Totalizers and Tentative Investigators

Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: An Academic ExcursionThe following is taken from a post by Rick Kennedy at the Biologos Forum, part 5 of his series Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: An Academic Excursion. While it was written about college professors, I would suggest that it applies more broadly to writers, to bloggers, to preachers, and indeed to anyone who expresses their opinion:

One way to categorize college professors—an overgeneralization but a useful one—is to split them into Totalizers and Tentative Investigators. There are Darwinist and Christian professors of both types.

Totalizers use their classrooms to preach that if all people are perfectly rational they will all ultimately agree. Usually there is some sort of declaration that the progress of knowledge has one glorious end: light and magnetism will be understood, democracy and capitalism will prove to be the best systems for all situations, and natural selection will answer all questions about life. All rational people ride one train of progress together. Tentative Investigators, in comparison, are wimpy. Ask them a question and they give you at least two answers joined by “on the other hand.” The Totalizers are the more popular teachers, their books are easier to read, and the news media finds them easier to interview. Tentative Investigators are like cats. They can’t be herded and can rest easy in the midst of household chaos. Tentative Investigators don’t disagree with the notion that knowledge is progressing; however, they are pretty sure that progress is uneven, experiencing fits and starts, and that we can never be sure at any one point whether we are taking one step backward or two steps forward. Totalizers are often scared that someone—especially some religious or political authority—is going to block progress. Tentative Investigators are less worried that progress can be stopped.

Richard Dawkins is a Totalizer. Among the Greeks, Plato was a Totalizer. Plato preached a triumphal, Dawkins-style, one-size-fits-all rationalism. Socrates, Plato’s hero, in over a thousand pages of Dialogues, never finds himself to be wrong. Socrates is rational and never has to apologize. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists have a long tradition of waxing poetic about some ultimate simplicity that is supposed to exist in nature and/or God. Simplicity, especially in an aesthetic of “elegance,” is supposed to be guidepost to truths.

Me? I believe God is Truth, but my life and my Bible don’t give me any evidence of an ultimate simplicity. God, the personal God, the triune God, is Truth; however Isaiah warns: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”

I would side with this author and count myself as a Tentative Investigator, against all the Totalizers who I so often see among vocal atheists and religious believers alike. While it would be too strong to accuse all Totalizers of being fundamentalists – and indeed some Christian Totalizers have quite different doctrines from Christian fundamentalists but similar attitudes – it is this assertion of certainty that one is correct and arrogant dismissal of other opinions that underlies fundamentalisms of all kinds.

Harold Camping: once Reformed, now a heretic

Harold Camping: an old photoHarold Camping may be old news, at least until 21st October. But Matthew Malcolm has posted links to an interesting series about his background, written by Robert Godfrey:

There is a series of very enlightening posts about Harold Camping on the blog of Westminster Seminary California, written by someone who first met him (and churched with him) in the 1950s. The posts offer some insight into his background, education, and rather self-contradictory hermeneutical methods. Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five.

According to part 1, in the 1950s Camping

was a conservative, traditional adherent of the Christian Reformed Church and would remain so for many years. … The CRC was also still strictly Reformed, interpreting the Bible in light of the church’s confessional standards: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. Camping strongly embraced and taught the doctrine and piety of the CRC in which he had been raised.

In other words, Camping started off as a Reformed Calvinist with a strong and “sound” basis of biblical teaching. Even after he started Family Radio he was

a most effective and influential promoter of Reformed theology and won many listeners to the Reformed cause.

So what went wrong? Part of the problem seems to have been with his education, as an engineer rather than a Bible teacher:

He knew no Greek or Hebrew. He was not formally introduced to the study of theology. His reading of the Bible, as it evolved over the decades, reflected his training in engineering. He reads the Bible like a mathematical or scientific textbook.

… his study of the Bible was undertaken in isolation from other Christians and theologians. He adopted a proud individualism. He did not really learn from Bible scholars. He studied the Bible in isolation from the church and the consensus of the faithful. As a result his understanding of the Bible became more and more idiosyncratic.

