For Discussion

“fundamentalism is the last refuge of rationalism”Biblical “Inerrancy”

I find [maximalist] theorizings an overreaching intended to build a firm foundation on a paper thin sheet of ice. Further, I take [maximalists] to be, at heart, unbelievers. For [they] will not believe unless you have proof. And [they] will not have proof unless [they] can establish historical fact. And [they] must establish historical fact, or [they] have no evidence. And without evidence [they] have no proof. And so the circularity goes.

This, of course, is the problem with the Kansas City Schoolboard, many Christian biology students, and a whole host of other people who must believe that Truth is factually accurate.

57 thoughts on “For Discussion”

  1. Creation

    I remember a conversation with a fellow church member a number of years back (before seminary) in which I tried to offer my opinion that perhaps the creation stories in Genesis were not intended to provide us with any sort of factual account about God’s creation of the world. I suggested that perhaps its purpose was merely to relate God’s intention for creation and the ways in which we have failed to live up to that intention.

    Well, this to my friend was nonsense; the simple fact was that “a day is a day and if that isn’t the truth and we don’t affirm it as so, then the whole bibilical record comes into question…” Seems like a pretty flimsy foundation to build your faith upon if you ask me.

    1. Re: What is Truth

      Jeremy! Thanks for replying. Of course, I did title this post “for discussion.”

      When your post showed up, I saw “What is Truth?” and thought you were going to say something about Pontius Pilate. Since you didn’t, but your title alludes to him, I’ll point out that when Pilate asked “What is truth?” the Truth was right in front of him.

      Some Christians argue that “Truth is what God says is true” but this is a very limited definition of what Christianity claims as Truth. When I said said that many people’s problem is that they “must believe that Truth is factually accurate”, this is what I meant: their definition of Truth — something based upon a pile of assertions purporting to be facts — is anemic at best or, more likely, downright wrong!

      They hold a materialistic, reductionist view of Truth. Truth is measurable and testable. Since their Truth is not based on faith, but on a set of assertions that must be true, when they are faced with proven facts that contradict their assertions, they have two choices. They either reject their idea of Truth or they ignore the new facts.

      I’ll try to bring this down to earth with a ficticious example. Suppose there were people who believe that man was planted on earth by aliens. Their entire religion (we’ll call it Scientology for fun) depends upon this “Truth”. Now, someone invents a time machine. Everyone agrees that it works perfectly. Some scientists get together and go back a few years and observe, first-hand, that man was not planted on earth by aliens. The scientists bring their evidence back and it is published.

      Now, those Scientologists who believed man was planted on earth by aliens have a choice: they can reject Scientology (since its “Truth” has been shown to be false) or they can ignore the evidence and come up with stories that explain away the evidence (to maintain their “Truth”).

      With that example, I’ll try to go into a little more detail about what is wrong with the materialistic definition of Truth that you used.

      First, it directly contradicts the Bible. “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.” Of course, Jesus was not saying he was a set of facts. Nor was he saying that facts aren’t true. He was saying something else entirely. He was calling us into relationship with the Truth.

      Second, stating that Christian Truth is contingent upon the veracity of a large set of assertions is putting your faith in the wrong place. Sure, God is able to preserve his scriptures and he’s the creator of the universe, but I don’t see evidence that God expects us to take every word of scripture as historical fact. There is no reason to doubt the factuality of much of scripture, but factuality isn’t the point of scripture. The Bible itself doesn’t claim to be a 100% accurate historical record.

      Finally, Christian Truth does not depend upon factual accuracy. If it did, then it wouldn’t need faith, it would only require proof. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” If your Truth only desires a few proofs to be shown as factually accurate, then you don’t have faith … you have a hypothesis.

      Again, scripture is good for doctrine, reproof, and instruction in righteousness, but not necessarily as a history book. To say that scripture must be historically and factually accurate misses the point. We’ll spend all our time arguing about whether this or that passage is factually, historically reliable and and not using scripture for what it is actually good for.

    2. Re: What is Truth

      Mark has beaten me to the punch with an excellent overview of the nature of truth — he’s probably done a much better job than I could do. So, my comments will be merely supplementary.

      Today we do most often speak of truth in terms of factuality. But what is a fact? Predominantly, it is defined around events and concepts which are validated by observation or logic.

      The Bible speaks of the truth of God and his relationship with, primarily, his chosen people — God, being infinite, transcends the limited scope of factuality. And so the truth of which the scriptures speak do not primarily deal with fact, as such. And, indeed, as Mark pointed out, Truth is a Person, and we come to know a person not by factual statements about him but rather through relationship. You could exhaust yourself in telling every fact you can think of about your wife or child or parent, but in the end you will have only provided your audience with a list of qualities, actions, and traits — it may suggest the personality, but it doesn’t define it.

      Plato’s cave allegory speaks to this, quiet well.

      What’s the simplest way to tell about truth that goes beyond observable fact? Fiction, parable, fable, metaphor, paradox. Every Christian tradition of which I am aware makes use of theological typology in ineterpreting the Old Testament. What’s in debate is whether or not it is historically factual as well as theological, but this certainly seems of secondary importance when the purpose of scripture is to point to the living Truth.

  2. Bible falsehoods

    When I speak of “truth”, I mean the set of all things that are factually accurate. It sounds like you’re talking about the subset: spiritual truth. I believe that historical statements, scientific statements, and spiritual statements share the same characteristic of truth or falsehood — that is, any statement is either true or false and never both. It may be possible that we’re not sure (or could never be sure) whether a given statement in any of those sets is true. But regardless, we can agree that among contradictory statements, at most one is true (even if we’re not sure which one).

    It sounds like you’re suggesting that the Bible may have historical or scientific statements (perhaps inadvertently, since they’re not the point of the Bible) that are false. Do I understand you correctly?

    1. Re: Bible falsehoods

      Basically it is this — The OT is a collection of writings, the purpose of which is didactic, ethical, spiritual, theological. It takes the form of history, aphorisms, prophecy, poetry, etc. My contention is that the histories are — as the article Mark linked stated — history as story, rather than history as event. They are not truly historical writings. Rather they adapt historical events and personages as the mechanism by which to convey spiritual truths. Criticizing it on the basis of historical factuality is as senseless as criticizing the early Irish histories as being unfactual. Factuality isn’t the point.

      The Bible doesn’t contain factual scientific statements, and I whatever actual history is within it has been “painted” over by the theological aim of the books. This isn’t uncommon even outside the scriptures.

    2. Re: Bible falsehoods

      You’re missing my capitalisation: Truth vs. truth.

      Truth is transcendent and is in no way a subset of truth. When Jesus told us, “Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free“, he was talking about his relationship to us and the result of our discipleship — that is what happens when we “hold to [his] teachings.”

      Jesus didn’t ask us to remember or figure out a group of facts. He asked us into relationship.

