of all revelation of God to us, the revelation principle;
b. Biblical revelation, although given in the first place to individuals, is essentially a community event;
c. Revelation takes place within and as a part of the given context of history;
d. Revelation is meant to be both personally and historically progressive;
e. The growth of the Hebrew awareness of God involved the "baptizing" of elements of the pagan lore which would have been their spiritual heritage prior to knowing God;
f. We ought, in view of the above, to rejoice in and participate in new discoveries which increase our ability to distinguish between true and false in any area of life, including scientific ways of investigating the Bible.
Let us examine these six principles one at a time.
The four meanings of 'faith' are the foundation of the process of personal revelation. God is calling us into a faith-dependency relationship in which our continual openness to the truth and willingness to risk new ventures is one of His requirements for our participation. It is not a fortuitous exploration of truth that we conduct on our own into the vast and impersonal unknown, but a venture encouraged and guided by His hand toward Himself. We are called into revelation. We are being discipled into revelation. The revelation of God to us happens only as a by-product of our entering into the faith-dependency relationship with God.
Revelation is a product of a personal relationship, not primarily a communication of factual data about God. That is why revelation in the full sense is in and of itself healing, and why meeting Jesus in inner healing can be so powerful. It is a personal meeting, not primarily a theological discussion.
The factual data, our theologies, our descriptions of God, are necessary and helpful, but they are, for the most part, a secondary reflection upon the experience of the personally experienced faith-dependency relation. The writing of Scripture was a secondary reflection, in most cases, by the writer upon either his own personal experience with God (as in the Psalms) or of the communal history of events with God, as in the historical books. That is not to say that even in the composing of the psalms or the remembering and writing of historical events that the Spirit of God was not active in the life of the author. Indeed, He was.
There are many cases, moreover, where God apparently quite literally told one of His prophets, "Say such-and-such...." and so the prophet said or wrote such and such. But that is quite a different matter from saying that the prophet heard God infallibly or that God literally dictated every word of Scripture.
To question the infallibility of the text of Scripture is not to question the infallibility of God, nor is it to question whether God has specific and communicable intentions and plans for us. It is rather to examine the process of that communication, hopefully in a rational light, taking into account our own human nature and the realities of any personal communication process.
In the context of Biblical history it is not difficult to believe that God told Isaiah (whether 1st or 2nd) to say, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.... speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished...." (Isaiah 40:1 ff., KJV) But to ask whether God said it in exactly those Hebrew words is asking a fruitless question -- unless there is some way we can know the answer. The only evidence we have that anything was said at all is the text itself.
A person was once heard to complain (as I have on occasion), "I understand the English language! Why does not God speak plainly so that I can understand plainly?" to which his friend replied, "God does not generally speak in English but in the universal language of the heart, which is more akin to a nudge, or a hug, or an embrace."
God is not unable to communicate in Hebrew or English, as it might please Him. But a great deal of our knowledge of almost anything comes first in a pre-linguistic stage, in a simple, direct meeting, not with words or concepts, but with reality. We have become so word and sentence and concept oriented that we have almost lost the ability to distinguish between our sentences about reality and the reality to which the sentences refer.
It is like the difference between appreciating a painting by meditating upon it versus appreciating it from an article by an art critic. Both are valid, but the appreciation of sight is first hand and immediate, whereas the other is second hand and verbally or conceptually communicated. Our experience of the faith-dependency relationship is more of that pre-linguistic sort than of verbal communication in sentences. God is not so much telling us that He is a loving God as He is drawing us into the presence of His love, although He may be doing both.
And when God does speak conceptually and literally in our own language, He seems to do it s o s o f t l y that our hearts must be v e r y q u i e t in order to hear Him. Much more quiet than we are wont to be.
Most of the basic Scriptural revelation, it would seem, is more on the order of the Spirit who "...helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words...." (Romans 8:26.) Prayer at this level is below the level of the conscious intellectual grasping. That does not mean it is not translatable into English, but that at that stage of our spiritual and intellectual maturity, the translation is beyond us. It may indeed come later with further prayer, experience, and reflection.
God is infallible, and we can participate in that infallibility. But we can do that not by simply listening to a sentence in our native language, or even in the original Hebrew or Greek, but by coming closer to God in that faith-dependency relationship, the basic experience out of which all knowledge of God ultimately comes. We participate in the infallibility of God by drawing closer to God, and then only by degrees as might be appropriate for created beings such as ourselves.
The way, then, to participate in the infallibility of God is not primarily by reading the Bible, but by following Jesus on the way of the cross. For it is Jesus who draws us into the finality of our faith-dependency on the Father. (Again, see John 8:31 ff., or 14:6.)
Although revelation comes to individuals in the first instance (to an Isaiah, a Moses, an Amos, or to ourselves), yet revelation is fed into the life of the community which becomes the storehouse and conveyor of that accumulating revelation. The corporate and archetypal wisdom of the community is thereby slowly transformed to conform to the image of God. Persons then raised in that community have a clearer introduction to God as the "God-images" of that community conform more closely to God as He really is.
Only in the fullness of the life of a redeemed community is God able to share His own nature most fully, not merely through the occasional word from a prophet, as necessary and helpful as that might be. If the best we can do is point to a book or to a written word from God rather than to a community in which God is making His dwelling, we are not yet the Body of Christ as God intends. Children growing up in a living community will experience the archetypal, cosmic life of God, not merely people talking or reading about such a God.
Revelation takes place within the given context of history. God meets us where we are, not where we are not. Where we are is often not where He would like us to be, but if God is anything, He is a realist. He understands our condition and knows exactly what to do about it. He personally steps into the situation to set it right.
The situation that needs correcting is the context of history, fallen history, fallen human life and human nature. It needs correcting not by being made non-historical in some super-spiritual or Eastern-religion sense, by denying the reality or goodness of history, but rather by bringing history back under the dominion of God who created it in the first place.
Revelation is what happens to history when God steps into it. But the only history God has to step into so far as we are concerned is our fallen history. And so that is where He must reveal Himself, that is, present the evidence of Himself for us to encounter.
That history is not of a different order from ordinary history. There is not ordinary history such as historians record, and then spiritual history of which only "saints" can be aware. The Bible knows of no such distinction. History is all of one piece, and we all live in it. Our inability to discern God at work in history is a sign of our fallenness and blindness and inability to assess evidence correctly, not of the alleged super-spiritual, non-historical character of the activity of God.
The secular mind-set thinks of God working in history as an unfair intrusion into affairs that do not concern Him. God is supposed to take care of heaven, and leave earth to us, thank you. If we can relegate God to heaven above and the devil to hell below, then we have our own domain to ourselves in the safe middle ground.
A neat ploy, but God does not buy it. Satan is not destined to rule in hell or any other place, nor are we, except as the stewards of God. History belongs to God, and He will rightfully take charge. God is not asking our permission, not even our scientific or philosophical permission, to take charge of His own creation.
There is a tendency for anything considered infallible to divert attention to itself away from what God may be doing elsewhere because the alleged infallible item purports to speak with such authority. Revelation happens primarily when I meet God, not primarily when I learn facts or truths about God. I might indeed meet God through reading the Bible, but it is God that I need to meet, not the Bible. Making the Bible infallible tends to short circuit the relation with God because of the focus on written words.
This can then result in distracting us from the relation with God that is continually on-going, the daily struggle through which God speaks to me, especially the struggle to seek truth wherever it may be found. There are aspects of God and my relation to Him that I cannot learn in the Bible. I have to learn them in the struggle of life as I work out the five levels of decision to be well or the four levels of faith. If I am open to truth, I can be saved without ever having opened a Bible in my life. If I am not open to the truth, no amount of Bible reading will save my soul. This is not to give permission to ignore the Bible, but merely to point out that God did not box Himself into the Bible, and can and does touch those who never heard of it.