Reading on into part 2:

Camping’s literalism shows itself in his taking Bible verses out of context and reading into them a meaning that their authors and God never intended.

I see this as a key issue problem with all fundamentalist and many more broadly conservative or “Reformed” readings of the Bible. The approach of many creationists is similar in principle to Camping’s, in that they take Bible verses as teaching scientific truths which could never have been what their authors intended to teach. It is perhaps not coincidental that creationism also often appeals to those with an engineering background.

However, Camping did not always take the Bible literally:

While often taking a literalistic approach to numbers, he also takes a very allegorical approach to many texts. This approach seems to have developed gradually, driven in part by his eagerness to refute Pentecostals. … By turning everything literal into symbols, Camping can make the Bible say almost anything.

Part 3 discusses how Camping left the CRC and set up his own schismatic church. Then in part 4 we read that

Camping’s calculations and allegorical readings eventually led him to a truly heretical conclusion: that the age of the church was over and that all Christians were required to separate themselves from all churches. … Camping concluded that the organized church had become faithless and that individual Christians must leave the church and fellowship informally with other true believers.

Now on this issue I do not fully agree with Robert Godfrey in condemning Camping. There is no guarantee that any one denomination will remain faithful. There have been times, and may still be, when true believers are right to separate from apostate churches and set up their own fellowships. The Reformation was one such time. But Camping was wrong to declare all existing churches apostate and imply that his own informal fellowship was the only true one.

However, I am with Godfrey again in part 5, where he points out that Camping

seems also to have deserted Christ and his Gospel. …

The saddest and most distressing element of Camping’s latest theological statement is that it is Christless. He does not write about Christ’s return, but about judgment day. … Notice also that there is no mention of the cross and Christ’s saving work for sinners. …

Camping’s presentation of God’s mercy is from beginning to end unbiblical and unchristian. He has no Trinity, no cross, no faith alone in Jesus alone, and no assurance. His vision of God and mercy is more Muslim than Christian.

So what can we conclude from this? Here we have a man who could boast of his sound Reformed faith and doctrine, of whom others would no doubt say that he was surely one of the elect, but who then went so far astray in his faith that a writer like Godfrey can imply that now he is not a Christian at all:

Let us pray that Harold Camping and his followers will come to embrace the Gospel as Peter did.

So, it seems, being an elder in a sound Reformed church offers no assurance of salvation.

And the reason why he started on this path? I see two: his unscholarly and fundamentalist way of reading the Bible; and his apparent opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit amongst Pentecostals. Sadly both of these attitudes are still strong today among a generation much younger than 89-year-old Camping.

One more lesson for all of us, from the Bible:

if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV 2011)

Arminians are not deists, we believe prayer works

Adrian WarnockAdrian Warnock has written an interesting post asking Are you an Arminian on your knees and a Calvinist on your feet? The point I think he is trying to make is an important one: Do we believe God will answer our prayers? But it is unfortunate that in making it Adrian perpetuates a caricature of Arminianism which has nothing to do with what was believed and taught by Arminius, by other famous Arminians of the past like John Wesley, and by at least the majority of today’s evangelical Arminians.

To be fair, Adrian realises what he is doing, for he writes:

Now, to my Arminian friends please don’t hear me wrongly. For this blog post to work we have to accept a bit of a stereotype on both ends of the spectrum.

The problem is that not everyone will accept this. I really don’t think it is helpful to misrepresent other people’s theological position for the sake of a nice soundbite or post title, even with a disclaimer like this one. Bearing false witness is still wrong if you say it wasn’t meant seriously.

Adrian’s error seems to be based on a tweet he quotes from Mark Driscoll:

Every Christian who prays is functionally a Calvinist who believes in the sovereignty of God.

I’m sorry, Mark and Adrian, but that is complete nonsense. Indeed Adrian seems to recognise this when he writes:

I know that most Arminians do believe in God’s sovereignty.

Now I don’t take the line, mentioned by Adrian, about how

a Calvinist is rumored to pray…ie not at all because he just leaves everything to the sovereignty of God.

