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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tossing Scripture

Many people approach Scripture with a philosophical predisposition. That is, "This philosophical position is true, so how does this inform my understanding of Scripture?" Take, for instance, the problem of the definition of "free will". By defining the term by one particular philosophical position -- say, the concept of the Libertarian Free Will which begins with the premise that God cannot predetermine anything -- it becomes impossible to agree with anything in Scripture that suggests that God predetermines anything. (Please note: I'm not offering that as a point of discussion. It was shorthand to illustrate the problem. I won't debate the nuances.) Indeed, God's Omniscience becomes impossible because God knowing everything before it occurs would be a form of determination and, therefore, nullify this version of "free will". Thus, a philosophical predisposition in this case would determine Scripture rather than the other way around.

The truth is this is an easy misstep to make and, I would guess, pretty common. I'd venture to guess that all of us at some point or another do it. We'll see a passage of Scripture and say "Well, that can't mean what it appears to say" because it violates a premise we hold that, as it turns out, is not biblical. We all, at some point or another -- some more than others -- do not allow Scripture to interpret Scripture or allow God's Word to inform us rather than the other way around. When, for instance, we say "Well, that can't mean what it appears to say" because it violates something else in Scripture, then we are letting Scripture interpret Scripture. That's not as often our problem. More often it's our predispositions apart from the Word.

So when I read
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Cor 2:14)
I might say, "Well, that can't mean what it appears to say." Why? "Well, everyone understands spiritual things, don't they?" I might claim that, but it doesn't allow the text to speak for itself.

Or I might read
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Rom 3:12)
and conclude "Well, that can't mean what it appears to say." Why? "Because we know lots of people who do good. In fact, everyone does some good." And I would be canceling the Word of God in favor of my opinion about good and about people rather than in favor of what the text says.

I know of countless Christians who read
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience -- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3)
and understand it to mean that natural man is not dead in trespasses and sins, at least not in any meaningful way, because, after all, there is nothing necessary for salvation that natural man cannot produce to accomplish what God has started. Notice that line of thinking. That Scripture doesn't mean what it appears to say because of a prior commitment to the ability of natural man that is not stated in Scripture. It's what I call Princess Bride theology. Only mostly dead.

How many "no man can" passages (e.g., John 3:3; John 10:29; John 6:44; John 6:65; 1 Cor 12:3; 1 John 3:9) are set aside because of a prior commitment to a philosophy that claims they can? How many texts don't mean what they appear to plainly say (e.g., Gen 8:21; Rom 8:7; Rom 9:16) first because they don't line up with our view of human beings? How many times do we set a straightforward understanding of Scripture aside not because it collides with Scripture, but because it collides with our private views?

I think we need to be careful. I think that a book breathed by God (2 Tim 3:16) that does not pass away (Matt 5:17-19) until all is accomplished, a book that is the Word of God ought to be rightly handled (2 Tim 2:15), ought to be that which shapes our understanding rather than our understanding shaping it. We ought to allow God to be the God He reveals Himself to be rather than the God we'd prefer Him to be. I think we ought to let Scripture renew our minds (Rom 12:2) rather than our minds, deceived as they are (Jer 17:9), reshaping Scripture. That's what I think.

1 comment:

Alec said...

Well put.

Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. Luke 20.18 in regard to Christ, and by application to his Word.