      He didn’t say “When you’ve affirmed some facts, those facts will set you free.” He told us to do what he taught us and thereby come into a closer relationship with him. Obsessing about the literal veracity of the OT was, as far as I can tell, the furtherest thing from his mind. And yet, it seems that many Christians feel the need to obsess because, I suspect, they’ve a poor foundation for their faith. They’ve conflated facts, historical veracity, with a relationship to the Truth.

      So, yeah, you’re correct that I’m saying that the Bible has statements that are not historically or scientifically accurate. I shy away from the pejorative term “false” because it implies (to me) malicious intent.

      However, again, I’m concerned that you see what you call “spiritual truth” as a subset of a larger thing called “truth”. I’m unsure of what you mean by “spiritual truth” and calling it a subset of truth seems, to me, to deny the transcendence of Truth.

  3. History as fact?!

    Hello everybody. The history major in me is requiring that I make y’all clear on one bit of information – namely, that there is no such thing as “pure” history, in the sense that any human influence is absent. It’s the same thing as saying there’s no such thing as “pure” reporting – everybody who’s trying to report something will say it in their own way.

    In fact, the mere definition of history as a field of study refers to the study and interpretation of records of people and societies. This means that history is twice-removed from fact. In the first place, history works with written and oral records that have survived, written by other people with their own views, and secondly history re-interprets collections of these records to recreate an event, society or location, oftentimes from not more than lists of what was in the granary of Ur in BC 2100, and who killed or begat whom at the end of one hundred year war or another.

    In the case of the bible I think it’s proper to say that part of it is historical writing, absolutely. What’s misleading is to assert that history is purely, or even mostly, factual. There’s no such thing as “truth” in history, any more than there’s such a thing as “truth” in statistics, or reporting. The point of view is as important as the event being reported on itself. Moreover, any historical writing that’s worth its salt will interpret the data, not just list it, because that’s where the really interesting and important part the field lies – not in repeating a geneology you found on a block of stone in some gawdawful place. This is why lists of history books are filled with headers like, “The World is Flat”, “One Soldier’s Story”, “A Perfect Red” (a look at the color red as a driving force in history and empire), and many others offering looks, arguments, stories and biographies that seek to take disparate and usually limited bits of record and put them together in a revealing/enlighening way.

    History is more art than science, bottom line. And I believe the Bible to be much more art than science as well. All of you who have been moved by a work of art, be it a great song that made you dance or weep, a painting that gave you shivers and ruined your day (or made it), a sculpture you couldn’t tear your eyes off of because your heart was reading something from it you couldn’t exactly figure out… know that there is truth in art, and it doesn’t need to be as bland as “Joe killed Bob in 1427” in order to be True. There’s truth in interpretation, even if it is utterly devoid from scientific fact, and I don’t believe it lessens the Bible one whit to be considered a work of art rather than a science book. I rather think it makes it better, in fact. I get a lot more out of art and story and myth and “fiction” when it comes to my daily life than I do out of most science books anyway.


    Jason Delevan
    et hice adessimus ligare

    1. Re: History as fact?!

      Ahh… Thanks for the primer.

      Hopefully, You’ll note that the first line was “fundamentalism is the last refuge of rationalism”. What I get from that (and the context of the original quote) is that the fundamentalist is always a rationalist who wants to reduce history to a set of verifiable facts.

      To this person, “Myth” and even “Point of View” are dirty words when it comes to scripture. Because they believe God is completely objective.

      I was talking about this with Ephrem and came up with the following formula:

      1. God is Love.
      2. Love is always subjective.
      ∴ God is subjective.

  4. When I wrote that spiritual truth was a subset of all truth, I meant that it shared the property of being true to the exclusion of contradictory statements.

    Here are some spiritual statements:
    – There is no God
    – There is only one God
    – There are many Gods

    Only one of these statements can true. Would you agree?

    If this type of statement isn’t what falls under your definition of Truth, could you please give some examples of Truth?

    1. First, I’m not sure I agree that spiritual truth shares the property of the exclusion of contradictory statements. That is the same as saying that spiritual truth is logical. Using your example:

      – There is only one God.
      – The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each equally God.

      – Jesus Christ was truly Man.
      – Jesus Christ was truly God.

      These are spiritual truths, but they by their nature do not “exclude contradictory statements”. If it were that simple, the we could easily have skipped over several heresies — there would be no need for them since ideas like the Trinity would not exist. All “spiritual truth” would be logically accessible.

      Truth is not like that. Sure, parts of it are logically accessible, but Truth transcends logic. Because Truth emanates from Christ himself; because Christ is Truth.

      Suppose you were able to successfully argue that “spiritual truth” is a subset of all truth. What, then, do you make of the statement “You will know [spiritual truth] and [spiritual truth] will set you free”?

      1. John 8:32

        You asked how I would interpret John 8:32 (“know the truth”). I have always assumed that Jesus was referring to the truth of His plan for salvation (note the previous verse). You make a good point (if I’m following you correctly) that Jesus seems to be using the word “truth” to refer to more than just information about salvation; He seems to be also referring to a relationship with Himself.

        1. Start in v 31

          Sorry, I can’t leave this alone.

          Starting in v. 31, Jesus says “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”

          I don’t think you could say that he is talking about information here at all. He says “If you hold to my teachings, … THEN you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”

          Elsewhere, we are told that even demons believe spiritual truth, and they tremble. Here, Jesus tells us that we have to “hold to” his teachings. The Amplified version, uh, amplifies this as “hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them“. That means we’re already aware of the information he’s taught us and we’ve put it into practice. So, it is as the result of holding to his teachings that we “know the Truth”.

          If my understanding is correct, then I don’t see how it would be possible to say that the Truth here is information about salvation.

          1. Know = do

            I can see that I never really understood that verse. It does appear that Jesus is equating knowing with doing. The passage in James is a good parallel.

            Jesus clearly wants more from faith than intellectual assent.

          2. Re: Know = do


            I’ve got a lot to learn from your openness here. It is good to see that this hasn’t devolved into a dogmatic shouting match.

    2. Concepts or Wonder

      The modernist will say that logically only one may be true for they each exclude the other. Then he’ll go on to say that there is no God, only psychology.

      Then Postmodernism comes in and tussles the hair of the dowdy old modernist with the bow-tie and says that perspective creates fact. He’ll go on to say that God exists, the gods exist, and both exist in their mutually exclusive thought cosmos as a powerful metaphor.

      Then they’ll argue.

