Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ed Young Jr. and the “God in the Box” Fallacy

If I had a nickel every time I heard the response; “you can’t put God in a box,” well, I would have a LOT of nickels. Recently, I heard Ed Young Jr. accuse subscribers to reformed theology of capturing God and putting Him in a box. What does Mr. Young mean when he uses the phrase “put God in a box?” What do most people mean when they parade out this particular objection? This is one of the easiest fallacies to refute. Lean forward, turn off your music, sit up straight, close your door, and pay attention. I promise this will not take very long.

Ed Young says that reformed theology “people” sit around and talk about theology and doctrine and sometimes, complicated matters. By doing this, they arrive at certain beliefs about God and Scripture that they think are true, such as election. Paul command Titus to instruct young men (a particular target of Mr. Young’s rant) to be σωφρονεῖν. This Greek word is translated sensible. Young men are to be sensible. What does the word mean? It means to have an understanding about practical matters and be able to act accordingly. Knight comments, “He is urging younger men to live godly Christian lives, and he is addressing Titus about his particular responsibilities as a minister and as an example to these men.”[1] The phrase I find to be quite intriguing is διδασκαλίᾳ ἀφθορίαν, translated “purity in doctrine.” In other words, part of being sensible and living a Christian life is maintaining “purity in doctrine.” So often we forget that loving God with our entire being includes loving God in how we think! This means our theology should reflect a love for God that results in progressive sanctification even in our thoughts about His revealed truth. We are not free to think about God in any way we please. We must bring every thought into the obedience of Christ! Mr. Young seems to think this is placing God in some sort of a box. Paul didn’t seem to think so.

It is true that we cannot put God in a box. God encompasses all that was, is, or every will be. He is everywhere all the time and there is no place where God is not always present. Reformed theology affirms this truth without hesitation or apology. That being said, do we attempt to put God in a box when we study the truth He revealed to us about Himself in Sacred Scripture? Is that really what Ed Young thinks? Based on what he says, one would be hard-pressed to understand his charges differently.

What do we know about God and how do we know it? If I take the “God in a box” fallacy to its logical conclusion, every description of God and every understanding of who God is and what God is like is guilty of putting God in a box, isn’t it? Based on sound logic, this is unavoidable. In other words, Ed Young makes certain claims about who God is and what God is like and what He is not like. Why then is he not guilty of his own charge of putting “God in a box,” or “having God all figured out?” The only real way I can tell you if something is counterfeit is if I am familiar with the genuine. In Ed Young’s reasoning, not only does the counterfeiter put God in a box, but so does the genuine. This is unavoidable. The “God in a box” fallacy asserts that any claim to understanding God is “putting God in a box.” However, in order for the accusation to be leveled, the accuser must also claim some understanding of God. Therefore, everyone who charges anyone of putting God in a box has put God in a box of their own. The only difference is the box.

Why the “God in a box” fallacious and why is it so dangerous? The answer is simple: it is antithetical to Biblical revelation. God is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ recorded in Sacred Scripture. The Bible is the inspired and divine revelation of God Himself to human beings. Scripture serves as the basis of our knowledge of who God is, what God is like, and what God is NOT like. There are things about God we do not and cannot know because God chose not to reveal them. Revelation is limited to those truths that God desired to reveal about Himself. While God is not in a box, His revelation is absolutely in a box. Reformed theology did not put it there. God did! God has chosen to disclose something about Himself and creation through divine revelation. At the same time, He left some things undisclosed. We cannot know these things today. While the box analogy fails when it is applied to God, it succeeds when it is applied to revelation. At the risk of sounding harsh, the “God in a box argument” is ignorant, fallacious, unbiblical, and reflects uncritical thinking at its foundation. I hope people stop using it.

[1] Knight III, George W. NIGTC, The Pastorals, 311.

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