Fundamentalism: Whence? Where? Whither? Part 4

NickOfTime

Fundamentalism and Populism

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Prior to Thomas Reid and Scottish Common Sense Realism, people typically recognized a distinction between appearances (whether understood as perceptions, phenomena, or, in Locke’s case, ideas) and reality. From antiquity until the late Middle Ages, this distinction had produced two effects upon the way that most people thought about reality. First, they reckoned that whatever reality they encountered had to be interpreted—and not everyone was in an equally good position to do the interpreting. Second, they believed that reality possessed dimensions of meaning or significance that stretched well beyond sensory awareness. Grasping those levels of meaning was also something that not everyone was equally qualified to do.

Common Sense Realists denied the distinction between appearance and reality. They insisted that perceiving subjects have direct and unmediated access to reality itself. Consequently, reality does not need to be interpreted—it is as it appears to be. This move had the effect of placing every person on an equal footing for understanding any aspect of reality.

As presented by people like Reid and Dugald Stewart, Common Sense Realism was a responsible if misguided academic option. Ironically, however, many of the people who appropriated and applied Reid’s conclusions would not have been capable of understanding his arguments. Chief among them were Americans.

Even before Reid, Americans had begun to affirm the competence of the ordinary person in all matters. This perspective is called populism. The harshness of the American frontier and the necessity of individual accomplishment tended to negate aristocratic influences. The sense that they were starting anew gave Americans an antipathy toward traditions. The arrival of Common Sense Realism confirmed the populist prejudice and opened the throttle for its acceleration. This process continued throughout the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian periods.

At the time of the American Revolution, populism was widely (though not universally) assumed by American Christians. The influence of populism continued to grow during the first half of the Nineteenth Century. Under its sway, many expressions of American Christianity became anti-traditional, anti-clerical, and anti-intellectual. Branches of American evangelicalism rejected the value of creeds and confessions, of advanced study (sometimes of any specialized study), and of a trained ministry. The ideal became the individual who, without any particular theological training, read the Bible and came to his own convictions. Such individuals, if articulate, could become the leaders of significant communities and movements.

Some of those movements turned out to be less than evangelical. Seventh-Day Adventism owes its origins to this period, as does the Stone-Campbell movement. Indeed, this was a time when novel sects and cults were beginning to abound.

Among evangelicals, populism contributed to and was fed by the Second Great Awakening. It produced the camp-meeting movement, and, at a slightly later period, the urban revivalists. The most influential of these was Charles Grandison Finney.

Finney is widely remembered for the spectacular results of his meetings. His main contribution, however, lay in systematizing and nearly canonizing the methods of populistic revivalism. He spelled out his theological underpinnings in his Systematic Theology, but expounded most of his methodology in his Memoirs and his Revivals of Religion.

For Finney, the normal Christian life is one of decline. Left to themselves, believers are easily distracted by the cares of the world and they will quickly backslide. In order to interrupt this backsliding, their attention must be refocused from temporal things onto spiritual things.

In order to do that, the preacher first has to get their attention. On the one hand (according to Finney), this required him to eliminate the preaching of any doctrines that were not immediately practical in nature. On the other hand, gathering a crowd and gaining their attention required novelty.

Finney insisted that, since God has not ordained any specific methods, the preacher is free to develop his own methodology. Effectiveness is the key to choosing techniques. Finney argued for the necessity of novelty, and he suggested that Christians should look at techniques that had proven successful in the worlds of commerce, politics, and entertainment.

For Finney, appropriating these techniques was an aspect of spiritual wisdom. Indeed, the spiritual wisdom of any preacher or Christian leader could be gauged by counting the numbers who responded. Finney was quite explicit at this point: “The amount of a minister’s success in winning souls (other things being equal) invariably decides the amount of wisdom he has exercised in the discharge of his office.”1

These ideas put a new twist on the old populism. They had the effect of pegging the internal methods of the church to whatever techniques were dominant in the surrounding secular culture. They also linked, for the first time, Christian gathering to secular entertainment. The results of this move would prove to be profound.

