Sorting out the Players in the Certainty Debate

Republished with permission from Baptist Bulletin Nov/Dec 2010. All rights reserved.

by David Mappes

Imagine you are the quarterback in a bowl game, dropping back for a pass. As you look downfield, you notice that all the players on both teams are wearing jerseys in subtle shades of gray—and you can’t tell them apart. Confused, you call for a huddle and begin reading from the playbook strapped to your arm. Players interrupt and begin to argue, shouting “No, that’s not what the coach means by ‘screen pass!’” “Yes, it is!” and then, “That’s just your interpretation!”

This imaginary scene may seem chaotic, but it is a fitting description for current trends in hermeneutics and theology. Careful pastors and church members need to understand subtle but important differences in terminology that are being adopted by a new generation of scholars.

“Hermeneutics” comes from the Greek term hermeneuo, which carries the idea of explaining, interpreting, or translating the sense of one language to another. In a more technical sense, the term denotes the science and art of interpretation; thus various rules and norms of interpretation are employed to determine the author’s meaning in the text. These interpretive principles are not always fully agreed upon or consistently practiced, but until recently, literary scholars have agreed that the author’s intended meaning could be understood and correctly applied. And until recently, evangelical believers have contended that we can understand the Author’s intended meaning and apply it to our lives.

Embracing Certainty and Simplicity

Literary scholars use the term “interpretative certainty” to describe the idea that sufficient literary evidence exists in a text so as to remove reasonable or justifiable doubt regarding the author’s meaning to the extent that the interpretation is nonnegotiable and absolute. Some interpretations have sufficient literary evidence for certainty, while other interpretations are held at a confidence or assurance level. As one might expect, textual meaning is a controversial matter in Biblical interpretation, but it is also discussed in the world of literature and law. Students are used to answering questions such as, Can we be sure what Hemingway meant in The Old Man and the Sea? or Can we be sure what the founding fathers meant in the U.S. Constitution?

The term “simplicity”(“single meaning”) indicates that the author’s determinative meaning does not change, remaining fixed and constant over time. The interpretative process entails a historical-grammatical-cultural method, and the authority of the interpretation is further validated through the analogy of Scripture. Since all Scripture is a product of God (Who has a single divine intent), then a carefully nuanced interpretation (a canonical, coherent, congruent, consistent, and comprehensive interpretation) provides objective validation against all other evidence or incorrect interpretations marshaled against it. Hence some interpretations can be so discernible, definable, and preservable that they can adjudicate any counterview. When we say we are certain of an interpretation, this does not mean we claim omniscience, nor does it mean the interpreter holds all interpretations to the same degree.

Questions from the Postconservative Evangelicals

Challenges to these hermeneutical norms became popular after World War II. The new hermeneutic suggested that the meaning of the author is actually a fusion between the reader’s perspective and the author of the text, essentially denying both certainty and simplicity. With the flowering of postmodernism, the notion of simplicity (single meaning) and certainty (no plausible, justifiable doubt) was radically denied. As a result, the very nature of doctrine, Biblical authority, and issues of knowability are being redefined. In 1976 Carl F.H. Henry wrote God, Revelation, and Authority to raise concerns that the role of words and the nature of truth were becoming “misty and undefined.” Henry believed that “this uncertainty stifles the word as a carrier of God’s truth and moral judgment,” leading to the “breakdown of confidence in verbal communication” that marked contemporary times.

This postmodern shift (or turn) has led to major challenges for conservative evangelicals who have held to a strong view of verbal inspiration and inerrancy. During the early years of the fundamentalist-liberal controversy, the defining issue entailed who had the correct view of truth and how respective camps could validate their own view of truth. Today the issue is much more sophisticated and entails if truth can be known and to what extent it can be known.

Here is where the players become harder to distinguish. A new group known as postconservatives is attempting to reform and revise evangelicalism—while still insisting they are professing evangelicals. Writing in the Christian Century Roger Olson called the group a “new mood arising within North American evangelical circles.” Some of the key voices include the late Stanley Grenz, John Franke, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and Leonard Sweet. Their proposed reforms involve both the practice of truth and their understanding of the nature of truth itself. Postconservatives use adjectives such as “bold,” “fresh,” “vibrant,” and “relevant” to describe their views, and words like “humble” and “tolerant” to describe themselves. They frequently employ buzzwords such as “dialogical,” “postcritical-communal,” “non-foundational,” “provisional,” “open,” “contemplative,” “generously orthodox,” and above all, “emergent.”