But there is as much truth in that slur as there is in Driscoll’s implication that Arminians don’t pray, or that they are hypocritical when they do.

Driscoll’s, and Adrian’s, error is to confuse God’s activity with his sovereignty. It is possible to believe that God works powerfully in the world today, in answer to prayer, without believing as Calvinists do that God predestines every detail of what happens. God can be an actor within the world that he has created without being the puppet-master who pulls all the strings.

Adrian seems to write as if Arminianism is equivalent to deism, the position that God does nothing in the world in the present age. It certainly is not equivalent. Many who believe that God is very closely involved in the world today, in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and in working miracles, are Arminians – and it is as Arminians that they pray for these miracles and see them happening.

Now I accept that there are things which consistent Arminians will not pray for in confidence that God will answer them. These are things which God could only make happen by violating human free will. Foremost among these is that God cannot make any individual become a Christian. So consistent Arminians are more likely to pray that God opens someone’s eyes so that they can see his truth – at which point that person can make their own informed decision about their eternal destiny.

But Adrian seems to imply that Arminians pray like deists. That is, when they pray they don’t believe God actually does anything in response to prayer.

Now there are indeed many people who pray like that. Some of them would be liberal Christians, who might say that the only point of praying is to make oneself feel better, and might also call themselves Arminians. Others would be Bible Deists, as Jack Deere wrote that he used to be, who don’t believe that God does anything real and verifiable in the world today, but acts only in invisible spiritual ways – perhaps rather like Harold Camping’s invisible spiritual judgment day! And I suspect quite a few of these Bible Deists would call themselves Calvinists, and argue that God doesn’t answer prayer today because that would mean him changing plans which were set in stone before the foundation of the world. Now that may be a caricature of Calvinism, but there is surely enough truth in it to show that deism is not the same thing as Arminianism.

Chris Fenstermaker is wise in writing, in a comment on Adrian’s post,

I’ve learned that our praying is not as much “changing God’s mind”…but rather aligning our spirit with what God is already doing.

Indeed that is an important aspect of prayer. But it should not be taken as implying a Calvinist understanding that God’s mind was made up long ago, and the only point of prayer is to find out what God is going to do anyway and then pray for it to happen. That would be about as pointless as praying that the sun will rise in the morning – and then claiming that God has answered our prayers when it does.

I can only conclude that Adrian and indeed most other Calvinists have rejected Arminianism because they have completely misunderstood it. But I also have to agree with John Charles Brown in another comment on Adrian’s post:

the greatest hindrance to prayer is not one’s systematic theology but simply neglect.

And on that point I have to plead guilty.

Another Kirk blogging, with mixed results

UPDATE: I apologise to Daniel Kirk for writing as if the assertion David Ker attributed to him was what he had actually written. I have edited the post and marked the changes.

I have only just discovered Storied Theology, the fairly new blog of my American namesake Daniel Kirk, not related to me, who is a New Testament professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. I first came across it when Doug linked to what Daniel wrote about Lent and the resurrection, which I commented on here.

Now I wasn’t at first very impressed by what Daniel wrote about theologically manipulated translations, also discussed especially as this was presented at Better Bibles Blog. Daniel doesn’t seem to In the BBB post David Ker makes it look as if Daniel doesn’t know his translation theory,  that there are many good reasons other than theological manipulation for a translation not being painfully literal. In fact from Daniel’s own post it is clear that he does know this. However Also, as I commented on BBB, Daniel doesn’t seem to have done his exegetical homework properly on the particular verse under discussion, and so hasn’t realised that a passive verb has a different meaning from an active one. So if renderings of this verse are not the same as KJV, that may just be because they are correcting an error in KJV.

But I like some of the other things Daniel writes. Just from the last day or so I can recommend Why Not Rather Be Wronged? and You Are What You Worship–Choose Your God Wisely. In the latter he outlines the results of secular research, which shows that

Contemplating a loving God strengthens portions of our brain … where empathy and reason reside. Contemplating a wrathful God empowers the limbic system, which is “filled with aggression and fear.”