The time when Finney was experimenting with his new measures and articulating his ideas was the very time when popular culture was emerging for the first time. A discussion of popular culture will require separate treatment. At this point, only two observations need to be offered. First, popular culture is mass-produced culture, and as such it could not exist before the invention of the steam-powered printing press in the early 1800s. Second, popular culture is commercial culture, and as such it is intrinsically secularizing and sensationalizing.

Finney’s methods were developed just prior to the explosion of popular culture. He could not have foreseen the wedding that was about to occur between his methods and the new direction in culture, nor could he have foreseen where the newly-invented popular culture was eventually going to lead. Even so, the adaptation to popular culture came to characterize American Christianity during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century.

All of this occurred long before Fundamentalism arose as an identifiable movement. Nevertheless, populism was a significant aspect of the milieu out of which Fundamentalism emerged. Certainly Fundamentalism reflected the evangelical context that gave it birth.

The results of populism can be traced throughout the history of the fundamentalist movement. Fundamentalism has typically displayed the populist contempt for tradition, for learning, and for an educated ministry. It has defined spiritual success in terms of numerical results. It has envisioned Christian gathering (one hesitates to call it worship) as a form of amusement, and it has struggled to maintain itself in the face of a continually-changing popular culture. Wherever Fundamentalism has flourished, it has done so by appealing to and building upon some aspect of the popular culture.

Many will object that this description does not fairly characterize all Fundamentalists, and that objection certainly carries weight. Nevertheless, as Les Ollila once observed, “The problem with pragmatism is that it does work.”2 When a less populist version of Fundamentalism has been forced to make common cause with a more populist version, the more populist version has almost always dominated through sheer force of numbers. The result is that today virtually all churches, and certainly all institutions within Fundamentalism, have been influenced by the populist outlook.

People like to pride themselves upon being able to make their own choices and develop their own opinions. The fact is, though, that not everyone is equally qualified to make every choice or to hold every opinion. When unqualified people are asked to develop opinions and to make choices, they invariably look for leadership—often, the kind of leadership that will lead them to believe that they are acting on their own, while manipulating or stampeding them into doing its will. That kind of demagoguery has come to typify some branches of Fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is a great idea. It deserves to be preserved and defended. Almost universally, however, the Fundamentalist movement either began or has become populist. Indeed, many Fundamentalists defend populist perspectives as if they are important aspects of the Christian faith. The populist dynamic helps to explain how Fundamentalism has reached the point at which it stands today.

1 Charles Grandison Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion, Christian Classics reprint edition (Virginia Beach, VA: CBN University Press, 1978), 189.

2 Les Ollila, forward to Douglas R. McLachlan, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism (Independence, Mo.: American Association of Christian Schools, 1993), vi.

Frescoes in an Old Church

Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)

Six centuries now have gone
Since, one by one,
These stones were laid,
And in air’s vacancy
This beauty made.

They who thus reared them
Their long rest have won;
Ours now this heritage—
To guard, preserve, delight in, brood upon;
And in these transitory fragments scan
The immortal longings in the soul of Man.


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

 

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Aaron Blumer's picture

Kevin, I've encouraged Joel to try to clear it up offline. Looks like what he suggested above was talking through it and then posting the results. That would probably be both the quickest and most edifying route to a positive end. And if he posts something public after you have a good talk, that's still a public resolution.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Kevin,

I've called and written an email. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Joel Tetreau's picture

To All,

Let me give what may be the first of a "grouping" of apologies. For you budding leaders out there.....this is how not to manage a discussion. Horrible stewardship of a conversation. My first apology is to the SI community here. I allowed a discussion that at least in part needed to happen privatly to go public. Will strive to do better in the future. After Kevin and I chat in private I may be coming back to the community with more apologies.