      God is not a provable reality. We can offer an apology for the existence of God. We can point to things which we believe demonstrate His existence. We can witness to our faith. But we cannot prove His existence. God isn’t an object subject to the scrutiny of factual observation and experimentation. We can’t dissect Him. He’s not limited to the merely factual. And since Christ says, “I am the Truth,” and Christ is also the 2nd Person of the Triune God, then Truth about God is not limited to factual or logical coherence. Paradox is one of the primary means of expressing something about this Truth. Here… I used this recently elsewhere, but it fits here, too:

      While on the Cross He quickened the dead,
      so while a Babe He was fashioning babes.
      While He was slain, He opened the graves;
      while He was in the womb, He opened wombs.

      –from Hymns on the Nativity

      Me? There is a God. He Is. And He is Truth. The old gods have receded into fairy tales and have lost their vitality. What vitality they had, I believe probably was only what was in the heart and mind of man. They were never more than shadows — even if demonic, still no more than shadows. But our God says, “I Am.” And I believe it. Truly I do. But that’s not a fact statement about a provable or disprovable phenomenon, it has only a very tenuous relationship — if any at all — with logic.

      So far I don’t think I’ve done anything but repeat myself — sorry for that, my brain seems stuck. Moving on.

      Is spiritual truth coherent and not self-contradictory or permitting of externally competing and contradictory truths? Yes. There are positive statements that we can make about God, as witnessed by the Nicene Creed. And to contradict them is to come in conflict with orthodox teaching and, indeed, what we know of the Truth. The problem comes when we take this and fly with it and let it stimulate our thinking and not our hearts.

      The Church Fathers talk about the nous the intellective faculty, the heart. It is contrasted with the dianoia, the reason. The glossary at the end of the volumes of The Philokalia says that the nous “does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning,” — this is what the dianoia does — “but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition, or ‘simple cognition’.”

      True spiritual knowledge goes beyond positive statements into wonder, into communion with God. The truths of dogma cease to be useful if we build a hedge which limits them to an intellectual meaning, a set of arguments. St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote that, “concepts create images of God, wonder alone grasps something.” So long as we are stuck in thinking and arguing about whether or not the OT is factually true we are neglecting the real purpose of the scriptures, which is the revelation of God to man. So long as we limit ourselves to logical argumentation we miss the calling to pray without ceasing.

      This is why I would argue that a “history as event” reading of the OT is at best a foray into a secondary significance, or at worst a distortion of the revelatory message.

  5. My two cents

    I would offer my two cents into this discussion, but I can’t because I am finding myself in a crowd of deeper thinkers and hard hitters – people way out of my league. Ya’ll are as thick, heavy, and filling as hardtack – hope no one gets constipated tho’.

    1. Re: My two cents

      I think you should throw us your .02 anyway. Being a constipated geek doesn’t necessarily make for clarity.

      And I had to look “hardtack” up. At least you didn’t compare us to scrapple.

    2. Re: My two cents

      i am with you, Alexis 🙂
      Mark asked me for my opinion on his original post, and I come here and start reading and my mind goes abuzz…seeing such deep thinking and energetic dialoguing.

      nothing wrong with that: I just dont have the concentration that I once did to tackle each point and counterpoint, or at least not all that has been raised here, which seems chiefly to be Mark’s interest

      I will offer some introductory remarks on Mark’s original post rather than delve into the deep discussion that has so far developed afterward

  6. Factual versus Provable

    – Light is a wave
    – Light is a particle

    Both are true (apparently), and our inability to reconcile them means that we had some incorrect assumptions when we stated the question. We assumed that things existed as either wave or particle, but not both.

    – Jesus was man
    – Jesus was God

    If the Bible is true, then it appears that humanity and divinity are not actually opposites. Let’s try to be a bit more specific:

    – Jesus was God
    – Jesus was not God

    OK. Transcendental or not… those can’t both be true, right?

    My point is that even if things are complicated (e.g. yes there’s one God, but there are three persons of that God) they are still true or false (even if we can’t prove it).

    Many people like to say that all religions are true. Yes, they may all have something to teach us. Yes, they may all have some benefit. But no, they are not all true. Two religions that contradict each other (Jesus was God / Jesus was not God) cannot both be true, at least not on that one point.

    Now, I ought to start conceding some points here. You seem to be arguing against people who think that (1) Truth is logical and therefore (2) Truth can be derived through logic. Or, as says, “God is not a provable reality”. OK, let’s assume that God can’t be proven. However, I wish to maintain that something can be factual even if it’s not provable.

    Let’s get a bit more concrete. The Bible contains contradictions regarding how long Jesus was in the tomb. Matthew 16:21 says that Jesus would rise on the 3rd day (e.g. killed Friday, rose Sunday). Matthew 12:40 says that Jesus would be in the tomb for 3 days and 3 nights. Fundamentalists generally explain this away by saying that 3 days and 3 nights was just an expression and really meant the 3rd day. To them, it’s important that the Bible be consistent because there is one historical truth (Jesus rose on the 3rd day) and the Bible must not have any statement contradicting that truth.

    Would you be willing to concede that Matthew records something which is incorrect (3 nights in the tomb) but which teaches us an important truth (that Jesus’ death has parallels to Jonah’s trial)?

    1. Re: Factual versus Provable

      First, to answer your question: I accept that there are inconsistencies between the Gospel accounts. It doesn’t bother me because each writer had a different motivation for writing his gospel. Each one was writing to a different audience and wanted to reinforce different points. I would hesitate to call any statement “incorrect” because that implies that there is a single correct account. They are all “correct” in as far as that is important. The gospel accounts are based on the information available to the author, his motivation for writing, etc. “Correctness” implies provability and a rationalistic approach to scripture.

      (FWIW, during the service in the Orthodox church leading up to the celebration of the Resurrection, they specifically say that Christ was buried for 36 hours.)

      To your other points.

      When you say that I’m arguing against “people who think that Truth is logical” you would be correct. I took you for someone who held that belief when you said that “When I speak of ‘truth’, I mean the set of all things that are factually accurate. It sounds like you’re talking about the subset: spiritual truth.”

      Since I believe Truth is transcendent, calling it a subset of something triggers all sorts of bells and whistles. Transcendence implies an “otherness” or, at least in the rough language of logic, a superset.

      Now, given that you believe truth is “factually accurate” and that facts need not be provable, I’m now confused by what you when you say spiritual truth is factually accurate.

      I’m guessing that you would want to be able to derive all spiritual truth from some core “first principles” — is that right?

      1. Re: Factual versus Provable

        > Now, given that you believe truth is “factually accurate”
        > and that facts need not be provable, I’m now confused by
        > what you when you say spiritual truth is factually accurate.

        Gödel showed that there are some statements which are true, but cannot be proved. These statements are true in that their opposites are false. If spiritual truth is not provable, then I assert that this does not rob it of its factual truth.

        OK, this is all a bit ethereal. There may be some confusion regarding definitions. I’m probably using some of these terms incorrectly, so I will try to clarify with some concrete examples.

