Thursday, September 1, 2011

Neutrality and the Self-Attesting Nature of Scripture

The most dangerous thing that could happen to the Bible is for a human being to pick it up and read it. Yet, that is precisely what God had in mind for the Bible: that human beings would read it. There are two very foundational problems with reading the Bible. The first challenge concerns the nature of the person reading it. I am a sinner with prior commitments to various views that support my sinful worldview. My outlook on life is a combination of cultural conditioning and community practices as well as personal experience. Moreover, sin has desperately affected my intellect, and it is itself, the very enemy of God. Deep in my heart, I want to hold on to my sin to one degree or another. The second challenge concerns the purpose of the Bible itself. God provided the Bible in order that it would transform the reader. Its goal is to change us, to transform us in the most radical manner possible. The Bible wants to deprive us of that which we hold dear: self. The Bible wants to take the thing we value the most, above all other things, away from us. Yes, the single aim of the Bible is to destroy self. Reading the Bible is a threatening experience on two fronts. First, the Bible does its work in our lives only when it threatens us. Second, we are not the only subject threatened when we read the Bible. We threaten the Bible every time we read it. Not only does the Bible transform us, too often, we transform the Bible.

The idea of neutrality has been around for some time. Neutrality is the view that a person does not take sides on a subject a priori. Neutrality is consistent with the conception of tabula rasa. Tabula rasa holds that we are all born a blank slate and over time, life experience writes information on that slate. Neutrality is antithetical to the biblical teaching of inherent sin. That is to say, that tabula rasa would deny a predisposed state existing in humans at birth. The idea is that humans are born morally good. The Bible on the other hand teaches that humans are born inherently evil. (Ps. 51:5) The idea that humans learn how to be evil only begs the question, where did evil come from in the first place. If evil is here by observation, how was it ever observed initially? The Bible contradicts the notion of neutrality and the point of view known as tabula rasa.

Everyone begins a philosophical discussion with prior commitments. The believer must begin every philosophical discussion with biblical commitments. It is hazardous to the faith for any Christian to begin a discussion about God, the Scriptures, or faith and life without biblical commitments. Moreover, it is unethical for the Christian to set aside his/her biblical commitments for any reason. We live in an age of egos. We want to feel good about ourselves. Academicians are drawn in by various idolatrous views in science and the arts in order to appear academically respectable. The academy places tremendous pressure on scholars not to engage in practices or hold to views that are simply naïve given the wide-sweeping philosophical commitments in that community. As for the believer that has no relationship in the university the pressure comes from the culture in general. “The modern mindset claims neutrality as its general operation assumption, and two influential applications of contemporary thought evidence this: evolution and deconstructionism.” [Bahnsen, Greg L. Pushing the Antithesis, 8] Today, if you reject evolution, the culture considers you an unenlightened simpleton and quite frankly, a religious fanatic. A person in the academy jeopardizes their very reputation, credibility, and even their career. “Deconstructionism is the principle of modern language analysis which asserts that language refers only to itself rather than to an external reality.” [Bahnsen, Greg L. Pushing the Antithesis, 9] Deconstructionism destroys any possibility of a set or fixed meaning in a text, including Scripture.

The two areas of evolution and deconstructionism serve as perfect examples of how neutrality imposes its will on a culture. One does not have to look too far to see how these views impact biblical theology. The theory of evolution is challenging the gospel at its very foundation by denying a literal account of creation. Neutrality claims that we should all approach the scientific evidence without any prior commitments and allow the evidence to speak for itself. The problem is that sinful men are not neutral and it is impossible to let the evidence simply speak for itself because there are no brute facts. The notion of tabula rasa also assumes brute facts. However, since all interpretations require prior commitments of some sort, brute facts do not exist. The world pretends they do. Evolution insists that the world is billions of years old. It rejects that idea that God created the world instantly with the appearance of age. Science cannot prove that this claim is false. Rather, it assumes it is false. This is not neutrality. This is a betrayal of neutrality, all the while claiming neutrality. This is clearly a prior commitment held by most scientists. Deconstructionism is worse. This philosophy finds its beginnings in the writings of French philosopher, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Deconstructionism is a poststructuralist way of approaching the text and it is devastating to biblical theology. “This approach to reading texts meant that the text had no secrets to yield to the gaze of mathematically inclined readers. On the contrary, texts tended to become mirror images of the readers who assumed into their textual readings their own values as explicit modes and strategies for their reading process.” [Carroll, Robert P. Poststructuralist approaches: New Historicism and postmodernism in The Cambridge Guide to Biblical Interpretation, 50]