Since the postmodernist argues that all truth assertions/language (including Scripture) is constructed by a particular culture/society, then any truth assertion (including Scripture) is actually a cultural expression particular to one social group. Thus the postmodern emerging kind of Christianity argues that everyone (including the Scripture writers) operates from his own presuppositional culture filters that distort the very reality he sought to present. Many postmodernists famously declare that perception is reality. According to many postmodern theologians, the Scriptural writers did not present truth and reality, only what the writers perceived to be real and true.

A Loss of Certainty

Many of these emerging postmodern Christian authors then conclude the following:

(1) Tolerance and dialogue are held as the loftiest of virtues, because all knowledge can be held only at a provisional level of confidence (not certainty) and because it is subject to continual revision. Those that assert certainty are often referred to as arrogant, divisive, subversive, and disruptive to this communal norm of tolerance. This “tolerance” is then incorrectly portrayed as humility.

(2) The author’s intent can change according to the reader’s situation, confusing the author’s meaning with the reader’s personal application. This fusion creates the inability to critique and correct another’s interpretation, since meaning is personalized as meaningfulness. As a result, the reader is always driven to discover new meanings.

(3) There is a difference between the Scripture and the actual words/revelation/intent of God. Moral commands and doctrines in Scripture become more of a human author’s partially distorted view on a matter rather than God revealing His truth and reality. This separation between the Scripture and God’s revelation then creates a type of mystical and neo-orthodox approach to interpreting the text. In short, the reader becomes the determiner of meaning and significance of the text, not the Biblical Author.

A Conservative Response

Conservative theologians have continued to promote a kind of hermeneutical realism (not perception), declaring that the author’s verbal meaning is fixed, determinative, and constant and can be known in varying degrees (depending on the literary evidence in the text). A distinction is made between the author’s meaning and the text’s meaningfulness (or significance) to the reader.

In a changing evangelical arena where it is becoming more difficult to recognize teammates, pastors and church members should carefully evaluate resources that are filled with exciting buzzwords but laden with not-so-new neo-orthodox theology. We have the wonderful opportunity to offer truth to a world that is ever changing—we offer hope and trust in the unchanging and knowable Word of God.

In a world where everyone attempts to be relevant, it is worth considering that the meaning of Scripture cannot be made relevant. It is relevant, because relevancy is based upon the Author’s intended meaning. It becomes significant as readers correctly interpret and then apply the Author’s meaning.


David Mappes (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is an associate professor of theology and Bible exposition at Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pa. This article was published (with minor changes) in Baptist Bible Seminary’s Paraklesis (Summer 2010). If you would like to comment or read further resources related to this article, please visit http://faculty.bbc.edu/dmappes. For a free subscription to Paraklesis, e-mail Paul Golden at pgolden @ bbc.edu.

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Bob Hayton's picture

Interesting article. I believe most of us would reject the postmodern tendencies described here out of hand. But there does seem to be a problem with an over-assertion of certainty.

I think we have to be honest that there are hermeneutical questions and varying opinions often on the exact meaning of various aspects of the text. Our theological system of thought does influence how we view texts. If I have a dispensational viewpoint, my conclusions will differ with the covenant theology viewpoint often. If I'm Calvinist, my conclusions on many texts will sound very different from that of non-Calvinists. It is true that certain points of doctrine are more sure and more clear in Scripture, such that all four of the viewpoints I describe here will unite in upholding the deity of Christ or the Trinity, for instance.

What bothers me is when preachers declare their own viewpoint with a high degree of certainty and authority, on points where there is much variance among other evangelical interpreters. What's wrong with preaching the passage, and then your interpretation on questionable points as being your view, and explaining that other views exist? Why do we have to "decide" on every small point at question, and then preach our view as Bible truth?

I'm not advocating that we equivocate on the Gospel. But how about we give some Christian charity to other evangelical interpretive positions? The answer isn't to turn from homiletical certainty into a total, post-modern, emergent mushiness. But neither should the response to emergent errors be a total dogmatism on all points. We can learn from others, even if we think they go too far.

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.

Bob Hayton's picture

As an example of too much "certainty", consider this from http://www.archive.org/stream/candidexaminatio00piet ]a review of the Scofield Bible by Albertus Pieters (in 1938). In reference to "the oracular and authoritative tone employed throughout", Pieters says the following.