        Person A says Jesus is God. Person B says Jesus is not God. One of them is wrong. I’m not saying I can prove to either person that he is wrong. I’m just saying that we can all agree (person A and B included) that one of them is wrong, though we may all disagree on which one that is. Do you concur?

        It’s not clear to me how you can separate spiritual Truth from other assertions. You believe in the resurrection. That’s Truth, right? Suppose that someone found the body of Jesus and could somehow prove that it was really Him. Would you then accept that the resurrection was false? Or would you say that the historical resurrection was false, but the transcendental Truth of the resurrection was still true, divorced from mere fact?

        1. Re: Factual versus Provable

          It’s not that there aren’t factual components to spiritual truth —
          only that spiritual truth isn’t limited to the factual. As C.S. Lewis
          noted Christianity is the myth that became fact. There’s a significant
          separation between the “history” which the OT records and the NT which
          is a collection of epistles and the gospel accounts.

          Following the Greek Fathers — and my understanding is that the
          Jewish understanding of “the heart” is very similar — the mind/reason
          is a subordinate faculty to the heart/nous.

          What was being debated about th OT was whether or not the events
          recorded in the OT really happened:

          Readers should be aware that the background of this
          discussion is the big debate raging nowadays between “minimalists”
          who recognize very little in the OT as being demonstrably
          historical (and that’s the operative word — demonstrably), and
          “maximalists” who want to take everything in the Bible as
          historically true unless positively proven


          Does the truth of the OT hinge upon it being “demonstrably
          historical”? I don’t think it does because it’s purpose is,
          as I previously stated “didactic, ethical, spiritual,
          theological”. Hagiography is similar in this respect.

          Saying that the purpose of creation myth of Genesis 1-2 is to teach
          that God is the source of all that is, but that it isn’t to be taken
          as a literal account of the actual cosmological event of the
          formation of mater is not the same thing as saying that God didn’t
          create the cosmos. And arguing that the Israelites may not have
          warred against this people or didn’t sack that city — or at least
          not just as it is portayed in the OT — isn’t the same thing as
          saying that God doesn’t aide His people or use people to bring
          about the work of his Will.

          The real point is that regardless of whether or not things happened
          as described in the OT, the teachings to be gained from the OT
          remain valid. Saying that Jesus’ body is still very dead, on the
          other hand does turn all of Christian theology on it’s head.

        2. Re: Factual versus Provable

          Thanks for briging it down a few notches. Yes, I can see that spiritual truth must be true in general. Either the ressurection happened, or it didn’t.

          I suppose that where my problem comes in is when you say that you want factual accuracy. I have trouble with this because “factual accuracy” implies that something cannot be disputed. If it is, you just refer to the facts.

          Now, in this sense, Christ’s resurrection cannot be considered a (“cold, hard”) fact. I believe it is true that Christ arose, but if someone disagrees with me, there is no common base of knowledge to which we can refer for arbitration. (Obviously, if someone were able to prove somehow that they had Christ’s body, that would call the Resurrection into question. But no one is anywhere close to being able to make that claim.)

          So I come to the conclusion that spiritual Truth is not necessarily factually accurate. I would be more likely to agree that spiritual truth is internally consistant, but I wouldn’t hold too tightly to that idea, either, since I believe that God (and, hence, Truth) is subjective.

          You will say, “If God and Truth are subjective, then how can we know anything?” and I will answer that you can know Truth and God in the same way that you know your wife: by experiencing God and interacting with him.

  7. Subjective Truth

    > God (and, hence, Truth) is subjective

    – Proceeding from or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world
    – Particular to a given person; personal

    Is that what you mean when you use the word “subjective”?

    Let’s take the supposed Truth, “God cares for His people”. Is that true in reality or just in your mind? Is it only true from your observation of the world, or is it true for all people, whether they observe it or not?

    1. Re: Subjective Truth

        Subjective \Sub*jec"tive\, a. [L. subjectivus: cf. F.
           1. Of or pertaining to a subject.
              [1913 Webster]
           2. Especially, pertaining to, or derived from, one's own
              consciousness, in distinction from external observation;
              ralating to the mind, or intellectual world, in
              distinction from the outward or material excessively
              occupied with, or brooding over, one's own internal
              [1913 Webster]
           Note: In the philosophy of the mind, subjective denotes what
                 is to be referred to the thinking subject, the ego;
                 objective, what belongs to the object of thought, the
                 non-ego. See Objective, a., 2. --Sir W. Hamilton.
                 [1913 Webster]
           3. (Lit. & Art) Modified by, or making prominent, the
              individuality of a writer or an artist; as, a subjective
              drama or painting; a subjective writer.
              [1913 Webster]

      Subjective as opposed to objective — God is not an object to be studied with detached rationalism, but through relationship. As in 1 Peter 3:7:

      Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

      The word “understanding” here is gnosis, knowledge from experience.

      Sorry for not going into a detailed explanation, but I must get to bed. More tomorrow, perhaps.

    2. Re: Subjective Truth

      Before we start exploring Subjective vs. Objective Truth — which is a big rats nest that I’m not honestly sure I understand completely — can we go back and look at the original topic? I’d be willing to get into this more (I really do enjoy discussing this with you), but I want to see where were at on the ground we’ve already covered.

      This whole discussion started when I criticized people whose faith depends on the factual accuracy of scripture. As I, Ephrem, and others pointed out, factual accuracy isn’t the point of scripture.

      We could agree on that and still be miles apart on the Objective vs. Subjective thing. Where are we?

      It’s too late tonight for me to comment on Subjective Truth, but let me tell you where I was first introduced to the idea of God as Subjective truth.

      Nicolai Berdyaev is a Russian philosopher that passed on in 1948. He wrote quite a bit on the Objectiive vs. the Subjective.

      Now, this, in and of itself is nothing. Philosophers rant on and on about this and that. They seem especially adept when it comes to abstract, esoteric concepts like Objectivity.

      But what he said struck a chord with me. Take these two quotes, for instance:

      Freedom is more primary than being: it cannot be determined by our being; it is bottomless, foundationless. In determination, in rationalization, that is to say in objectivization, freedom disappears.

      From the collision of atoms reason and meaning can never be developed.

      Since it is late and I really should go to bed, I’ll just stop for now with this question (prompted by those two quotes): Is it possible for objective truth to result in freedom?

      Does a purly rational, objective understanding of God grant meaning?

  8. much ado about nothing 1 of 2

    I was interested in this post by Mark, as it appeared in my LJ friends list by RSS. I was going to offer some response when Mark then asked me for what I thought about one of his long responses he gave here.

