Friday, November 30, 2007

Less Charming Oddities

It is one of the less charming oddities of our times that, in many circles, atheism, or at least a declared agnosticism, is assumed to be the default position of disinterested ethical discourse.

--Richard John Neuhaus
First Things, Dec. 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Biblical Solipsism

Here is a link to an excellent article by J. P. Moreland, which discusses a problem I have been noticing for some time now among certain segments of the evangelical community. I call this problem Biblical Solipsism. It typically amounts to the claim that the Bible is not only the final source of authority for the Christian, but that the Bible is the only source of knowledge and authority for the Christian. Other possible sources of knowledge or authority such as personal experience, culture, or science are denied any relevance or legitimacy. To give an example, I recently encountered an instance of this view on another blog when a commenter there responded to something I said with the following statement:

Frankly, I care very little for scientific "factual" data in comparison with Scripture. Science has changed constantly, as it is a fallible human endeavor. But Scripture has never failed, never been proven wrong, and never contradicted itself.

It's not that there is nothing true in this comment, but it's more about a certain attitude or orientation that the comment reveals. There is, at best, a dismissal of the relevance of extra biblical sources of knowledge for the Christian. At worst there is hostility towards them. The notion that Christians can learn anything from science or that it might in any way help us in our interpretation of scripture is notably absent from this comment. I find such a view very troubling because it seems to remove the Bible from the world of our daily existence and place it in a vacuum. The Bible, however, was not written in a vacuum, but was written out of specific cultural and historical situations. It responds to and engages with the realities of human existence, and must be read in conjunction with the world of our experience. The Bible would not even make sense to us if we did not already have some experience of the world as it is.

Furthermore, even if it is true that the Bible has never failed, never been proven wrong, and never contrdicted itself, as the above quotation maintains, this does not mean that all of our interpretations of the Bible are or have been correct. If, however, we insist on ignoring the world of human experience and denying the legitimacy of extra biblical sources of knowledge, it seems to me we isolate ourselves from a major source of possible correction.

The Christian tradition, broadly defined, has always interacted with the reality of the wider culture and the world of human experience. To cut the Bible off from serious interaction with the world of our experience and to deny that Christians can learn anything from observing and interacting with the world around us leads to an anemic, provincial faith and may even lead to intellectual dishonesty.

Anyway, enough of my jabbering. Check out the article by Moreland.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Defense of C. S. Lewis

This piece was written in response to an attack against Lewis published in the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School/Trinity Graduate School student newspaper, the Scrawl. The attack was written by a first year divinity student named Aaron Adams. The piece in question basically implied that Lewis's Christianity was suspect because he did not embrace evangelical views on a number of subjects and that evangelicals should rethink their relationship to Lewis, which appeared to be a thinly veiled way of saying they should reject his writings. I was deeply disturbed by the spirit of the article, feeling that it exemplifies a certain attitude and mindset that seem to be prominent and even growing among a certain segment of the evangelical population in our times. I wrote this response immediately after reading the article. A few days later, I cleaned it up some and submitted it to the Scrawl. It was published in the following issue under the title "Mr. Adams and C. S. Lewis."

Mr. Adams and C. S. Lewis

Dear Editor,

Having just read Aaron Adams article concerning C.S. Lewis, I find myself deeply troubled. On the one hand, I do not particularly feel that Lewis needs to be defended. I think that the fruit of Lewis’s life and work testifies to both the genuineness of his faith in Christ and to the overall positive impact he has had on behalf of the Christian faith. Scores of people have become Christians because of the writings of Lewis. Scores more have had their faith strengthened or have remained Christians at all, including, by his own admission, Mr. Adams himself. Indeed, I find it strange that Mr. Adams could share how Lewis’s writing helped him through a difficult time spiritually, yet still find the temerity to all but pronounce Lewis anathema simply because he holds some views which Mr. Adams finds erroneous. This seems to me a very ungrateful and uncharitable attitude, and this is what I find most deeply troubling about his article.

Mr. Adams implies that the more “biblical” he has become, the less he has come to love Lewis. He all but directly states that Lewis was not a Christian. He seems to think that being “biblical” means giving intellectual assent to a particular list of doctrines based on the particular understanding of scripture which he happens to hold. Lewis, by contrast, though he may not have affirmed the correct evangelical view on every subject, was an avid Bible reader who sought to submit his life to the authority of scripture and to practice what it taught. This is evident to anyone who knows anything about Lewis’s personal life. Lewis’s writings also embody the biblical values of charity, humility, and graciousness towards those he disagrees with.

Mr. Adams claims that those of us who truly care about being “biblical” should “rethink” our relationship to Lewis, by which he pretty much seems to mean rejecting Lewis altogether. Again, I find this a strange perspective for someone who was helped through a difficult time in his personal Christian walk by the writings of Lewis. Isn’t it possible that, like all of us, Lewis was a flawed vessel whom the Lord chose to do His work and to positively impact the lives of many? Is it necessary to agree with everything a person thought and wrote in order to find spiritual value in their life and work? I do not agree with Lewis’s every view on every subject, but nonetheless I find great value and edification in his writings.

One can only hope that, in the future, those who disagree with the theological positions taken by Mr. Adams will treat him with more charity, humility and understanding than he has extended to C. S. Lewis. I am thankful that both the Bible and the kingdom of God are bigger than the narrow confines of Mr. Adams understanding of them.

Gordon Hackman,
MA CAC, 2004