Monthly Archives: October 2009

How We Know the Bible is True

I recently bought Samuel Waldron’s expository commentary on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. It is lengthy, and deserves to be, as the Confession takes sides on many issues that warrant deep evaluation. But today I was reading, naturally, through chapter 1. The Confession begins by speaking about the Bible, and has me motivated to say something here about the Bible’s unique claim to reveal truth at the elementary level.

The question is, Why should the Bible believed? Reformed Christianity gives the somewhat startling answer that “it is to be received because it is the Word of God” (BCF 1.4). That is, “the authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends […] wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof” (BCF 1.4). This, of course, assumes the Bible is right in saying God authored it. The Confession goes on to say that we may be persuaded to esteem the Bible for many good reasons or evidences; however, the Bible is in fact self-authenticating. That is, it is its own evidence. There is no need to appeal to any outside corroboration to verify the Bible as being God’s true Word, and this is also what I now believe.

To believe otherwise would be to deny that the Bible is sufficient for its own purposes, because it would need to lean upon something extraneous to itself in order to be validated. Rather, the Bible is true because it is God’s word, which we know because it says this of itself, and it is trustworthy because God said it.

My objection to this in the past (and how strongly I would have objected!) is that this is circular reasoning. It begs the question. Indeed it is circular reasoning, but this is its strength. In this singular case, I beg the question without reservation, not because there are no good extrabiblical reasons for trusting the Bible, but because those reasons cannot be incited without first begging some question or another. Most people, Christians included, when seeking something to corroborate the Scriptures would necessarily appeal to evidence and reason. They appeal to these things because in nearly all other cases, evidence and reason are higher authorities; they constitute the courts in which cases must be decided. But to what higher authority can you appeal than God’s Word to verify God’s Word? It is like God, when He swore to Abraham, swore by Himself since He could swear by nothing higher! In the same way, “the entity to which appeal is made to attest the Bible tends to replace the Bible as one’s practical authority” (Waldron 42). Of course this is true. If you appeal to evidence or reason to attest the Bible, you are judging the Bible by them, rather than vice versa, thereby making reason the real standard, the real benchmark, whereas I make the Bible the standard to verify reason, so that I can confidently use reason to evaluate all other things. In other words, those who appeal to reason as final also beg the question, but in their case, they beg it in respect to reason. “How do you know reason is reliable?” I may ask. They cannot give a good defense without calling upon reason itself, and therefore presuming its usefulness. “It’s only reasonable,” they say. Exactly. So we all have base assumptions that we use to build up other beliefs. All those starting, bedrock assumptions can only be defended by begging the question, by circular reasoning, but that’s not necessarily illegal.

But the Bible is a much better foundation than reason, for the Bible can buttress reason, and then, in fact be itself subjected to an internal critique using reason. The Bible teaches truths that would validate the use of reason. But if your ultimate authority is reason, how do you know it is reliable, particularly if God did not put it in place? Therefore I believe the Bible is true, not only for its own sake, but because it explains everything else and makes the world intelligible. You may wonder at this point, how I know the Bible is reliable, and remind me that we’re both simply presuming either reason or the Bible to be true, so it’s unfair to ask how you know reason is reliable. But the axiomatic nature of Scripture is properly understood only in the context of a “trilogy of doctrines” (Waldron 38). It is based upon the self-authenticating nature of general (natural) revelation. That is, the revelation given by God to human beings in creation, both externally (the world around us) and internally (the law of God imprinted on the image of God in human beings). The Bible is self-authenticating because as man is daily confronted with a clear revelation of God in nature, the Scripture would naturally ring true as a more detailed and personal extension of that revelation. Two, “the Scripture exhibits as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things of their taste” (Calvin, qtd in Waldron 40). If this is true, then why do many people reject the Bible? Sin. Which leads us to the final point, which is, the Bible is self-authenticating to Christians. This is because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The Confession says, after listing a litany of good reasons one might be convinced of the Bible’s veracity, that “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (BCF 1.5). This, friends, is how I am certain the Bible is true.

