Saturday, July 5, 2008

Rationale and Rationality

A topic has come up recently for a second time that I feel this time I am obligated to address. However, the rationale I am being presented with is such that I simply don't know how I should respond. That being the case, I have decided to start by taking a step back. I will explain what the topic in question is and what I think about it in a future post, but for now I think I need to discuss a larger, more general and more basic question: how do I discern which things are absolutely true?

I am a Christian. I am a very imperfect person very imperfectly serving a living, supreme and personal God who in His very nature defines perfection. He is triune, being Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He created and sustains all things that exist. All humans have sinned, and by sinning have earned the just punishment of eternal death. God in His mercy sent His Son to live the perfect life that we could not, atone for the sins we committed by His death on the cross, and through His resurrection redeem those who would believe into eternal life in His kingdom. God will absolutely never abandon those He has redeemed. The Bible is God's inspired word, the one and only sufficient and authoritative source of truth given to teach us about Himself, about how we can honor Him with our lives in response to the things He has done for us, and about how He has related to us in the past and will relate to us in the future. I hold these things (and more) to be absolutely true.

Why? Is it because the Bible says these things? The circular logic is immediately apparent: I believe that the Bible is true because the Bible says it is true. No, the true reason is deeper than that: I believe that the Bible is true because God has given me the faith to believe it. The faith that saves me allows me to hold steadfast to the truth that is written in the word He has given us.

Believing then that the Bible is the one sufficient and authoritative source of truth given to us by God, where does that leave everything else that is known or believed (including things about which the Bible says nothing explicit), and how am I to judge things that claim to be absolutely true? In regards to (extra-scriptural) prophecy, the Bible says, "Test everything. Hold on to the good." (1 Thes. 5:21) The same is true of all knowledge, as any scientist can tell you. Everything that is known or believed that is not directly contained in the Bible is known or believed as a result of observation and judgment, and must be tested. When something is claimed as a moral or doctrinal truth, we should hold to it only as firmly as it can be proven by Scripture; when something is claimed to be absolutely true, it must be absolutely proven by Scripture — anything less and it is simply a conclusion, an opinion. To say it another way, the truth or falseness of a statement is never partial, but the degree to which we are certain of either may be, unless it is based on explicit Scripture.

Being Christians does not free us from the need for logic or rationality; instead it corrects the basis on which we make our judgments and the means by which we make them. Seek the truth, seek wisdom and understanding — it's what we are called to do as Christians.
Proverbs 23:23
Buy the truth and do not sell it;
get wisdom, discipline and understanding.



Blogger treeinforest said...

I was asked a couple of clarifying questions, and I thought I would answer them here for the benefit of anyone else who had the same questions. First:

"Would you agree that, taking a scientific approach, the Bible would be the constant or what we test things against?"

Yes, absolutely; even taking a non-scientific approach the same would be true.


"There are plenty of areas in life where the Bible is not specific, but the reason we do or don't do those things is because we build a case by comparing scripture with scripture and concluding with a true Bible principle that we apply in our lives. Is there an example of a conclusion or opinion that is not absolutely proven by scripture?"

I would disagree with the phrase "concluding with a true Bible principle" unless it is meant to say, "drawing a conclusion we are confident is true." The distinction I am making (and I feel it's an important one) is this: in areas or topics where the Bible is not explicit or is difficult to understand, I do not hold any conclusion I draw to be absolute infallible truth. That does not mean that I do not proceed confidently on the assumption that the conclusion I believe is true is in fact true, but it does mean that I continually acknowledge the fallibility of my judgment so that if and when the Holy Spirit reveals my mistake I will accept correction and not hold on to my false conclusion. As I have said elsewhere, we have to keep in mind that while the Bible is inspired and perfect, our understanding of it is not.

A couple of examples:

The question of whether the Rapture will occur before, during, or at the end of the Tribulation. Many people have set their feet in concrete on this issue, and I have heard various arguments one way or another. I wouldn't claim to be able to accurately present any of them here from memory, but I can say that no one of the arguments has been particularly compelling relative to the others. Given some study, I am sure I would choose a position on the issue, but at the end of the day I would probably also still say what I say now: I just don't know for sure. Why am I comfortable with that? It's because I don't think I have to believe I am absolutely infallibly right about what I have concluded about the order of events in the timeline God has already laid out for the end times; on the other hand, I do absolutely believe that God is in perfect and complete control no matter which position turns out to be right.

I may take some flak for this, but I think the debate concerning Calvinism vs. Arminianism vs. Whatever-else-ism falls into this category as well, to a certain extent. These systems give us a framework for theology, a perspective from which to view and understand how God works in our lives and interacts with us according to what the Bible says. There are good arguments for Calvinism, there are good arguments for Arminianism, and there may perhaps be good arguments for other positions as well; we can hold these positions with a high degree of confidence to the extent that they do not contradict Scripture. However, they are still conclusions drawn by human beings; each position has to look at passages of Scripture that, taken on face value, appear to be contradictory and reconcile them, usually by interpreting some passages in light of what the reader has concluded about the others. This is the reason that I do not say Calvinism is absolutely the one true perspective that can be drawn from Romans 9; instead I say that based on my current understanding of Scripture, I am confident in agreeing with the perspective that Calvinism presents. I readily admit that I have more to learn, and where I see flaws in any position or a point I do not understand, I raise questions. Constant growth and learning is the nature of the Christian community.

Thursday, July 10, 2008 10:20:00 PM  

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