Head First: Could You Repeat the Question?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Could You Repeat the Question?

There's an interesting discussion on my brother's site about Universalism and the reality of hell. Our friend, Dan made some interesting arguments, and at one point, cautioned Jeff against "reinventing the wheel," saying, in effect, that plenty of great thinkers and theologians have already wrestled with some of these ideas and that we're not likely to come to any better conclusions than they did.

It occurs to me that much of the current "conversation" among postmodern/nonmodern/emergent/spiritualist types is, of course, the re-questioning of things for which someone somewhere has found answers in the near to ancient past. Is this necessary? Why not read Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, Augustine, Schaeffer, Lewis etc. and be satisfied with, or better yet, build upon the foundations they labored for lifetimes to construct? Many would argue that this is the best use of available knowledge and will lead to advanced doctrinal enlightenment.

It seems that a new generation of believers/pre-believers/seekers wants to start from scratch. They don't reject the truth, per se. But they are understandably suspicious of someone else's truth wrapped up in a bow and just handed to them. When that truth is handled and handed through successive generations, the biases and idiosyncrasies of the handlers works it's way in, and flaws become compounded with each handling. It's like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. Each generation away from the copy master becomes more and more distorted until your copy is unrecognizable.

So it is with Christianity. Look at the modern institutional church (small c). I grew up in it. My worldview developed there. But once I began to recognize the interloping human element in my "religion," I began to learn to hold up that copy to the original. The distortions became readily evident, and I knew my trust had been misplaced. So I question.

The danger lies in where we draw the line. What is the benchmark of truth? What is the absolute measure against which we stand our ideas? As Pilate asked Christ, "What IS truth?" I guess because I'm more modern than I want to admit, the standard is scripture. But what about those who even question that? Truth has to be arbitrated by something more substantial than that it feels about right, or that it fits the way we want the world to be. If the standard is that subjective, then we have supplanted the Almighty and put ourselves in His place.

Seems like that's already been tried. Anybody hear how that turned out?


Joe said...

Thanks for some good food for thought.

Jesus, of course, said, "I am the truth...."

My sister says, "Truth is what actually happened."

My own view is that all truth is found in Christ alone.

That truth is revealed to us in God's Word, not by our own invention.

Therefore, if we want to know truth, we must know Christ and His Word.

Others, Spurgeon, Calvin, etc., may explain and/or pontificate, but in the end, sola scriptura.

Kc said...

Great post. I follow the blogs of several up and coming theologians and what I find is more debate over the meaning and intent of what a certain past theologian intended than over the meaning of scripture. I hear the cry of the many today to “be authentic” and “return to the roots of Christianity” then I see them only quote modern day theologians and philosophers and almost everything else but scripture. Hmmmm….

I am presently of the mind that Truth is conceptual to us and only through revelation by God. God reveals Christ (who is The Truth) in our heart but we must perceive (or conceive of) Him as Christ before we can accept (have the knowledge of) Him as Christ. I am convinced the scripture is true and that the Truth can be found in the scripture but even the scripture declares that we "see through a glass darkly”.

jeff said...

Truth has to be arbitrated by something more substantial

In John 17:17, Jesus was finishing up one awesome prayer. He said, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth".

The word sanctify is defined by Strongs as meaning, "to separate from profane things and dedicate to God". Only God's Word has the power to do something like this. No amount of reasoning or argument can accomplish this.

God's kind of truth has a liberating effect on our lives. We are freed by the Word, but we are also disciplined by the Word. This is how we can be set apart "from" & "to", at the same time.

Discipline without freedom leads to legalism. Freedom without discipline leads to anarchy. Apparently, there are ditches on both sides of the road... truth will keep us from either.

Dan Paden said...

You ask some excellent questions, and demonstrate in so doing that you are serious about learning, which is gratifying in a day in which so few people are serious about anything. One quick point:

No one (at least not I) is suggesting that you read commentators and expositors such as Luther and Calvin instead of Holy Writ. Suggestions about such reading are made on the assumption that you already are an assiduous reader of Scripture and would enjoy and benefit from the study of those who have gone before. Think about it for a sec; if you didn't ever benefit from the study of others, why waste your time reading anything, including comments?

Dan Paden said...

In the excitement of making that last comment (nice blog, BTW), I almost forgot the reason I opened the comments:

>Truth has to be arbitrated by >something more substantial than >that it feels about right, or >that it fits the way we want the >world to be.

Schaeffer wrote on this extensively in his first three books; the subject matter is often called presuppositional apologetics. You can get those three books in one volume at Christianbook.com. You see what I mean? Many other people have asked these questions before. I'm sure you're at least somewhat interested to see what their answers have been.

Ron said...

Good question. All I know is that there is nothing new under the sun. All the truth we need is already here. Now, how we come to that truth may differ for many people, but it is there for all of us. The one thing I appreciate is that no one has it all. I believe that is why the Lord created the body this way. Each one will do his or her part to make the whole body function.

I do believe it is important to read Chambers, Wigglesworth, Calvin, Spurgeon, etc., but they all had a portion of the truth. If we continue with forums like this, we can all continue to learn from one another, and thereby help strengthen the body. Excellent post.

dorsey said...


(I didn't mention your name to take a shot. I meant to give you credit for getting my wheels turning on this topic. Sorry if it came across otherwise.)