So that is why religious fundamentalists, including Christian ones, so often come across as aggressive – and why that aggression is so often based on fear especially of less fundamentalist co-religionists. It is very sad when I see some of this same reaction from good conservative evangelical Christians, in their reactions to those who question their favourite doctrines or church practices.

The Theology of Proof Texting

Frank Viola, of whose book Reimagining Church I wrote an incomplete review last year, has just posted a link to an online (PDF) version of part of a chapter from an earlier book which he wrote with George Barna, Pagan Christianity. The chapter is called Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible is Not a Jigsaw Puzzle.

Proof texting is a phenomenon I am very aware of. I know very well how it is used by preachers and others, including bloggers, sometimes apparently allowing them to “prove” almost anything they want to prove from Scripture. I have criticised this approach before; indeed it underlines the fundamentalist approach to the Bible which I discussed in this blog series. But I have never before seen any attempt to justify proof texting theologically. That is not of course what Viola and Barna are doing, but in at the beginning of their chapter (pp. 2-3 of the PDF) they give an interesting explanation of the theology behind it:

The approach most commonly used among contemporary Christians when studying the Bible is called “proof texting.” The origin of proof texting goes back to the late 1590s. A group of men called Protestant scholastics took the teachings of the Reformers and systematized them according to the rules of Aristotelian logic.

The Protestant scholastics held that not only is the Scripture the Word of God, but every part of it is the Word of God in and of itself—irrespective of context. This set the stage for the idea that if we lift a verse out of the Bible, it is true in its own right and can be used to prove a doctrine or a practice.

When John Nelson Darby emerged in the mid-1800s, he built a theology based on this approach. Darby raised proof texting to an art form. In fact, it was Darby who gave fundamentalist and evangelical Christians a good deal of their presently accepted teachings. All of them are built on the proof-texting method. Proof texting, then, became the common way that we contemporary Christians approach the Bible.

As a result, we Christians rarely, if ever, get to see the New Testament as a whole. Rather, we are served up a dish of fragmented thoughts that are drawn together by means of fallen human logic. The fruit of this approach is that we have strayed far afield from the principles of the New Testament church. Yet we still believe we are being biblical.


After an introduction to how the books of the Bible are arranged and divided, Viola and Barna list eight ways in which “We Christians have been taught to approach the Bible”. All of them are varieties of David Ker‘s Alexander’s Sword method. They continue (p. 10):

Now look at this list again. Which of these approaches have you used? Look again: Notice how each is highly individualistic. All of them put you, the individual Christian, at the center. Each approach ignores the fact that most of the New Testament was written to corporate bodies of people (churches), not to individuals.

But that is not all. Each of these approaches is built on isolated proof texting. Each treats the New Testament like a manual and blinds us to its real message.

A bit later they write (p. 12):

You could call our method of studying the New Testament the “clipboard approach.” If you are familiar with computers, you are aware of the clipboard component. If you happen to be in a word processor, you may cut and paste a piece of text via the clipboard. The clipboard allows you to cut a sentence from one document and paste it into another.

Pastors, seminarians, and laymen alike have been conditioned by the clipboard approach when studying the Bible. This is how we justify our man-made, encased traditions and pass them off as biblical. It is why we routinely miss what the early church was like whenever we open up our New Testaments. We see verses. We do not see the whole picture.

There are a few factual errors in the extract. For example, in 1227 Stephen Langton was not “a professor at the University of Paris” but Archbishop of Canterbury; a Wikipedia article suggests that in fact he divided the Bible into chapters in 1205, when, according to another Wikipedia page, he actually was a lecturer in Paris.

But these minor points do not detract from the strong message of this chapter. Viola and Barna clearly show how fundamentally flawed is the typical evangelical approach to Scripture, and so by implication how fundamentally flawed are many of the conclusions derived from it. As evangelicals we really do need to find a better way of understanding the Bible, if our claim to take it as the inspired and authoritative Word of God is to be meaningful and intellectually honest.