Quote:
Here we come to something we can not praise, although we admit its effectiveness with superficial Bible students -- as most people are. Dr. Scofield never by any chance intimates that he may be mistaken, or that any other view is possible but the one he lays down. In one place I did find him presenting three possible alternative explanations, without deciding which was right, but this is a rare exception. For the most part, no infallible Pope could speak with greater certainty and authority than he; and this is true no matter what the subject under discussion. Whether dealing with the great doctrines which are the common confession of all Christendom, or with obscure and doubtful points of eschatology, where the most learned and competent expositors confess themselves at a loss, everywhere it is the same "ipse dixit" style....

In line with this authoritative attitude... is the fact that Dr. Scofield never argues, never explains, never apologizes, and never assigns any reasons for asserting that this or that is true....

Now there are certainly times, places, and circumstances where this is the correct procedure. In teaching small children one can speak thus. The man who proclaims the great Christian doctrines is entitled to speak positively and with authority.... Besides this, any one called to the office of a Christian pastor in a given denomination has both the right and the duty to affirm, in his own pulpit, the distinctive doctrines of his own denomination, without qualification or apology.

In the case of the Scofield Bible, however, these considerations do not apply. He is not dealing with children, nor is he speaking in any sense in an official and representative capacity. In his presentation of the great central doctrines, he has the whole church behind him, but in a large part of his teachings he represents a minority of a minority, teaching a millennialism which no Christian church has ever admitted to its creed, and of that millennialism a special form which many of the wisest millenarians repudiate. Yet in all of this, as also in his remarks on chronology, and general Bible knowledge, he maintains the same oracular "I know it all" attitude. As a method of inspiring confidence among ignorant people, the method has merits, its effectiveness can not be denied; but from a moral standpoint it deserves severe condemnation. Dr. Scofield had no right thus to assume superiority over his brethren, to whom the Holy Spirit was given as well as to him, and many of whom had qualifications of scholarship far beyond anything he could claim.

...Undoubtedly this oracular and authoritative manner has been effective, but it is not to be excused for that reason. It seems like a harsh judgement, but in the interests of truth it must be uttered: Dr. Scofield in this was acting the part of an intellectual charlatan, a fraud who pretends to knowledge which he does not possess; like a quack doctor, who is ready with a confident diagnosis in many cases where a competent physician is unable to decide. (pg. 7-11)

Whether or not Scofield's doctrine is correct is not my point. It is the "certainty" he used in his teaching, and the "authoritative" quality of his writing. Isn't there a place for being more careful and humble? And can't we call for this without being dubbed postmodern or emergent (for our use of the buzzword, "humble")?

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.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The C.I. critic there is definitely too harsh. Scofield wrote with absolute certainty because he was absolutely certain. Of course, on some of these things he should have been less certain, and on some he was just wrong, but somebody is not a charlatan who claims 0 uncertainty when he has 0 uncertainty. He's the opposite: he's being honest.
Is it better to pretend to be unsure when you have no doubt? I think many do this nowadays (impossible to tell how many) because "sounding dogmatic" is so out of fashion.

On the other hand, I'm all for seeing more people be well informed enough to know what they don't really know for sure. The cliche says the more you know the more you realize you don't know. There's alot of truth in that, though it sounds a little bit like 2Tim.3:7

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bob Hayton's picture

If you read the whole book (it's actually a speech recorded and published), you'll see that he's not harsh. He's very careful and measured in his critique of the Scofield Reference Bible. I would guess even Scofield would know that he was more certain about core Gospel truths than about other lesser matters which he still addressed with utmost clarity in the SRB.

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.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Bob Hayton wrote:
What bothers me is when preachers declare their own viewpoint with a high degree of certainty and authority, on points where there is much variance among other evangelical interpreters. What's wrong with preaching the passage, and then your interpretation on questionable points as being your view, and explaining that other views exist? Why do we have to "decide" on every small point at question, and then preach our view as Bible truth?

I'm not advocating that we equivocate on the Gospel.

Hi Bob,

What you are hoping for is actually done by quite a few preachers. But I'm not sure that approach has as its goal to equip the saints for spiritual battle and feed them, though.

The underlying assumption in your comment is that if there are evangelical interpreters with a variation of interpretations on a text, then the correct interpretation of that text is beyond certainty. If we will go with that, then I assure you there are very few, if any, texts that can be preached with certainty. Even the gospel itself is derived from verses of Scripture, and even those verses will receive different meanings by evangelicals, if not in the conclusion, then in the details.

