Deconstructing 1: Article on the Nazarene Church Unity

So while on that bastion of free speech and political thought, Facebook, I came across a posted article that sounded wrong to me. I will link the article here. For brevity’s sake I will try to summarize it while deconstructing it. The opening salvo reveals the author’s intent clearly. The point of this article will be to vilify any who dare suggest that diversity of thought is a bad thing. For the record I am not of the Nazarene movement nor of the United Methodist Church (hereafter called the UMC) so I have no particular dog in this fight other than addressing the terrible abuse of logic that occurs in the article.

The opening Salvo:

As the United Methodist Church considers schism and other structural solutions in order to draw a firm line between progressives and traditionalists, we can look to the Church of the Nazarene for an example of what happens when diversity of thought and action is crushed.

The first half of this sentence ascribes motive to the UMC. Apparently the sole motive of an entire group of leadership is to draw a line between progressives and traditionalists. First of all, can anyone imagine a denominational convention arguing that during their meetings? “Brother John, we’ve got to draw a line between the progressives and traditionalists!” To which half the room cheers and the other half boos. Secondly, if you can already classify the two positions you have, um, drawn a line between them. The author apparently fears that a firm line will be drawn between two distinct categorically different groups. Heaven forbid.

The second half gives us the moral prerogative: It is bad to crush diversity of thought and action. Notice that no distinctions here are given as to a specific thought or action. This is not the writing of a disciplined thinker. I’ll illustrate: My son loves fire right now. He will happily run up to the fire pit (if we didn’t watch him like a hawk) and grab the nice shiny flaming stick. I am of a diverse opinion, because I know that fire is hot. I have no problem crushing diversity of thought and action in this situation. Now let’s apply this to a church denomination as a whole. Let’s say that the “conservative” group opposes gay marriage and abortion because their holy writings explicitly do the same. Let’s say there are people who want to wear the name of that denomination while holding to an opposing view on sodomy and murder. The two groups have become categorically different. So why not say so?

What is happening to our sisters and brothers in the Church of the Nazarene? One answer could never suffice, but let me point to something that I think is waning in the Church of the Nazarene: the value of diversity in thought and leadership. The UMC ought to take note of what is happening to our cousin.

So skipping down a few paragraphs and we are introduced to another author’s work, namely Ric Shewell. In this article we find an affirmation of the moral prerogative that we should value diversity in thought and leadership. Let’s consider this for a moment. I run a pizza joint and I have a delivery driver who believes that he should have time to stop and get a snack on every delivery run. In the meantime people’s pizza gets cold and I lose business. Should I value that form of diversity of thought? How much less a religious worldview that is claiming a monopoly on truth? If I say I know the only true way to salvation and the guy next to me suggests that there are different ways should I value his diversity of thought? What if I believe that he is wrong and misling people. What of the charlatans in the religion? The womanizers? The users and abusers? The cultists? This is clearly an absurd proposition.

Early Days, the Coming Together of Four Groups

The Church of the Nazarene (established in 1908) joined four holiness groups together (allow for a little generalization). From the West came holiness people who emphasized urban social ministries. From the South came holiness people who emphasized lifestyle. From the North came holiness people influenced by campmeeting experiences. And from the Great Plains came holiness people influenced by the emerging fundamentalist movement. This diversity was valued, and compromises were made because unity was an expression of holiness.

Like the UMC, the Nazarenes come together ever quadrennium to work out and amend their denominational rule of life, the Manual. The compromises and diversity of thought can be seen in its pages from this denominations inception. For example, some pushed for “inerrancy” language in their statement on Scripture. Others refused. The compromise reads “inerrant in all things pertaining to faith and salvation.”

I wanted to merely highlight the examples in order to identify the fallacy the author is about to commit. The fallacy has been called the “naturalistic” fallacy. The naturalistic fallacy occurs when someone attempts to derive a moral norm (an “ought”) from an existing state of affairs (an “is”). For example: One hundred people ate a steak and liked it, therefore everyone ought to eat it and like it. Clearly not everyone should eat steak. Babies cannot handle it physically, some people cannot have the fat from red meat, and certainly not everyone will enjoy the flavor. It is absurd to argue from the way things are to the way things ought to be. So Shewell is arguing that because the Nazarene and UMC movement allowed and compromised with some diversity (how much diversity is not clear) they should therefore continue to allow diversity. A couple thoughts on diversity:

1) It is likely that the diversity of any group bearing the same name is not as large as those bearing different ones. For instance the Church of the Nazarene was a splinter group off the main Wesleyan group. The Wesleyans were a split from the Church of England. This means that at some point, the diversity was great enough to cause a schism and accompanying name change.