This is also not to contrast believing the content of the Bible unfavorably to "experiencing life". It is simply to put things in their true and most helpful context. The Bible, because it operates for the Christian community like the political constitution operates for the United States, is the foundation for understanding the image of God and our Christian identity in that image. But it will only hinder our spiritual growth to see the Bible in a manner which hinders our honest grappling with life, which is the ultimate arena where we either do or do not meet God.
The Bible is our life-training manual, but it cannot be a substitute for the living of our lives. And it is just that substitution which an infallibility theory tends to foster. The proper use of Scripture is to lead us more, not less, deeply into experiencing and reasoning about life, and thereby to meet the God of whom the Bible speaks.
Revelation is progressive in the manner that any personal relationship is progressive. We come to know more and more about a person through the time and circumstances that we spend with him or her. Our knowledge of God is of the same order. Clearly the history of the Biblical community shows the same kind of growth. There are special turning points, such as the Exodus, or the establishment of the kingdom, or the emergence of a sense of a coming Messiah, or the coming of the Messiah, which significantly changed the relationship of that human community to God.
And like other personal relationships, when left unattended, they fall apart. The Bible records this growing and changing of our knowledge of God, culminating in... "You have heard that it was said...., but I say to you...." (Matthew. 5:21 ff.) Jesus did not hesitate to correct what had previously been understood to be the final word of God. But this was a process that the Spirit of God had been conducting all through Biblical history (see Ezekiel 18 versus Joshua 7).
Revelation, not always but often, took the form of transforming rather than of total rejection and substitution. God, in meeting the Hebrews where they were, had to meet them as pagans. Abraham was a pagan. He had no scripture, no temple, no fellowship with others who knew God.
That is, Abraham had no Biblical “tradition”, that which is garnered out of often difficult truth-seeking experiences of life and passed on to future generations. He had a pagan inheritance from his forefathers.
Biblical tradition would need centuries to accumulate. God was going to lead His people into a new experience -- putting truth ahead of the power, pleasure, and pride into which the Fallen world was locked. Tradition not built on truth-seeking is building yet one more foundation of sinking sand, which is all the pagan world has to offer.
Abraham’s mind would have been saturated with the same paganism as the rest of the world. He would have brought with him all of the religious folklore and stories of the cosmos that others would have known and believed.
Many scholars have held, rightly I believe, that the story of creation in Genesis 1 had a lineal ancestor in the Babylonian creation myth, the story of Marduk and Tiamat, from which the Genesis story sprang. Likewise the flood story had a prior pagan story as ancestor, out of which the Biblical version was probably fashioned, and possibly Job as well.
The significance of such possibilities lies not in saying, as some have, "Well, you see, the Bible is just another of those superstitious pagan religions." Rather the significance lies in interpreting the direction of the shift. The shift in almost every case turns out to be not just another elaboration of the old themes, but rather a total about-face of the meaning of the story, a completely new and almost flat contradiction of the pagan cosmic picture, something unexplainable without supposing that God had indeed intervened.
When seen in that light, the Biblical versions of old myths become positive historical and literary evidence for the existence of God because the emergence of the Hebrew religion cannot be explained as an evolutionary growth out of the prior pagan matrix. Something else had to be intruding from the outside to account for this radical change.
Certain of the Biblical passages, especially in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, become quite lucid seen in this light. The Flood story illustrates this point. The first four verses of Genesis 6 seem unexplainable unless they are a residue from a prior pagan background.
Christians ought, in view of the above five points, to rejoice in the discovery of legitimate methods of investigating religious truth, including, indeed especially, new ways of investigating the historical or religious truth of the Bible. If God is revealing Himself in the context of our history, then we ought to be able to examine that history and find evidence of that going on. Honest historical research ought to lead to conclusions about the nature of the God with whom we are thusly involved. As C. S. Lewis so wonderfully portrays in The Great Divorce, heaven is reality and hell is unreality. Any technique or methodology that enhances our grasp of reality, however humble, has the potential therefore also to enhance our understanding of and participation in heaven.
Much of the controversy and defensiveness concerning the scientific study of the Bible has been grossly misplaced, as though the Bible needed defending from honest critique. Methods of historical and literary research such as form criticism have been held by some to be destructive of the truths of the Bible. If a particular way of investigating the Bible is not valid, it will prove itself to be so in the very process of being carried out. There will certainly be misuses of investigative techniques, and we will find that we have gone down blind alleys more often than we would like to admit. That is true in every field of investigation, but, in the long run, truth only wins and has nothing to lose from such openness.
The truth is that the more the Bible is tested, the more the basic foundations of Biblical faith prove to be stronger than ever. This is not the place to argue the point, but the contemporary mindset that the evidence points against the truth of the Gospel is demonstrably not true.
I do not believe that the Bible can be shown to be an infallible book. But the very existence of the Bible and of the community of Jews and Christians of which it talks, and the view of life which it teaches, are unexplainable on the presupposition of a secular cosmos. Without God, there is no reasonable explanation as to why or how they appeared in human history. The gravitational cultural and emotional forces of a world without God are always, in the end, strongly toward power struggle, lust for pleasure, and thus toward defensiveness, not toward a world elevating openness, love, and hope. Given the closed cosmos, the appearance of a religion with persistent and aggressive presentation of all three of these is inexplicable.
It is the simple daily experience of millions of people as their lives begin to make sense, come together, and find purpose, healing, and direction, that is the continual living miracle and proof of the reality of God's presence in history, and of the level upon which revelation takes place.
In our daily decisions we do not operate with an infallible guide. We often fly by the seat of our pants, trusting to intuition, the best common sense we can muster, and whatever intellectual training we might have had, that we really are hearing the Lord about a certain situation. If we are wise, this is done in the context of those traditional ways of "testing the spirits".
It is in meeting God in our particular context of personal and corporate history that we either do or do not come into a deeper relationship with God. We ought therefore to rejoice whenever new ways of investigating or clarifying our experience of life, including the writing of the Bible, are made available. The scientific investigation of the Bible has left the "favorite doctrines" of some Christians in doubt, to be sure, but the deep core of the Biblical framework, and the foundation doctrines of the Christian faith have come through standing firmly on their own feet, not at all in need of artificial props or unworthy defensiveness. In short, the Biblical faith is proving itself quite worthy of respect and trust and belief in terms of its historical roots.
Two astonishing examples of that have appeared in the last few years. Secularists have beat the drum that there is little or no evidence independent of the Bible for the events of the Exodus or for early Hebrew history in general. Honest Jews and Christians would want to say that, indeed, if God is a God of history, there should be empirical evidence testifying to that.
Recent excavations have begun to further verify consistent claims that evidence does indeed verify that early Hebraic history. Investigations have come up with what looks very much like the palace of King David in the middle of Jerusalem. And other anthropologists have video taped substantial evidence (remains of identifiable Egyptian chariots) at the bottom of the Red Sea indicating the reliability of the Exodus account. These will be events to watch.
In any event, for an incarnational, sacramental religion, historical claims must in principle submit to the available historical evidence. The authority which the Bible might have over our lives, if the above six points are true, will come from the ability of the God of that Bible continually to sustain and increase in our hearts and minds the revelation which He had begun in Abraham.
It matters little how infallible the Bible might be if God is not able to bring that same revelation (i.e., the same faith-dependency relation) to us reasonably in our present circumstances. The whole point of reading about what happened in the past is that God is continually and eternally willing to do it again in the present.
That is why Christians make historical claims in their creeds (“under Pontius Pilate”), and why the Hebrew Bible tells the parents to recite the history of Israel to their children.
We therefore need to live in the faith-dependency relation to God so that those same sorts of things can continue to happen in the continuing present.