Paul charges Timothy to labor hard in the word so as to "accurately handle the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). Paul's encouragement to Timothy, and to all, is that there is truth in the Scripture, that it can be known with certainty, and that it can be taught.

What we should rather wish to see is preachers who labor hard in Scripture, but who have humble hearts before God, and are always and instantaneously willing to change their interpretation of any Scripture if they are shown further light on it.

Bob Hayton's picture

Ted,

I generally agree with your statement. But we do know that Jesus promised the Spirit would lead us into all truth. And the acceptance by the historic church should weigh something in our evaluation of competing interpretations.

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.

Ted Bigelow's picture

All truth. Are you referring to John 16:13-15?

It might be best to see that as a promise to the 11 disciples, and not to me, or you.

Nobody questions the value of those who have gone before us. Indeed, they have served us and are of great help.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. I just got in the mail today a publication from the CBE - Christians for Biblical Equality. They are evangelicals who believe that in the redemption of Christ women are to have equal authority in the home and in the church as men do.

And yet, that isn't directly related to the gospel. Someone can still believe the gospel while holding wrong views on that issue. But if we adopt the position that since sincere evangelicals hold various opinions on these matters it is therefore uncertain what God does say about it, and teach that to the sheep, we have (in my opinion) hurt them in a vital area of spiritual warfare, and left them open for a lot of agony in this life.

So you see, the issue of certainly, from a shepherd's perspective, has to stretch to all those matters God speaks about. Paul wants elders to "hold fast to the faithful word as taught" (Titus 1:9). Its part of our qualification for office.

Bob Hayton's picture

I think teaching people the debate can be helpful in many matters, Ted. On that front I'd speak more clearly as I believe it's a second-order doctrine and is much more clearly taught than some others (like finer points of eschatology).

Teaching through Revelation would have to include explaining alternative views, in my opinion. I don't think this is a cop out and means we aren't shepherding as we should. It's being honest and modeling how to think through issues for your congregation.

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.

dmicah's picture

Bob and Ted,
I think you are discussing a tangential issue. The post conservative evangelicals or post modern innovators as some are calling them, those listed in this article, are not preaching in the conventional sense that fundamentalists/evangelicals understand it. You guys are talking about how to exegete and explain arguable doctrines...which is a legitimate discussion, but not what the certainty issue is really about.

These guys - Maclaren, Pagitt, etc. are basically rewriting Scripture to suit their own needs. They have a very slick deity denying liberalism packaged as warm gospel syrup. They are defining Scripture and the faith in a postmodern context where few things are knowable or certain, most things are ambiguous, and the mooring of absolute truth has been destroyed on matters such as virgin birth, resurrection, penal substitution, physical existence of hell and other such distinctives of the Christian faith.

These guys are NOT debating the nuances of eschatalogy, dispensational thought, soteriology, etc. and how they should be presented to a bible believing/reading/studying flock of church members.

Good book for a fair explanation of post modern innovators - Don't Stop Believing by Michael E Wittmer.

Charlie's picture

Either Dr. Mappes has no idea what he's talking about, or his intention to "dumb down" his subject matter led him to some absurd and unfair statements. I suspect the latter, since I assume no one would publish on a subject about which they were ignorant. Since Kant, but more especially since Heidegger and Gadamer, there has been an emphasis on the situatedness of our knowledge. That is, we do not see things in themselves; we see things as things, based on our previous experiences and current intellectual outlook.

The widespread acceptance of this "post-modern" outlook is simple: it has the greatest explanatory power. It explains why geography, ethnicity, and religious background are better predictors of beliefs than are IQ or SAT scores. It allows room for the role our affective elements can and must play in belief formation. It shows how divergent interpretations arise without necessarily questioning the sincerity or intelligence of the interpreters.

In one sense, post-modernism is reviving (or allows for the revival of) the Augustinian and Reformed idea that who you are influences what you can know. Both Augustine and Calvin stress, in somewhat different ways, how the disordered soul prevents the subjective reception of objectively clear knowledge. Augustine speaks in his doctrinal handbook De Doctrina Christiana first about what is to be loved and how; these issues are prior to proper interpretation. Calvin wrote Institutes to teach people how to read their Bibles. For Calvin, the subject is prepared to receive revelation only if he approaches the revelation a certain way. That is why the first topic of Institutes is the twofold knowledge of God and self, a knowledge that rests primarily on an inner ethical orientation. Compared to these men and many in between them, the reduced, one-dimensional "literal-grammatical" hermeneutic of certain brands of evangelicalism is a cartoon caricature.