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Joel Tetreau's picture

Kevin,

Here's what will happen now. You and I will have a private conversation first. The two of us will figure out together what happened. If I was wrong I will seek your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the SI community. I would imagine if you believe at some point you were wrong, you'll do the same. If your not going to do that, I will simply present to the moderators what I've presented to you by way of email. l will submit to their wisdom as to who or whom is to blame here. If I have misrepresented you, I'll be the first to apologize and admit to it. I don't appreciate your wanting to take this to the next level publically, after appealing to a private conversation. If you want a fight there is a part of my flesh that would meet you in the ring....but clearly that would just add more "wrong" to that which has already been wrong. While some of my comments the last few days don't reveal it, I love you dearly in the Lord, respect you for your leadership and realize how much you have helped me personally. I regret that I choose to go down this road altogether. I should have left alone the few differences I have with you.......in the grand view of things I agree with much more than I disagree. I hate public or private fights with firends....and you are a friend even though I haven't demonstrated that. I don't plan to revisit this topic once we are on the other side.

Most Seriously

Joel Tetreau

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Jay's picture

Joel Tetreau wrote:
To All,

Let me give what may be the first of a "grouping" of apologies. For you budding leaders out there.....this is how not to manage a discussion. Horrible stewardship of a conversation. My first apology is to the SI community here. I allowed a discussion that at least in part needed to happen privatly to go public. Will strive to do better in the future. After Kevin and I chat in private I may be coming back to the community with more apologies.

Straight Ahead!

jt


Joel,

Apology accepted. Glad to hear that you've reached out to Dr. Bauder and hoping that this is resolved quickly.

I'd like to discuss your initial point first though - you wondered how populism influenced our church polity. I think that's a point that merits discussion. I've been a congregation-run church for almost all of my life, but now I'm leaning more towards a team of elders/deacons. This was a partial reason why. Would anyone who is a congregational-lead church leader like to take a swing at how we reconcile the two [if they can be done ].

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mike Durning's picture

Jay C wrote:

Joel,

Apology accepted. Glad to hear that you've reached out to Dr. Bauder and hoping that this is resolved quickly.

I'd like to discuss your initial point first though - you wondered how populism influenced our church polity. I think that's a point that merits discussion. I've been a congregation-run church for almost all of my life, but now I'm leaning more towards a team of elders/deacons. This was a partial reason why. Would anyone who is a congregational-lead church leader like to take a swing at how we reconcile the two [if they can be done ].

Dear Jay,

I'm sure Joel is busy with reaching out to Dr. Bauder, but I can tell you that Joel's position on congregational vs. elder led polity is rather complex but well developed from a variety of Biblical texts. You can read it here . The reason I post it is that I happen to think Joel is on to something.

Kind regards,

Mike Durning

Bob Hayton's picture

I appreciated Bauder's follow up post here. He brings up many good points and I can see how Finneyism and populism, coupled with common sense could lead to fundamentalist excesses. I'm sure it influences all of evangelicalism today to some extent too. I don't think it's just populism and common sense but a whole host of factors and I'm looking forward to the next posts in this series as Bauder continues to lay out a good detailed picture of fundamentalist history.

As to the Joel - Kevin debacle, perhaps the moderators could remove those quite personal posts from the discussion thread. It distracts from the post and the discussion.

Thanks

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Bob Hayton wrote:
I appreciated Bauder's follow up post here. He brings up many good points and I can see how Finneyism and populism, coupled with common sense could lead to fundamentalist excesses. I'm sure it influences all of evangelicalism today to some extent too. I don't think it's just populism and common sense but a whole host of factors and I'm looking forward to the next posts in this series as Bauder continues to lay out a good detailed picture of fundamentalist history.

As to the Joel - Kevin debacle, perhaps the moderators could remove those quite personal posts from the discussion thread. It distracts from the post and the discussion.