2) Diversity can be used in the universal sense. By that I mean that when you say lack of diversity is bad, you have made a universal statement. You are basically saying lack of diversity is bad in every context and in every situation everywhere. Part of my argument shows that some lack of diversity is good. This defeats the universal implication.

3) Churches and religious groups are uniquely vulnerable to the charge of suppressing diversity. Most religious groups at their core claim a knowledge of divine revelation. Divine revelation implies truth. Truth cannot be “diverse.” For a proposition to be true, it cannot also be false at the same time and in the same sense (Logic 101: The law of non-contradiction). Since these religious groups desire conformity to the truth then they would be right to be suspicious and ultimately reject a diverse (or false) opinion. In this sense diversity is anathema to the church.

In the latter half of the 20th century, influenced by the Great Plains group and the emerging generic Christian marketplace (books, radio, music, art, etc), the Nazarenes began to lose some theological distinction and emphasis on urban ministry. Fundamentalism and Calvinist thought was streaming into its leadership. The value for diversity in thought began to slip away.

This paragraph is a steaming hot mess of contradiction. The author is opining the loss of “theological distinction?” What does it mean to lose theological distinction? Isn’t that what Shewell wants? If a theology stops making distinctions, it becomes more generic hence it allows for more diversity, not less. My point in bringing this up is that this author is trying to connect some dots that are thinly related if related at all. Maybe the Nazarenes just figured out that there is a limit to the amount of diversity they are willing to accept. Perhaps they have decided that some behaviors and teachings go so far as to slander the truth they hold dear.

While the leadership and (I might say majority) of the laity are now influenced by this conservative pedigree, there are still many progressive Nazarenes. My friend, Ryan Scott, a Nazarene pastor, said this, “Ultimately, the divide tends to be one of education. Those with Nazarene university and seminary educations tends to be more progressive. Those with less or less rigorous or less Nazarene education tend to be more conservative.”

Since education at a Nazarene institution is not necessarily a requirement for ordination, most pastors (80%) do not have a seminary degree. I also assume the vast majority of laity have no Nazarene education. If Ryan is right, then the progressive voice in the Church of the Nazarene is now a tiny tiny minority.

So basically anyone who disagrees with the author is poorly educated. This is an Ad Hominem argument. That means that the person, or persons in this case, are attacked rather than their arguments. If a man with zero schooling tells me one plus one is two, I can have a double doctorate and still be wrong if I disagree. Education does not necessarily equal truth, The hubris displayed here is a little disgusting. I suspect that the figure of 80 percent is not based on any real research. It is just this guy’s friend saying it. Citation please.

I guess we have to identify “progressive” here. I don’t really know what that might mean. I think Hacking Christianity has an idea about what a progressive UM is. I’m not sure what a progressive Nazarene is, but I know negative and punitive action is being taken against a biology professor for suggesting Christian faith and evolution are compatible, a chaplain suggesting the Sermon on the Mount forbids a thirst for war, and a professor suggesting God’s nature of love involuntarily limits God from coercion.

Those don’t seem like radically progressive ideas. But when the scales are so far out of balance, the circle of orthodoxy gets narrower and narrower.

If we do not have working definitions of progressives and conservatives, then how do we know the circle of orthodoxy is shrinking? Would a guy have been thrown out twenty years ago for the saying the same thing? Fifty? Ninety? I am guessing he would be more likely to have been removed then. This means that if anything, the circle of orthodoxy (as defined by the Nazarene Church) is probably getting larger, not smaller.

There have been suggestions from more conservative/traditional United Methodists to let the West go. Let the progressives go. These are suggestions to remove balance in thought and leadership. These are suggestions to forgo diversity for uniformity.