An article like this demonstrates so little genuine interaction - a desire to understand and appreciate - with hermeneutical theory that it amounts to tar and feathering the straw man. It also fails to point out the great strides being made for an orthodox post-modern (or at least cognizant of postmodernism) theology being made by people like Michael Horton, John Milbank, Alister McGrath, James Smith, Jean Luc Marion and David Bentley Hart. Most evangelicals could benefit from reading The Fall of Interpretation by James Smith or Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy; these thinkers understand continental philosophy and articulate a Christian conception of interpretation.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

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

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Bob Hayton wrote:
I think teaching people the debate can be helpful in many matters, Ted. On that front I'd speak more clearly as I believe it's a second-order doctrine and is much more clearly taught than some others (like finer points of eschatology).

Teaching through Revelation would have to include explaining alternative views, in my opinion. I don't think this is a cop out and means we aren't shepherding as we should. It's being honest and modeling how to think through issues for your congregation.


If a Teacher of the Word, particularly a Pastor, is going to teach through a book of the Bible, whether it be Revelation or Philemon, he certainly has an obligation to know what it communicates or he should not be teaching it.

The erroneous belief that it is more intellectually or theologically honest (my words) or there is greater didactic or theological integrity (my words) to provide the views of others that are contrary to your views so that the student can make a choice is what results in not shepherding. The student will make a choice, you responsibility as a teacher is to show him, clearly, the correct choice. Simply because Teachers of the Word disagree do not require them biblically or ethically to impose upon their shepherding, the views of others. You are the Teacher, you are the one leading through the Word and either you can teach it and explain what it means or you cannot and if you cannot, sit down until you can communicate the Word.

Why? (note to cut a pasters...here is the explanation of the above). While it is fine to introduce other views it is not done so nor should be with the idea that they are valid competitors against the correct view. They should be introduced (if one understands what a book, passage, verse and word communicates and again, if not, why are you teaching?) as sources of comparison for their failures, inadequacies and weaknesses.

Yes, one informs but not for the purpose of making a menu of choices. That is not teaching that is confusing.

But this brings us back to the criticism of Pieters of Scofield, not necessarily specifically only but more broadly, the basis of such criticism. I read through link with some detail and am aware of Pieters' Reformed background.

Reformed Theology is based, greatly, in the exercise of rationalism. It tenets are derived through a rationalistic hermeneutic. And rationalism lends itself to imprecision, doubt and subjectivity so it is not surprising that Pieters is taken aback with Scofield's confidence. This is not to attempt to diminish Pieters' academic credentials but to explain why this posture comes so often from Reformed corners (but I am not willing to go so far as to simply let Pieters off, he does take the position that Scofield writes as a "know it all". I found that amusing seeing that Pieters complaint is that Scofield wrote with such confidence that he did so as if he already knew it all, yet here is Pieters presuming, quite arrogantly, to assign a motive to Scofield when he knows quite well he does not know Scofield's heart or motive).

Per the OP, Mappes does a great service in pointing out that this tolerance in the name of all kinds of intellectual, social and personal appeasement has crept into orthodox circles either in their potent form or a diluted one. And it is among Fundies and CE's that the diluted form seems to have taken hold without notice on many occasions and with purpose for some who imagine themselves to be broadminded and most informed while they weaken their confidence in the clarity and certainty of the Word as well as that of their students.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Charlie wrote:

In one sense, post-modernism is reviving (or allows for the revival of) the Augustinian and Reformed idea that who you are influences what you can know. Both Augustine and Calvin stress, in somewhat different ways, how the disordered soul prevents the subjective reception of objectively clear knowledge. Augustine speaks in his doctrinal handbook De Doctrina Christiana first about what is to be loved and how; these issues are prior to proper interpretation. Calvin wrote Institutes to teach people how to read their Bibles. For Calvin, the subject is prepared to receive revelation only if he approaches the revelation a certain way. That is why the first topic of Institutes is the twofold knowledge of God and self, a knowledge that rests primarily on an inner ethical orientation. Compared to these men and many in between them, the reduced, one-dimensional "literal-grammatical" hermeneutic of certain brands of evangelicalism is a cartoon caricature.

I do not believe this is a valid rebuttal because the article did not address the student per se, rather the teacher. Student preparation is vital and the Scriptures address this and I have no doubt if you questioned Mappes he would reflect something acknowledging a proper disposition for the student.