The modern theory of evolution attacks Scripture directly and at its very foundation by claiming that the Genesis account of origins must be false in light of the scientific evidence. This lacerates the credibility and therefore the authority of Scripture. If Genesis 1-11 is not true, how can we rely on the rest of Scripture to be factual? If there was no historical Adam that sinned in the garden, how can the message of redemption of all men in Christ be legitimate? Make no mistake about it, modern evolutionary theory threatens the gospel at its nucleus. Deconstructionism and other poststructuralist approaches to biblical hermeneutics take a more subtle tactic. These range from a soft agnostic approach to understanding the text to more radical forms of reader-response theories. In the guise of humility, the deconstructionist asserts that it is sheer arrogance to claim to understand what the Bible teaches. Since we really can’t know due to cultural filters, the best we can do is make the text meaningful to us. The author must die in order for the text to continue to live. The text means whatever the reader reads it to mean. Neutrality clambers the hill of hermeneutics in the name of academic respectability. We uncritically accept philosophies from men like Derrida, Kant, Hume, Gadamer and others because it would be an over-simplification and naïve to do otherwise. While I do not maintain that we have nothing to learn from these men regarding literary analysis, I do contend that the prior commitments they introduce to the discussion are foundationally idolatrous and for that reason, great care must be taken in their study. Deconstructionism destroys the authority of Scripture by placing the meaning of text in the subject hands of the reader. In deconstructionism and other poststructuralist approaches to interpretation, the reader has sole authority over the text.

Christians respond to evolution and deconstructionism in different ways. However, does the Bible speak to how we should respond to these modern claims to knowledge? In other words, is there an ethical imperative in Christianity for how we should answer those who hold to scientific and literary theories that contradict Scripture? The answer is a resounding yes. We are not at liberty to set aside Christian ethics in the area of apologetics and use whatever method we please. We are obligated to remain fully committed to Christian thinking from the beginning to the end of every discussion. Jesus said, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Mark 12:24) In other words, understanding Scripture corrects error. Frist, in order for this to be true, Scripture must be completely reliable and trustworthy otherwise Jesus could not view it as the reliable source to clear up erroneous views. Second, Jesus believed that we are able to understand Scripture contrary to the poststructuralist approaches that such claims to knowledge are arrogant and impossible. Jesus says that erroneous thinking is the result of not understanding the Scriptures or the power of God. The Scriptures are self-attesting. Any and every view that contradicts Scripture is ipso facto wrong! It is simply a matter of discovering where and how it is wrong.

John Murray writes, “This means simply that the basis of faith in the Bible is the witness the Bible itself bears to the fact that it is God’s Word, and our faith that it is infallible must rest upon no other basis than the witness the Bible bears to this fact.” [Murray, John. The Attestation of Scripture in The Infallible Word, 8]. We cannot rescue the Bible from science or human reason. The reason is simple: such rescue is unnecessary. Science and human reason along do not threaten the Bible. Rather, it is ungodly philosophical commitments behind both, science and, the arts that contradict Scripture. The sooner Christians understand this, the better off we will be. Murray’s point is that the basis of our faith is science or human reason. Therefore, why would we call on either of these to establish the truthfulness of Scripture? The basis of our faith is the claims of the Bible itself. Murray goes to say, “If the Bible does not witness to its own infallibility, then we have no right to believe that it is infallible. If it does bear witness to its infallibility, then our faith in it must rest upon that witness, however much difficulty may be entertained with this belief.” [Ibid.] Jesus said in John 10:35 that Scripture cannot be broken. In other words, it is impossible to undo, tear down, or destroy Scripture. Scripture cannot be reduced to ruin. It is impossible according to Jesus Himself. Jesus said that not even the smallest letter or stroke can pass away from the law until all be fulfilled. (Matt. 5:18) He followed that up with another statement saying, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matt. 5:35) “The testimony of the Holy Spirit is more excellent than all authority: therefore the same Spirit can best persuade us that it is God who spoke in the scriptures.” [Whitaker, William. Disputations on Holy Scripture, 345] Ps. 119:89 says, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” The Bible is its own best defender against attacks from science and the arts. Men do not come to saving faith in Christ, nor do they arrive at the position that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, authoritative word of God through human means. Such a state is the result of divine grace in the activity of the Holy Spirit on the human heart.

James White writes, “How one views Scripture will determine the rest of one’s theology. There is no more basic issue: Every system of thought that takes seriously the claims of the Bible to be the inspired, authoritative Word of God will share a commitment to particular central truths, and that without compromise.” [White, James R. Scripture Alone, 43] This is where we are today. Expect more attacks at the heart of the authority of Scripture. The unregenerate are hostile to the things of God. They are God’s enemies as we once were. They have no compunction to attack the revelations of divine Scripture whatever. Unfortunately, weak faith, little conviction, and desired acceptance have resulted in many within the visible Christian community succumbing to compromise on subjects like evolution and poststructuralist approaches to interpretation. This behavior is resulting is more and more damnable heresies springing up in the ranks of the seminaries and churches that are supposedly evangelical. Members in the Christian church must realize, sooner than later, that the only choice they have if they want the Church to remain what it has been for 2000 years, is to stand up and demand that people hold to the authority of Scripture or face excommunication from the community. The West Point military academy has a very simple creed: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.” Jesus Christ has higher standards and He lays them out in Matt. 18:15-18. It is time that leadership in His church either submit to the authority of Scripture and do the hard work of spiritually leading God’s people into God’s truth or resign, get out of the way, and follow those who are willing to do just that.



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