Monday, June 20, 2005

Everybody, Pile-on Robbins!

One thing I've noticed in the blog-world is how ideas get spread from blog to blog - and how people thereby get piled-on as a consequence. In that portion of the blogosphere I haunt, the target du jour happens to be John Robbins of the Trinity Foundation. It appears that somebody finally noticed this little gem in his April commentary:

Divine propositional revelation is the indispensable axiom, the starting point, the first principle of Christianity. If that first principle is perverted or twisted, then all theorems – doctrines such as election, salvation, covenant, and church – derived from it will be perverted or twisted as well.

Among the "pilers-on" are Andrew Sandlin and several of my fellow Tavernites. Now, I suppose that it is in poor taste to pile-on somebody when he's already down, but having been where he is philosophically, I can't let this pass without some comment.

I do still happen to think that there are propositional truths in the Bible. I can think of any number of them right off the bat ("I AM the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt..."). But the pilers-on are right in several respects. The Bible is NOT a logical collection of such propositional axioms. The foundation of the Christian faith is not just propositional, but relational. The proposition I quoted above is predicated on the relation ("*I* brought *you* out of Egypt..."). To apply the very terminology that Robbins uses ("axioms", "theorems") to theology implies a mathematical level of exactitude and certainty - something that one does NOT get from a straight reading of the Bible itself.

To all this, I would add that we ought to exercise a lot more humility and caution about the "axioms" we derive from the propositions. God may not contradict logic, but He does transcend it. And our own fallenness ensures that we cannot be *too* sure of our deductions, as the capacity for human sinful self-deception is frightening. Not to mention the fact that our Subject Matter in theology is Infinite and we ain't...

So yes, I guess I am going to join the pile-on against Robbins. But I hope I can land on the pile a little bit gentler than the others - because I've been where he is, both philosophically and personally. And I hope he eventually sees that while the Faith *is* propositional, it is also so much more than that as well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:08 AM  
Blogger burttd said...

Well, I was about to reply to the comment here, but it has been deleted. Since they removed their name, I will not mention it, but I still want to reply to the substance of their argument.

I would agree that God is logical. Logic is, after all, a function of thought, and God is the Original Mind after which we are but a pattern. But where I see the danger is in taking our logical extrapolations and making them of the same level as direct revelation.

My pet example of this is the Lutheran stand on communion. The Bible says that Christ said, "This is My body." St. Paul said in I Cor 10 that communion is a participation in the body and blood of Christ. The
Lutherans extrapolate from this that Christ's physical body is physically present
'in, under, and through' the bread. And they make this on par with Scriptural revelation in that they will deny you communion if you do not accept their formula.

Is their position logical? Yes, you could logically derive what they say from the texts. But it is not the only option. And how can we really *tell* if the Lutheran or Reformed positions on Christ's presence are true? Do we yank the bread from the celebrant's hands and shove it under a microscope? ;-}

I'm all for the use of logic and sound interpretation in theology. The problem is that many of the most prominent Reformed crusaders on the Web have made it practically their *only* consideration.

6:40 AM  
Blogger pgepps said...

I agree. No inference of a mortal human mind, however carefully tested, can be given a 100% guarantee of the sort that revelation makes--the sort that says, "If your perceptions, however clear and distinct, cannot be coherently fitted to what this text says, then your perceptions are wrong." That is, it can't be made a test of faith.

At the same time, I don't think the folks who have tried to defend the historical-grammatical approach and the idea that the Bible has propositional truth that demands affirmation or negation from the intellectually honest reader are *all* wet. I agree with you, and no wonder, having passed through an aggressively rationalist phase myself.

What I would like to see returning to our hermeneutics is a sense that the historical-grammatical sense of the text is the inescapable and irreducible sense, but certainly not the only sense. The hermeneutical mistake against which the Protestants (and various Franciscans) correctly reacted was the tendency to read the "spiritual sense" as a replacement for "scandalous" historical meanings. This has become a mistaken reliance on the "literal meaning" only, which in turn generates a hermeneutic of "principles" and a sophistication of the "literal" into something other than the historical sense.

It is silly to read a Psalm, for example, expecting that it will be propositional in nature. Treating it as a body of "principles" does violence to the text no less than treating the history of Israel as strictly spiritual in significance. Typology must never *replace* the historical base from which it analogizes. It is easy to see that there must be some rational shape to the realities we are shown through faith, but that does not mean that every response to them which the Holy Spirit authorizes as God's utterance through man is a propositional truth-claim.


5:00 PM  

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