BTW Calvin's heavy rationalism and very lacking exegesis in his Institutes becomes, at times, cartoonish with respect to the praise and admiration it is given. Your altar seems crowded with Reformed icons. Maybe there are other ways of being narrow?

Charlie's picture

Alex, that paragraph was not a rebuttal of any kind; it was intended to show that there are demonstrable links between certain emphases in pre-modern and post-modern thought over against modern thought. If you don't like Augustine and Calvin, then I can substitute Thomas and Luther with much the same effect.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

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

Bob Hayton's picture

dmicah wrote:
Bob and Ted,
I think you are discussing a tangential issue. The post conservative evangelicals or post modern innovators as some are calling them, those listed in this article, are not preaching in the conventional sense that fundamentalists/evangelicals understand it. You guys are talking about how to exegete and explain arguable doctrines...which is a legitimate discussion, but not what the certainty issue is really about.

These guys - Maclaren, Pagitt, etc. are basically rewriting Scripture to suit their own needs. They have a very slick deity denying liberalism packaged as warm gospel syrup. They are defining Scripture and the faith in a postmodern context where few things are knowable or certain, most things are ambiguous, and the mooring of absolute truth has been destroyed on matters such as virgin birth, resurrection, penal substitution, physical existence of hell and other such distinctives of the Christian faith.

These guys are NOT debating the nuances of eschatalogy, dispensational thought, soteriology, etc. and how they should be presented to a bible believing/reading/studying flock of church members.

Good book for a fair explanation of post modern innovators - Don't Stop Believing by Michael E Wittmer.


I agree, D. I still think the tangent is worth discussing, but maybe not in this post. Also, I'd add my recommendation to Wittmer's book.

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.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
The erroneous belief that it is more intellectually or theologically honest (my words) or there is greater didactic or theological integrity (my words) to provide the views of others that are contrary to your views so that the student can make a choice is what results in not shepherding.

Thanks, Alex. That's what I was trying to say, only you said it better.

Quote:
Reformed Theology is based, greatly, in the exercise of rationalism. It tenets are derived through a rationalistic hermeneutic. And rationalism lends itself to imprecision, doubt and subjectivity so it is not surprising that Pieters is taken aback with Scofield's confidence. This is not to attempt to diminish Pieters' academic credentials but to explain why this posture comes so often from Reformed corners (but I am not willing to go so far as to simply let Pieters off, he does take the position that Scofield writes as a "know it all". I found that amusing seeing that Pieters complaint is that Scofield wrote with such confidence that he did so as if he already knew it all, yet here is Pieters presuming, quite arrogantly, to assign a motive to Scofield when he knows quite well he does not know Scofield's heart or motive).

I'm not reformed, but this is pretty strong stuff that has the same feel as the stuff that reformed guys bloviate about us dispies being hyper-literalistic and having our heads in theological sand. Sorry, Calvin's Institutes are a gem and a great gift to the Church. He lived and wrote as a man of his times, to be sure. But his work endures the ages becasue the foundation is so solidly biblical.

AndrewSuttles's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:

BTW Calvin's heavy rationalism and very lacking exegesis in his Institutes becomes, at times, cartoonish with respect to the praise and admiration it is given. Your altar seems crowded with Reformed icons. Maybe there are other ways of being narrow?

My copy of Calvin's Institutes has 14 pages of Scripture citations listed in the Appendix. Each page has four columns of about 50 citations, so the Institutes has approx 14 x 200 references to scripture.

Plus, Calvin wrote detailed commentaries on roughly 3/4 of the Bible.

AndrewSuttles's picture

In Scofield's Day, the Dispensational Hermeneutic hadn't been systematized yet. Much of the system that Scofield put together in his Study Bible relied heavily on typology, numerology, etc. To make a reference speak authoritatively and certainly about such shadowy and uncertain things gives the average Bible student a false confidence that these things are accepted by all. I think that is the rub in the article referenced by Bob.

Regarding Bible teachers in general: do we want Pastors and teacher that have 'certainty' in their doctrine - You Bet! Absolutely! I think the rub here is not the 'certainty' that many of the types of IFB Pastors I've sat under is a problem, rather it is arrogance. I would hope a man would be rather certain in the things he teaches, but arrogance! There is no place for that.