That means that, however important Scripture is, our primary focus must be on God in our present history, not God in the past. Living in Scripture is not a substitute for living in the present. It is rather a guidebook for how to interpret living in the present. The authority of the Bible is the authority (largely) of the history to which the Bible bears witness. The acts of God are the primary data of revelation, not the book which gives witness to them. Records of God's activity from the past are valuable chiefly because they point us toward that same God acting in the present. Believing in the Bible, the record of the past, saves no souls. Believing in God right now in the present does.
What Christians need to convert the world is not an infallible or an inerrant Bible, but a reliably testable Bible. That is not a rejection of the authority of Scripture, it is the fulfillment of it.
On the basis of the above, I take issue with Dave Hunt's concept of Biblical authority in his book, The Seduction of Christianity, in which he delivers a sustained attack against "inner healing". Throughout he attacks views opposing his on the principle that if the Bible does not specifically permit something, then it is not allowable for Christians.
That is a view not only impossible to follow for anyone, Christian or otherwise, but destructive of the very nature of the Gospel because of its inherent legalism. To use the Bible in such a manner is to put us in bondage to another law, the legalism of Scripture to which Jesus pointed in John 5:38 ff. Furthermore, the Bible does not mention heart surgery, automobiles, or earth orbiting satellites, but Hunt gives no indication of disallowing them.
Rather than using Scripture in such a restrictive manner, allowing only what Scripture allows, we must instead forbid only what Scripture forbids.
Those things not mentioned by Scripture can be judged only indirectly. If something is not forbidden, it is at least a candidate for inclusion in the Christian repertoire of things to do. One might find that the implications of a particular thing, such as visualizing in the inner healing process, will still disqualify it even though it is not directly forbidden. Certain practices in genetic engineering, for example, not forbidden in Scripture, might still be disqualified on the grounds of their moral implications.
Using one's imagination to visualize Jesus in a past memory must be judged in this manner, asking whether the implications of such activities square with the Biblical view of life. It is hardly sufficient to point out that pagan practices have their parallels, which is true of every Godly thing.
I referred approvingly above to Lawrence Crabb as having produced some worthy books on Biblical psychology. But on the issue of Biblical authority, and for the same reason as with David Hunt, I dissent from his view. Crabb writes:
Evangelicals, if they are to remain evangelicals in any meaningful sense, must dogmatically insist that wherever Scripture speaks, it speaks with infallible authority. If the Bible says my psychological needs are met, then they are met. Even though my entire personal being may rebel and scream within me, 'I feel neither secure nor significant, I am not worthwhile,' I must forcibly by an act of my will bow before the Word and admit that somewhere I am not perceiving things accurately. Psychotherapy in its most sophisticated form deals with those inaccurate perceptions and helps a person change them to square with Scripture.
This view of Scripture certainly has a measure of truth in it. Either we take seriously that God loves us, or we do not. The foundation of every teaching that is distinctly Christian rests on the absolute and unconditional love that God has for us. And if that is true, then in some sense of the word, our needs are indeed being met. If God really loves me unconditionally, then everything that I need to become whole and healthy is in fact being provided by a good and an almighty God. But "being provided" does not yet necessarily mean "received" or "appropriated".
A person trying to apply Crabb's way of stating the matter might try to convince himself of something that is in fact not true. It is, as we have already indicated, arrant nonsense to say, if my leg is still wobbling in the wrong direction, that my needs are all fully met. One can say that they are on the way to being met. One can say that God's intent is that they be met. But until my leg is in empirical fact working like a healed leg, at least that need is not yet fully met.
And the same is true of depression, anxiety, or other emotional affliction. At times we need to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck and insist on faithfulness to what we believe. The adult in us must take authority over the moping, self-pitying child. One does not want to leave himself at the mercy of anything so changing as feelings by themselves. There are times when any Christian might say to his depressed spirit, "These feelings are not a realistic assessment of life. They do not square with what I know of God from the Bible, or from other experiences of God in my life. I reject this depression in the name of Jesus and appeal to the truth of the Gospel." But that is different from the arbitrary and dogmatic attitude Crabb's words would seem to convey.
Crabb is taking liberties with the word 'evangelical', co-opting its impact for one rather narrow view of Christian orthodoxy. One can rightly be called a Christian evangelical because of his desire to get people into relation with Jesus, the Christ, not because of his desire to get people into relation with the Bible. Further, to cry for "dogmatic" (if that means arbitrary) insistence is to abandon, right at the foundation of our faith, any reasonable approach to the issues, and therefore to cast the matter to the wolves of bias, manipulation, and closed mindedness, none of which glorifies God. As Job insisted, He does not need that kind of defense.
Some of the arguments raised for the infallibility of the Bible will be raised in the Roman Catholic Church to defend the infallibility of the Pope as the preserver of truth in a world of uncertainty and relativism. The whole Roman Catholic magisterium has come to be based on this alleged infallibility. But criticisms made of the infallibility of the Bible can be made equally of the infallibility of the Pope. A circle is still a circle, no matter how square we try to make it look.
And finally, Christians do not bow before the Bible, if that is what Crabb means by, "I must forcibly by an act of my will bow before the Word...." We do indeed bow before Jesus, the Word, but not before a book, be it Bible or otherwise. Bibliolatry is not biblical.
As the history of the 19th and 20th centuries indicates, the more we proclaim the Bible to be infallible or inerrant, the more people shy away from it -- because they do not trust such an authority. They know that something is bogus about it. It gives the feeling of being manipulated or controlled by someone not open to honest discussion. It might make “true believers” feel secure, but it inhibits honest public presentation of the Christian faith.
On the other hand, the more the Bible is tested, the more it proves itself to be an extraordinarily reliable (but not infallible) book. We participate in the infallibility of God, not the Bible's, by following Jesus, by being buried and resurrected with Him, by ascending with Him in heart and mind to the throne of the Father, and by living on earth in the power of the Holy Spirit, awaiting the return of the King.
All of that will undoubtedly be done with the aid of the Bible, but only with the aid of the Bible, not as the place where infallibility is found. The reliability of our faith in God approaches the infallibility of God as a limit as we approach God Himself through Jesus on the way of dependency and service and submission.
The section below is a revised version from the original. I have recently (February 2006), and much to my surprise, concluded that there is indeed a place for substantial infallibility in Biblical religion, as defined below, which turns out to be a natural development of the notion of 'faith' developed in the earlier sections of this work.
The perspective is new to me, and requires further exploration, but it offers opportunity for uniting Christians across a wide spectrum who have been divided on the authority of Scripture, and who have been struggling with the relationship between Christian faith and the scientific world.
Below is the rewritten Section E, giving a picture of infallibility which is, in a surprising manner, in line with the principles of both empirical science and Biblical authority.
Paradoxically, in spite of all that has been said, there are three places for "infallibility" in the life of the Church.
First, no person at his first coming to Christ finds him- or herself suddenly transported into the fullness of dependency on God. The process of moving our dependency from the world to God is long, slow, and often agonizing. One of the first significant things to happen is moving our dependency from worldly things to Godly things. But Godly things are still created things.
We read Scripture instead of pornography. We sing hymns and praises to God instead of secular love songs. We spend time in Christian fellowship instead of carousing. In our first move into a community of faith we will almost certainly look at that community, its leadership, its music, its Scripture in a light which will often be nothing short of "infallible". If a leader falls, we might be devastated. If the choir does not sing "renewal" songs, or if the organist does not play Bach, we will feel that that church is dead. We will put a heavy (and unfair) burden on that community to continue to represent for us the life we have begun to experience.
But that dependency is a part of the growth process through which we must pass, not where to make ourselves a permanent home. We need to be nurtured and guided by that community filled with the Spirit of God before we will be guided and nurtured directly by God Himself.
This phenomenon is a form of what is called "transference" in therapy. But it occurs in many aspects of our lives. Certain people, groups, or things take on a kind of "parental" God-like aspect for us - as teachers or employers often do. But being "born again" in the full sense means being born into full dependency (childhood) on God, and out of dependency on the world, even the Godly world, for our personal identity, security, and meaning.
