III. Basic Presuppositions
Besides keeping a lot of theologians off welfare and out of trouble, theology's primary value is clarification. Unlike the way teachers so often present it, theology is not a settled issue of firmly established facts. Theology is theory, and like theory in science, forever alive and developing. In the early Church questions arose now and then and theology -- theory -- to answer them had to be developed. For instance, in Acts, the church was faced with the problem of what to do with all the Gentiles who were coming to Christ. Did they have to become Jews first, before they could be saved? Or was entrance into Christianity by grace alone? And then, even if it was by grace, shouldn't they follow the laws of Judaism?
Later on, people began wondering who, precisely, was Jesus? Was he really God, or simply an emanation, or maybe a created being?
How are such questions answered? By studying the Bible -- God's special revelation -- and the universe -- God's general revelation -- and finding out what they say. This action, of looking to the Bible and the world for answers, raises a question of its own: if we are going to find out about God, if we are going to do a proper theology -- formulate reasonable theories -- what are the revelations of God, and how do we go about using them properly?
B. How do we Find Out About God?
In modern thinking, a certain dualism has arisen, whereby reason and science have been separated from the realm of faith and religion, severed like East and West Berlin once were. Francis Bacon wrote:
It is therefore most wise soberly to render unto faith the things that are faith's, [for from the] absurd mixture of matters divine and human [proceed heresies and] fantastical philosophies.
In the same vein, a guest lecturer I once heard at UCLA stressed
that it is a fundamental methodological error to mix the "religious"
experience and the "scientific" experience. As he would
say, one cannot ask of religious evidence the same things one
would ask of scientific evidence.
Such thinking has infected the minds of many Christians, but it's time to take a pill. This iron curtain must collapse, this Berlin wall in our philosophy must fall. While it is one thing to read modern scientific theory into ancient poetry (or to read anything into it, for that matter), it is another to exclude spacetime affirmations from the book authored by the Creator of the physical universe. A certain question needs asking: is God real, or isn't he? Is he as real as this chair, this piece of chalk, the food I ate for lunch?
Unfortunately for many Christians today, the answer is negative. For them the Bible is infallible only in "spiritual" matters, and does not speak inerrantly of historical and scientific things; they actually imagine it makes no cognitive truth claims about God, or about the physical universe.
To illustrate how this modern dualistic disease, this iron curtain, works out in a practical way, an example can be taken from Mormonism. John Dart in the Los Angeles Times wrote:
Some Mormons have asked rhetorically how much difference exists - in the final analysis - between a salamander and an angel and between magic and religion.
Others have said the basic truths of the faith are unaffected. The Arizona-based Latter-Day Sentinel, which is also circulated in Southern California, recently ran a story with the headline, "So Why the Fuss Over the 'White Salamander' Letter?" It noted efforts to equate a white salamander with an angelic figure or an ancient warrior, which Moroni was, according to the Book of Mormon.
Susan Turley, an editor at the newspaper, said, "Like most Mormons I know in the Phoenix area, my testimony of the church is not based on history but (on) what my own spiritual experience and study of church doctrine have done for me."
The words of that newspaper editor summarize the modern philosophic
view of religion generally: it is simply "truth for me".
Religion has become utterly subjective and completely personal;
it is not based on objective fact, like the existence of say,
a bar of soap.
Contrast the modern attitude toward spiritual truth with the words of Peter in Acts 2:22-37:
"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:'I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will live in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.'
Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."' Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Notice that Peter's sermon is critically dependent on the reality
of certain events. He makes several statements rooted in objective,
or verifiable reality. He says that Jesus was a man that his
hearers had known, who had performed certain deeds that they had
witnessed and heard about, that he had been killed by them, and
that he had risen bodily from the dead. Peter also discusses
a former king of Israel, historically verifiable, named David
and quotes from writings which purport to have come from his hand.
If the events that Peter is describing did not occur as described,
then Peter's message is untrue. He bases his conclusion about
who Jesus is theologically on what occurred historically.
