Sunday, December 26, 2010

Critical Thinking Christian III - Case Studies

Having discussed critical thinking principles and concepts in the abstract, it is now time to apply the rules of critical thinking to the concrete. What does it look like when critical thinking is actually appropriated and incorporated in real life situations? This article covers two case studies from real life situations. Critical thinking skills will be employed to demonstrate how the correct application of those skills, using distinctly Christian presuppositions impacts the outcome of events.

Changing the Doctrinal Position of the Church

Stated current belief: Homosexual behavior is condemned by God in Scripture. No practicing homosexual can rightly be said to have a heart for God. Therefore, those who engage in the homosexual lifestyle fail to demonstrate genuine faith in Christ and are not eligible for membership in the covenant community.

Proposed revision: God loves homosexuals without condition. Homosexual behavior is a genetic condition and is therefore unavoidable. Homosexuals are what they are by an act of God’s decree and hence should not be excluded from the covenant community purely on the basis of their sexual orientation. The Bible does not condemn homosexual relations. Rather, the Bible condemns unlawful homosexual relations in the same way that it condemns unlawful heterosexual relations. Monogamous homosexual relationships are as acceptable to God as their heterosexual correlates.

For purposes of this exercise, it is assumed that the Bible will serve as the sole authority for how decisions are made and therefore all the evidence for making the decision will be limited to the evidence provided in Scripture. This assumption is made to keep the length of the article reasonable. Otherwise, the complex nature of this situation would quickly balloon into a master’s thesis at minimum.

The examination of this situation begins with the question, “What makes this decision necessary?” Based on the information provided, the answer appears to be that the church believes it may have misinterpreted Scripture’s position on homosexuality and that a correction to its doctrinal statement is necessary. If the church intends its doctrinal statement to accurately reflect the teachings of Scripture, and it is concerned that the current may not meet such an objective, then a change is necessary.

The second question that must be asked is, “What is recommended and on what grounds?” If it is true that the church has misinterpreted Scripture regarding homosexual behavior, then it follows that they should revise their doctrinal statement accordingly. Hence it follows that from the start, an analysis of the biblical text should be conducted to determine if in fact a misinterpretation has occurred. If we grant that one has occurred without conducting a critical examination of the evidence, we abandon the principles that buttress sound critical thinking. This would be a sin in light of 1 John 4:1. Hence, step one in the process would be to examine the textual evidence in order to determine what the Bible says about homosexuality. On the grounds that the church holds to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, it is recommended that an exegetical examination of the texts that deal with the subject of homosexual behavior be carefully re-examined using sound hermeneutical principles to arrive at the truth of God’s revealed truth regarding said behavior.

In addition, a second presupposition has been introduced in the proposal: Homosexual behavior is genetic, and therefore unavoidable. What evidence does the statement offer in support of it’s assertion that homosexual behavior is genetic? It is further recommended that attention be given to the assertion that homosexual behavior is genetic. Moreover, a third recommendation emerges concerning the human genome as it relates to the ineluctability of human behavior.

So far, sound critical thinking requires that the church reevaluate the biblical text to determine God’s revealed truth on the subject of homosexuality. The method used for this evaluation is both exegetical and hermeneutical. Second, the church will conduct a thorough examination of any research regarding the postulation that homosexual behavior is genetic. Finally, the church will review the question of deterministic behavior based on the human genome to establish if there is any truth to the hypothesis that humans cannot behave in ways that actually contradict their DNA make-up. Note that the church has already established the fact that God’s word will serve as the sole basis for their decision. Ancillary questions regarding science have no bearing on the final decision regarding homosexuality and Christian ethics.

After a thorough examination of existing research on the subject, the church concludes that there is no scientific basis for the theory that homosexual behavior is genetic. Therefore, without credible evidence in support of this proposition, it cannot be accepted. The next question regards the view that homosexual behavior is unavoidable because it is genetic. One has to ask about the logic employed in this thinking. Is this statement logically valid? Does it follow that humans cannot behave in a way that is contrary to their genetic wiring? One may argue that heterosexual men are wired to have sex with women. Does it follow then that a married man cannot avoid having sexual relations with a woman who makes herself available to him even though she is not his wife? After all, he is wired to engage with her sexually. But many men avoid such invitations successfully and they do so consistently. Even though the urge or temptation may be very real, somehow, they manage to resist the offer. Hence it does not follow that humans cannot behave in a way that is contrary to urges driven by their genetic make-up. They do so all the time. DNA is not an acceptable excuse for obscene and immoral behavior. The research has debunked the idea that humans cannot behave against their DNA structure, not to mention the belief that homosexual behavior is genetic.

