Posted in Christian Perspective, Logic, philosophy, Reason, Theology

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.

Posted in Attributes of God, Biblical Questions, Christian Perspective, Logic, Theology

Why God Asks Questions…

Recently, as I was purveying the blogosphere I stumbled upon a variety of questions that an individual dared the Christian to attempt to answer. I have no desire to name the individuals involved, but I will gladly accept the challenge. The first of these attempts will deal with Genesis 3. Specifically involving the following inquiry:

  • Does the hiding of Adam and Eve in the garden, and the subsequent questioning of the Lord God reveal a flaw in the incommunicable attributes of God? That is to say, does our foreparents hiding in the garden deny God’s omnipresence, and does God’s questioning them deny His omniscience

I think that the appropriate first step is acknowledging that the Bible is a written document given to mankind; in particular His people (cf. Deut 29.29a; Amos 3.7; John 15.15; Rom 16.26; 2Tim 3.16-17). And it is written in such a way that it is clearly perceived by the youngest and least educated among us. Moreover, the Word of God is written in many ways from man’s vantage point; which essentially means that certain historic events are retold in such a way that the reader (with an active imagination) is able to submerse themselves into the material viewing things how the person (or people) witnessed them. For instance, like Adam and Eve in the garden in Genesis 3.

For example, we are told in Genesis 3:8 that our foreparents “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day….”[1] This is what is properly termed a theophany or a Christophany (pre-incarnate Christ) in theological circles. Such an event is where God temporarily takes on creaturely form to communicate with His creatures in a special way (cf. Gen 17-18; Josh 5.13-15; comp Heb 1.1-3).[2]

Question #1

This brings us to our first question, “Does the hiding of Adam and Eve deny God’s omnipresence?”

No, not at all. For starters the hiding is told from the vantage point of the man and the woman. This is what they were attempting to do. When they heard the Lord approaching they sought to hide from him. Why? The same reason that we find them “[sewing] fig leaves together…[making] themselves loincloths” in an attempt to hide their nakedness (Gen 3.7), they were afraid. Afraid of what? Judgment.

Adam and Eve knew they were in the wrong, that they were in trouble and they didn’t want to be held accountable for the actions they’d performed. We see this same reaction when little kids hide from their parents when they have knowingly disobeyed, and they are attempting to avoid punishment. Now, we may try to sugarcoat this in a variety of ways, but the fact of the matter is that such behavior is nothing short of rebellion. This is nothing short of a refusal to be called to task.

Question #2

Okay, let’s have a quick look at the second question, “Does the Lord’s questioning of the man and woman deny His omniscience?”

The man and woman hear the sound of the Lord God as he is walking in the garden, and they hide. Perhaps, they are thinking, “If He doesn’t see us, then we may evade the consequences of their actions.” The Lord does not allow them to hide, he calls them from their hiding, “Where are you?” (Gen 3.9). Pay attention to Adam’s response for it reveals something about his motives.

Notice, God only asks “Where are you?” but the man responds, “I heard the sound[3] of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3.10). Adam gives information that was not asked for. Evidently, he felt compelled to justify his action of hiding, when he knew he should come forward revealing at the sound of the Lord’s approach. (Again, this is typical behavior of a child who has knowingly disobeyed.)

This prompts a couple of follow up questions from the Lord God: “Who told you, you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3.11). When the man attempts laying the blame upon his wife for his own sinful action (Gen 3.12), the Lord turns to her inquiring, “What is this that you have done?” (Gen 3.13a).

Why would God ask questions if He knew the answers? Why would God ask the man (and woman) of their hiding if He knew where they were and why they were doing it? These are legitimate questions, but how we come about answering them will say much about our own position.

The skeptic will reason that if God is all-knowing (omniscient) and ever-present (omnipresent) amidst His created universe, then our foreparents should not have been able to hide and God should not have needed to ask questions. That the text says they did hide, and God believed it necessary to ask questions proves that God is not omnipresent or omniscient.