Thanks

I am with you on all points, especially removing the posts.

"The Midrash Detective"

Susan R's picture

This has been a great series so far- it is always good, IMO, to ask ourselves why we http://www.snopes.com/weddings/newlywed/secret.asp ]cut the end off the ham .

There lacks a balance in Fundamentalism, IMO, between how God often takes a very humble person (of station and of character) with few (of what we would consider) essential qualifications and uses them to work great things, and the person who is intellectually gifted and diligently studies to 'show themselves approved unto God'. Paul was oozing intelligence and special revelation from every pore, and to help keep him in check, God crippled him. I think this is a warning to us to keep our pursuit of knowledge in proper balance. It is also gratifying to think that God can use even weakest among us(Mtt. 15:22-28, John 6:9, 1 Cor. 1:27 come to mind) to work something great, but the average Joe can get carried away with that idea to the point where they elevate ignorance over education, which is a great excuse for just being mentally lazy. I agree that some Fundamentalists took the idea of 1 Cor 1:27 and ran headlong down the pike with it. That they were unknowlingly influenced by CSR or SCSR is probably a valid premise- but I believe large movements in society have many, many contributing percursors. Early America was largely populated by farmers, servants, ex-convicts, and other menial laborers- it's no coincidence that populism was... popular. Salvation itself appeals to those who are looking up from the bottom of the barrel, and is seldom embraced by those who are wealthy or of highly respected positions in society. (Luke 18:25)

Knowledge is a tool, and so are we in the hands of God. I want to be the sharpest tool in His hands that I can be, and IMO that involves studying not just the Bible, but a wide variety of sources that apply to the direction I believe God has called me to go in. I also know that the only reason I have the sense to tie my shoes (or pull the Velcro strap) is because He has granted me that ability. Just as faith without works is dead, so is intelligence and scholarship without the physical acts of caring for others- aiding the poor, the widow, the fatherless, those with hanging hands and feeble knees... and in my relatively few years involved in ministry, I see folks falling off one side of the fence or other. Either they're studying so much that they seldom reach out to physically minister, or they spend so much time out and about that they have only the vaguest idea of what they believe and why. And IMO talking from a platform and writing books is a very limited method of ministering. It's often just another way of keeping the unwashed masses at arm's length while still feeling as if one is helping people.

I agreed with the post about how people tend to believe that their particular interest or calling is The Most Important- and that passion is most often a good passion. The scholar delights in knowledge, the carpenter in building physical structures, the doctor in healing... and thus in a church we have many members with different interests and abilities working in concert, each enthusiastic about their function, and to balance that we are commanded to not compare ourselves among ourselves, which in itself is a sticky wicket. But when I go to the doctor, he works from an office built with the calloused hands of the carpenter, the roofer, the plumber... we just can't take for granted what value each and every person can bring to the work of God. Accessing a multitude of counselors is a good practice, because the insight we receive can come from the strangest places.

Whatever schools of thought affect and influence us in certain directions, there is the assurance that the Holy Spirit will lead us to truth, and we can correct a mistaken direction by measuring each and every theory against its consistency with Biblical principle.

Mike Durning's picture

Bob Hayton wrote:
I appreciated Bauder's follow up post here. He brings up many good points and I can see how Finneyism and populism, coupled with common sense could lead to fundamentalist excesses. I'm sure it influences all of evangelicalism today to some extent too. I don't think it's just populism and common sense but a whole host of factors and I'm looking forward to the next posts in this series as Bauder continues to lay out a good detailed picture of fundamentalist history.

As to the Joel - Kevin debacle, perhaps the moderators could remove those quite personal posts from the discussion thread. It distracts from the post and the discussion.