That is why leadership in the Christian community must point beyond itself to God, which means a willingness to admit one's own fallibility. Those who come to a counselor will likely fall into a dependency relationship of that sort. But that is precisely the relationship needed for the "re-parenting" process to happen. It is the very dependency relationship into which Jesus drew His disciples.
Parishioners can have such a relation to a pastor. An extraordinary burden is placed on pastors to bear the image of God for others. But in the doing of that, many others will inevitably go through a period where they do not clearly distinguish between the pastor and God whose image the pastor bears for them. Only a continual dying to self on the part of the leader will provide openness for the dependency to happen, and at the same time prevent the situation from deteriorating into emotional or spiritual bondage, i.e., idolatry.
Experiencing fellow adults as God-figures is a part of the need for brothering and sistering discussed in Chapter IX of Biblical Inner Healing.
Belief in infallibility or inerrancy has been an informal part of the life of the Church probably since it very beginnings. Many people, as a part of their personal faith believed in the infallibility of Bible or Pope. But such belief was seldom (if at all) made mandatory until the 19th century. It is the mandatory nature of such belief which creates the problems. Left alone, the process works itself out naturally.
Our sense of the infallibility of a person, book, or community, is thus not necessarily a bad state of affairs, but neither is it a mature state of affairs. It is an indication that we still need to grow in our faith relationship to the Lord by moving beyond those things which reveal God to God Himself. We can then let people be people, books be books, institutions be institutions, knowing that God speaks through these things, but also knowing that God comes to us from beyond anything in the created order.
Being a child of the Bible (or the Church or the sacraments) is on the right road, but not yet being a child of God.
The second place for infallibility arises from the constitutional nature of the Bible. The Bible (seen through the Nicene Creed) is the definition of the Christian faith. "If you want to know what Christianity is, here... read the Bible." The Bible infallibly tells us what the word ‘Christian’ means -- because it is a matter, not of truth, but of definition.
Just as any community (national, professional, people group, organization, family) might define its own terms and thus have its own language, so Christians are giving the label ‘Christian’ to the religion of the Bible. These "local" definitions of words work well if they are consistent, and their "locality" is recognized. We just learn to speak these different languages as needed.
The infallibility we gain by defining ‘Christian’ in such a manner is only moderately helpful, because that does not tell us whether the Christian faith gives us the truth, only what the Christian faith is -- so that then we can test whether or not it is true. We cannot test a belief until we know accurately how to state that belief.
That testing requires application of the four-fold understanding of ‘faith’, our de facto, operational approach to truth.
There is one very helpful aspect of this kind of "infallibility". It underscores that people who alter the basic Scriptural worldview and principles are not giving us a new and updated Christian faith, they are giving us a new religion, and are thereby declaring that Christianity is false.
Such persons should be free to do so, and to go about their business. But they ought also to acknowledge what they are doing, and not disguise a new religion in the language of Christian faith. Rightly or wrongly, they have left the Christian fold and must be treated, with Christ-like love and respect, as outsiders to the Christian community.
Western Christendom is engaged in such a struggle as those who redefine the Christian faith have gotten control of the bridge of the ship in many denominations -- mostly because those who have some understanding of the right content do not know how to defend their views reasonably in public. This book is written, in part, to help repair that breach in the walls of Christendom.
But there is more, a third place for the claim of infallibility in the Church.
While it is unhelpful to locate our basic trust, such as infallibility or inerrancy, in a book, in any human being other than Jesus, or any created object, we can indeed trust that God has an infallible process for revealing Himself to His creatures, one that will always work. This process is the essence of both science and a Biblical spiritual life. God infallibly judges human beings. No one goes to heaven or hell by accident, there are no mistakes. So God must have some infallible manner by which He communicates Himself to those whom He is inviting into His covenant relationship.
But that invitation (and hence revelation) is a relational event, not an event by only God Himself, such as writing a book. If we follow the process (which we do by truth-seeking), we will, without fail, meet the real God sufficiently to make our choice for or against Him.
If faith is indeed as described above in Section A, The Faithful Bible, then the quest for God works with the same basic scientific principles as any other discipline, that is, with a commitment to truth within the conditions relevant to the subject matter.
There is an added foundation for certainty, however. If God exists as the Bible says, then He who is indeed infallible is looking for us as well, and has designed us both with freewill and for knowledge of Himself.
Believers who have dedicated themselves to the faith (i.e., scientific) process, who have concluded that God exists and that He has revealed Himself to us as the Bible describes, can then also reasonably conclude that this process will not fail any person who honestly embarks upon it.
Christians, then, can rightly conclude that any person who, with a teachable spirit, searches the Bible and reality around him for the true God, that person will indeed run into the true God. God will not abandon any of us to chance. He is looking for us far more assiduously than we for Him.
Infallibility is thus to be located in the faith process, which includes the Bible and any other resources which God may put in our paths, but not in any of those resources themselves. There is an infallible path to reality. Infallibility is a relational matter requiring participation of both God and man. That is the nature of faith and of revelation.
The faith process does not infallibly convert anyone. It rather ensures that we will have an honest chance to say "yes" or "no" to God, that we will not fall away by happenstance of intelligence, location, or history. The faith process is not, at the first level, a belief in God, it is a commitment to the truth process to find out whether there is good reason to believe in God. The subject matter of faith #2 (personal trust) and #3 (creed) comes as a result of faith #1 (teachable spirit) and #4 (willingness to risk).
God will not force a particular choice. We will be able to choose either way. But He will force us to make a choice -- "yes" or "no". That choice will be our judgement. Depending on whether we choose the light or the dark, we will be with or without God. Heaven or hell. John 3:19.
This kind of infallibility is not a sort that can be used to convince or convert anyone. It points to a reasonable conclusion only for those who have indeed negotiated the path to God. It is not the kind of infallibility one can use in an argument to persuade non-believers of the content of belief because it is not the kind of infallibility which is likely to have intellectual credibility outside the community of believers. But if the community of believers has followed to the best of its ability the search for the truth of the matter, then a belief in the infallibility of God’s revelation process is a reasonable conclusion. Outsiders discover the infallibility of the faith process only by testing it out in their lives.
The same, of course, can be said of the scientific community generally. We trust the scientific method because, properly followed and over the long run, it leads us into truth. Scientific method, properly defined, is the reasonable way to get at truth in any area.
But again, one cannot use such infallibility to assert, "I have an infallible case because I am a scientist..." -- which many so-called scientists imply (if not assert).
When scientists assert a theory, such as Darwinian evolution, to be fact, they are in practice claiming well nigh infallible authority.
No human being can rightly claim such infallibility, but we can (and commonly do) assert that certain claims are factual, that is, that they are reliable sufficiently to base upon them both private decisions and public policy, even those decisions involving coercion (such as legislation) or risking life and limb.
We treat the asserted claims as factual, but they are still always revisable in light of further knowledge. Religious knowledge is factual in just the same manner. In each case, we finite human beings approach the infallibility of God as a limit, cutting the distance between our knowledge and the truth gradually, but never totally.
Scientists rarely talk about using an infallible process, but they quite often act and talk as if they thought they were. The enormous authority of "science says..." in Western culture makes it well nigh unquestionable in the public realm. People pay enormous sums of money to have "experts" (scientists) testify in their favor at a trial.
Most citizens (judges and juries included) do not know enough about science or scientists to make a reasonable judgement on the reliability of the "expert" in question, so the expert is often de facto vested with infallibility if he can convince the audience that he has been faithfully scientific.
Such trust is valid only because, with infallibility residing in the process, not the content, the conclusions are always open-ended and reformable by future discovery and evidence.
Most persons engaged in scientific projects would not talk about infallibility because the word has almost universally been applied to the results of the search for truth. "This answer is infallible." The result or the answer is the wrong place to attach infallibility. It does not reside in the content of faith #2 or #3, but rather in the process of #1 and #4 working together.