The same is true for Christianity as a whole. Critics have not been shy about pointing this out. Michael Arnheim writes:
More than any other religion, Christianity stands four-square on the acceptance of an historical improbability: namely, that one particular man was no mere mortal but "the Christ," whose death changed the course of human history forever and who continues to exist as "God the Son," part of an indivisible threefold Godhead....
It was only in the wake of the rationalism and skepticism of the Enlightenment that the historical accuracy of the Christian scriptures eventually came to be questioned. With the application to the Gospel of the methods of historical criticism applied to secular sources, the Gospel accounts were declared by scholar after scholar to be unreliable. By the early twentieth century the so-called "Quest for the historical Jesus" was bogged down in negativism. The Gospels, according to an influential school of Protestant theologians, were to be taken as theological rather than as historical documents, and they could yield no authentic information about the life and deeds, or even the sayings and teachings of Jesus.
Such a conclusion might have been expected to have a cataclysmic effect upon Christianity. For, after all, there could surely be no Christianity without Christ, and could there be a Christ without Jesus? But if Jesus were so shadowy a figure as to belong more to the realm of myth and legend than to that of history and fact, the whole edifice of Christianity must surely crumble.
Not so, said the radical theologians. The truth of Christianity was independent of historical proof, and historical evidence was therefore quite irrelevant to the validity of Christianity.
How then is one to decide on the truth or falsehood of Christianity? For Rudolf Bultmann, one of the most influential Christian theologians of the twentieth century, the key element was what he called an "existential encounter with Christ," which did not depend upon any intellectual critical process but rather on a leap into the dark - or, to put it more crudely, upon an acceptance of faith on trust.
J. Knox and D.E. Nineham, two leading British theologians, similarly reject the possibility of basing Christian faith upon historical evidence but resort instead to the church as the basis of faith, thus becoming caught in a circular argument. As Donald Guthrie remarks: "Neither Nineham nor Knox has recognized the inconsistency of appealing to the testimony of the Church when they have already denied the historical accounts, which they regard as the products of the Church."
With this we are back to square one: By what criterion may the truth or falsehood of Christianity be judged? To base one's acceptance of a religion upon blind faith or unsupported trust gives one no right to claim the superiority of that religion over any other religion, nor does it entitle one to assert the truth of that religion. And yet no religion in the world is more insistent than Christianity upon its claim to truth or more confident of its superiority to all other faiths.
More than any other religion Christianity revolves around a single historical figure, and in the absence of any viable alternative method of testing the validity of Christianity we have no option but to begin at the beginning, focus unblinkingly on Jesus and test the truth of the Christian claims made for him.
If the Bible is not historically and scientifically accurate,
then we have nothing to believe, because Christianity, more than
any other faith, is a historical faith. Without the objective
reality of what is reported in the Bible, the reader might as
well close this book and throw it away, because in Christianity
we have nothing.
It is very important, therefore, that in our proclamation of the good news, it be proclaimed as the good news Christ died for sinners, was raised from the dead, and now is Lord. The good news is not just "Look at what God has done for me. I was a drug addicted male prostitute and beat up old ladies just to get my jollies. But now I'm a changed person." All religions can make similar claims, along with most new toothpastes: "try new Zippo toothpolish and you'll be a sex object and have to beat off members of the opposite sex with baseball bats." The gospel must not be reduced to the level of toothpaste.
It must be borne in mind at all times that if God had not revealed himself to the human race, or if individuals ignore God's revelation of himself, then almost no knowledge of God is possible. There can be no fellowship with Him unless He chooses to introduce Himself to you.
If There is a God, How Can We Know Anything About Him?
If we accept the idea that there is a God, how do we learn anything
about Him? Or them? What can we figure out about who he, she,
or they are? Is there one Supreme Being, or many powerful beings,
none of whom is entirely all powerful? And if many, how many?
Two, three - 160 million, as one would find in the Hindu pantheon?
If the concept of divinity is accepted, then the poor human searcher
is left in something of a quandary. Which of the thousands of
religions (or cults, as some are pejoratively labeled) correct?