Thanks

As I brought up on some previous threads, please, moderators, do not remove any posts.
1). Later on, when these threads are reviewed by others, they will make little sense if edited. There will be responses to comments that no longer exist, an uneven feel to the thread's progression, etc. This is beside the fact that, when finally clarified, both men were saying some important things about the topic despite the personal interchange that inadvertantly got out of control.
2). It speaks well of us when people can see that problems are resolved in a godly, Biblical fashion. We should not attempt to remove the record of all problems and their resolutions. People need to see that we all have feet of clay, and that despite this, Biblical unity and forgiveness is practiced here.

I have boundless admiration for Dr. Bauder and Dr. Tetreau. I never thought they were incapable of mistakes, either in communication or intent. Letting us see how "the big boys" deal with them will enrich and teach us all. Yes, I'm that confident.

Todd Wood's picture

Mike Durning wrote:
we all have feet of clay

And isn't it just totally awesome that God uses people like us. From church history past to the history being made presently, we are all just a bunch of clay pots that God uses and will continue to use for His glory.

What a gracious and glorious God.

Bob Hayton's picture

I can see your point, Mike. But the posts in question could be removed in a careful way that preserves the flow of the comments.

It becomes quite intra-mural (don't know if that's the word I'm searching for), to leave such posts in. Someone reading the post and jumping in the comments may bail quickly when they encounter a direct interpersonal dispute that's only tangentially related to the post at hand. At times such editing is needed, as are other normal sorts of moderating.

Just my opinion. I do think their exchange can be helpful, but it could also give occasion to solidify a wrong impression many have of fundamentalists. "They're always fighting about something...."

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Jim's picture

The moderation team has discussed whether or not to remove / edit previous posts on this thread. At this time we have decided NOT to do that.

Please feel free to continue discussing Dr Bauder's article, but no more comments about whether to delete / edit / remove / etc will be allowed.

Thanks Jim Peet, Forum Director (please don't discuss this comment either!)

Greg Linscott's picture

Smile

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Charlie's picture

I definitely see the pragmatist/entertainment principle at work. I wonder, then, why Fundamentalism has been so opposed to CCM. For example, the church I grew up in would host rodeos, stunt bikers, mega game nights, karate demonstrations, etc. for "evangelism." We played games and had contests in youth group, such as "Who will drink a live goldfish for an Orioles ticket?" We gave kids toys and candy for coming on our bus routes. But CCM was mixing the church with the world, and was entirely inappropriate for evangelism, worship, or even entertainment.

I don't want to discuss music per se (anything but that!), but how populism and pragmatism in Fundamentalism operated to choose which portions of culture could be appropriated.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Brent Marshall's picture

Mike, thank you for posting the link to Joel's piece, "The Decision-Making Process of the Local NT Church." Joel, thanks for doing that work and posting it so that we can benefit from it, also. I have only been able to scan through it quickly at this point, but I see that I want to come back to it soon and go through it more carefully.

What I am still missing is the link between the ideas advocated there, such as congregational polity and leadership by a plurality of elders, and the notion of populism. I am beginning to wonder whether there is some level of miscommunication occurring due to persons using "populism" in differing ways.

Things That Matter

As the quantity of communication increases, so does its quality decline; and the most important sign of this is that it is no longer acceptable to say so.--RScruton

Todd Wood's picture

How many fundamentalists in America like listening to Glenn Beck's populism, er excuse me, patriotism throughout the week?

Look at his latest book . . .

Glenn Beck's Common Sense (2009)

Populism and Common Sense are the rage in America in 2009. But don't let your common sense in your personal study lead you to God in the way it has led Beck.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Kevin and I are talking.This is a good thing.

I've asked forgiveness of Kevin and I'm asking you all to forgive me for the following reasons.

1. My lack of charity. I thought I could mix in humor and make a point. That missed badly.
2. I should have taken "certain frustrations" to Kevin in private instead of here.
3. My statement was less than accurate. I took a statement Kevin made gave it an interpretation and translated the interpretation as the intended meaning. A better friend would have made certain clarity with an accusatory statement like I made first....and then in private.
4. I'm overly sensitive about a few items. I need to relax and laugh at myself....everyone else does (that's from my wife!)
5. I apologize to the friends and family of Kevin. When I hurt him I hurt you. Kevin has great family and friends who I love.