This is a kind of infallibility which requires precisely that which most believers in infallibility seem to be trying to escape -- the risk of being wrong.
Therefore, so long as we locate infallibility in the process, not the content, leaving open the possibility of further growth and refinement of our knowledge, infallibility does not have the negative, arbitrary, and anti-intellectual characteristics which it has when associated with content.
Required, therefore, is much humility about our conclusions, and much faithful self-discipline to the scientific integrity of our particular area of interest. There is no other way to keep cutting the distance between our always fallible human knowledge and reality -- the infallible knowledge of God.
We are now in a better position to respond to queries concerning the foundations of Biblical authority. On what, indeed, does the claim to the truth of the Bible rest? That is a fair and necessary question.
Often responses to such queries focus on theories of infallibility (which cannot be established in a reasonable manner) or that the Bible claims such authority (which is a circular argument).
However, arguments from empirically verifiable data, such as archeology, have proven useful. The Biblical historical account is constantly being verified by confirming archeological discoveries. Also, arguments showing that there are many fulfilled prophecies in the Bible, which are not reasonably chance occurrences, have a significant weight.
But the fundamental argument to make is that we live in the sort of cosmos in which such a thing as a Bible would make perfect sense. That is a metaphysical issue, not an empirical issue. We must show that we do not live in a secular or pagan cosmos in which belief in a personal Creator God would be illogical and impossible. Metaphysics asks the question: What do we need to presuppose in order to understand the empirical world as reasonable and rational? (For just such an explanation, see Personality, Empiricism and God.)
We all have such presuppositions, even those secular folks who think that they do not, who think that they can explain the world and how science works without metaphysical presuppositions. They assume, for example, that the rules of science apply equally in all times and all places. That is an assumption, not provable by empirical means, because (obviously) we cannot test all times and all places. The assumption on their part that there is no God is also a metaphysical assumption. They have never produced any serious evidence to support such a claim. And their favorite theory of evolution, by which they seek to replace God as creator, also involves metaphysical assumptions -- some of them demonstrably questionable, and some clearly false (such as the assumption that random chance evolution can explain either information, consciousness, or causality).
So we need first to establish the metaphysical truth that we live in a world in which something like the Bible would make sense. In a Godless world of secular evolution, it clearly would not. Proving that we do live in such a world does not itself prove that that God has revealed Himself, or in what manner. But it would establish good reasons for saying that it would make sense to look for evidence of such a God. It would show that, logically speaking, there is no reason not to believe in such a God.
In other words, knowing that we live in such a Biblical sort of cosmos does not prove the truth of the Bible as a book of history, revelation, or of salvation. But if we do in fact live in a cosmos of a "personalist" sort, a cosmos in which persons, not things, not atoms, electrons, or other physical things, are the basic building blocks of the universe, as the Bible implies, then it would make perfect sense to look about for historical, empirical, or other scientifically approachable evidence of a personal God perhaps having manifested Himself.
Moreover, since the pagan and secular worlds have failed to show that they can provide us with moral or ontological stability, it would make perfect sense to look about for a personal Creator who could give ontological and moral order to our lives. That is what a Biblical sort of cosmos could indeed provide.
Some of that evidence might appear in the orderliness of the cosmos. Some of that evidence might appear in the writings (such as the Bible) of persons who thought that such a God had spoken to them.
The Bible does in fact present an astonishing nearly 2000-year history of consistency in its central message, that there is a Creator of heaven and earth who cares about His creatures with a love surpassing the wildest imaginings of pagan and secular thought. Though there are yearnings and hopes in the pagan and secular worlds which hint toward, sometimes beg for, a Biblical kind of thinking, the Bible alone carries the themes of a human-friendly Kingdom of God toward their fulfillment. So, it behooves human beings to investigate the possibilities. The case for doing so is compelling, indeed, overwhelming.
"One false premise, and logic does the rest...." Just so, if the premise of an impersonally (by random chance) evolved cosmos is false, then one would expect those who believe it to run into stone walls and contradictions. The secular and pagan worlds have been the major players for most of human history. But they have never come up with an answer to the need for ontological and moral stability, leaving the Bible having the only significantly different view of things.
So, if the original premise is true, of a world essentially personal because created by a Person who then creates other persons as His highest creations, then one would expect it to yield more favorable results in practical human living. We have a way of testing, not only the logical premises, but the practical results of such views.
The truth and validity of the Bible can be denied a priori only if one assumes beforehand that there is no such God, that the world is indeed the product of an impersonal evolutionary process. Christians have failed badly to counter the theory of cosmic evolution since it began, but with the "Intelligent Design" movement, they are beginning to get their feet on solid ground.
The empirical evidence for Intelligent Design, if securely established, can show that the Biblical view is a candidate for reasonable belief, but the empirical evidence may not be able to show that Darwinian evolution is therefore wrong. It may leave two contenders in the ring. And in any event, the debate between the secular/pagan and the Biblical worldviews is not an empirical question, it is first a metaphysical question.
And on those grounds, I think it can be shown that evolution is not a logically possible candidate for believing.
Personality, Empiricism, & God is my attempt to help put the metaphysical/philosophical (rather than empirically scientific) ground under the Intelligent Design movement. It is my view that the Bible has the only logically consistent worldview there is, and that it can stand with intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity in any and all circumstances. If it can be shown, as I believe it can, that without the Biblical metaphysical and epistemological assumptions, there is no valid metaphysical grounding for science itself, then the secular and pagan cases collapse as reasonable interpretations of the cosmos in which we live.
Secularism has ridden into Western Civ. on the grounds of its scientific superiority. But its case, even if logically consistent and empirically productive, cannot disprove the Biblical case, it can, at best, only establish itself in the ring as one of the choices. It establishes no victory.
The battle will go to the view which can (1) establish a logically consistent metaphysical and epistemological foundation, and (2) open up doors for personal relationship fulfillment, personal ontological and moral stability.
A cosmos founded on either secular or pagan principles has not shown itself capable of doing either of those. For the Biblical view, those two foundations are routine. And indeed, serious followers of Jesus Christ know who they are and where they are going. Our ontological stability rests on the Hand of God, His creative power upon which we stand. And our moral stability rests on the Word of God, His commandments and His love. And when we fail, our stability of being and personhood, and our moral stability, our forgiveness, rest on the reaching out to us by the Incarnate Son of God. The Pagan and Secular views have no parallel, only deep yearnings toward that which can be established only in the Biblical world.
Most persons, of course, do not go through all this metaphysical and philosophical work. They meet Jesus in their lives and understand Him to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that when they have seen Him, they have seen the Father. Nevertheless, it is important that the Church, the Christian community, have persons who are doing the metaphysical and philosophical work, and that these persons can stand in the public arena toe to toe with those who disagree, presenting their case gracefully and with intellectual integrity.
Only if Christians show themselves to be truth-seekers, defending their case in open, honest debate, rather than as arbitrary position-defenders, can the Christian community win the deep respect of the population. When we do not do our intellectual work properly, there will always be a sneaking suspicion that just perhaps we might be praying to our own father-figure projected on the cosmos -- as charged by Sigmund Freud. The evidence does not show that, and that needs to be made clear.
There are few, if any at all, truths for the Church to grasp more important than the reasonableness of God and the Bible, and the consequent disciplining ourselves to be first truth-seekers and then truth-speakers. No fault of the Church has done more harm to our witness than our implicit, if not explicit, rejection of science and reasoning generally (with the possible exception of the use of coercive force to discipline Christians or to convert unbelievers).
But to secure that thought, we need to look at the Bible itself, and show that passage after passage conveys that truth.
The underlying issue is nailing down our certainty -- i.e., that we have a certainty about the reality and the promises of God, that our salvation is in good hands, and that God is able, willing, and trustworthy in His call to us to trust and obey Him.
