Friday, July 01, 2005

Biblio-*Docetism*

EDIT: PGE called me out on the exact heresy I referred this to. Oopsie. More proof positive that I ain't infallible. ;-}

I was planning on writing a different post than this one, but circumstances intervened - the circumstance being a recent post on one of the blogs I list to the side here. I wasn't going to directly name it because I don't want to give the impression I'm just doing this to be "blogspotted" - but what the heck, I'll name names anyways. It's Phil Johnson, and his post resurrected an old article by Gary North critiquing an article printed in Modern Reformation by T. David Gordon. The offending article by Mr. Gordon was called "The Insufficiency of Scripture" - a provocative title to say the least. Sadly the article is not online (and Phil insinuates that this is both on-purpose and a recent development, something I rather doubt). But I read it when the magazine came out, and to my recollection, the point of the article was quite solid - that the Bible is NOT the axiomatic foundation of all human knowledge, that we may just have to study other things outside the Bible to more fully apply it, and that it is pride and arrogance to say otherwise. The list of North's complaints is long, and exactly what I'd expect from a theonomist and a presuppositionalist. A point by point refutaion would be effort wasted, but the primary root of the problem can be seen in the following quote...

Most theonomists are followers of Cornelius Van Til, who made it clear in everything he ever wrote that the mind of self-proclaimed natural man is not to be trusted. In one of his choicest analogies, he compared the mind of natural man with a buzz saw that is set at the wrong angle. No matter how sharp it is, it will cut crooked. Dr. Gordon has not accepted this view of autonomous man's mind.


My response is thus...

First, *Christians'* minds are still tainted with the same inclinations. Any difference between Christians and non-Christians is one of *degree*. And Van Til's thinking was just as indebted to *non*-Christian philosophy as any other theologian's was. There is no man walking on earth who can claim an infallible grasp of divine truth. We Calvinists love to carp about the "noetic effects of sin" - for everybody but US, of course...

Second, this totally negates common grace - that God allows *everyone* some ability to grasp the truths of life, if not the Gospel. How many of the inventions and ideas that support our life today came from Christian minds? If nothing of the mind if sinful man is to be trusted, you should chuck everything not invented by a Christian out your door - or should we have doors? Were they invented by Christians?

Third, this totally misses the point of what the Bible is about. Yes, the Bible teaches us wisdom, godly principles about how our lives should honor Christ. But those principles are woven into a larger story - the story of how God saved us in Christ when we did not deserve it. And those principles are not only part of a story, but a story that took place *in history and in a cultural context that is not ours exactly*. People like North love to look for "eternal principles" to extract from Scripture and apply directly today, with no respect for the redemptive or historical context of the original verses (or our own situation for that matter). There was an ancient heresy called "Docetism" that taught that Christ only appeared to be human - His divinity could not be sullied by joining it to a dirty human nature. The way some people treat the Bible is similar - we cannot allow mere human principles to aid our understanding of it, it is DIVINE! It *is* divine - it is also human. And human knowledge (even of divine things) is ALWAYS contextual.

General principles are fine, but knowing HOW to apply it is something else entirely. As C. S. Lewis said, "Christ said, 'Feed the poor' - He did not give cooking lessons." It takes *wisdom* to know how to apply principles. The Bible enjoins men to love their wives - it does not give specific instructions on how to best love *your* wife. You have to do the hard work of getting to know her to do that. The Bible says to give to the poor - should that mean giving the man on the corner your change, your jacket, your time, a lift to rehab? You have to get to know the man himself to know that.

As I stated above, the original article by Gordon is not online. I wish it were. Here is one quote from it that I wrote down in my journal when I first read it, as a sample of what Gordon was saying...

Theonomy is not merely an error, though it has manifestly been regarded as erroneous by the Reformed tradition. It is the error du jour, the characteristic error of an unwise generation. It is the error of a generation that has abandoned the bibilcally-mandated quest for wisdom on the assumtion that the Bible itself (alone) contains all that we need to know about life's various enterprises. It is the proof-textual, Bible-thumping, literalst error par excellance. It is not merely the view of the unwise, but the view of the never-to-be-wise, because it is the view of those who wrongly believe that Scripture (self-)sufficiently governs this arena, and who, for this reason, will never discover in the natural constitution of human nature or the particular circumstances of given peoples what must be discovered to govern well and wisely.


Phil says Gordon's article was probably the second-worst ModernReformation ever published. Well, I say it was probably the second-best. And I too think I have the Spirit of God...

5 Comments:

Blogger pgepps said...

Docetism, Doug. Donatism taught that those who lapsed from the faith could not be restored, and refused to recognize some baptisms on that account. Docetism denied the human nature of Christ.

Beware the nit-pickers of DOOM!

Cheers,
PGE

7:24 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

I stand corrected. That's what I get for leaving my theology books in a DC storage shed. :-)

7:36 PM  
Blogger pgepps said...

Worse yet--mine are in a Waco storage shed. Though your library greatly surpasses mine for theology--I bet I could catch up in lit, though.

Cheers, typos happen,
PGE

12:43 AM  
Blogger Frank Martens said...

So you're saying that Gordon is correct in what he's saying?

9:24 AM  
Blogger burttd said...

Again, I wish I had the full article with me, but if I remember correctly what he said (see below), then yes, I say Gordon was correct.

Scripture does not give us detailed steps for analyzing and formulating a perfect solution to every specific problem we face.

Scripture is not self-axiomatic, in the sense that we need not bring our understanding of creation to it when we read it. Example - the Bible does not define "water", "bread", "rocks", or any other of a multitude of words and concepts. It assumes we already know them, from our interaction with creation.

Insights into human nature and understanding from outside the Bible are not to be rejected merely because they did not come from the Bible. The presuppositions behind them and their applications should certainly be judged according to Scripture, but neither should they be thrown out of court before they've had a hearing first. That's just a simple acknowledgement of the common grace God gives to all men, Christian or not.

9:38 AM  

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