Thanks for your patience with me.

I may be coming to you all with more apologies as the Lord continues to soften my heart in the days to come.

You are all loved.

Straight Ahead!

Joel

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Diane Heeney's picture

Bro Joel,
Not only am I grateful for the example you have given, but I am pleased that it is being retained in this thread. It will receive great visibility here. It is a benefit to us all. Blogging in the Spirit.

Blessings,
~Diane

"I pray to God this day to make me an extraordinary Christian." --Whitefield http://strengthfortoday.wordpress.com

Jay's picture

Todd Wood wrote:
How many fundamentalists in America like listening to Glenn Beck's populism, er excuse me, patriotism throughout the week?

Look at his latest book . . .

Glenn Beck's Common Sense (2009)

Populism and Common Sense are the rage in America in 2009. But don't let your common sense in your personal study lead you to God in the way it has led Beck.


Looking to read http://www.amazon.com/Liberty-Tyranny-Conservative-Mark-Levin/dp/1416562850 ]Liberty and Tyranny first, but read the first couple pages of the above a week ago. Good stuff.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Brent Marshall's picture

Susan R wrote:
Paul was oozing intelligence and special revelation from every pore, and to help keep him in check, God crippled him. I think this is a warning to us to keep our pursuit of knowledge in proper balance.
Help me, please. I am not seeing how our pursuit of knowledge fits with God's revelation to Paul and Paul's thorn in the flesh.

Things That Matter

As the quantity of communication increases, so does its quality decline; and the most important sign of this is that it is no longer acceptable to say so.--RScruton

Bob T.'s picture

Two men were arguing about the plural of "you". The man from South Carolina said the plural of you is obviously "you all." The man from New Jersey insisted that common sense indicated it was "yous." Along came a stranger. They asked him to resolve the issue. The stranger stated that the plural of "you" is "you." They laughed at him and his obviously stupid answer. The stranger insisted that he was right and indicated he had a degree in English and taught the subject.. The other two men then stated; "that is the problem with you elitists. You have a degree and think you know everything but have no common sense. We will trust our common sense and your answer is worse than ours and obviously wrong!" Then they looked down the path and saw a man coming carrying a King James Bible so...

Dan Miller's picture

The Article wrote:
The fact is, though, that not everyone is equally qualified to make every choice or to hold every opinion.
I'll post some more extensive thoughts on this, but here's my first response:

Considering this anti-populism of itself,
If it is reasonable to assert that some lack capability, then such reasoning would also limit their capability to select the capable. (Otherwise, the reasoning will have to explain why everyman has some capabilities and not others.)
Therefore, everyman is either "capable" (if the reasoning is wrong) or "incapable and unable to know who to listen to" (if the reasoning is right).

Kevin? Joseph?

Susan R's picture

Brent Marshall wrote:
Susan R wrote:
Paul was oozing intelligence and special revelation from every pore, and to help keep him in check, God crippled him. I think this is a warning to us to keep our pursuit of knowledge in proper balance.
Help me, please. I am not seeing how our pursuit of knowledge fits with God's revelation to Paul and Paul's thorn in the flesh.

2Corinthians 12:7, 10-11 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure... Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.
The pursuit of knowledge and the abundance of revelation will be balanced by humility either voluntarily, (we keep ourselves in check) or God will find a way to keep us humble. I think the rest of that post (#39) clarifies my position adequately.

Brent Marshall's picture

Susan R wrote:
Brent Marshall wrote:
Susan R wrote:
Paul was oozing intelligence and special revelation from every pore, and to help keep him in check, God crippled him. I think this is a warning to us to keep our pursuit of knowledge in proper balance.
Help me, please. I am not seeing how our pursuit of knowledge fits with God's revelation to Paul and Paul's thorn in the flesh.