Or are any? Has anyone come up with the right answer? For that
matter, is it really necessary to know anything about God, if
he, she or they are so distantly mysterious and insubstantial?
What do he, she, or they want of us? If it/them wants something,
why doesn't it/them tell us? Why does He have to make it so difficult?
Reasonable questions, all, which most Christians are not ready or willing to answer; questions that in many cases are beyond their comprehension.
So what's the poor seeker supposed to do? He has entered the house of theism and discovers it's a labyrinthian conundrum of confusing and contradictory rooms and passageways, every one of which claims to be, if not the one true way, then at least a true way. Can it be that every one is correct?
Some, finding themselves in this mess, become eclectic, like the man in the pharmacy who says "give me one of everything, just in case." Can there be certainty?
Certainly! Perhaps the main problem at this juncture is that many a seeker after the right road has left his brain behind. Despite our earlier discussion, the main philosophical mold in which most of us have grown up has made us believe that religious truth and scientific truth are necessarily separate and unequal realms. The principles used in deciphering the physical universe certainly can't be used in trying to understand God, can they?
Why not? Is God real or isn't he? If he/they exist, then he/they can be known; principles of logic, reason, and the sifting of evidence can certainly be made use of in attempting to find the truth of who God is.
A Major Fallacy to Avoid: I think that God is...
Perhaps it would be good to shoot something down right now. Surely
most of us have heard (if we won't admit having done it ourselves)
someone say something like the following: "Well, I think
God wouldn't like that." Or, "When I think of God,
I think of a great glowing light."
What is the problem with such statements? If they were statements of hypothesis being set up for testing, nothing at all. But in almost all such cases, the individual involved is speaking for God, or about God, out of his or her imagination, with no thought of checking to see if his or her pronouncements might be accurate.
To show the idiocy of the situation of imagining something about God, consider R.P. Nettelhorst. Who is R.P. Nettelhorst? Man or Woman? Maybe a woman. How old? Maybe 98. I imagine her to be six four and a starring linebacker for the Rams. Does she like children? Sure: she eats them for breakfast with milk and sugar on them. Politics? Democrat or Republican? I think she's a Communist!
Ridiculous? Certainly - but on the same level as the individual who believes he or she can know God by sitting in a chair without having had any contact with him/her/them. You can't know R.P. Nettelhorst until you meet him.
The one who says "I think God is like a man in a long beard," is making a statement equal in intellectual rigor and reasonableness to the one who says, "I believe God is a boiled potato I keep under my bed" or "I believe R.P. Nettelhorst is a Commie child-eater."
3. How Should I Study About God?
When we think about studying God, the first place we usually
look is the Bible. What are some things we need to understand
about this book that we all own? We think we know all about the
Bible, don't we? It has been a part of western civilization for
nearly two thousand years, and most of us have been exposed to
it all our lives. We therefore assume we understand it.
But do we?
What Thorkild Jacobsen had to say about Sumerian religion should give us pause as we consider the Bible:
Considering first the absolute distance in time from the end of ancient Mesopotamian civilization shortly before the beginning of our era to the present, it may be noted that it is not only a distance but a clean break. No living cultural tradition connects us with our subject, spans the gap between the ancients and us. We are almost entirely dependent on such archaeological and inscrip-tional data as have been recovered and upon our own contemporary attempts at interpreting them. These data are, unfortunately, incomplete and somewhat haphazard as sources for the total culture to which they testify; and the languages of the inscriptional materials are still far from being fully understood. The concepts denoted by their words and the interrelations of these concepts, moreover, are not infrequently incongruent with, or accented differently from, anything in our present day culture and outlook, so that misunderstanding and even failure to comprehend altogether are constant stumbling blocks.
Formidable as our difficulties are, they are no cause for dismay or for ceasing our efforts to understand. If they were, then earlier generations should have been the ones to give up, for they had far greater difficulties and far less help than we have. Actually, the very realization that difficulties exist often goes a long way toward overcoming them by forcing upon us the necessity of other ways of thinking and evaluating than those to which we are accustomed. We may become alert to the dangers of too easy generalization, may doubt accepted translations and search for more adequate meanings of a word.