It may not be unfair at this point to say that if the Bible is attested to by the Spirit, then it really isn’t self-authenticating. But let me say three things about that. First, the Bible tells us that it is the living Word of God. Its life is animated by the Spirit–this liveliness is part of the nature of Scripture. It is living. Two, the Spirit works not only “with the Word” but “by the Word.” The Word itself is the means God’s Spirit uses to convince people of it. It is in the nature of God’s Word to be accompanied by the testimony of the Spirit. And finally the need of the testimony of the Spirit only exists because human beings are fallen and suppress the truth in their own minds. Waldron clarifies, “The testimony of the Holy Spirit, therefore, has for its nature the removal of that evil ethical disposition which blinds man to the light of divine revelation. The testimony is thus an ethical operation. It does not consist in some new revelation in addition to that which is contained in the Scriptures.” That is to say, the testimony of the Holy Spirit by and with the Word in the hearts of believers is an act of removing impedances to seeing God’s Word as self-evidently beautiful and true, rather than of whispering to the believer other reasons to believe. He does not debate; He merely opens the eyes so that the Bible can work its magic all by itself.

For me, then, the ultimate authority, the supreme court, is the Bible, not logic, reason, or evidence. However, I use logic, reason, and evidence to evaluate everything else, but do not need them or ask them to validate the Bible. I do not need to put the Bible on trial, for what could judge it? Even if something confirmed it, that confirmation would elevate that standard above the Bible, as though it had the authority to confirm the Scriptures. That to me would be backward. As it is, I trust reason because the Bible attests to its usefulness and trustworthiness. I trust reason because the Bible confirms it and gives it permission to be used to resolve other inquiries.

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Ghost Stories

Recycling is the thing to do nowadays, and seeing as how I started this blog in October, I am going to recycle a post from my previous blog. So here it is:

Halloween approaches quickly, so why not a little editorializing about ghost stories? I, for one, enjoy a good ghost story, and I also think that ghost hunts and allegations of haunted houses are intriguing. Many people do, actually. There is a certain effect a ghost tale has to deliver small thrills and to capture the imagination. As a Christian, however, I don’t believe in ghosts (as such), so why should I find any kind of simple pleasure in fables about the returning or lingering spirits of the dead? It is in C. S. Lewis that I not only found my answer, but learned why it is, perhaps, that human beings are captivated or unnerved by ghost stories as a whole.

In his outstanding book Miracles, Lewis makes the following observations, acute if you ask me, that:

Almost the whole of Christian theology could perhaps be deduced from the two facts (a) That men make course jokes, and (b) That they feel the dead to be uncanny. The course joke proclaims that we have here an animal which finds its own animality either objectionable or funny. Unless there had been a quarrel between the spirit and the organism I do not see how this could be: it is the very mark of the two not being ‘at home’ together. But it is very difficult to imagine such a state of affairs as original—to suppose a creature which from the very first was half shocked and half tickled to death at the mere fact of being the creature it is. I do not perceive that dogs see anything funny about being dogs: I suspect that angels see nothing funny about being angels. Our feeling about the dead is equally odd. It is idle to say that we dislike corpses because we are afraid of ghosts. You might say with equal truth that we fear ghosts because we dislike corpses—for the ghost owes much of its horror to the associated ideas of pallor, decay, coffins, shrouds, and worms. In reality we hate the division which makes possible the conception of either corpse or ghost. Because the thing ought not to be divided, each of the halves into which it falls by division is detestable. The explanations which Naturalism gives both of bodily shame and of our feeling about the dead are not satisfactory. It refers us to primitive taboos and superstitions—as if these themselves were not obviously results of the thing to be explained. But once accept the Christian doctrine that man was originally a unity and that the present division is unnatural, and all the phenomena fall into place. (Emphasis added)

The above, I think, sheds much light on the subject indeed. But as a Christian I know that ghosts as such do not exist. And in fact, I must say that any real haunts, should they spring up, are demonic in nature and intended to deceive. And indeed I do say this. Does it therefore follow that I should not find enjoyment in a ghost story told around the campfire? I don’t think that is a necessary implication at all. Lewis goes on to say the following, which I find helpful:

You may hold both [course jokes and ghost stories] are bad. You may hold that both, though they result (like clothes) from the Fall, are (like clothes) the proper way to deal with the Fall once it has occurred: that while perfected and recreated Man will no longer experience that kind of laughter or that kind of shudder, yet here and now not to feel the horror and not to see the joke is to be less than human.

The One Who is Not Against You is For You

The pastor of my church is teaching through the gospel of Luke. And Rhapsody in Blue is an awfully long song. That has nothing to do with this, but it is playing, and just as I thought it was about to end, I see it has 12 minutes remaining. Sorry. I should start completely over.