    My first task is to comment on Mark’s original post itself. This in itself requires a rather convoluted analysis, for Mark quotes a statement (“fundamentalism is the last refuge of rationalism”) which is referenced in the comments of an apparent Orthodox blogger, J.B. Burnett who comments on a post by a Baptist pastor-scholar Jim West, which is in itself a response to a post by Dr James Cathey, a Hebrew professor and archaeologist, who along with Jim West and others, are involved in a series of posts on biblical interpretation, more precisely, as far as I can tell, both the historicity of the Old Testament (more aptly titled, in my mind, the Hebrew scriptures, or Tanak) and the importance of historicity to one’s faith in God. This all has signs of being of the utmost importance to Protestants and, indeed, mainly a Protestant issue.

    First let me say that each point raised in the posts about the Tanak (OT) can be asked, and have been asked–ad infinitum–about the Christian Scriptures (NT).

    Thus the immediate topic seems to me to be Do the Scriptures have to be (shown to be) historically factual before we can trust them, or trust God.

    The two sides in the above debate seem to be the so-called maximalists, who seem to want or need Scripture to be factually verifiable (i.e., “historically accurate”) and are therefore they are dubbed fundamentalists and given the nomer rationslists.

    And the minimalists, who seem to have taken the position that Scripture is not (meant to be) history, and therefore its historical reliability is unnecessary to faith in God. Apparently these minimalists, or at least some of them, have taken the position that Scripture contains, and was not meant to contain, any history. Such a position is itself arbitrary and fundamentalist. And I doubt it is any more post-enlightenment a position than their opponents.

    A guy named Ken has nicely analysed the approach of West and the minimalists in comments that elucidate the various genres in which the tanak (OT) was written. The same points can be made about the NT. And I am not too far off, I think, in agreeing with Ken that both sides in the debate are more similar than dissimilar and that both can be described as fundamentalist in outlook. Either fundamentalist in insisting on the historical reliability of scripture (taken to the extreme: every statement in Scripture is historical) or fundamentalist in denying that any history may be found in the Scriptures.

    History can be found in both sets of Scripture. We then ask, not what is truth? but what is history? One anonymous commenter below rightly points out the subjective nature of history: that it involves both reports and interpretation of events. There is no such thing as objective history, or reporting for that matter.

    Thus, are the Scriptures historical? And are they historically reliable?

    Yes and yes.

    But that doesnt answer everything. Portions of the Tanak are history, and those portions are history. And those portions are historically reliable as any other source of history, remembering that all history is biased: I mean biased in its reporting, so that, say, the accounts in (1st and 2nd) Chronicles are going to express the outlook of their authors.

    And the accounts and reports in the Gospels are going to reflect the outlook of their authors. This means they are biased accounts. They are biased in that the accounts told therein are told by people belonging to the community that experienced the presence of the risen Jesus in their midst. Thus they take the resurrection as a given.

    1. John Burnett

      Just a note on John Burnett — though I’ve let him know about our comments here he’s unlikely to show up, I imagine. He’s working for the OCMC in Uganda.

      A good guy, he’s been a great source of information and encouragement since my conversion to Orthodoxy.

  9. much ado about nothing, 2 of 2

    (As an aside, in my opinion, all fair critical analysis, both pro and con, must grant this as the starting place for critiquing the authors of the Gospels…this has an impact on the so-called search for the “historical Jesus”, which aims at stripping away the inherent bias of the Gospels to find the historical Jesus. well, they will never find him. Each “scholar” who engages in that task comes up with a different “historical Jesus” than any other “scholar.” Not only that, each Jesus that a scholar comes up with usually reflects the presuppositions of the so-called scholar. Each “historical Jesus” (at least those invented by scholars who do not share the presuppositions of the gospel writers) is a truncated and/or twisted version of the Jesus that the Gospels announce: who is the Messiah and incarnation of God.

    My main response is: Can we have faith in the God who reveals himself in both Scripture and history?.

    Yes. But not because Scripture is 100% factually verifiable. Not even because Scripture is 100% history (which it is not–it contains many genres). But because Scripture, so the Church hs taught and held from the beginning, is 100% inspired by God and therefore reliable.

    But what is it reliable for? The end of John’s gospel says these things are written so that you might believe and that in believing you might have eternal life. St Paul writes to Timothy that Scripture is profitable for many things. And while it is true that Scripture is historically valuable for our understanding of ancient society (from a historical point of view), Paul does not mention that as one of its purposes; rather he describes the tanak (sacred writings) as leading you to faith in Christ. or to quote:

    “from infancy you have known the sacred writings, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:15)

    So God has revealed Himself in Scripture. But also through history. Mainly by calling a people to himself for the purpose of being his witnesses to the world . And it is the very record of that calling by the very people of that calling that form Scripture. So Scripture is not an independent witness to God, but the witness of the people of God to God. And the faith that one acquires through Scripture is not one that one acquires alone, but in company with, and indeed as a gift from–the whole people of God, who respond to God. Faith comes from the faith community, in whose company is experienced the presence of God.

    (Of course–to address one comment stated below: God is not revealed only in the calling of Israel and in the calling of the church. But God is revealed in all religions, because each religion is a search for God, in whose image He has created man
    and in man he has left the thirst for himself. Are all religions true? Well, no religion (by itself) is true. Only God is true.

    Indeed the religions of Judaism and Christianity are false when they deviate from their mandate: to be God’s people an witnesses in the world. But all religions are true, including Judaism and Christianity, in the sense and =to the extent= that they contain and embody the truth of God. In other words, “all truth is God’s truth.” And although privileged, it appears that neither Israel nor the Church has been perfect in its mandate to be God’s people.

    To sum up:

    God has revealed himself in (the history) of his dealings with Israel, as compiled in the Hebrew Scriptures, =and= in the ongoing relationship between God and Israel and God with the world…


    God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Christian Scriptures, =and= as experienced in the ongoing relationship between God and the church and God with the world.

    I have probably not addressed a single point anybody asked me to address.

    1. Re: much ado about nothing, 2 of 2

      > I have probably not addressed a single point anybody asked me to address.

      On the contrary: I think this is a much better summary than anything I could have come up with. Or did. Very well thought out.

      I especially like this: Indeed the religions of Judaism and Christianity are false when they deviate from their mandate: to be God’s people an witnesses in the world.

      That’s the bit that is the crux, I think. We deviate from our mandate when we worry too much about how or why God’s word is his word. Instead, God’s word is reliable, as you said.

  10. Fundamentalist vulnerability

    I suspect that a subjective view of truth underlies some of the difference in thinking, but as Mark requested, I’ll set that specific question aside.

    In my experience, fundamentalists believe that the Bible should be taken seriously. It is not true that they “will not believe unless you have proof”. Rather, they believe because so much of the Bible has been shown to be reliable, and they are willing to accept on faith that the unproven parts are also true. Yes, this requires some sort of proof (or rather, evidence) for that initial faith. Some of it may be archaeological, but generally the evidence that motivates a fundamentalist to take it all as true is personal experience. The God of the Bible shows Himself to be true and the fundamentalist extrapolates that the rest of His word must also be true.