While the Bible is certainly familiar, it is also alien. It was written thousands of years ago by people living thousands of miles away from us, speaking a language unknown to most of us, and still imperfectly understood by those who have devoted themselves to its study. The culture of the Bible is radically different from twentieth century America. A person diving into the Bible experiences many of the same problems facing an American who travels to another country. Alvin Toffler writes:
Culture shock is the effect that immersion in a strange culture has on the unprepared visitor. Peace Corps volunteers suffer from it in Borneo or Brazil. Marco Polo probably suffered from it in Cathay. Culture shock is what happens when a traveler suddenly finds himself in a place where yes may mean no, where a "fixed price" is negotiable, where to be kept waiting in an outer office is no cause for insult, where laughter may signify anger. It is what happens when the familiar psychological cues that help an individual to function in society are suddenly withdrawn and replaced by new ones that are strange or incomprehensible.
The culture shock phenomenon accounts for much of the bewilderment, frustration, and disorientation that plagues Americans in their dealings with other societies. It causes a breakdown in communication, a misreading of reality, an inability to cope.
So it is with the Bible. It is an alien land, and many people
hop into it unprepared, expecting it to be populated with Americans.
They read American cultural values, composition techniques, and
democratic ideals into the ancient text. Those things that they
find in the Bible which don't fit twentieth century norms are
either ignored, misinterpreted, or explained away.
The people of the Bible, its authors and original readers, did not think the same way as twentieth century Americans. The Old Testament was not written by someone who lived his life in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. To take a modern example of the difficulties we might face in understanding the Bible, think about the Australians. The Australians speak English, they live in a modern industrialized society, watch TV and do many of the same things Americans do. "Walzing Matilda" is a song known to just about every Australian, and Americans have heard the tune and may know a few of the words:
Once a jolly swag man camped by a billy-bong,
Under the shade of a kulibar tree,
And he sang as he sat and waited for his billy-boil,
"You'll come a-walzing, Matilda, with me."
If Americans have difficulty understanding a simple song written
in their own language by people almost like themselves, is it
any wonder that we moderns should have difficulty fully understanding
the Bible? "Walzing Matilda" has nothing to do with
dancing or girls; instead, it refers to walking with a kind of
knapsack. A "swag man" is a hobo, and "billy-bong"
is a brook or pond. A "kulibar" tree is a eucalyptus
tree, and "billy-boil" is coffee.
Should we give way to despair then as we think about studying the Bible? Is it a book that only specialists with years of study can read? Not at all. But certain things do need to be kept in mind as we begin reading it:
1. We must not assume that idioms or idiomatic ideas in the Bible mean the same thing that they do in modern English. In other words, don't make assumptions! Study things carefully. We must be careful to notice how a word or phrase is actually being used in context, before we assume that we understand what it signifies. We must be constantly alert to unexpected meanings connected to what we thought we already understood. For instance, in English, the word "heart", when it doesn't refer to the physical organ, has the sense of the seat of the emotions. But in Hebrew and Near Eastern society in general, it instead had the idea of "mind", or the seat of the intellect. A big difference!
2. Be careful to notice how the Biblical documents are structured; notice that they don't follow the pattern we would expect of a document written in English. For instance, in the Old Testament, and even some in the New Testament, when the Jews wrote poetry they did not rhyme the sounds; instead they rhymed the ideas. In English, adjectives might be piled up one on the other, or a carefully worded description of characteristics or appearance might be given, but in Hebrew synonymous phrases are piled one on top of another. For example, Psalm 1:1:
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers...
The author of Psalm 1 is not describing three different activities or types of people. A native English speaker would have expressed the verse differently:
Blessed is the man who does not practice wickedness as a habit of life.
Of course this bare prose statement is not as vivid or pretty as the poetry of the Psalm, but this is the meaning of Psalm 1:1.