The pastor of my church is teaching through the gospel of Luke. A couple weeks ago, he was in chapter 9 and passed through verses 49 and 50. They say, “John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.'” Pastor Brian Tallman made the excellent point that we in the church have a tendency to create groups within the body of Christ that will only work with and support very like-minded groups. The Reformed community (I attend a Reformed church), he went on to say, is of a certain quality that is especially guilty of this kind of exclusivism. It comes from our penchant, or passion, for doctrinal accuracy and a kind of intellectualism found more in Reformed circles than elsewhere. These are good things, but they can be used as an excuse to ostracize brothers and sisters in Christ, and when that happens, it is sin. You can see the elitist thoughts of the disciples in Luke 9:49, and remember, Jesus had just given them power and authority at the opening of the chapter. So maybe they were getting a little high off it. But Jesus’s reply in verse 50 to their statement brought them back down to earth. There are only two sides, and all children of God are equally called to work for God’s kingdom. This principle, in fact, goes a little further, I admit, than I am comfortable with. In Philippians, Paul is so bold as to say:

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (1:15-18)

If Paul was okay with the true gospel being preached with bad motives, how much more open ought we to be to the true gospel being preached with good motives!

My former pastor, Gene Cook, Jr., used to do work in Africa (I forget which country. I have the Western problem of lumping all Africa together.) It was work at an orphanage, I believe. It was a ministry, in fact, that he started. Now, you must know, Gene is a Reformed Baptist with very clear Calvinistic beliefs. But what I appreciated was the fact that he worked in Africa with Pentecostals, arm in arm for the same cause of the bringing Jesus to light and meeting physical needs in His name. It made no difference, as long as his companions were also children of God. Here many Christians would say something about the evil of denominational divisions. I’m a little different. I believe 1) denominations are inevitable, 2) that denominational labels are immensely helpful, and 3) that they are, quite frankly, much more honest than so-called “non-denominational” churches. (I don’t believe in non-denominational churches, but that is another subject). On the other hand, I have to be careful to draw a vast distinction between those within the Body who believe differently than I do, and those outside the Body. They are nothing alike, and our differences are of a completely different nature. The truth that unites me to my Pentecostal or Nazarene brethren is orders of magnitude greater than any differences we may have.

Now, there are definite dividing lines to be drawn. In texts outside Philippians,the Apostle Paul expends a lot of energy countering false teaching and false teachers. He insists in Galatians that if anyone preaches a different gospel, that person should be damned. But we must remember where the dividing lines are and draw them neither too broadly nor too narrowly. This takes prudence and wisdom, truth and love. Based on personality and even the church one belongs to, one of these errors may be more of a temptation than the other. I go constantly back to the famous maxim by seventeeth-century Lutheran, Rupertus Meldenius: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

Prolegomena

Blogger makes a clean blog–very simple and, well, professional looking. This is the main reason I will most likely be abandoning Xanga for Blogger, a move I was always reluctant to make after years invested in Xanga. I suppose all my old blogs will continue to exist in cyberspace; I don’t know how long they keep them, if not forever.

Another thing I like about Blogger is that I can maintain more than one blog at once under the same name. This will be my third here. One is retired (as its sole purpose was to detail an event that is now over.) A Change in the Weather is a personal blog about my life. It hasn’t been well kept up, or maybe nothing of interest has happened for a while. This blog, Ideas al Dente, is meant as an outlet for my opinions or ruminations. Hence, it will serve the purpose my Xanga blog had morphed into. Why Ideas al Dente? It’s my (so I thought) clever way of saying “half-baked ideas.” I call it that because I am still thinking through my ideas. I pray I always am. That is not to say that I am certain of nothing. I am certain of a good number of fundamental things. And, as such, I am no longer thinking through those things–call that arrogant, but, well, that is what certain means. But like I said, those are basic, foundational things, things upon which all else is supported: I exist, God exists, God is a Trinity, our sense perceptions of the world generally accurately correspond to reality, physical laws are uniform and will repeat, &c. Basically, I exist and Christianity is true. All other thoughts are, though I may hold various opinions strongly (and I do, sir, as you will discover), still in the oven, forming, changing their molecular arrangements, or, occasionally, being thrown out and replaced with better batter. So, if anyone actually reads this, bon appétit.

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