Let’s be clear, “balance of thought” is used pejoratively here. This again reflects the hubris of the author. We are meant to assume that because balance is a good word, it should be applied to the thinking instead of diversity. So now balanced becomes a synonym for diverse. In the last sentence we see that the author recognizes that the denomination is striving for unity and uniformity. He still wants us to assume, without any evidence or argumentation, that uniformity is a very bad thing.

But uniformity does not create unity. Can we be diverse in thought and yet be united in Christ? Yes. I believe so. And I will always passionately defend, debate, and fight for ideas that I believe are worthy and true, but I will never tell a brother or sister who disagrees with me to “shut up,” or “go.” Stay. Speak. Break bread

Unless you believe in uniformity, in which case you are uneducated and wrong. The above is completely disingenuous. Would you break bread with a charlatan, cult leader, womanizer, etc? No. That is because at some point, a distinction has to be made, and a line has to be drawn. Go this far but no farther. What this author cannot fathom is that people may just believe that the diversity he is espousing allows things over the line. Rather than show how the things he suggests are acceptable and should be allowed, he creates a strawman instead. He would rather argue that anyone who disagrees is guilty of the made up sin of rejecting diversity in thought and leadership. Ric Shewell’s argument is complete and utter nonsense.

Jeremy Smith then posts his own epilogue:

Great words from Ric to help us look to our Wesleyan cousins for this truth: the dark side of uniformity is not a more focused mission but an empowered witchhunt.

If the United Methodist Church schisms or creates a new structure that lessens contact between progressives and traditionalists, then I think we would see the circles of acceptability become narrower in both camps. And, I’m afraid, it would look like the Nazarenes. When one “side” has a stranglehold on the entirety of a denomination, it’s easy to see the “other side” be choked out. It may already be happening in the UMC–but I believe there’s still time and the Spirit’s urging to find ways to live together before we smash all that is holy to us.

We are better together.

There is no new information here so I’ll be brief. Beware the emotional argument, for what it spends in feeling, it lacks in integrity. I can see no real justification to accept the premise that diversity in thought and leadership are necessarily good. I do see how it can be bad and I think I have illustrated that carefully. One thing I didn’t do was get into the Biblical worldview and how it views diversity of thought in leadership. I can sum that up by quoting the Bible 1 Timothy Chapter 6:

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;

He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,

Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

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10 comments

  1. Evaluating Jeremy Smith’s post as if it were a critical philosophical treatise as well as not having familiarity with the two denominations in that post make this critique appear misguided at best. While I see evidence of a basic knowledge of logic in this critique, I don’t see wisdom in how logic ought to be applied. Is diversity of thought a good thing? In many contexts it is. Ought a writer always be required to note that there are exceptions to that? No. That would be unreasonable. In order to defend one’s ideas from all potential criticisms it would require a length that would make the legalese in software licenses rather tame by comparison. The diversity of thought within United Methodism and the Church of the Nazarene are what is in the background of Smith’s post. It would be wise to gain some understanding of those situations before criticizing Smith’s blog.
    One theological point I would bring up is that there is no such thing as absolute truth, unless you are claiming to be God. John Calvin and many other theologians have noted that God accommodated truth to our finite human capacity. That means the truth we have is watered down from the truth as God understands it. Thus there is room aplenty for interpretation.

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    1. 1) I did not say I am not familiar with the denominations, their history, or their fundamental beliefs. What I did say was that I do not belong to either of those denominations. I am likely more familiar with them than you are. That is an unwarranted assumption on your part.
      2) It does not take a long treatise to think or write consistently. We both know what Mr. Smith and Mr. Shewell are arguing for when they suggest diversity of thought. They are not arguing some fine point of distinction and the examples they give clearly illustrate the issues.
      3) Allow me to ask a true or false question: There is no absolute truth, true or false? Your suggestion that Calvin agrees with you leads me to ask you to cite your source. Calvin may have allowed for the notion that God dumbs some things down for his creation and leaves some thing to mystery, however he would never dare suggest that what was true was not absolutely true. You are confused.

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      1. For my remarks on John Calvin, see: “Interpreting John Calvin” by Ford Lewis Battles, published by Baker Books, Grand Rapids (1996) [ISBN 10: 0801020972 ISBN 13: 9780801020971].

        I am a graduate of Nazarene Theological Seminary, and I have worked over ten years for the United Methodist Publishing House (Cokesbury). I suspect those are ample credentials.