Therefore, be open to new and different methods of expression. Be careful not to prejudge a statement. Try to understand it in its complete cultural context, as well as its textual context. Check out how words and phrases are used in the Bible - not necessarily how we use them in modern America.
3. We must approach the Bible as an exciting adventure in a foreign country, where all is not as we may assume it to be. Most importantly, we must realize this is where God reveals himself to us; to understand Him, we must understand the place he reveals himself.
B. What are Some Basic Guiding Principles for Bible Study?
Certain presuppositions - hypotheses that are accepted at the start of an argument as self-evident (like axioms in geometry) - should be stated at the outset. They can be listed as a series of nine points. The first three are basic presuppositions which underlie modern science, and these same basic presuppositions should also underlie anyone's approach to theology.
1. There is an actually existing external universe.
The universe, and everything it it, is real. That is should
be necessary to state explicitly something so obvious should not
be viewed as strange.
Certain eastern philosophies and religions would deny the validity of just this point, leading inevidtably to solipsism. Thus, I would assume that the Bible - God's special revelation - is real in the same way that I assume the universe - God's general revelation - is real.
2. The external universe is attainable accurately by our senses.
It is possible to gain an accurate understanding of the world and everything in it by looking, hearing, feeling, and tasting. In the same way, I would assume that we may gain an accurate account of the Bible - God's special revelation.
3. The external universe is orderly, endowed with cause and effect and it follows the laws of logic.
Likewise, the Bible - the special revelation of God - is orderly
and endowed with cause and effect and follows the laws of logic.
That is, we can gain a correct understanding of the Bible because
the Bible will be consistent, orderly, and sensible. A consistent
hermeneutic (interpretation or explanation) is possible in examining
the universe, and so a consistent hermeneutic is possible in examining
Irving M. Copi of the University of Hawaii and author of Introduction to Logic, argues that there are three fundamental laws of thought necessary and sufficient for thinking to be "correct". Traditionally, these are called:
a.The Principle of Identity
b.The Principle of Noncontradiction
c.The Principle of the Excluded Middle
a. The Principle of Identity
Simply stated, the first of the fundamental laws is a tautology. If any statement is true, then it is true. Some have criticized this first principle on the basis that things change. For instance, in 1790 one could make the statement: "The United States of America is made up of thirteen States." But obviously such a statement is not true today. However, the fact of change in human affairs does not negate this principle of logic. Statements which change over time are said to be elliptical, or incomplete statements. Thus, the statement "The United States of America is made up of thirteen States" is a partial formulation of the statement, "The United States of America was made up of thirteen states in 1790." Such a statement is as true today as it was in 1790. Thus, as Copi said, "When we confine our attention to complete or non-elliptical formulations, the Principle of Identity is perfectly true and unobjectionable."
b. The Principle of Noncontradiction
Simply proposed, this asserts that "No statement can be
both true and false." Or to take it a step further, "A
given thing cannot be and not be in the same way and to the same
extent at the same time." This is a vital principle, without
which reasoned thinking is not possible. While it may seem obvious
that a given object cannot be both an apple and a peach, this
principle is often ignored or twisted out of shape by both secularists
The word "paradox" is used sometimes to describe contradictions - contradictions that, some would say, must be accepted.
For instance, famous experiments with light indicate that under certain experimental conditions, light acts as if it is made of particles, while under other experimental conditions, light seems to be made of waves. A contradiction! In some circles it has been suggested that light is both and neither and we must live with the contradiction.
Occam would shout "Poppycock!" to that conclusion. He was a famous fourteenth century schoolman and philosopher, born at Ockham in Surrey, England. A Franciscan, his fundamental principle was that "entities must not be unnecessarily multiplied." That is, in arriving at a theory for any situation, the simplest explanation that adequately handles all the data, is more likely to be correct than a competing explanation which is more complicated. One might call this the K.I.S.S. principle: keep it simple, stupid. It more commonly is known as Occam's razor.