    It is true that the fundamentalist has made himself more vulnerable than the transcendentalist. If one can prove that the Bible is in error, then the fundamentalist will question all of God’s word. Of course, in practice, it’s impossible to prove any deviation between the original manuscripts and actual events, since we can’t view either of them. Although in theory, there could be enough evidence of disparity to outweigh the personal evidence of God’s presence in one’s own life.

    I’m still unclear on how you decide which parts of the Bible are Truth. Is prophecy Truth? The Bible seems to offer prophecy as evidence of God. When Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would call for the temple to be rebuilt, is it important that this actually happened? Would relevant evidence affirm or contradict your faith, or would it be irrelevant to your faith?

    1. Re: Fundamentalist vulnerability


      I’m still unclear on how you decide which parts of the Bible are Truth. Is prophecy Truth?

      Personally I think — and believe that the Church attests to this — that all of the Bible is true, as points out, …not because Scripture is 100% factually verifiable…But because Scripture, so the Church hs taught and held from the beginning, is 100% inspired by God and therefore reliable. And he goes on writing:

      But what is it reliable for? The end of John’s gospel says these things are written so that you might believe and that in believing you might have eternal life. St Paul writes to Timothy that Scripture is profitable for many things. And while it is true that Scripture is historically valuable for our understanding of ancient society (from a historical point of view), Paul does not mention that as one of its purposes; rather he describes the tanak (sacred writings) as leading you to faith in Christ.

      further writes:

      The Bible seems to offer prophecy as evidence of God. When Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would call for the temple to be rebuilt, is it important that this actually happened? Would relevant evidence affirm or contradict your faith, or would it be irrelevant to your faith?

      The affirmation is nice when you can get it, but I don’t particularly see it as necessary for faith. My thought has never been that all the “historical” accounts of the OT are outright false, but that there is precious little history that we can uncover from biblical texts.

      1. All true

        I’m still unclear on how you decide which parts of the Bible are Truth.

        Maybe I should say, I’m unclear on how you decide how high-level to approach the Bible in your acceptance of its truth.

        For example, the Bible being true could mean:

        1. Every statement is literally true. Abel’s blood cried out from the ground. It is foolish to believe this.
        2. Every statement, with the direct meaning intended by its author, is true. A star (or apparently a star) shown in the sky and moved over to the house with young Jesus. It is difficult to reconcile this with our present understanding of the nature of the heavens, but a fundamentalist would believe that this actually happened and anyone else at that time who was paying attention would also have seen it.
        3. The spiritual statements are true, even if the supporting details are technically not true. Jesus was worthy of worship such as that displayed in the story of the magi, even if it didn’t happen quite that way (or at all).

        How much of the story of the magi are you certain is true? Or better yet, give me a statement that must be false because this story is in the true Bible.

        1. Re: All true

          3 certainly, 2 is possible but mostly unprovable and proof isn’t essential, 1 is just a naive literalist reading of poetic language.

          The 2 type of statement which must be true for Christianity to remain Christianity is that:

          • God took on human nature: the Incarnation
          • Jesus died
          • Jesus rose again a short time later

          Beyond that I’m not sure how much I’d care if we had positive proof that the Apostle Paul was a Martian from the 23rd century that after a few years in a Art Rock band called “Petros and a Hard Place” took a trip in a time machine back to the 1st century Near East.

          1. Re: All true

            Oh, come on. To be fair, for “Christianity to remain Christianity” you have to accept the trinity. There’ve been zillions of councils and billions of people declared heretics because they refused to accept that.

            Of course, the Trinity isn’t provable or not. Even with time machines. 😉

          2. Re: All true

            Sure, for Christianity to remain Christianity there’s a lot of things that have to be true — the core of them are found in the Nicene Creed. But I was specifically speaking re: the type 2 statement.

            Another type 2 statement would be the virgin birth of Jesus. But the Trinity isn’t a material/event based doctrine. It’s spiritual and transcendant — certainly it influences everything taking place in space and time, but is not, itself, rooted in our observable reality. The concrete entry into space/time is in the fact of the Incarnation.

          3. Re: All true

            Also I should note that I focused on the “observable phenomena” aspect of the type 2. began the description with Every statement, with the direct meaning intended by its author, is true, which covers a lot more than the phenomenalogical example he gave. The “a lot more” is predominantly theological/spiritual in nature, and if we were going from that angle then I’d have to change my answer completely.

        2. Re: All true

          Christians believe that all of the Holy Scriptures are true because they present a true (and inspired) witness to God. Is it necessary to “decide” how much of the Magi story is written in the style of an Associated Press news report?

          This is like the story of Jesus’ baptism. How much are we supposed to take to be written like an AP wire report? Did a dove really descend? Did the heavens split open? Did a voice actually thunder from the heavens? Or is this (or most of this) written in apocalyptic or “mythical” language–remembering that such language is a means of relaying truth? And that the earliest readers would have known such–even if modern day fundamentalists may not. The truth-telling qualities and “styles” of the scripture are much more rich than the fundamentalists would have us believe.

    2. All scripture is true

      Jeremy, thanks for sidestepping the subjective vs. objective in your reply. I agree that it is a difference in our thinking. I’ll try to address that now.

      Let’s back up a bit. Why does anyone believe scripture? Because the believer has faith that it is the word of God. What reason does the believer have for this faith? If it is genuine faith, then I would say that it is because of some experience that the believer has had. Perhaps an archeological find will push him over the edge into belief, but the person must

      Faith cannot be based purely on knowledge. Knowledge cannot save. It may help you when doubts arise, but knowledge alone, reason alone, will ultimately do nothing for spiritually.

      You say prophecy is proof that scripture is true. But this proof is only good enough for someone who already believes. A skeptic might say that Isaiah was obviously written after Cyrus had called for the temple to be rebuilt. Or he’ll say that Cyrus read what Isaiah wrote and, obviously, called for the temple to be rebuilt. This prophecy won’t convince the skeptic.

      And then there are the prophecies about Christ’s birth. There are people who agree that these prophecies foretell the coming of the messiah — every orthodox jew believes them — but they deny that Christ is the fulfillment of the prophecies. A skeptic, of course, doesn’t believe those prophecies and doesn’t see that Christ fulfills them.

      Therefore, prophecy cannot be an objective criteria for determining the truth of scripture. I cannot convince a skeptic that the words in a book are true. There is no way to independently verify it.

      So what reason do we have to believe that scripture is inspired by God and not just the random rantings of a deranged lunatic? Or, to be less extreme, not just the writings of a devoted (but misguided) believer?

      Well, the church has canonized the writings. That means that a group of church leaders hundreds of years ago agreed that these writings are scripture. So, in addition to trusting that the original writer was inspired (a completely subjective, if justified, belief), we trust that the people who collected the writings of the New Testament were correct.