The next question that critical thinking addresses is, “What are the options or alternatives?” The church could ignore sound critical thinking and simply decide that their goals are more pragmatic than simply remaining faithful to the biblical text. The church could take a survey of its members to understand what the congregants think and use this as the basis for their decision. Of course, these alternatives would require a fundamental shift in the church’s presuppositions around biblical authority. The church could simply vote on the matter and whatever position garnered the most support, then that position will become the official position of the church. The exegetical evidence from 1 Cor. 6:9 condemns both forms (dominant/soft) of homosexual behavior. The church will either have to decide if Paul spoke from the standpoint of having divine authority to make such a pronouncement or if he was writing from a position of being culturally conditioned and therefore personally biased against homosexual behavior. If the church desires to remain faithful to the authority of Scripture and sound exegetical and hermeneutical principles, it will have no choice but to reinforce its doctrinal stand against the practice of homosexual behavior. To some this may seem a radical oversimplification. However, the point here is not to get tangled in various exegetical arguments surrounding this text, but rather to demonstrate rudimentary critical thinking.

What are the possible consequences of this decision? The most significant would be that the church would have to consider a major revision of its doctrinal statement if in fact it shifts its high view of Scripture to a lower one. Every other doctrine that it holds to on the basis of biblical authority would necessarily require revisiting if the church desires consistency in its creed. If the church reinforces its prohibition against homosexual behavior, some members may leave. The church may be hurt financially or it may limit its potential to attract younger generations of people who have a more liberal view of sexual behavior. This church will have to decide why it exists in the first place. It seems likely, from a worldly standpoint, that reinforcement of the decision will hinder the church’s ability to grow. At a minimum, it seems likely that growth will be slower than desired.

How important are the consequences for those affected? For homosexuals attending the church, the consequences are serious. Their desire to be accepted and loved, by their definition of love and acceptance, will fail to be realized. They will most likely be forced to find another church in which to worship where they can be accepted and comfortably feel like they are a legitimate part of the family of God. On the flip side, if the church decides to receive homosexuals as members, those who are conservative in their theology and practice will likely leave the church in search of a community that they believe will honor Scripture as it is rightly understood based on commonly accepted methods of exegesis and interpretation. For the believer, few things are as important as the church’s view of Scripture.

When you compare the consequences with the alternatives, which one is most important? The church is the body of Christ and as such has a fundamental responsibility to uphold the teachings of Scripture. She is not free to abandon the teachings of Scripture for the more utilitarian approach of growth. Her duty is to glorify God through the proper expression of the life and teachings of Christ and His holy apostles and prophets. To move beyond this duty the church runs the risk of becoming illegitimate as a true church of Jesus Christ and therefore, irrelevant as an agent of change in the Christian community. The first mark of a true church is the teaching and preaching of sound doctrine as expressed in the written text of sacred Scripture. The consequences for shifting her position on the issue of homosexual behavior are extreme. Clearly it is more important to remain faithful to the teachings of Scripture than it is to adopt the utilitarian method.

How can the church carry out this decision? The church must reinforce its condemnation of homosexual behavior while avoiding any and all hate speech that may be easily misunderstood as hating the individual as opposed to the sin. The church has a responsibility to remain true to the text, to answer the false assertions regarding the human genome, and to reach out in love to those who engage in homosexual behavior.

There are many more components involved in the discipline of critical thinking. These represent some of the critical questions that underpin the discipline. The purpose of this article was to provide the reader with a case study of what critical thinking may look like in the concrete so that it may be incorporated into life practices. The hope is that you will pause, and consider how you think about thinking. The church family is an accountability mechanism used by God to help believers, deacons, and elders grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Critical thinking is indispensible to that end. In the next article, the critical thinking Christian will apply critical thinking skills to the question of divorce.

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