        The most obvious quote with regard to diversity of thought in the Wesleyan tradition is “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and love over all.” That quote was used by both John Wesley and Phineas F. Bresee (the quote has been occasionally attributed to Wesley, but its origin is uncertain). The main issue that has come into play with both Wesleyan denominations is the conservative voices that expand “essentials” to include items that have not historically been seen as essentials. I’m not familiar with a creed that requires a specific reading of the Genesis creation narratives other than to affirm that God created all that is. How God chose to create seems like a non-essential to me. That is more the Nazarene issue. Perhaps there are also some Open Theism questions as well. The United Methodist issue is primarily that of how to understand human sexuality. The views that progressives in the United Methodist Church take on the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons have caused traditionalists to question whether progressives are willing to submit to Biblical authority. Really it is a matter of how both sides read the Bible–pretty much everyone believes in the authority of the Bible. Authority is defined differently, but again, there is no creed Wesleyans use that says how to understand the Bible’s authority. Wesleyans aren’t overtly fundamentalist in doctrine.

        Jeremy Smith does a lot of good with Hacking Christianity, but he isn’t always the most careful thinker. I believe you have pointed out many areas in which there is some sloppiness in the logic. Nevertheless this post seems more like nitpicking without really engaging the full context of what is being discussed. I really don’t see an awareness in this critique of the respective denominational contexts. You have said you are likely more familiar with the two denominations than me, but I see no evidence to support that claim at all.

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      2. As to my own views on truth? I tend to follow Richard Rorty and William James. Other significant influences are Michael Polanyi, Thomas S. Kuhn, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Sure there is truth, but the human ability to express it is finite and imperfect. The concept of truth provides us with an ideal to strive toward even if we know we can never perfectly attain it. Rorty calls this “antirepresentationalism.” My religious views don’t disregard the concept of truth, but it is important to note that salvation isn’t contingent on the facts or data you cling to (that was the Gnostic heresy). It isn’t primarily a matter of what you know, but who you serve. In the Biblical sense, if you aren’t serving God then you really don’t know God. I think the book of James gets it right: “faith without works is dead.” The Hebrew concept of knowing “yadah” was knowledge through personal participation (which connects nicely with Michael Polanyi’s thought, I might add).

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  2. For my remarks on John Calvin, see: “Interpreting John Calvin” by Ford Lewis Battles, published by Baker Books, Grand Rapids (1996) [ISBN 10: 0801020972 ISBN 13: 9780801020971].

    So I should just peruse the whole work until I figure out which passage you (or possibly the author, but more likely you) took out of context to get your understanding of Calvin? That’s generous of you.

    I am a graduate of Nazarene Theological Seminary, and I have worked over ten years for the United Methodist Publishing House (Cokesbury). I suspect those are ample credentials.

    I am somewhat embarrassed for your Seminary.

    The most obvious quote with regard to diversity of thought in the Wesleyan tradition is “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and love over all.” That quote was used by both John Wesley and Phineas F. Bresee (the quote has been occasionally attributed to Wesley, but its origin is uncertain). The main issue that has come into play with both Wesleyan denominations is the conservative voices that expand “essentials” to include items that have not historically been seen as essentials. I’m not familiar with a creed that requires a specific reading of the Genesis creation narratives other than to affirm that God created all that is.

    Wow. Really? You mean Wesley didn’t specifically mention Evolution in his writings? Gee why would that be in your opinion? You don’t suppose it had something to do with the simple fact, nobody during his lifetime believed such a silly thing? Perhaps he would have written a creed had he known that Christians would be so easily duped as to try and synthesize such an antithetical philosophy into their doctrine.

    How God chose to create seems like a non-essential to me.

    You are not the arbiter of what is or is not essential. Sorry.

    The United Methodist issue is primarily that of how to understand human sexuality. The views that progressives in the United Methodist Church take on the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons have caused traditionalists to question whether progressives are willing to submit to Biblical authority.

    Hard to imagine that.

    Really it is a matter of how both sides read the Bible–pretty much everyone believes in the authority of the Bible. Authority is defined differently,,

    If the terms in the premise do not match the terms in the conclusion, you have an error in your logic. If the definition of the term authority is different for group A than group B, they do not BY DEFINITION believe in the same thing.