Again, according to Biblical covenant, God desires us to worship Him if and only if He really is God. He is willing to rest His case on His own ability to prove His case to us. That is the meaning of "revelation", and the lesson again of Elijah’s shoot out at the Mount Carmel Corral with the 450 prophets of Baal:
So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel, and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people, and said, "How long will you go limping on two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." I Kings 18:20
Elijah made an appeal to logic, and then conducted an empirical no-nonsense test with the bulls on their altars to see who in fact was God. This bit of scientific procedure took place about 900 BC, some four or five centuries before any philosophers appeared in Greece. Yes, somewhat primitive, but utterly convincing for the task at hand. At what university did he get his training? At the throne of the Father. Elijah did what God told him to do. Science was God’s idea long before it was any of ours. There was nothing "academic" or "theological" about the event, other than God showing up to prove His own case. It was in-the-trenches, hands-on theology.
As Paul says:
We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. II Corinthians 4:2 ff.
How else could we "commend ourselves to everyman's [not just Christian man's] conscience" other than by an "open statement of the truth"? And what else could an open statement of truth mean but appeal to the sort of evidence that any honest investigation, not just a Christian investigation, would recognize as legitimate? Any open statement of the truth must be linked to a reasonable response to the question: How do you know that is true? How else could it be an "open" statement?
Truth seeking is not something that you have to be a Christian to do. It is something that you have to do to be a Christian. Nothing else will "commend ourselves to every man's conscience", or, for that matter, to God -- as in I Corinthians 15:12-19.
Paul hears of someone is saying that Christ was not raised from the dead, apparently some Christian. He replies, with obvious good logic, that if Christ be not raised from the dead, then we cannot preach it. We must stick to the facts. No religion on earth other than Biblical religion honors fact and logic in this profound manner.
The early Church fathers understood that principle, and did what they could to secure the integrity of Christian eye witness. They would honor reports only from those either who were actual eye-witnesses, or who were closest to the actual eye-witnesses. That was the primary principle in their decisions about what belonged in the canon of Scripture. They were quite aware of pseudo-claims to having the truth about Jesus, and, by the grace and wisdom of God, did a remarkable job of culling out the chaff from the wheat.
The conscience issue is, "Are you being responsible about the truth?" If we do not put our commitment to truth prior even to our commitment to God, we will compromise the very thing we are wanting to communicate, namely our testimony to God, for no one will have any reason to believe us if we are not first committed to the truth of the matter about who God is or even whether God is. That is the difference between being truth-seeking and being biased or prejudiced.
If that is so, then Jesus statement in John 8:31 takes on quite a different thrust from that which Christians might normally have attached to it:
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.
People often hear the last part about truth setting us free, unaware either of who said it, or of the conditional first part of the sentence -- that the freedom of truth comes to those who are discipled by Him. Following Jesus is thus a radical journey into the truth about life, and being His disciple is the deepest course in truth-seeking upon which one can embark. Being a disciple of Jesus must therefore include that honest investigation and openness to the risk of life, no holds barred, with all four levels of faith operating.
On the one hand, Jesus telling us that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is not stacking the deck in favor of a "Jesus" in-group. On the other hand, Scripture is not telling us of a pluralistic universe of relative truth where various equally true "ways of believing" compete for the following of men, not on the basis of truth but of personal preference and persuasive power -- or mind-control.
Rather, Jesus is inviting any and all of us into that journey, where truth-testing is of the nature of life and of revelation itself, and where the goal is to find what really is -- i.e., objective truth. Revelation is God giving evidence, giving us good reasons to believe in Him. How else could it be honest revelation? If it fails that test, it is not revelation.
Only the enemies of God could benefit by getting us to pit evidence-gathering against revelation and to relegate ourselves into defensive corners of "infallibility". Revelation is what happens when God steps into relationship with us and draws us (“Come, let us reason together...”) into a confrontation of honesty and openness, as in Isaiah 43.
Biblical history, indeed, all history, is the record of our acceptance or rejection of that relationship.
One way will turn out to be right, and the contraries will be wrong. That journey into truth is the heart and soul of the liberal arts tradition, involving a testing of one's commitments against the best of the opposition.
We cannot put God in a crucible for testing. But God is calling us into His crucible -- which is no less than life itself -- into which He Himself is already fully invested. And in that openness to life, because God is there, we will find the truth that will set us free. That is revelation -- and the stuff of which Biblical history is made. That radical openness is the "walking in the light" of John's first epistle.
Christians need make no apology for Scripture being built on faith. So is every other reasonable kind of knowledge. As defined above, every form of knowledge gathering, all intellectual and scientific integrity, rest on those four levels of faith. It is never a matter of having too much faith to be intellectually credible, but rather whether we have had too little faith.
In Matthew 11:2 ff., the disciples of John the Baptist (who is in prison) go to Jesus to ask whether He is indeed the Messiah. Jesus does not reply, "Yes! I am!" He does not appeal to some higher authority ("Well, Aristotle says...") He does not even appeal to Scripture or to His own authority as the Son of God. He replies, "Go and tell John what you see and hear...." He points to the empirical evidence on the ground. Biblical faith is an inherently empirical matter, resting on the evidence which God readily supplies, events which, by any reasonable consideration, only God could do and account for. Miracles.
Anglican theology has sometimes pictured the Christian faith as resting on a three-legged stool, such that the loss of any of the three legs would render the stool unstable. The three legs are Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, implying that reason is a quality separate from Scripture and Tradition.
But reason is not a category separate from, and therefore in need of being added to, Scripture and Tradition. Reason is already employed (whether well or poorly) in both Scripture and Tradition.
The very nature of revelation, which always emerges out of the faith-dependency relation, implies openness to experiencing the truth and to reasoning accurately about those experiences. Scripture was written by persons who, to the best of their ability, did just that. Tradition was formed by later persons in the continuing community who, on the constitutional basis of Scripture, tried to reasonably unfold its implications for the experiences of their own time.
To say that Isaiah and Jeremiah used their reasoning to interpret revelation does not mean that God was not speaking to them. It means merely that they were using their heads as they received His word. They were using their intellects to understand, first of all whether it was indeed God speaking to them, and if it was, to understand Him in a meaningful rather than self-contradictory way -- precisely the purpose for which intellects are given. Never once in Scripture is reason as such cast in a bad light. "Come, let us reason together..." echoes in principle through revelation history as God calls us into discipleship.
While it is true that many interpreters of Scripture and Tradition have been less than reasonable, nevertheless it is not possible to speak of either Scripture or Tradition per se in contrast to reason, as though either were by nature unreasonable.
During the centuries leading up to the Renaissance and Reformation, reason was getting a renewed life emerging out of the rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy.
This renewal had a contradictory effect, however, because Greek philosophy had two separate streams which were not commonly distinguished:
1. the Hellenic closed-circle worldview, and,
2. the intellectual tools developed
(mainly learning how to follow an argument
logically and consistently, to sort out true from false).
The intellectual tools were the enduring gift of Hellenic philosophy, not their worldview, which was inherently authoritarian and control oriented, carrying with it an anti-intellectual and an anti-sacramental stance, which assumed the spiritual and intellectual to be antithetical to the material and historical.
So, on one hand, the new capacity in the Late Middle Ages to explore truth was setting people free from having to follow arbitrary authorities. The common man was increasingly able to reason for himself.
On the other hand, the resurgence of the pagan worldview (1) inspired an authoritarian understanding of government, both civil and ecclesiastical, and (2) taught against the Biblical sacramental view of the cosmos. These negative effects supported each other.
Thus, the late middle ages rise of autocracy was a pagan inspired event. Biblical government is built on freedom ordered by the law and grace of God, not on arbitrary coercion. It is based on the notion that every human being is created in the Image of God. The Archbishop of Canterbury helped write the Magna Carta.