Unfortunately for the skeptic, the historical narrative is not a teaching passage on God’s omnipresence or omniscience. To conclude that this text disproves these incommunicable[4] attributes of God. Or to say it reveals the Lord God has limitations in knowledge and where He can be, must be smuggled into the text. That is to say, what is being assumed at the outset (God can’t be omniscient or omnipresent, He must be limited) is being offered as the justification for denying these things about God. Even if the form of the logic seems valid at first blush, the underlying premises are inaccurate.[5]

A better approach is to draw from the text what is there, and then offer probing questions of the text itself. The text says God asks the man and woman questions, why? The text says the man and woman hid, why? Is it possible to know something and yet still inquire about it? Is it possible that the hiding is descriptive of what Adam and Eve are attempting to do, but is actually impossible for any creature of God’s to do? The answer is yes.

I have mentioned this before, I believe in another post, that if we want to argue for or against something that the Bible teaches, we need to turn to those passages that declare what we want to argue with directly. There are other passages of Scripture that explain explicitly that God is not limited in His knowledge, nor is His presence limited from parts or portions of His creation. A proper hermeneutical approach will lead one to first turn to those direct statements which are clear didactic teachings, and then uses them as a lens to properly interpret the less clear narrative portions of the Bible.

Relating to God’s Omnipresence

  • “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? Declares the Lord.” (Jer 23.23-24).
  • “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lad me and your right hand shall hold me” (Psa 139.7-10).
  • “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isa 57.15; italics added).
  • “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov 15.3)
  • “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Heb 4.13).

From texts such as these we learn by what right God asks His creatures questions. An ever-present God is an all-knowing God, for nothing can be hidden from His sight. The inquisition of His creatures is in the nature of accountability. God knew that Adam and Eve had disobeyed His edict. He knew that they had attempted to hide their sinful shame with a shoddy attempt at a new “green” clothing line (fig leaves are the clean energy craze!). He knew that they hoped to disappear from His presence to escape judgment (cf. 2Chron 18.23-24).

  • “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jer 17.9-10).

Only one who knows the heart can judge the heart, but even the one who knows the heart requires that all His creatures bow the knee and confess (cf. Rom 14.11; Php 2.10; John 5.28-29; Rev 20.13). We should not be surprise that God interrogates the man and woman; that He draws out their confession of wrong doing like a person might draw venom from an asp’s wound. He similarly deals with Satan as he does all the heavenly host, as revealed in the book of Job (Job 1.6-12; 2.1-6; cf. 1King 22.19). The questioning does not reveal a limitation on God’s part, quite the opposite, for the questions are given by the Judge of all the earth (Gen 18.25).

A parent that catches their child in the act of wrong doing will still ask the child, “What were you doing?” even when they have witnessed the act. Why then ask the question? To draw out the confession. To hold our little ones accountable. To insinuate that the Lord is somehow limited in some way because he does likewise is dishonest and a bit hypocritical. Unless of course you have not taken the time to think these things over and are merely jumping to a conclusion that you find pleasing and appropriate.

Wrapping up with a Poor Man’s Analogy (or is it just a poor analogy?)

Realizing that I have gone a little long in tooth I will wrap this up as quickly as possible. Genesis 3 and the events recorded there are written in the form of a historical narrative. You are given a glimpse of what transpired on the day our foreparents transgressed. The text speaks of the man and woman’s actions and reactions to the Lord God (both His decree cf. Gen 2.16-17 and His calling to them).

Do the man and woman attempt to hide? Yes. Were they successful? No. The telling of this action is not a mark against God’s omnipresence, but a detail given from the man and woman’s vantage point. As creatures they thought themselves wise enough to hide from their Creator…they were wrong.