For example, we may respectfully disagree with a man of God who teaches that the only Bible that is God's Word is a particular edition of the KJV, or that only revival era hymns are acceptable to God as valid expression of music/worship; but to hold to these views in a bullyish, arrogant, and uncharitable way is quite another thing.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

AndrewSuttles wrote:

My copy of Calvin's Institutes has 14 pages of Scripture citations listed in the Appendix. Each page has four columns of about 50 citations, so the Institutes has approx 14 x 200 references to scripture.

Plus, Calvin wrote detailed commentaries on roughly 3/4 of the Bible.

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Sorry, Calvin's Institutes are a gem and a great gift to the Church. He lived and wrote as a man of his times, to be sure. But his work endures the ages becasue the foundation is so solidly biblical.

My comment about Calvin's Institutes was qualified regarding its exegetical praise, not its overall contribution. Would I consider it a gem? No, but a contribution, yes. Does it contain some gems? Yes, but they are not all so evident and do require mining with plenty of them. There are places that he ignores context and imposes on texts either rationalism or the context of another passage to make his assertions, places where a second year Greek student can surpass with ease. I might concede he wrote as a man of his times if such statements aren't used by his admirers and students to ignore some glaring problems.

I use Calvin, myself, in my study and teaching so I certainly realize that his weaknesses do not negate his strengths but for his followers it appears his strengths have magically negated his weaknesses or when forced to concede their presence they resist a thorough examination of them in the light of their theological consequences or its impact on their own set of beliefs.

As to his volume of work or many references, neither voluminousness nor citation are the basis for qualifying the appropriateness of one's work. Yes, it indicates focus but it does not substitute for sound rigorous exegesis and when it comes to Calvin's Institutes, it simply is not primarily an exegetical work though and again, many of his students refer to it in this way in praise of his work.

Forgive the veering to Calvin which is a consideration of the topic but clearly the OP is not intended to be a segue into a discussion on Calvin.

Aaron Blumer's picture

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Charlie wrote:
Either Dr. Mappes has no idea what he's talking about, or his intention to "dumb down" his subject matter led him to some absurd and unfair statements. I suspect the latter, since I assume no one would publish on a subject about which they were ignorant. Since Kant, but more especially since Heidegger and Gadamer, there has been an emphasis on the situatedness of our knowledge. That is, we do not see things in themselves; we see things as things, based on our previous experiences and current intellectual outlook.

Or maybe Dr. M. just doesn't put alot of stock in Heidegger and Gadamer. (Is there some reason why he should? I don't doubt that they're smart guys, but well, so?)

The piece is popular level and can't be expected to be comprehensive, in any case. But I don't think anybody is denying that our biases, backgrounds, etc., shape how we perceive things.
The focus here is more on the increasing problem that certainty about much of anything is becoming more and more out of fashion.

Of course it's not virtuous to value certainty more than truth. It's also not virtuous to value uncertainty more than truth. It think that's the gist. He is not writing here for hermeneutical scholars.

Alex wrote:
The erroneous belief that it is more intellectually or theologically honest (my words) or there is greater didactic or theological integrity (my words) to provide the views of others that are contrary to your views so that the student can make a choice is what results in not shepherding. The student will make a choice, you responsibility as a teacher is to show him, clearly, the correct choice.

This is going too far the other way. Pastor's shouldn't bog down and confuse their hearers with too many options--and when he is personally convinced, it's appropriate for him to say so, but he's going to have to explain why, and the hearers are supposed to arrive at their own certainty based on the why, not on the teacher's certainty (Not "He says so, so I guess I believe it so" but rather, "He makes a good case.")

So there's a balance to be struck there. As a pastor, I don't really want my hearers to encounter an erroneous view of some passage or doctrine somewhere else and wonder, "Why didn't my pastor mention this view?" It's better--to the degree possible--if they have some familiarity and are able to give an answer as to why they believe what they do.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

dcbii's picture

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Aaron Blumer wrote:
Pastor's shouldn't bog down and confuse their hearers with too many options--and when he is personally convinced, it's appropriate for him to say so, but he's going to have to explain why, and the hearers are supposed to arrive at their own certainty based on the why, not on the teacher's certainty (Not "He says so, so I guess I believe it so" but rather, "He makes a good case.")

So there's a balance to be struck there. As a pastor, I don't really want my hearers to encounter an erroneous view of some passage or doctrine somewhere else and wonder, "Why didn't my pastor mention this view?" It's better--to the degree possible--if they have some familiarity and are able to give an answer as to why they believe what they do.