    It’s like saying we both are Christians except you define Christian as “one who follows Islam.”

    but again, there is no creed Wesleyans use that says how to understand the Bible’s authority. Wesleyans aren’t overtly fundamentalist in doctrine.

    We can see the fruit of that doctrine. Once again this is just proving my point that the lack of rigor and discipline in applying logic to the scriptures have clearly dulled the senses of this once Christian organization.

    Jeremy Smith does a lot of good with Hacking Christianity, but he isn’t always the most careful thinker.

    Have you already forgotten that the bulk of my critique was not leveled at Jeremy, but at his source material from Shewell.

    I believe you have pointed out many areas in which there is some sloppiness in the logic. Nevertheless this post seems more like nitpicking without really engaging the full context of what is being discussed.

    Your opinion is noted. However, it is wrong. I picked out the parts I found most pertinent. That included his THESIS statement.

    I really don’t see an awareness in this critique of the respective denominational contexts. You have said you are likely more familiar with the two denominations than me, but I see no evidence to support that claim at all.

    *shrug* I don’t know you. I Certainly don’t need to defend my grasp of an article’s points to you.

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  3. As to my own views on truth? I tend to follow Richard Rorty and William James. Other significant influences are Michael Polanyi, Thomas S. Kuhn, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

    I list my main influence on truth as Gordon Clark. Since he used some of Aristotle’s work on truth, Aristotle deserves a nod.

    Sure there is truth, but the human ability to express it is finite and imperfect.

    So when you say there is truth, you mean what? Do you mean that you have expressed that thought finitely and imperfectly? If so, then you didn’t say what you meant to say, nor can you.

    The concept of truth provides us with an ideal to strive toward even if we know we can never perfectly attain it.

    How would one know if they were moving towards a truth if there is no accurate concept of it?

    Rorty calls this “antirepresentationalism.” My religious views don’t disregard the concept of truth, but it is important to note that salvation isn’t contingent on the facts or data you cling to (that was the Gnostic heresy).

    So Jesus didn’t die on a cross to take away the sins of the world?

    It isn’t primarily a matter of what you know, but who you serve.

    How do you serve what you don’t know?

    In the Biblical sense, if you aren’t serving God then you really don’t know God.

    If you don’t know God you cannot serve him. There is a way that seems right to a man, but the ends thereof are death.

    I think the book of James gets it right: “faith without works is dead.” The Hebrew concept of knowing “yadah” was knowledge through personal participation (which connects nicely with Michael Polanyi’s thought, I might add).

    Meh. You write sentences pre-supposing that you are conveying ideas that are true while clinging to a philosophy that completely undermines the truth of those sentences. You stress the connection of works to faith, but as you have said, such a connection cannot be made to be a contigent factor for salvation or knowledge. In essence you are self-contradictory.

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    1. So I cite a source for my statement on Calvin, and that isn’t good enough? If you had bothered to look at the table of contents you would know in a second where to look. The book is a collection of essays, one of which is entirely devoted to examining that topic in John Calvin’s thought.
      You really like the argument from silence, and using subtle ad hominems. Did I mention evolution? Did my mentioning of Jeremy Smith not always being a careful thinker somehow necessarily include or exclude Shewell? You’re embarrassed for my Seminary?
      How does the refutation of the Gnostic heresy imply that I don’t believe Jesus died for the sins of the world? It is clear that you and I have very different worldviews, which is why you don’t understand my views on truth. There is nothing self-contradictory in my views unless you make them out to be something they are not, which I believe you have done just as masterful a job at as you did with the blog that inspired this post. You don’t seem to be familiar with postmodernist thinkers in philosophy (particularly in terms of epistemology), and I have no desire to explain them to you.

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  4. So I cite a source for my statement on Calvin, and that isn’t good enough?

    Often citation includes a page number and paragraph. I am not interested in perusing an entire book to figure out which statement you are using.

    If you had bothered to look at the table of contents you would know in a second where to look. The book is a collection of essays, one of which is entirely devoted to examining that topic in John Calvin’s thought.

    And? How does that help? Furthermore, I am certainly not going to go out and buy a book so that I can peruse it for a quote some random guy may have took out of context while responding to me on my blog. How about you just post the quote from the book or post the quote from Calvin himself (in context). That’s not much taller of an order than you are giving me.