Therefore, in the question of the nature of light, the simpler explanation, by making use of Occam's razor, is to say that the experiments have settled nothing, and that further study is needed. We can't just throw up our hands and say, "Oh well, it's both; let's say light is made of 'wavicles'." What the heck is a 'wavicle'? The same thing arises in theology in attempts to explain the Trinity, the relationship of free will to divine sovereignty, or how a good, all powerful God could permit sin. Too often, theologians are satisfied with the paradox - "the apparent contradiction" - and leave it at that. Again, Occam's razor would simply slice through the gobbledygook and tell the theologians that they have more work to do. Frank Wilczek and Betsy Devine, writing about nature (the general revelation of God), made a very perceptive point, which has definite implications for understanding the Bible (the special revelation of God):
Nature poses many riddles but contains no contradictions. By solving one of her puzzles, therefore, we are guaranteed to learn something - and the weirder, the more impossible the paradox seems at first, the more mind-expanding will be its ultimate resolution.
What all this means then, is that contradictions cannot be real.
Such a conclusion is a very hopeful and useful tool, and has
been of immense impetus to scientific research, because this principle
of noncontradiction assures the researcher, in whatever field,
that there is, indeed, an answer to any conundrum. And if there
is an answer, then it is possible to find it.
On a personal level, this principle of noncontradiction has some serious implications. Every day, we discover people who, within their lives, are not living up to the principle. George Orwell described the problem as "doublethink". An older word for this sort of person is simply "hypocrite". The Bible calls such a person a "double-minded man":
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:5-8)
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8)
Notice the sheer idiocy and irrationality of the hypocrisy: a
person goes to God to request something that He has promised to
give, but then doesn't believe God will give it. Such an attitude
irrationally contradicts the truthfulness and goodness of God,
not to mention explicit biblical statements that God does not
The second passage in James 4:8 goes even further, equating hypocrisy with sin, or better yet, portrays the sinner as being a hypocrite by definition. After all, a Christian claims to be filled with the Holy Spirit, cleansed by the sacrifice of Christ, a new creature, and yet he sins. Contradiction. Of all things a nonbeliever delights in most, it is to point out the inconsistency of believers. I give two examples:
Catholic theology teaches that the Pope and Church are infallible. The doctrines and traditions handed down from the fathers are as much the words of God as the Bible. Yet, thousands who claim to be Catholic, feel perfectly justified ignoring the Catholic Church's teaching on birth control, abortion, or women in the Church. How can this be?
Doublethink; hypocrisy; inconsistency. To be a consistent Catholic, to obey the concept of noncontradiction, the follower of Rome must accept what the Catholic Church says in all things.
Otherwise, that one becomes by definition, no longer Catholic - but Protestant.
By contrast, Baptists claim (in the Protestant tradition) that the Bible alone is authoritative, that the individual Christian is free to interpret the Bible for himself, and that all believers are priests, equal before God. Yet in practice, the standard, traditional interpretation of the Bible is the true authority, and to dissent from that interpretation (particularly if you act upon it) will often result in church discipline, censure, and possible expulsion, as the pastor alone is really in charge of things. Where then is biblical authority? Where then is soul liberty? Where then is the priesthood of all believers? They are swallowed in doublethink.
What is in our heads rarely matches our practice, and often contradicts other ideas in our heads. Humans are strange that way. Listen to George Orwell:
The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed - if all records told the same tale - then the lie passed into history and became truth. "Who controls the past," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. "Reality control," they called it; in Newspeak, "doublethink."
"Stand easy!" barked the instructress, a little more genially. Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself - that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word "doublethink" involved the use of doublethink.
c. The Principle of the Excluded Middle
The principle of the excluded middle asserts that "any statement
is either true or false". Some have objected that if this
principle is accepted one is forced into a "two-valued orientation"
which implies that everything is "either-or", with no
middle ground possible. Such an objection results from a misunderstanding
of the principle. If you have something that is gray, for instance,
the statements "this is black" or "this is white"
are both false. When faced with a situation where one is given
such statements, "this is white" or "this is black",
while both statements cannot be true, they very easily might both
When one restricts oneself to statements that are unambiguous and precise, then the principle of excluded middle is perfectly valid. In other words, what this principle asserts is that real contradiction is not possible, only apparent contradiction, the result of limited language or data. By the principle of excluded middle, when faced with the question of whether light is made of waves or particles, since the experiments contradict each other, it is best to assume that light is neither wave nor particle, but something else: GRAY.