I don't think we disagree. Every belief I hold has been, to some degree, informed by the beliefs of others. I don't reject any of those great theologians. But you'd be surprised how many people use them as primary sources. I've been on some reformed blogs where they cite Calvin, and this confession and that catechism and every other historical church document except the scripture. That's what was in the back of my mind as I mentioned photocopy of a photocopy, etc.

I also agree that I likely won't reach any better conclusions than some of those who have gone before. However (and I think this is the point of most nonmodern thought), I must still come to those conclusions myself. I come from a church tradition that says, "Here's the truth. We've figured it out for you. Now do it our way, and nobody gets hurt." While I did it for years, to the nonmodern, that's the equivalent of saying, "Here, drink this KoolAid and lay down over there. Everything will be fine. Really."

I'm not saying that we ignore the ideas of other. Hey, if it weren't for Schaeffer and Bonhoeffer, I'm not sure what I'd believe today. But belief that will stand is belief that has been wrestled with, fought for and hard won. That belief is potent. That belief will make a difference.

BruceD said...

The only way to peace is to do what you're told. But, not what man says, but what God speaks to you through your heart. Jesus is in us, and we are in Him. What more do we need? So much gets in the way of hearing Him, but when we begin to know the sound of His voice, it is unmistakable. You can trust what He tells you. Then enjoy life with the One who created you and loves you.

Dan Paden said...

Dorsey, I hardly ever take offense at something written or spoken by people who've demonstrated themselves to be friendly, even if it sounds unfriendly. My number one rule is to remember that they probably didn't mean it they way it sounded.

But I never thought you were taking shots at me anyway. I was kind of flattered by the reference, actually. I just wanted to clarify my position a bit, as it seems from a couple of comments elsewhere that I may not have made myself entirely clear.

Dan Paden said...

It also occurs to me that I keep talking to you and Jeff as though you've hardly read anything, an assumption that is probably unwarranted. It's just that I so seldom see y'all make reference to your past reading that the two of you come across as trying to reach your conclusions beginning with a tabula rasa. I probably have been coming across as condescending, and for that, I apologize.

jeff said...


Dorsey and I are both readers. Lately, I've been reading books on postmodernism, because it intrigues me. I also like writings from the Orthodox side of things (Merton, Schmmeman, Gregory of Nyssa...and thelike).

Of course, I will read popular christian authors as well, (Warren, Giglio, Piper, A. Stanley).

In dealing with Orthodox folks though, I notice that they tend to quote the ancient fahers more than the Bible. I don't care for that, so I tend to quote the Bible first, and let it stand on its own. If another book speaks to me, thats fine. I still much reference it with the scriptures in order to validate the thought in my life.

(I guess this is just me personal approach)


BruceD said...

It's always puzzled me as to how we can believe in sola scriptura when that approach led to some 30,000 different doctrines of christianity.

But, we all know who the arbitrator of truth is... the only question is, "how do we hear from Him?"

jeff said...


I think the scriptures are key to hearing from God. But I think the scriptures require a spiritual approach, not just a mental approach.

The many different doctrines are the many different mental interpretations. Somehow, we mus trust the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read scripture.

In John 16:13, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would guide us into 'all truth'.

And in John 17:17, He told us that the 'Word is truth'.

Would that mean that the Holy Spirit will guide us in the Word? Just a thought...

Dan Paden said...

I've been away from this blog for a few days, but I can't help but note something: bruced thinks there are "30,000 different doctrines of christianity"; you probably remember how Jeff's correspondent tossed out the figure of 70,000 different denominations.

It was only a couple of years ago that some Catholic apologists were using the figure of 28,000.

Either the denominations have been multiplying like bunnies in the last couple of years, or the figures are bogus--yet these spurious numbers are routinely used to attack sola scriptura.


The many different doctrines are the many different mental interpretations.

You are on the right track. Your words remind me very much of an incident recorded by James White, which I will be rude enough to reproduce here, highly edited:

...his first question was most interesting: "Why are there so many Christian churches today?"

I explained that there are two main reasons, one legitimate and one not. The legitimate reason is that God does not make us in a cookie-cutter fashion; therefore each fellowship has its own character, and there are elements of worship and practice wherein godly people can differ. However, the illegitimate reason is this: People pick and choose which portions of the Bible they will believe and which they will not...

...He asked if I was saying we are saved by grace alone without works, and, if so, doesn't it mean that God is the one choosing who will be saved? I opened my Bible to Ephesians 1:11 and read the following:

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.

He listened and then began, "So you believe--"
I stopped him mid-sentence and reread the text.
"So you are saying--"
Again I stopped him and reread the text. At this point he looked over the top of my Bible, found the text, tapped it with his index finger, and said, "That is wrong, and I feel good saying that."

I closed my Bible...and replied, "When you first walked up to me, you asked why there are so many Christian churches. I told you then that the main reason is people picking and choosing which parts of the Bible they will believe and which they will not. No one, Sir, has given me a better example of that than you just did."

dorsey said...

Dude, that's nothing. Over on another comment, I just said there are a GAJILLION denominations! The point is that there are a lot of denominations, and most of them also say sola scriptura. My guess is that none of us is completely accurate. That's why constantly questioning is so important.