Christian Perspective

Scarecrow Arguments and the Pursuit of Truth

Perhaps you have heard some variation of the following argumentive statements:

The Bible is not a science book. The Bible is not a history book. The Bible is not an ethics book. The Bible is not a marriage manual. The Bible is not a parental guide. The Bible is not this…or that…its just a spiritual book, a theological book, etc., etc.

Arguments like these are retorted quite commonly. As a minister, I have heard variations of the same from time to time. The statements in and of themselves are true in part. The problem I find, however, is that such statements are not given in a positive sense. The position normally belies a bias on the part of the individual who gives them. They are offered up in a manner to discredit the person(s) who hold a belief that is contrary to the one arguing against them. In effect, what is presented in such cases is a strawman argument.[1]

The belief in action goes something like this:

  • The Bible is not a science book; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on scientific issues. The Bible may offer some insight on issues of a scientific nature, but the Bible should not be used to correct science because its not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible is not a history book; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on specific historic issues. The Bible may offer some insight on issues of a historic nature, but the Bible should not be used to correct historic belief because it was not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible is not an ethics book; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on specific ethical issues. The Bible may offer some insight on various ethical issues, but the Bible (in particular biblical law) should not be used to offer corrections in the field of ethics because it was not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible is not a marriage manual; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on every issue that arises within the marriage covenant. The Bible may offer some insight on issues pertaining to marriage, but the Bible should not be the dependent source to address every problem that may arise in a marriage, because it was not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible is not a parental guide; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on every issue that arises in the context of parenting. The Bible may offer some insight on issues pertaining to parental guidance, but the Bible should not be appealed to for every parenting issue, because it was not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible was primarily written as a spiritual guidebook, a book that speaks authoritatively on theological issues from a certain perspective—i.e. Christian; therefore, to use it beyond this scope it to use it in a manner that goes beyond its original intention.

Here’s the problem with such thinking. A consistent Christian does not argue in this fashion. Of course, the Bible is not a science textbook, or primarily an exhaustive book of history, or just an ethical guide, or a marriage manual, or a parental guidance text. However, the Bible has preeminence over all these subjects and many more. That is to say that Bible speaks authoritatively on all of these subjects, including topics not discussed in this post, because the Bible alone offers a foundational lens to view these things properly.

Why? Because “as human beings [we] are so susceptible to self-deception and autosuggestion, we need the safety of a third point of reference. Our feelings [and thoughts] need to be tested by an objective norm…that objective norm must be the Bible.”[2] Why should our thoughts be tested?[3] This goes back to loving the Lord God with all of our minds. Why are we to do this? Because, how we use our minds is ethical; right or wrong.

Nothing but the Truth Please…

A common anthem raised within Christian circles is “all truth is God’s truth” implying or declaring “regardless of the source!” Of course, “all truth is God’s truth” no sane individual will deny this claim. However, this begs the question of how one arrives at the truth. Who determines truth? Is truth merely up for grabs, or is “truth” only found when the subject in question is properly perceived from God’s perspective? If all truth is God’s truth, then all “truth” must be found in agreement with God’s revealed truth. Why? Because an objective standard is necessary in order to measure the truthfulness of the subject or claim in question.

Some may wonder why Martin Luther referred to reason as “the devil’s whore.” Evidently, this comment is attributed to a statement he made during a sermon in Wittenberg. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that particular resource of Luther’s (my limited budget prohibits this), but I have read enough of what Luther has said in other places to have a solid basis to offer my own observations regarding it.

For example, Luther stated that “…unbelief is not one of the grosser affections, but is that chief affection seated and ruling on the throne of the will and reason, just the same as its contrary, faith.”[4] In another place he preached with a ring of sarcasm, “Here again comes forth reason, our reverend mistress, seeming to be marvellously [sic] wise; but who indeed is unwise and blind, gainsaying her God, and reproving him of lying; being furnished with her follies and feeble armour [sic], to wit, the light of nature, free will, the strength of nature, also with the books of the heathen and the doctrines of men.”[5]

Luther did not despise reason any more than he despised faith or philosophical arguments, for he applied all of these in his own life and writings (albeit at some times better than others from a personal standpoint). What he despised, rightly so I might add, was reason, discussions of faith or philosophical argumentation that was separated from the mind of God. While some might be appalled and argue strenuously against such a position, Luther was in good company. He did no less than the apostles, or the prophets, or the Lord who called and sent them all out into the world.

Elements of Truth and the Philosophy that Guides Them

In particular, we might find it advantageous to turn briefly to the apostle Paul’s dealing with this very issue; found in the letter to the Colossians. The Christians in Colossae were facing some turbulent times. Leaders had crept in with teachings that seemed very godly, but had the same element of demonic error that Paul later warned Timothy to be wary of.[6]

The two primary errors facing these Christians in Colossae was ascetism and mysticism:

  • Ascetism teaches that by abstaining from certain elements of worldly living (i.e. eating and drinking certain foods) attributes to the spiritual welfare of the individual(s) in question. This form of legalism is comparable to modern teetotalers who preach abstinence from alcohol or tobacco, etc.; as if adopting such a mindset makes one more spiritual (either before God or man).[7]
  • Mysticism on the other hand flirted with pseudo-knowledge (a pre-gnostic heresy) that was secretly given to some of the so-called more spiritual among them. This knowledge included various visions (false) from god, leading to the worship of angelic beings. Things strongly denounced in Holy Writ (cf. Exod 20.3; Deut 6.13-14; Matt 4.10; Rev 19.10).