      Want more proof? The canon has survived hundreds of years of study. It has provided hundreds of years of inspiration to billions of people.

      But, objectively, that’s just saying that scripture is good for study and inspiration. Writing doesn’t have to be divinely inspired or even “true” to do that.

      You can say that you simply trust God to preserve his word, but even that is not an objective criteria. It is completely subjective.

      So, why do we believe scripture is true?

      Because of our experience with Christ.

      Look at scripture itself. From it we conclude that there is more to Truth than believing the Bible is true: Luke writes that disciple’s hearts burned when Christ read about himself in scripture — they had a powerful, personal encounter with Christ. John says Jesus criticized people who believed and studied scripture but “refuse to come to me to have life” — they believed scripture was true and practiced what it taught, but the refused to move beyond that to an experience with Christ. They knew the truth, but not the Truth, so they could not be free.

      Applying objective methods to scripture doesn’t bring us any closer to what is true, let alone the Truth. It can help us shore up our subjective belief, but no amount of objectivity will result in belief. No amount of archaeological digging will confirm the spiritual truths of scripture.

  11. Questions


    I should note that I focused on the “observable phenomena” aspect of the type 2.

    I was also referring to statements that are “theological/spiritual in nature”. But how do you tell the difference? The Nicene creed specifically states that Christ was raised on the third day. So, is that a theological statement? It sounds like a statement of fact — something that actually happened regardless of historical interpretation and even if it can’t be proved. But you believe it to be true. Why? Because of your experience with Christ? No. Your experience with Christ convinces you to believe the Bible. And in turn, you believe the theological/spiritual statements therein. But how do you pick out which statements fall under that category? How does the number of days from crucifixion to resurrection get categorized in the “absolutely true” group?

    What about the fact that Pontius Pilate presided over Jesus’ trial?

    What about the virginity of Mary?

    I know you can’t prove these things. I know it wouldn’t make anyone believe even if you could. But do you believe these things to be absolutely true?

    Mark wrote:

    So, why do we believe scripture is true?

    Because of our experience with Christ.

    How do you know that your experience with Christ cannot simply be explained by psychology rather than by the presence of a living God?

    1. Re: Questions

      Know? I know very little, and what I think I know I frequently doubt, and what I doubt most perhaps I know best. To know. No. To believe. And then as if to comfort the rational mind which wants to be secure in its reasonableness I rationalize, tucking the corners of the sheets under the mattress of my mind so that it is all tidy and neat.

      I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

      I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages…

      I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life…

      I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

      And I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.

      And I look with profound, anticipatory hope for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.

      Yes, I believe these things absolutely. Even when I doubt them, especially when I doubt them. Sometimes the mind is the tail that likes to wag the dog.

      But to know? It could certainly be the beans I ate last night, or the chemical imbalance caused by my poor diet, or the anxiety that weighs on me over my kids and my divorce. It could be the essential emptiness of existential isolation asserting itself against my mind for some scrap of a sense of security. It could be all those things. And at the very same time it could be Christ — not instead of, but over, within, below, beside them all.

      Faith, as Kierkegaard has shown us, is absurd. But no more so than this simple and complex, naive and vulgar drunkard’s dance of laughter amidst tears, of life in death in life and sex and birth and burial.

    2. Re: Questions


      I don’t know. In and of myself, I can’t know. Do you know? How do you know you know?

      When someone has a psychotic episode, they believe things about themselves and others that are simply not true. But they are convinced of their reality.

      So, how can I know that what I believe is not some grand self-delusion? I may get a clean bill of health from a psychiatrist, but that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of spiritual self-delusion.

      Pascal played this game well, actually. You, too, can play the rationalist and gamble that a particular belief-system will get you the result you want.

      You can come up with theories and rational for your beliefs.

      Or, like a child, you can simply believe.

      If your belief sustains you during your dark hours — if, somehow, you can maintain hope in the midst of overwhelming despair — then that should be proof enough.

      We want too much confidence. But Jesus doesn’t offer confidence apart from himself. We must give up on the god that is set in stone, the predictable god that we think we know.

      Instead, we must seek relationship with the Truth. Your faith might not be perfect (whose is?), but “draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you“.

      If you want confidence and assurance, then you will only find it in a relationship with the Truth. There is no other source for assurance.

      1. Re: Questions

        This is almost completely beside the point, but years ago when I was reading about Buddhism I was really captivated by a discourse on the mind. The fundamental argument was that there is no possibility of being sure that our senses and our minds aren’t deceiving us. If the mind is sick enough it isn’t even aware of the sickness. What assurance do we have that we aren’t all hallucinating lunatics in some assylum pissing ourselves while we think we are having this nice dialog about Truth?

        I wrote at length about it in my journal and showed an older friend of mine — I was in my mid 20s, she was in her 40s… and no, Jason it’s not Ruth, it’s the one who shan’t be mentioned at this time — and she became very worried about me. Thought I’d gone off my rocker. And with a wry grin and a sparkle in my eye I said, “Maybe so.”

    3. Re: Questions

      How do you know that your experience with Christ cannot simply be explained by psychology rather than by the presence of a living God?

      Man, this comment hit close to home. I dealt with this question for years…

      What I wanted to say was longer than the limit on this blog, so I posted it to my own journal. You can read it here.


      Jason Delevan
      et hice adessimus ligare

  12. Zoroastrian Inquisition

    A fundamentalist would say that he believes the whole package deal of the Bible. Every statement’s direct intended meaning is true. Unbelievers will be tormented in the lake of fire. The rod is a good form of discipline. Homosexuality is wrong.

    Thus, when the fundamentalist-to-be believes, he has all the answers spelled out. Oh there’s no doubt that there is hermeneutic controversy over some of the details, but in general, the set of things to believe as a Christian is laid out in the Bible.

    At first, I thought you were of a similar opinion with the modification that you only believe the spiritual statements in the Bible. I have been trying to show through my questions that it’s not possible to divide the Bible neatly into spiritual and non-spiritual statements. I want to know what criteria you use for deciding which statements to believe.

    Please correct me here… It sounds like you have started with a basic belief in Christ based on your experience. Since you believe in Christ, you extrapolate that the rest of the Bible might be true. But then you also have a basic belief in science and reason. These seem to contradict the Bible at some points. So, you withdraw to the position that the Bible is not about factual truths but spiritual truths.

    You believe in Christ. Of course you can’t prove that you’re right, perhaps not even to yourself. You might just be a brain in a vat somewhere being used for tests by some mad scientist. But let’s get practical. When the Zoroastrian Inquisition reaches Akron and they say “recant or burn”, you’re going to burn, right?

    How about when someone comes to you and confesses his homosexual behavior? Do you use the Bible as a guide and exhort him to repent? Or do you use science and genetics as your guide and exhort him to find support? How do you decide?