How can I know that God is telling me something?

In a post Using Reason to Judge Revelation Henry Neufeld asks an interesting question:

The problem is that if God reveals something to you that you cannot know in any other way, by what means do you determine that it is true?

The following is the main part of a comment I made on that post, addressed to Henry:

But the way you answer [this question] shows a lot about how you think. You seem to assume that the truth of a statement about God, or at least about the Bible being inerrantly inspired by God, can and should be demonstrated by human methods and reason. This is a fundamental presupposition of Enlightenment liberalism, but not of biblical Christianity. The biblical or at least pre-Enlightenment approach to such questions is rather that they should accepted by faith. I understand the objections to that approach taken on its own.

But to me there is another basic aspect to this which you do not mention, and that is the link between knowledge and relationship. If your wife tells you something, I hope that you don’t require that she demonstrates the truth of it to you, but that you accept it on trust because you know her and trust her. And if you get a message which purports to be from her, you can very often recognise whether it really is from her or not from the language and tone – and if it is not [clear] you can call her and ask. On the same basis, I have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Because of this I am in a good position to recognise whether any message purporting to be from him actually is, from whether it ties up with his character. And if I am unsure I can ask him in prayer and trust him to guide me by his Holy Spirit about whether it is true or not. So I don’t need any external demonstration of whether the message is genuine or not.

This does not completely resolve the issue of “how can one possibly tell the difference between divine and demonic?” But it does imply a consistency: either I have a genuine relationship with God and can know the truth about what he says from him; or (as some people have suggested in response to my defence of Todd Bentley) my relationship is really entirely with demons which are deceiving me. At this point I have to go back either to the Bible or to general revelation about morality, and appeal to them to argue that the good things that come out of my relationship show that it is with God and not demons.

I thought it was worth turning this into a post here because I think it illustrates a basic difference between my approach to Todd Bentley and that of most of the critics of Todd that I have been interacting with on this blog and elsewhere. No, this is not another post about Todd (and I will not allow comments here which are just about Todd and his ministry), but it is about how Christians can discern what is from God and what is not – in matters both of personal guidance and of whether to endorse or criticise ministries like Todd’s.

As I see it, the majority of the critics of Todd who claim to be applying “discernment” to him are in fact using Enlightenment principles of rationalism to reason for themselves an answer to this question. Now I don’t want to discount human reason and Enlightenment principles. They have led to major advances in understanding of this world and great scientific and technological discoveries which have mostly benefited humanity. But I do not consider Enlightenment rationalism to be helpful in discerning the ways of God.

The Enlightenment has given rise to two diverging streams of Christian thinking about God, both of which I consider to be fundamentally wrong.

The first, the more consistently based in Enlightenment thinking, rejected all kinds of appeals to authority including that of the Bible in favour of a thorough-going rationalism in enquiry about the divine, and about the events recorded in the Bible. This is basically theological liberalism. I understand this approach because I used to share its underlying worldview, but I have moved away from it.

In a second stream of theological thinking based on the Enlightenment all authorities were rejected, at least in principle, except for one, that of the Bible. The Bible was taken to be authoritative and inerrant, not really on any rational grounds (although sometimes rather weak rationalistic defences of it are put forward) but essentially as an axiom, something which cannot be proved but has to be assumed. The Bible was also read as a set of propositions about God and what he does. From these propostions were developed, using Enlightenment principles of reason, the system of theological thought labelled as “evangelical” and “fundamentalist”.

I prefer the label “fundamentalist” here because, it seems to me, all Christian fundamentalists think like this, whereas this is only one of a range of approaches taken by people who call themselves evangelical. OK, maybe it is also because I want to use a slightly pejorative label for a way of thinking I reject, rather than a label which I accept for myself. These are more or less the same people who I have called Bible deists and whose approach to studying the Bible I have previously criticised.