2Corinthians 12:7, 10-11 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure... Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.
The pursuit of knowledge and the abundance of revelation will be balanced by humility either voluntarily, (we keep ourselves in check) or God will find a way to keep us humble. I think the rest of that post (#39) clarifies my position adequately.
OK, you meant in proper balance with humility. I agree that humility is important. Interestingly, it is an attitude that here focuses on how we approach the pursuit of knowledge, how we view it, not the degree to which we pursue it. How could we properly say that a person who pursues more knowledge is, based on that alone, any less humble?

The original point was about Paul, though, and I do not see how this particular experience of Paul provides a warning for us. Specifically, the language of 2Co 12:7 indicates, not that the thorn was remedial (God acted because Paul failed voluntarily to keep himself in check), but that the thorn was preventative ("to keep me from exalting myself" (NASB)). Also, while the link between the thorn and the revelation Paul received is explicit, a link to the intelligence Paul possessed is not. The two are very different. I fear that you are reading in some things here.

Things That Matter

As the quantity of communication increases, so does its quality decline; and the most important sign of this is that it is no longer acceptable to say so.--RScruton

Brent Marshall's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
The Article wrote:
The fact is, though, that not everyone is equally qualified to make every choice or to hold every opinion.
I'll post some more extensive thoughts on this, but here's my first response:

Considering this anti-populism of itself,
If it is reasonable to assert that some lack capability, then such reasoning would also limit their capability to select the capable. (Otherwise, the reasoning will have to explain why everyman has some capabilities and not others.)
Therefore, everyman is either "capable" (if the reasoning is wrong) or "incapable and unable to know who to listen to" (if the reasoning is right).

Kevin? Joseph?

Dan, you seem to be equating the qualification to understand/do something with the qualification to choose someone who understands/does it. In practical terms, this equates doing ophthalmic surgery with picking an ophthalmic surgeon (another example is practicing law and choosing a lawyer). I grant that there is certain knowledge that is helpful to both tasks. However, it does not seem that the inability to do the former implies the inability to do the latter (in either case). Thus, I do not think that the reasoning is right. I have a hunch that the issue relates to whether ability should be measured as a binary (all-or-nothing) variable or along a continuum (degrees of ability).

Things That Matter

As the quantity of communication increases, so does its quality decline; and the most important sign of this is that it is no longer acceptable to say so.--RScruton

Dan Miller's picture

I recognize with you that the capability to choose/do is different from the capability to select the chooser/doer. I wasn't saying they were the same. I was only saying that they are both subject to charges of incapacity to make the best selection. And, as far as I can see, they both suffer from the same lack of response to those charges.

The question regards the capability to make the best selection, not just to make a selection. The lay person choosing a surgeon never really knows that his selection was best.

There is a very important distinction between a lawyer/doctor and an authority who will guide you in spiritual truth.
I won't speak about how the law functions, but doctors do things for you. You have a cataract and I remove it. It does not matter at all if you understand what a cataract is or how cataract surgery works. I do and you see. That's it.
( It might make you more comfortable to know what is going on, but it isn't necessary if you're going to leave the choices up to me. )

Our faith is not like that. Our salvation and life in Christ is based on what we know and what we believe.

The comparison with medicine or law would work if Christianity was a matter of doing pious works within the church of God, overseen by the proper priest.

But it isn't. It is not enough to have works done to you or to be told what to do. Each must know. Each must repent. Each must believe.

Sure, you can select a pastor/teacher that you will trust and believe what he tells you. But first, you need to form some sort of basis for choosing that person.