Does the Lord ask the man and woman questions? Yes. Does this mean God’s knowledge was lacking (not omniscient)?  No. In order to draw that conclusion, you must first assume it. Why then inquire? To hold the creature(s) accountable to their Creator; something the fallen creature rues more than anything else.

The text as a whole does not speak on God’s omniscience or omnipresence, you have to invite those two subjects to the party for they are absent unless you do. Am I saying it is wrong to discuss those topics with the current text in question (namely Gen 3)? No, but the assumptions you bring to the text will affect how you interpret it. If you would like to argue against God being omniscient or omnipresent, then you will need to deal with the statements by God or His prophets that speak directly about them.

In the same way I will not argue about the strength or weakness of the Pittsburg Steelers as an NFL team by turning to the obituary where one of their star players have died. The obituary may indicate a death of one of their star players, and therefore indirectly address a possible weakness now apparent on their roster, but the purpose of the obituary is not to speak about the NFL, or the Steelers, or the strength of their roster, or their offensive and/or defensive strategies. A more responsible attempt on my part would be to look first at those things that speak directly about the NFL and the Steelers organization, etc. and then comment on the effects that the loss of their star player might entail.

If you fail to see the connection there, then I apologize for the confusion.

Attempting to discredit something that the Bible plainly teaches about God (He is omnipresent and omniscient) by appealing to a text that does not directly address the subject in question is not a good way to prove your point. In the attempt to connect the dots, you have missed a few important ones along the way…

ENDNOTES:


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] There are other places in the Bible where anthropomorphic expressions are used that appear to give God humanly characteristics, but are intended to convey some truth in a way that the reader will be able to identify with in order to understand the actions of the invisible God of Heaven and earth (e.g. Exod 15.16-17; “arm” and “hands”).  

[3] The Hebrew term “shama” (heard) coupled with “the voice” (qol) carries with it the meaning of “to hear, listen to, obey (verb)” Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions. In other words, the sound Adam and Eve heard was not the Lord stomping on the ground, but calling out for attention. As a trumpet declares to the army who is fighting to begin their attack, being a call to attention (to obey the general leading them), so too are the man and woman notified that the Lord God expects their attention at that moment. Their hiding, therefore, is an act of rebellion…even if fear of judgment was the initial motivator.

[4] This means that these attributes are not communicated to the creatures that He has made. God alone possess these qualities. They are a part of His divine nature; essence/being.

[5] The form of the argument presented by the skeptic is similar to what follows: 1) If p then q. P therefore q. If God asks questions of Adam and Eve, then He is limited in what He knows (or where He can be). God asks the man and woman questions. Therefore, He is not omniscient (or omnipresent).

From a form standpoint, the logic is accurate (i.e. modus ponens; affirming the antecedent), however premise #1 is faulty. Omniscience does not preclude the asking of questions. Questions may be asked for reasons other than obtaining knowledge. A judge who has seen a digital video of the perpetrator under investigation rob the bank (identifying marks of tattoos or his mask fell off) will still ask whether or not they have committed the crime. The question is not needed to gain knowledge per say, but is presented to hold accountable the perp who has broken the law.

One further note on form logic regardless of the type of syllogism you are attempting to use to formulate your position. All of them can be tweaked to fit your preestablished presuppositions. A person is capable of writing a logical argument that is rational in terms of form (do the premises flow in a fashion that logically proves my point?) and in content (does it line up with my own system of thought?), but the strength or weakness of the argument lies in the validity of the premises themselves. Well then, who determines the validity (and veracity) of the claims being made? Depends upon your worldview. Ultimately, a position is determined by the commitments brought to the table by the person arguing (along with the one agreeing). I am not saying that truth is relative to the individual, it is not. However, the perception of the truth is relative to the standard to which one holds faithfully. To change faith commitments takes a radical seismic shift in the thinking of the individual in question. When it comes to faith in the Triune God of creation as revealed in the Holy Bible, this shift is only possible when the Holy Spirit moves on the person in question in such a way that their disposition towards the Lord is changed.