To be fair to at least some of the evangelicals and fundamentalists who think like this, they might be arriving at their axiom that the Bible is authoritative by the kinds of method that I outlined in my comment quoted above. This is basically the “Reformed” position as I understand it. It is also the fundamental reason why I find myself believing that the Bible is authoritative, although not inerrant on matters e.g. of science and history which it does not intend to address. But I would differ from fundamentalists in applying the principle of knowing what is true through a relationship with God much more widely than to the axiom of biblical authority.

I had written most of the above when I came across Nick Norelli’s review of what Roger Olson has to say about conservative and post-conservative evangelicalism. I think Olson is trying to make the same kinds of distinctions that I am, and he follows McGrath in showing how conservative evangelicalism, basically what I have called fundamentalism, is dependent on the Enlightenment. I’m not sure whether my own position, in Olson’s categories, is more pietistic or more post-conservative. I accept Nick’s criticisms of some directions in which post-conservatism might go, especially into anti-intellectualism, and I certainly don’t want to go there.

Some of the criticisms of Todd Bentley which I have read have come from the theologically liberal camp; I would put Doug Chaplin‘s and Jim West‘s critiques in this category. These are people who are fundamentally sceptical about claims of miraculous healing because this does not fit within their essentially rationalistic and materialistic worldview. I have some sympathy with their position because I too struggle with accepting the place of the miraculous in my worldview – but I know that I have to because I have seen with my own eyes (quite apart from Todd Bentley’s ministry) the evidence that prayers are answered and miraculous healing takes place today.

But most of the criticisms of Todd I have seen have come from people apparently following the fundamentalist way of thinking, that is, applying Enlightenment methods of reasoning, although often rather incompetently, to the Bible understood as a set of propositional truths. To this many critics add another axiom, or perhaps they claim to deduce this from the biblical text, that God cannot do anything which is not explicitly described in the Bible. So when they find Todd saying or doing things which are not exactly in line with the scheme they have deduced from the Bible text, they denounce him as a heretic and false teacher. They absolutise their own rationalistic theological system and don’t allow even God to do anything which does not fit within it.

Sometimes these people ask me how, when I defend Todd against certain charges, I can be so sure that I am correct. They expect me to answer them according to their own principles of Enlightenment rationalism. Well, sometimes I am able to do so, by appealing to the basic principle of Enlightenment scholarship that one argues from the facts – and unlike many of them I make some efforts to get the facts right, whether about what is written in the Bible or about what Todd has said or done.

But very often the only answer I can give to these critics is one which they seem unable to understand, because within their thoroughly Enlightenment worldview they have no concept of how God can communicate with people today – even while in principle believing that he did so in Bible times. My answer is that I have a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that it is because of that relationship that I am able to recognise when God is at work, even in apparently unlikely places. To that I could also add that I have a relationship with others, such as my pastor and his wife, who have a closer relationship with God than I do and help me to recognise when God is at work. In this way, and not through reasoning from Bible verses, I have been able to discern that, despite some less than perfect teaching and practices, God is indeed at work in and through Todd Bentley. And, gradually and always provisionally, I am able to discern what else God is saying to his church, and in particular to me.

NOTE: I repeat that I will not allow comments on this post which are just about Todd Bentley and his ministry without addressing the main issues of this post.

Complementarianism according to John Piper

I happened to come across some comments which I myself originally wrote in July 2006, on this post on Better Bibles Blog. I repeat them here to preserve them and bring them to a wider audience.

The context is a discussion of John Piper’s Vision of Biblical complementarity, chapter 1 of the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which he wrote with Wayne Grudem. In the post Suzanne McCarthy had highlighted some of Piper’s practical teaching on which roles in the church and in the workplace were not suitable for women, such as this:

There are ways for a woman to interact even with a male subordinate that signal to him and others her endorsement of his mature manhood in relationship to her as a woman. I do not have in mind anything like sexual suggestiveness or innuendo. Rather, I have in mind culturally appropriate expressions of respect for his kind of strength, and glad acceptance of his gentlemanly courtesies. Her demeanor-the tone and style and disposition and discourse of her ranking position-can signal clearly her affirmation of the unique role that men should play in relationship to women owing to their sense of responsibility to protect and lead.