Aaron Blumer's picture

I think Dan's angle illustrates the absolute limits--if that's the right way to put it--of non-populism and non-common sense. It's one thing to assert that Common Sense Realism and Populism were/are strong influences and not for the better. And we can list all day the negative results of one or the other. But whatever is accepted in their place has to end at some point.
If the pre-modern attitude of accepting the authority of someone "more qualified" to "interpret" what seems to be reality is the alternative, even that clearly must end somewhere, because, as Dan has pointed out, faith is inescapably individual in the end. We shall appear before the judgment seat of Christ, we're told, and answer for ourselves and only ourselves.

It's very trendy to poo-poo the "rugged individualism" of American/western society, but the extreme alternative many seem to want to sell is not compatible with Scripture.

KevinM's picture

I'm glad the discussion has wandered this way--thanks Dan.

As far as "qualified experts" go, I suppose I'd prefer to have Dan do my laser surgery. But I would be happy to hear a good Bible lesson by Aaron or Brent or Charlie...or Dan, who is a youth leader at his church. So I agree with Dan's emphasis: We are discussing spiritual truth here, not mere skill in some academic discipline. And I agree with Aaron's desire to stake out some limits, lest we wander away from our beliefs in the priesthood of each believer.

All believers who study the Bible carefully will become “competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16). And all believers can attain spiritual maturity, making spiritual decisions based on the "constant use" of Scripture--literally training their powers of discernment to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).

Not to drag church music into this discussion (but this is my academic discipline, and it's a fair example) . . . we've made exactly this error in our modern "solution" to church music problems. We're addicted to the advice of "musical experts" who give complicated technical answers (stopped anapestic beat, anyone?) to questions of spiritual discernment. When the worship wars came, we didn't have any shortage of expert advice! Did this solve any of our church music questions?

What we should have done, in retrospect, was emphasize that our church music problems were spiritual problems demanding a spiritual solution--rather than (mere) problems of music theory or music history or aesthetics. By doing this, we could have given believers hope--encouragement that they were equipped to practice spiritual discernment all by themselves.

Okay, disclaimer--everyone understands, in context, that I'm not disregarding the pastoral ministry or the teaching ministry of God's chosen shepherd at each local church. Right? Our pastors still have the God-given tasks of teaching, encouragement, and even rebuke.

Dan Miller's picture

The Article wrote:
The fact is, though, that not everyone is equally qualified to make every choice or to hold every opinion.
This is probably true in some sense. BUT:

1. It isn't supported by the papers so far.
- Dr. Bauder, I don't see why you put this last paragraph in this paper. It might be true, but it doesn't seem to follow from what is said previously. Therefore, it is hard to reflect on its support and see what you mean by "qualified," etc. You might mean something important by "qualified" that will alter how we should read that sentence, we just don't know.
- "Elitism" has been on this forum before. I'm interested in understanding the finer details of how you mean this.

2. It is too vague to be useful.
- Does this mean that not everyone is equally capable of becoming qualified?
- Does this mean that some of us should designate ourselves as "incapable" and have a trust in the choices and opinions of an expert without Scriptural consultation?
- Should the church body designate someone as "incapable"?
- If someone is "incapable," is that relative or absolute, and what ramifications are there?
(- Is everyone equally capable of selecting which experts who are capable? The rationale that limits the capability of everyman would also limit his capability to select the capable. Such reasoning would render him not expert-dependent, but necessarily adrift.)* *posted above
- What if I read something in the Word that my experts don't seem willing to accept, when should I doubt my own observations/opinions and when should I break from the experts?

3. The issues that SD and Charlie discussed need to be considered.
The fact that something does not always work does not mean that it isn't God's means of working. God has said that preaching the Gospel will bring men to repentance. Nevertheless, Scripture tells us that sometimes the Gospel is preached and men refuse to repent and believe. That does not invalidate Gospel-preaching as able to bring to repentance.
I would expect the same to be true of illumination. It will sometimes result in people reading the Word and coming to wrong beliefs and wrong convictions. Nevertheless, the Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit is still the method of God's choice. In other words, the problem with Biblicism is that it doesn't always work.

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