But Church leaders too often saw the new intellectual freedom as a threat to ecclesiastical control, and adopted some of the same authoritarian attitude, e.g., by violent suppression of Scripture written in the language of the common people.
Thus, the move toward intellectual freedom in the universities of the high medieval period was being compromised -- not from Biblical principles, but from the authoritarian, control-oriented bent of paganism inspired in part by the recovery of Greek philosophy -- and, one supposes, from hangovers from the Roman Empire -- and by ordinary, garden variety human self-centeredness.
Christian humanism, struggling to develop a consistent relationship between Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, was all but scuttled in the horrendous intra-Christian religious wars developing from the not always reasonable Reformation, counter-Reformation, and Renaissance.
As science and printing developed, and with the resultant democratization of education, people increasingly felt themselves to be held in the bondage of childhood to parental Church authority, not permitted to experience their own independent relation to reality. The rediscovery of Hellenic abstract, apriori reason and the new discovery of empirical “look and see” science was setting the common man free from such arbitrary parental restraint. Church leadership was ministering to an increasingly educated laity.
The Church reacted, often, in fear of the new intellectual freedom, and often sided with the growing spirit of control incubating in the new pagan and secular mindset.
This contrast between reason and arbitrary authority was used not only by Protestant reformers and Christian humanists to gain leverage against an oppressive Church hierarchy, but also by emerging secular forces to use reason and science against religion altogether.
Largely due to entrapment of the Church in Hellenic thought which saw the spiritual in contrast to, not in conjunction with, the material, the secularists eventually won the field. So reason and science came to be seen by believers and unbelievers alike as anti-religious. But that unfortunate and inaccurate sense of reason has no roots in either the Bible, the mainstream of Christian thinking, or in legitimate philosophy or science.
The "new thing" at the Renaissance and Reformation was not reason as opposed to authority, for the two are not by nature opposed, certainly not on Scripture. Reason itself was not new, but rather the appropriation of intellectual expertise by the common man and its application to the empirical, historical world. With the growing democratization of education, more and more laity could reason just as well as the authorities. The new appreciation and accessibility of reasoning power gave the common man a sense of independence from parental institutions.
Western culture was going through its very legitimate teenage rebellion. And so groups and individuals insisted increasingly on a peer relation, a brother/sister, or a primus inter pares (first among equals) relation, to human authority, not parent/child.
That was the so-called “rise of democracy”. The new thing was not reason but the growing sense of independent individuality for the common man fostered by the growing spread of education and therefore reason among the common folk.
All this was undergirded by the uniquely Biblical notion: “All men are created equal”. God was growing up the human race, not to be independent of Himself, but to be intelligently dependent on Him and intelligently independent in the world (a child in God, an adult in the world). God wants us to base our important life-decisions on fact and logic, on mature faith.
This new maturity is an essential aspect of the Church’s mission to retake the world for God, not a subversion of our relation to God.
A legitimate and Godly aspect of the Enlightenment was precisely this new freedom for the common man to investigate truth. The Church for the most part missed the lesson God was teaching, opposed the “free thinking” inspired by the new events, thus allowing secularists to snatch the gift of reason from Christians. The Church would have done better to take the role of a good parent, encouraging the growing intellectual independence of the people. But it failed.
The Church thereby set itself up for the tragedy of the 19th and 20th centuries in which secularism won the hearts of the people because secularists looked like they were more for human integrity than was God. The human race paid a terrible price for the Church’s misrepresentation of the love of the Father.
Only with the rise of secularism as a preferred way of life was human reason exalted so that we humans insisted on a peer relation, not only to other human beings, but also with God Himself. Genesis 3 all over again.
"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths," is often quoted from Proverbs 3:5-6 to say we should not use our reasoning powers, and that doing so is a sign of rebellion or lack of faith.
But the issue with God is never whether we should use our reasoning powers, but rather whether we should use them independently of Himself. To try to figure out life by independent investigation apart from revelation is not only rebellious, it is foolish and unreasonable. In any contest between my opinion and God’s opinion, I should yield to God -- precisely because that is the reasonable thing to do. He has been around longer, He is smarter, He created the world in the first place, and only He knows how it is going to turn out. Disobedience to God is not only sinful, it is stupid.
Moreover, trying to know God without accepting any direct input (revelation) from God is just as unreasonable as trying to get to know one's spouse without relying upon any direct input from the spouse. Or trying to know physics without any input from experts in physics.
In Scripture, we are encouraged to "lean unto our own understanding", not to reject the revelation from God, but precisely in order to receive it. Since it is I trying to do the understanding, who else's understanding could I lean upon? Whether I like it or not, I am stuck with my own understanding.
That does not mean one never listens to others, especially God. It means that in listening to others, even to God, I have no choice but to use my reason in that very listening. So I might as well learn to do it well rather than poorly. From God’s point of view, we are not “stuck” with it, we are gifted with it. Reason as such is without exception pictured positively in Scripture.
That is the sense in which we are to "put truth ahead of God" (see A-2 above).
The legitimate and helpful formulation of the three legs therefore has to do with the relations within a triune source of authority:
1. the original constitution (Scripture),
2. the unfolding development (Tradition), and
3. my personal appropriation as I listen to the God of those two inheritances.
My personal openness to experience and my careful reasoning about those experiences in the light of Scripture and Tradition, hopefully, will be my contribution, however small, to the further development of the Tradition.
My personal appropriation of Scripture and Tradition involves my use of reason, but so did their original formulation, albeit not likely so self-consciously nor with such technical expertise as after the late middle ages and Enlightenment periods. Scripture was originally formed and Tradition further carried on by persons only doing just what I personally should be doing, working through the faith-dependency experience of life, working through all four levels of that faith experience: openness to truth, the building of personal relations, the building of a creed, and the taking of risks in the open-endedness of it all on my spiritual journey on the Way, to the Truth and the Life.
Let us therefore reformulate the three legs of the stool as follows:
1. Scripture as both the product and anchor of the originating and constitutional shared faith-dependency experience and reasoning of the Biblical community;
2. Tradition as the on-going experience and reasoning of the Scripturally constituted community; and,
3. Personal faith assessment, one's own experience and reasoning in the context of Scripture and Tradition.
Evangelical Christians emphasize the first, catholic Christians the second, and charismatic Christians the third. Each has strengths and dangers.
Neither reason nor experience can properly be set over against Scriptural revelation or tradition. If Scripture and Tradition are worth anything, they too grew out of persons having experiences of God, and then reasoning accurately about those experiences. They may not have been philosophers, and they may have reasoned well or reasoned poorly, but reason they did.
Experience and reasoning about one's experience happened both in Scripture and Tradition, and now happens individually, i. e., in all three legs. If experience and reason are not the basis of each of the three legs of the stool, that leg will not be able to stand securely, and faith will be indistinguishable from blind prejudice.
Scripture was formulated out of the experiences of a people who then drew conclusions from those experiences. That is what both the prophetic and rabbinic traditions were doing. The difference between the three legs is not that one is necessarily more reasonable or experiential than the others, for all knowledge comes through experience and reasoning about experience, whether it is about chemistry, physics, mathematics, one's spouse, or God Himself.
The difference between the three legs is rather in the authority perspective from which experience and reason are viewed:
1. from the recorded history of the constitutional and foundational events of the faith,
2. from the gathered collective community consensus, or
3. from one's individual perspective.
Our relation to God, our faithfulness to what we believe, must therefore involve all three of those legs of the stool. Faithfulness to Scripture is only one of the tests I must make. I may neither leave out one leg of the stool nor exalt one over the other. To leave out one leg is to undermine the stability of one's faith-dependency relation to God. The seat of faith-dependency rests on the foundation of those three legs or it does not rest securely at all. The three provide a strong check and balance system for our faith.
If I leave out the leg of Scriptural experience and reasoning, I may have genuine faith, but one must question in what sense my faith is Christian because I am running contrary to the constitutional definition of the Christian faith.