In response to these words I made this comment:

Are these rules supposed to be Christian and derived from the Bible? It sounds to me as if they come from a 19th century manual of etiquette. That doesn’t make them necessarily wrong, but nor does it make them right. Piper, Grudem and friends need to distinguish between Christian values and old-fashioned conservative cultural ones. A good course in cross-cultural evangelism, or some in depth first hand experience of a very different culture, would do them a world of good.

I took the matter a bit further in this comment (reformatted):

Continue reading

Complementarianism: Sola Scriptura or Sola Traditio?

I don’t often read materials from the so-called “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (CBMW). They promote a complementarian position, that is (to put it rather tendentiously), that whereas men and women are supposedly equal in status, all of the roles in the church and the family which are generally considered to be of high status are reserved for men only. As my regular readers know, this is not my position. Authors associated with CBMW, such as Wayne Grudem, often try to justify their position from Scripture, but in my opinion, explained further below, their arguments are generally seriously deficient.

But my attention was drawn to a series of posts on the CBMW blog in which David Kotter, Executive Director of CBMW, responds to my blogger friend Molly Aley. See also the discussion here, and Molly’s response to the series (which includes an excellent account by Elijah McKnight of how he moved from complementarianism to egalitarianism when he learned a proper approach to the Scriptures).

In part 2 of the series Kotter seeks to root CBMW’s complementarian position in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura:

The complementary nature of manhood and womanhood and its implications for the home and church can only be defended from the Scripture alone.

But in fact neither his logic nor CBMW’s arguments for complementarianism support this conclusion.

Continue reading

Convert or Die?

I have put off responding to Doug Chaplin’s challenge, passed on from John Hobbins, to name my top ten Bible verses. Maybe I will do this sometime, but don’t hold your breath. I always find it difficult to name my favourite anything, and with Bible verses it is harder than ever.

Doug nominated me for this Bible verse challenge as “someone who seems to think entirely differently from me on so many things”. Well, yes, we have big differences on a few issues, such as reservation and adoration of the eucharistic elements. But in fact as brothers in Christ we think very similarly on far more issues – although I don’t so often comment on them on Doug’s blog.

For example, take Doug’s response to the new “Convert or Die” meme, in which he explains why he did not become a Roman Catholic. Although I have never come close to going over to Rome as he did, I could echo all of his reasons for not doing so, although I might also add a point about the Eucharist.

Having refused (for now) to take up the meme which Doug did tag me with, I will now take up the “Convert or Die” meme with which he didn’t tag me, or in fact anyone. If this is breaking the unwritten rules for memes, I don’t care! The meme originates with Nick Norelli, who has made a good choice of WordPress template (!). The question is:

If your life depended on it and you absolutely had to change your denomination/religion, what denomination/religion would you convert to?

Well, how do I answer that one? Continue reading

A Solid Rock Ledge on the Slippery Slope

The argument is sometimes made that there is a “slippery slope” of “concessions” by the church to modern culture in the area of inter-personal relationships, and especially gender issues. The various stages on this slope are, perhaps:

  1. Abolition of slavery;
  2. Women in leadership in the church;
  3. Full acceptance of homosexuality in the church;
  4. The latest one I have read about: acceptance of “polyamory”.

Now to be fair by no means all of those who use the “slippery slope” argument start it with abolition of slavery. But some do. And the general argument seems to be that acceptance of one of these stages necessarily opens the way to the next stage. So, the people who argue like this position themselves with pride on a supposedly solid mountain top, often based on a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible, and condemn any shift from this position as starting on the slippery slope. Perhaps they are thinking in terms of the psalmist’s image of his feet slipping in Psalm 38:16 and elsewhere.

But is the slope in fact a slippery one, or is it broken by a ledge or barrier made of solid rock, a “shelf of rocks” as Ben Witherington renders part of Matthew 16:18, of biblical truth? Can this determine how far Christians can legitimately part company from one another without betraying the gospel abandoning their faith?

Continue reading