    You really like the argument from silence, and using subtle ad hominems.

    Really? I didn’t think I was being too subtle. As far as arguing from silence, I would suggest that your insistence about the lack of information in the creeds is a far better example of such a tactic.

    I’m not familiar with a creed that requires a specific reading of the Genesis creation narratives other than to affirm that God created all that is.

    And there is a classic example of a historical argument from silence. Granted there are other types of such arguments. However it is safe to conclude you will have trouble finding as good of an example in my writing.

    Did I mention evolution? Did my mentioning of Jeremy Smith not always being a careful thinker somehow necessarily include or exclude Shewell?

    Good questions. You wrote:

    Evaluating Jeremy Smith’s post as if it were a critical philosophical treatise as well as not having familiarity with the two denominations in that post make this critique appear misguided at best.

    Then you wrote:

    Jeremy Smith does a lot of good with Hacking Christianity, but he isn’t always the most careful thinker… Nevertheless this post seems more like nitpicking without really engaging the full context of what is being discussed.

    Is there any reason to assume you were including the parts by Mr. Shewell? The appeal of your argument was that Jeremy is not a careful thinker and that I was treating his work as a philosophical treatise. In other words, I am being unfair and mean to poor Jeremy and not really understanding much of what I read. That is your point with the above is it not? The reality is that the bulk of Jeremy’s article is a block quote from Mr. Shewell (who, we would assume, is far more deliberate with his words) with whom he agrees. This means that when I am criticizing the post, I am criticizing more from Mr. Shewell than Jeremy.

    As for evolution you wrote:

    I’m not familiar with a creed that requires a specific reading of the Genesis creation narratives other than to affirm that God created all that is.

    I suppose you could have been referencing some other controversy that would relate specifically to the “Genesis creation narratives”. I know it would be unreasonable to assume that since the Nazarene movement has had some controversy regarding evolution and it was mentioned a few times within the context of this discussion, that you would actually have that in view. Which issue did you have in view specifically?

    You’re embarrassed for my Seminary?

    See? That’s not very subtle at all.

    How does the refutation of the Gnostic heresy imply that I don’t believe Jesus died for the sins of the world?

    This statement does:

    …but it is important to note that salvation isn’t contingent on the facts or data you cling to (that was the Gnostic heresy).

    Was it a fact that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners? Would salvation be contingent upon such a fact?

    Furthermore I don’t think you have a keen grasp of what the Gnostic heresy is. If you do, then you must agree that the above sentence is not even close to a description of it. Unless you redefine the word fact to mean “physical is bad, spiritual is good?” Maybe then the sentence obtains? I am perusing all my resources to see if that definition somehow can even be remotely applied… so far I am not seeing it.

    It is clear that you and I have very different worldviews, which is why you don’t understand my views on truth.

    It is clear that your view on truth is blatantly self-contradictory. It is truly a great difference. Absolute truth exists and propositions that are true on earth are true in the mind of God. To deny truth is to deny God. “David was king of Israel” is no more true for God than it is for me. In order for your view to be true, you would have to argue that for God, the proposition David was king of Israel must be “more true” for God (this is because you implicitly subscribe to empiricism and conflate experience with knowledge). Unfortunately if that is the case, then no proposition can be said to be known because no proposition can be known to be “as true” as it is in the mind of God. In other words man’s knowledge of things like God, Jesus, Salvation, Repentance, etc cannot be “more true” because there is no coincident point of truth between the proposition known in the mind of God and the one known by man. Whatever man “knows” God “more knows.”

    Pushing the problem away by claiming it is an ideal that should be striven for falls away when the most basic propositions are tested. If one can never fully know the mind of God, then one can never fully know any proposition is true. However “David was king of Israel” is either true or false. If it is true in the mind of God, it is absolutely true in my mind. Whether or not I know what David looks like or smells like what Israel looked like, or smelled like (empirical data obtained by one who was there, namely God) is irrelevant and really can only be summarized by a set of other propositions. Those propositions are also either true or false. The idea and notion of a more true or less true ideal is nonsense.

    There is nothing self-contradictory in my views unless you make them out to be something they are not, which I believe you have done just as masterful a job at as you did with the blog that inspired this post. You don’t seem to be familiar with postmodernist thinkers in philosophy (particularly in terms of epistemology), and I have no desire to explain them to you.