Paul’s response was that Christians should not listen to things that pervert the truth, but rather be firmly established in Jesus Christ (Col 2.7), walking with him (Col 2.6) who is “the head of all rule and authority” (Col 2.10) for in Him rest “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2.3). Christians are to be wary of those who seek to take “you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world…” (Col 2.8). For “if with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to [them]…” (Col 2.20).[8]

Now it is absolutely true that Paul wrote to Colossae for a specific purpose. He was battling false forms of spiritual worship that had invaded the Christian community, but there is an application that may be drawn from this for today. Paul cautioned against philosophy (love of wisdom/knowledge) and reason that is rooted in something other than Jesus Christ, in whom all these things are held (cf. Heb 1.3; Prov 1.7; 9.10; 2.6). He presents a similar argument to the Corinthians and the Ephesians when he states rather emphatically:

  • “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2Cor 10.4-5; italics added).
  • “…no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…Now I say this and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart…But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Eph 4.14-15, 17-18, 20; italics added).

Similarly, the Lord condemned those who considered themselves the wise of their age, who in their wisdom supplanted God’s Word with their own traditions—i.e. the elemental spirits of the world (cf. Mark 7.6-13).[9]

Closing Remarks…

Whatever conclusions we draw about reality. Whatever thoughts or doctrines we uphold. Whatever beliefs we may have about life. Whether they be scientific questions, or marital questions, or questions about parenting, or questions about logic or reason or philosophy or ethics…regardless of what the subject might be about. The way we view them or the conclusions we draw need to be seriously weighed with the Word of God.

I grow tired of the scarecrows that are raised up by professing believers who want to be the final arbitrators of truth. God determines truth, we do not. He defines truth, we do not. Our thinking, our speaking and our doing ought to derive from humble submission to Christ Jesus and His authoritative Word. That is the only true way we are going to truly know anything.

ENDNOTES:


[1] Norman Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), 100, 101. They write, “Some figure that the best way to win an argument is to cheat. So they design their reasoning in such a way that they can’t lose. Just like a card player who stacks the deck…Straw man. Another way to stack the deck against the opposition is to draw a false picture of the opposing argument…The name of the fallacy comes from the idea that if you set up a straw man, he is easier to knock down than a real man.”

[2] Richard S. Taylor, Biblical Authority and Christian Faith (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1980), 51.

[3] This is not a concept that merely Christians adhere to (although, I would argue that it is a Christian standard used by others), for all people subject the position of another over an against some other source. That is to say, everybody tests the nature of the claim being presented. If you were to ask a college student today if socialism is a better option than capitalism, the answer would reflect the teaching/instruction that the student has received. If they have went to one of the Ivy League schools or an institution out in California, then socialism is going to be seen as not only a viable option for government, but preferable to other forms of governance. Stephen Crowder has demonstrated this for his viewers on a number of issues in his YouTube series “Change My Mind.” The point being, we test the thoughts of others comparable to the source on which (we) they are dependent. What we consider authoritative.

[4] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, Reprint (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012), 228, Adobe Digital Editions. Italics added.

[5] Martin Luther, “Galatians 6:1-7” in A Selection Sermons of the Most Celebrated Sermons of Martin Luther, loc 433-435, Kindle Edition. Italics added.

[6] “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…” (1Tim 4.1). What were these demonic teachings that Timothy would have to deal with in his ministry? Those “…who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1Tim 4.3). The very things that Paul is having to deal with in Colossae and to some extent in Corinth (e.g. 1Cor 9.1-5).

[7] It should be noted that I am not condemning Christians who for reasons of conscience chose to avoid such things. This is acceptable and right in the sight of God. God has given all things as a gift for His people, to be used reasonably and in moderation, being blessed by prayer. However, to do something in doubt without faith and go against one’s conscience is folly and rightly labeled sin. The position that I hold, which I believe is consistent with biblical faith, is that what God has not labeled sinful is to be enjoyed in moderation; for, who am I as a creature to judge another’s servant. In other words, there is only ONE law-giver and that is the Triune God of Scripture…Him, I shall obey, for that is pleasing in His sight.

[8] John Calvin, The Complete Biblical Commentary Collection of John Calvin, (Kindle Locations 488481-488483). Kindle Edition. He writes, “Let us, however, bear in mind, that under the term philosophy Paul has merely condemned   all spurious doctrines which come forth from man’s head, whatever   appearance of reason they may have.”

[9] Here the religious leaders in Israel had erected their own belief system of what was right and good and true (the practice of Corban) in place of what God had said was the right attitude and practice; namely, honoring your father and mother. In case the reader assumes that this only applies to religious practices (the spiritual realm) and has no meaningful application to what some might deem non-spiritual issues, might I encourage you to mull over the meaning of this statement: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor 10.31; cf. Deut 14.26). All of life is meant to glorify God, even acts so mundane as “eating and drinking.” My point being is that there is no aspect of living that is not ethical (right or wrong) and therefore spiritual. God made us as His image bearers, so whatever we do is a spiritual act. To attempt to dichotomize life into the subjects of spiritual and not is a foolhardy errand. So, whatever, we do or think or say, needs to be weighed by God’s authoritative Word.

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