4. God Exists
The existence of God is assumed, though no proof can be given. The Bible opens simply with an affirmation of God, without going into trying to demonstrate his existence.
5. The Bible is unique.
The Bible should not be viewed as equivalent to a work of Shakespeare. Shakespeare was brilliant, but his writings are a purely human creation. The Bible, on the other hand, is not a purely human creation: it is the very Word of God - God's special revelation of himself to the human race.
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
6. Stand in humility before the text of scripture.
When something in the Bible seems contradictory, or when something does not appear to make sense, the reader should assume that he or she is failing to understand something. One should question his or her own reasoning abilities and knowledge, since our reason and knowledge are in a finite, corrupted, and fallen state. Do not question the reliability of the Bible.
Trust in Yahweh with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Yahweh said to Job:
"Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!"
Then Job answered Yahweh:
"I am unworthy - how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but have no answer-
twice, but I will say no more."
Then Yahweh spoke to Job out of the storm:
"Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you will answer me.
Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
Do you have an arm like God's,
and can your voice thunder like His?
Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at every proud man and bring him low,
look at every proud man and humble him,
crush the wicked where they stand.
Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you." (Job 40:1-14)
7. The reader must always ask "Where is it written?"
Just because a good Christian says it or writes it, just because the pastor says it, or just because "that's what I've always believed", does not necessarily make it true. What does the Bible really say?
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
8. Do not be afraid of the Bible.
The ultimate source of authority for Christians is the Bible, not our theological preconceptions, not our cultural preferences or fears. If what the Bible says does not square with one of our theological ideas, then we must change our theological idea! We must not go through strange contortions to get the text to support our preferred viewpoint.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path....
9. Conform to the Bible.
The reader must be careful to make his or her life conform to Scripture, not Scripture to his or her life. Be aware of one's own cultural biases. Do not read into the text what is not there.
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"
He replied "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is "Corban" (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." (Mark 7:5-13)
C. What is the Value of Tradition?
What is tradition, and what value does it have? These are two questions that need to be asked now, as we think about how to approach the text of scripture. We all come to the Bible with preconceived notions about the proper interpretation of given passages. How much weight should be allowed for that which "has always been taught"?
1. Definition of Tradition:
The dictionary defines "tradition" as "the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction." It can also be defined as "an inherited pattern of thought or action (as religious practice or social custom)" or it involves "cultural continuity in social attitudes and institutions." Tradition has been described as opinion which has the force of habit behind it. That is, the difference between opinion and tradition is that an opinion belongs to an individual, while tradition belongs to a group.
2. The Value of Tradition:
James Barr has some interesting thoughts on tradition in his book, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism:
In spite of what has been said about the positive importance of tradition, and the way in which scripture emerged from tradition, we do not suggest that Protestantism was wrong in claiming scripture as its authority and in denying that tradition (after scripture) could be placed on the same level as scripture or that tradition should be allowed to decide what was the right exegesis of scripture. In all this Protestantism was in many ways right. But Protestantism is not proof against the vices which it itself set out to reform. It is perfectly possible today to reiterate the positions of the older Protestant orthodoxy, to regard its judgments as virtually final and to resist the possibility that they might be substantially modified as a result of more modern research into scripture. What then happens is that the traditional "Catholic" and "Protestant" roles come to be reversed: the facts of scripture are once again obscured through the imposition of a tradition, but this time it is not a medieval Catholic tradition, it is a Protestant tradition, built upon the insights of the seventeenth century and anxious to maintain these insights against the evidence of the text of scripture or at least against the fact that quite different interpretations of the text are possible. When one looks at the various "conservative", "orthodox", or "evan-gelical" schemes of doctrine which are so influential today, and all of which energetically proclaim the authority of scripture as their first principle, it requires no great insight to see that in many cases it is "conservatism" or "Calvinism", or "evangelicalism" that is the actual authority, which is the real dominant power. The Bible is fully authoritative, but it does not have authority to question the accepted doctrinal tradition. This is analogous to the late medieval position against which the Reformers protested.