If I leave out the leg of traditional experience and reasoning, one must question whether my private interpretation of life or of Scripture can be sustained over against the weight of the mainstream of Christian tradition.
And, if I leave out the leg of personal experience and reasoning, one must question whether I have made this faith my faith and whether my assent has yet gone beyond guesswork, habit, hearsay, or the merely intellectual to full life commitment.
To exalt one leg over the other may feel like it results in a more infallible or inerrant faith, but it leads in fact to a less dependable faith because we have then canceled out the check and balance system any good constitution has. The Bible might be compared to our Supreme Court, the collective community Tradition is our Legislature, and we ourselves are the Executive branch, carrying out the mandates of our spiritual inheritance. A healthy body politic (or theologic) insists on the three in a check and balance relationship.
As noted, God wrote the Book of Creation before the Book of Scripture. And if the Book of Scripture was written to get us back to the Book of Creation, to learn again how ourselves to be creatures, then we had better learn the methods of studying life in this sacramental creation, the methods of science, which is to say, the methods of faith.
Faith development into spiritual and emotional wholeness moves through three stages: a) out of our worldly dependencies, b) through our Godly-but-earthly dependencies, and c) to God Himself. This movement requires for success that we keep all three legs of the stool supporting the seat of faith.
And if we are to offer a faith to the world leading to healing and wholeness and to personal spiritual maturity standing toe to toe with the world, the flesh, and, if necessary, the devil himself, we must connect these three aspects to form a seat of faith upon which to rest the whole weight of our being. We must, that is, be able reasonably to believe the faith process to be infallible.
The Bible is the only historically based religious scripture, i.e., the only one written over long periods of time by different persons due to the open and continuing invitation and availability of God among His people. That means that the Bible is the only really testable scripture. No other deity provides such a self-disclosure or invites, “Come, let us reason (i.e., test) together....”
Christians and Jews can spell out terms upon which the Bible is either verifiable or falsifiable. No other religious scripture points that way. So hypotheses about the Bible can be proposed and tested. The whole purpose of revelation is precisely to invite that personal testing. That is why it is revelation -- it reveals.
That means that Biblical religion is, by its very nature, a healing religion. It invites people to that Journey Perilous into reality. It works against the bottling of our fears and resentments. Our route to health leads inevitably through our experience of truth. Deep truth is fundamentally both personal and healing.
"Personal", however, does not mean private or relative or feeling-based. It means having to do with persons, myself and others. Persons, not atoms, not things, not ideas or concepts, are the basic building blocks of the cosmos. Persons are the basic objectivities of life. The “real world” is the world of Godly relationship, not the world of power struggle which so many admire. The meek, not the powerful, really will inherit the earth.
The presence of other persons, supremely God, rescues us from narcissism, solipsism, and nihilism. Neither things nor concepts can do that. That is why it makes perfect logical and ontological sense for Jesus to say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life...”
Personal relationships, above all else, force us into intellectual integrity -- fact and logic. Without that integrity, our relationships will always suffer. We need to come to factually and logically consistent understandings of one another.
And that is why the invitation to wrestle with reality (“Come, let us reasons together...”), to wrestle with God Himself, the ultimate reality, is the key to our wholeness, our sanity, and our therefore salvation. The freedom to wrestle honestly with reality is the key to emotional and spiritual health. That is why Jesus could say, “Your faith has made you whole...” Not blind belief, but honest truth-seeking.
Truth is discerned in quality relationships, hence (one last time...):
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. John 8:31 ff.
Where relationships deteriorate, truth will follow suit. Truth is vital to any personal growth. In this way all emotional and spiritual growing toward health depends upon relationships with others, and through them to ultimate truth which is God. Clouding of the truth - any tolerance of falsehood - inevitably obscures this relationship and provides the hiding places for darkness, sin, and sickness.
Truth is found in quality of relationship more than in the printed word. The printed word either points us on to the relationship and thus to healing, or it becomes an idol seducing us to bondage. The truth of God, which, of all truths, is healing balm for hurting souls, is experienced personally, in relationship with Him, both in solitude and through each other.
Because both Biblical faith and healing are fundamentally about relationship, the learning of the Christian faith, in and of itself, can be a deeply healing experience.
That is why even those not intellectually gifted can be faithful Christians equally with Ph. D.’s. Regardless of whatever level at which we can think, we all relate.
Healing is fundamentally about how I see and perceive other people, about what I think of when I think of my neighbor. What do I see? Mother Theresa saw things in derelicts which few saw. We must all, not just the Mother Theresa’s, strive to see the Imago Dei in even the worse of sinners and the most broken of persons.
Seeing that glory is healing, and essential, for our own souls. Moral integrity and personal wholeness cannot be separated. Salvation is, after all, simply the restoration of our wholeness in the plan and purpose of God, our justification.
Thus our experience of truth through relationship, most especially the faith-dependency-obedience relationship, a healthy warp and woof, is the means and ground for all emotional and spiritual healing.
* * *
Healed persons are still fallen persons. Healing is necessarily a part of salvation, but they are not the same thing. So, all that has been said in this book (Biblical Inner Healing) is, in one sense, precursor to the business of the Fall, redemption, and salvation. We have looked at what it means to be human, and touched on the effects of sin and the Fall, and many clues are scattered through this book on those issues. But (given a personalist worldview) the full meaning of salvation, of justification, and how the Son of God comes to draw us through the reversal of the Fall will be the subject of other books.
Study Questions for each Chapter
A. The Faithful Bible
1. Describe the Five Decisions that are required for emotional and spiritual maturity.
2. Why is the question of Biblical authority important for healing?
3. Between Christians and secularists, who had the better grasp on how we know truth, and why has one side been winning?
4. Describe the importance of faith #1, openness to the truth in relation to the other three kinds of faith.
5. On what principle is Christian humanism primarily based?
6. Explain the author’s assertion that books are, in themselves, incapable of being either fallible or infallible.
7. Why does the author believe that one’s commitment to the truth should come prior to our commitment to God?
B. The Constitutional Bible
8. In what sense can the Bible be called the Christian constitution?
9. In their attempt to reinterpret the constitutions of the Christian community and the United states, what are the “liberal” interests doing?
C. The Reliable Bible
10. Why is the testability of the Bible important?
11. Apply what John 5:38 says to the way Christians behave in their relationship with God.
12. Give examples which show that the writing of scripture was, in most cases, a secondary reflection.
13. What did the author mean when the following statement was made: “revelation takes place within the given context of history?”
14. Explain the progressive nature of our relationship with God as it relates to the revelation that we receive.
15. How do we participate in the infallibility of God?
16. What is the purpose of reading what God did in the past and how does this apply to our faith-dependency relationship?
17. What is the correct Christian attitude toward science?
18. Give examples of the Bible being “tested”, and the results, good and bad.
19. How is the faith community tied to the historicity of revelation?
20. Give an example of legitimate “baptizing” of pagan lore.
21. According to the author, what does it mean to lean unto your own understanding and what does this process enable you to do?
D. The Unreliable Bible
22. On what foundation does every distinctly Christian teaching rest?
23. In what sense, according to the author, can the Bible become unreliable?
E. The Infallible Bible
24. Describe the process of change that occurs when a person comes to Jesus and his/her dependency begins to shift.
25. What does the author mean by the “faith process” (rather than the text of the Bible) being infallible?
F. The Metaphysical Bible
26. What is "metaphysics"?
27. How can a metaphysical argument help bolster a proof for the existence of God?
28. How is the metaphysical argument related to empirical arguments?
G. The Reasonable Bible
H. The Anglican Bible
29. What was the human race’s “teen rebellion” period? and How is that related to Biblical authority?
30. Describe the three-legged stool as advocated by the author, and the place of reason in it.
I. The Healing Bible
31. Describe the deepest truth and how it relates to other truths.
[See also - "Part II -- The Source of Authority"]
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