Amen!

The best preaching I've heard does exactly this. It mentions the other views of a difficult passage, while still claiming a particular view and then explaining why the chosen view is taken by the speaker. This is not an indication that the speaker is uncertain what he believes, but a recognition that others can see it differently, and that helps to prevent simply writing others off because they hold a different view on a less certain point of scripture.

For example, I believe a church should take a position on something like premillenialism vs. the alternatives, a position they believe is fairly certain, without either being wishy-washy, or considering those that hold a different view to be completely disobedient if not "unchristian."

Dave Barnhart

Bob Hayton's picture

I second Dave's "Amen" to Aaron's statement quoted above. That's what I think is good, as opposed to more emphatic and declarative preaching that writes off others in an arrogant sort of way.

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.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Alex wrote:
The erroneous belief that it is more intellectually or theologically honest (my words) or there is greater didactic or theological integrity (my words) to provide the views of others that are contrary to your views so that the student can make a choice is what results in not shepherding. The student will make a choice, you responsibility as a teacher is to show him, clearly, the correct choice.

This is going too far the other way. Pastor's shouldn't bog down and confuse their hearers with too many options--and when he is personally convinced, it's appropriate for him to say so, but he's going to have to explain why, and the hearers are supposed to arrive at their own certainty based on the why, not on the teacher's certainty (Not "He says so, so I guess I believe it so" but rather, "He makes a good case.")

So there's a balance to be struck there. As a pastor, I don't really want my hearers to encounter an erroneous view of some passage or doctrine somewhere else and wonder, "Why didn't my pastor mention this view?" It's better--to the degree possible--if they have some familiarity and are able to give an answer as to why they believe what they do.

Your response to this portion of my post is a bit confusing. You say on the one hand don't confuse hearers with "too many options" when I made no such suggestion and then you do acknowledge that a Pastor does have to present other views so the student does not encounter them in an uninformed state and question why his or her Pastor did not expose them to these and you refer to them as "erroneous views", hence the view the Pastor presents is de facto. There is nothing here that I didn't say.

I do see, though, that you intimated that I was suggesting options for the students. I believed I was clearer. In submitting other views the Teacher of the Word should not do so as options, rather as other existing views that the Teacher then demonstrates their shortcomings. Then, in contrast (the chronology of the process is not at issue here, btw), the correct view is explained in detail. I do agree that erring views need not be exhaustively explained, rather their fundamental mistakes.

dcbii wrote:

The best preaching I've heard does exactly this. It mentions the other views of a difficult passage, while still claiming a particular view and then explaining why the chosen view is taken by the speaker. This is not an indication that the speaker is uncertain what he believes, but a recognition that others can see it differently, and that helps to prevent simply writing others off because they hold a different view on a less certain point of scripture.

For example, I believe a church should take a position on something like premillenialism vs. the alternatives, a position they believe is fairly certain, without either being wishy-washy, or considering those that hold a different view to be completely disobedient if not "unchristian."

Bob Hayton wrote:
I second Dave's "Amen" to Aaron's statement quoted above. That's what I think is good, as opposed to more emphatic and declarative preaching that writes off others in an arrogant sort of way.

The liability I believe that is contained in these comments is the ready posture of negativity in characterizing "emphatic" or "declarative" instruction which is described as uniformly (my word) inaugurated in a context of arrogance and seeking to write others off. This broad brush fails to appreciate the many valid and constant uses of demonstrative teaching in the Word.

One may quite easily and with a reflection of the grace of God's Spirit recognize the views of others and point out their errors without arrogance or dismissing them in such a general fashion. I believe that it might be due to certain experiences people have of men who, in their lives, have acted as Teachers of the Word in this fashion that may lend itself to such prejudices regarding the Scriptural process emphatic instruction. I certainly am aware of such men who have taught in this fashion and still do, both inside and outside of the body of Christ, but particularly inside the body of Christ. This should not be a commentary on the validity of the process or practice of such teaching, rather on the misuse of the Teaching office. Again, if you cannot tell your students this is what the Scriptures teach, then you are not prepared to teach that text.

As to treating people with whom one disagrees as disobedient or unchristian, I can understand if these are issues of heresy but such issues rarely arise so if a man is teaching with certitude and then viewing those with whom he disagrees in this manner when it is not a matter of heresy, again, the problem is not with the emphasis of what is right but with the misuse of the Teaching office and a misapplication of the principle of separation.

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