Biblical authority on Protestant terms (on Catholic or Orthodox terms it may be otherwise) exists only where one is free, on the ground of scripture, to question, to adjust, and if necessary to abandon the prevailing doctrinal traditions. Where this freedom does not exist, however much the Bible is celebrated, its authority is in fact submitted to the power of doctrine and interpretation....If the Bible says a certain thing, but says it only when understood through an existentialist interpretation, or through a Calvinist interpretation, then it becomes very doubtful whether the Protestant appeal to scripture can be maintained at all....
What does the Bible have to say about the value of tradition? Without exception it is viewed as a corrupting influence.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13-14)
Notice also Mark 7:1-13, and the parallel passage, Matthew 15:1-9.
It is a great challenge to find anything positive about tradition
in the Bible: there simply isn't anything. It must be noticed
that Christ's condemnation of traditions involved the interpretations
of the Bible which had become traditional. When asked to explain
the why of an interpretation, the worst imaginable answers are
"That is what I was told", or "That is what the
Church has always believed."
In a Sunday School lesson regarding a passage in Isaiah several students disagreed with the teacher's interpretation of the text. Unfortunately, the arguments brought against the teacher's interpretation were based not on the Bible, but on tradition.
One student expressed the fear that if we were to question all the traditions, we would then have nothing to believe in. Another wondered whether a small Sunday School class shouldn't be hesitant to postulate something different from the generally accepted view. "Who are we to go against tradition?"
I was reminded of the criticisms voiced against Martin Luther and his radical insistence on "Only Scripture" and "salvation by faith", that such beliefs were contrary to the established traditions of the church. Several students reacted by saying, "Well, that's different. Luther was right and those traditions of the Catholic Church were obviously wrong." Ah, how easy to see the speck in the eye of another!
Attacking tradition results in the same criticism faced by Copernicus as he demonstrated that the Sun was the center of the Solar System, and not the Earth. It is the same criticism faced by Martin Luther King, Jr. as he tried to get a nation to accept Blacks as human beings, deserving of equal respect and treatment.
Tradition dies hard, and it complains a lot.
D.A. Carson, in his book Exegetical Fallacies, writes:
Careful handling of the Bible will enable us to "hear" it a little better. It is all too easy to read the traditional interpretations and invest them with a false, even idolatrous, degree of certainty. Because traditions are reshaped as they are passed on, after a while we may drift far from God's Word while still insisting all our theological opinions are "biblical" and therefore true. If when we are in such a state we study the Bible uncritically, more than likely it will simply reinforce our errors. If the Bible is to accomplish its work of continual reformation - reformation in our lives and our doctrine - we must do all we can to listen to it afresh, and utilize the best resources at our disposal.
To appeal to tradition, to argue that because such and such an idea has always been accepted, is to fall prey to the logical fallacy of simplistic appeals to authority. Again D.A. Carson:
Such appeals can be to distinguished scholars, revered pastors, cherished authors, the majority, or various others. The fallacy lies in thinking that appeals to authority constitute reasons for interpreting texts a certain way; but in fact, unless that authority's reasons are given, the only thing that such appeals establish is that the writer is under the influence of the relevant authority! The most such an appeal can contribute to an argument is to lend the authority's general reputation to its support; but that is not so much a reasoned defense or explanation as a kind of academic character reference.
The reader might also want to look at Psalm 118:8-9 and Jeremiah 17:5-8 at this point:
It is better to take refuge in Yahweh
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in Yahweh
than to trust in princes.
This is what Yahweh says:
"Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from Yahweh.
He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
"But blessed is the man who trusts in Yahweh,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit."
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