    No worries. I am pretty sure you couldn’t explain it to me without implicitly relying on absolute truth and logic anyway. Besides whatever you did say would be “less true” than what is in the mind of God anyway.

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  5. Lest any accuse me of ignoring the above citation, I did some digging on my own to determine the source of leekarlpalo’s error with Calvin. He wrote:

    John Calvin and many other theologians have noted that God accommodated truth to our finite human capacity. That means the truth we have is watered down from the truth as God understands it. Thus there is room aplenty for interpretation.

    Notice the language and the conclusion. What leekarlpalo is referring to is Calvin’s teaching about accomodation. However leekarlpalo is suggesting that Calvin in essence taught that truth is open to interpretation. This is clear from the context of leekarlpalo’s prior sentence:

    One theological point I would bring up is that there is no such thing as absolute truth, unless you are claiming to be God.

    So if we are to understand both sentences together, there is no absolute truth and even John Calvin would agree.

    One theological point I would bring up is that there is no such thing as absolute truth, unless you are claiming to be God. John Calvin and many other theologians have noted that God accommodated truth to our finite human capacity. That means the truth we have is watered down from the truth as God understands it. Thus there is room aplenty for interpretation.

    So this means that leekarlpalo is suggesting that John Calvin would join him in saying there is no absolute truth. However that denies any normative view the reformers would have had. Calvin used the idea of accomodation when referring to anthropomorphism. He also alluded to it in other various ways. Calvin never would have suggested that because we were not given every accompanying detail of a proposition that means we cannot know with absolute certainty the truth of the held proposition. Consider the following quotes:

    The link to my reference is here

    “The Reformers and their scholastic followers all recognized that God must in some way condescend or accommodate himself to human ways of knowing in order to reveal himself. This accommodatio occurs in the use of human words and concepts for the communication of the law and gospel, but it in no way implies the loss of truth or the lessening of scriptural authority.” Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 19.

    Although it is impossible for us to see God as he actually is, due to the nature of God and the nature of man, we can still know something of God if he reveals it in a way that we can understand. An illustration which is taken up from Calvin may help. In talking to a child we may speak in a way that does not express things ‘as they are in themselves’, but in a way that still conveys truth about those things. – John Calvin’s Concept of Divine Accommodation: A Hermeneutical Corrective, pg 334

    I think these quotes are sufficient to render leekarlpalo’s claim invalid. Although I cannot find the exact reference he mentioned (and am unwilling to buy the book to do so) I have no trouble laying the falsity of the reference at leekarlpalo’s poor skill of implication.

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    1. I’m glad you did some research on accommodation on your own. My copy of the book I made reference to is in my garage in a box along with a large number of other books. Since I’ve moved, I haven’t had the time to dig through all of my boxes of books yet. I would have cited it more specifically, if I could have found it easily. As I mentioned, there is a whole chapter (essay) devoted to the topic, so that a quotation of it would require a lot of typing. You really would have to get a copy of the book. Ford Lewis Battles is not exactly a nobody in terms of Calvin scholarship. If you have a copy of Calvin’s Institutes, then you have likely come across his work.

      Salvation comes through faith, not factual knowledge. Sure faith is not without content, but it is without absolute certainty.

      I think you are right that in order to explain my views more thoroughly to you, I’d have to speak in the terms of absolute truth and logic with which you understand. To jettison the concept of absolute truth makes for a lot messier theology, and I think you do somewhat understand that. When something is more true for God than for humans, I’d have to agree.

      As for evolution, my point was about the creeds, not about evolution. The creeds say the minimum of what needs to be said. It is like the Wesleyan quote I mentioned earlier of “unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials…” The more narrowly orthodoxy is defined, the more salvation is contingent on subscribing to all of the ‘right’ answers. There are plenty of people who have differences of opinion, and you and I are obviously a case-in-point. But if I can say the historic ecumenical creeds with honesty, and trust in God for my salvation, is the fact that I find some merit to ideas that some Christians might find questionable (that aren’t dealt with in the creeds) going to exclude me from salvation? Salvation doesn’t come through certainty in factual data, but through a trust in God as revealed in Christ.

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