    My point is that if you’re not going to take the whole package, you have to decide what to keep. If you just pick and choose, then you’re being arbitrary with the truth. You might say that you can’t really know; you can only have degrees of certainty. In that case, tell me what you’ll do in the face of the Zoroastrian Inquisition. Or tell me what you’re going to teach your kids. There is some set of things you believe strongly enough to do something about. How do you decide what to put in that set?

    1. Re: Zoroastrian Inquisition

      Thankfully we have the community of the church which has been interpreting through prayerful meditation on the scriptures — not to mention the oral tradition and praxis passed on from Christ to the apostles and on through the church. There’s power in community — a community which is both rooted in space and time, but which also is universal and eternal. We have 2000 years of specifically Christian interp of scripture to utilize.

      We become a part of that body. That body is not infallible, but it is authoritative. As for the approach to interp there is the saying from Eusebius (iirc) that a theologian is one who prays truly; he who prays truly is a theologian.

      It’s not about picking and choosing what is convenient for us, but of working within the historical and spiritual witness of the church.

      I’m not much of a follower of science. But I’m not ideologically at odds with it, either. There’s definitely places where I find it suspect on a more philosophical level — this is where I should bring in my old friend William Blake, but I didn’t bring my book with me. Science, properly speaking, has nothing to say about the existence of God — those who try to do so are stepping outside the limitations of science.

      Hopefully when the ZI comes around I’ll spit in their faces and tell them to “Go to hell — may God have mercy on you because I can’t.” I’m still a ways off from being able to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

      Tradition doesn’t mean checking your brain at the door. But it does mean that one forms his questions within the context of that tradition. I see my relationship with Tradition as something of a tension of trying to wrestle out with it where my differences are. I’ll argue and ask questions in the attempt to see my best arguments crash to the ground. Others take a more passive approach and just try to swallow it straight off. I’ve tried to do that and it just doesn’t work for me.

      As for homosexuality — which always seems to come up — see this:

      A priest once told about a man who came to see him about becoming Orthodox. The priest said, “Okay, we’ll need to discuss who Christ is, the Church, the Sacraments ….” The man interrupted him saying, “I’m gay.” The priest said, “Okay. But if you want to become Orthodox, we’ll need to discuss who Christ is, the Church, the Sacraments ….” “Dang it! Didn’t you hear me? I said, I’m gay!” “I heard you,” said the priest, “but if you want to become Orthodox, we’ll need to talk about who Christ is, the Church, the Sacraments ….” Crying, the man told the priest that other pastors had either told him it didn’t matter, or to get out! It took the man a couple years to become Orthodox, but another 10 years to become celibate. He claims he could never have made it without the benefit of Christ, the Church, and the Sacraments.

    2. Re: Zoroastrian Inquisition

      I should also point out what hasn’t been pointed out yet here, namely that there’s Scripture and then there’s Scripture. What I mean is, that within the body of canonical scriptures the Church has deemed some parts more useful and/or important than others. Our liturgical response reveals this — as did the Temple worship of the Jews by my understanding.

      The Jews would stand for the reading of the law, because it was considered the most important. The wisdom books and prophecy came next, and the histories last. For Christians the Gospels are the most important — and everyone stands when they are read, then the epistles, then the OT. And while still a part of the canon and important for many things The Apocalypse of St. John (Revelation) isn’t ever read in the services, if I have my facts straight.

      This is all a matter of application and has been worked out — in a not terribly systematic way — by the church in coucil, by the Fathers, etc.

      Jaroslav Pelikan’s book The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition goes into detail on this. It’s the first of a 5 book series on the development of doctrine.

    3. Re: Zoroastrian Inquisition

      It sounds like you have started with a basic belief in Christ based on your experience.

      Of course, for me it is not this simple. I was raised in a fairly fundamentalist home during which time I “prayed to receive Christ as my savior.” I was baptised in a protestant church. I memorized verses in Awana. I went to Haiti with Teen Missions.

      My relationship with Christ was immature, sure, but I had one. So, why did I ultimately reject the idea that “every direct intended meaning of scripture is true”?

      Because I saw the paucity of my experience. I have five God-given senses. Why did the church seem to avoid engaging them?

      I saw that not even the most extreme fundamentalists try to do everything the Bible teaches. Further, I saw that anyone can read the Bible any way they please so that verses like “turn the other cheek” and “faith by itself … is dead” became so twisted and distorted that the final interpretation had no relation to the plain meaning.

      So many of the fundamentalists that I knew, so many of the ones I read, held tightly to the idea of preemenance of scripture for spiritual direction, but were blind to how their own beliefs and doctrines shaped how they understood scripture.

      So, I saw that I couldn’t simply rely on scripture to tell me what it meant. It isn’t a closed system. And I saw that many fundamentalists lean too heavily on intellect to, in a way, control God. Their god was dead and predictable. Do this and god does that.

      I rejected the fundamentalist’s rationalistic approach to God in order to deal with him as a living Person.

      But that doesn’t answer your question. How do I know what Truth is? How do I decide which parts of the Bible to “keep”.

      When I was in college, I was in InterVarsity. There was a mailing list for members of IVCF. I subscribed and, besides meeting , I was introduced to some Orthodox converts. What they said intrigued me. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I actually made it to an Orthodox church and, finally, ended up converting.

      This leads to the answer to your question There is some set of things you believe strongly enough to do something about. How do you decide what to put in that set?

      The simple answer? Orthopraxis. I follow the teaching of the Orthodox Church. I try to fast and pray and read scripture; I go to confession; I take communion; I celebrate Pascha. I’m a poor example of an Orthodox Christian, but I try.

      The idea is that if I live every day as a Christian in every part of my life, seeking to sublimate my will to God’s, I’ll find that when I’m faced with unexpected circumstances, I’ll know instinctively how to act. I won’t necessarily have a Bible verse ready on the tip of my tounge to back up my actions, but, as I inch slowly closer to God, I’ll get a better idea of how to live in every circumstance.

      1. Re: Zoroastrian Inquisition

        Quite alike and different, too, from my own experience. I was raised a Baptist. The 3 or 4 point Calvinist kind. My dad was for most of my childhood a preacher.

        I’m not going to go into the whole story — it was occurring on too many different levels in seemingly unrelated ways. But the mangling of the plain meaning of several spots in Scripture — which I couldn’t point out now, except for James — was one of them. The iconoclasm was another. The legalistic pettiness in our particular churches, and so forth.

        Plus, if it’s not apparent, I’m far more analogical than analytical. A bit of a wannabe artist’s temperament. That didn’t fit in well at all with the way I was raised. It ended up being catholicism or bust. I need liturgy and the sacraments like air. I read hoity-toity intellectual books, but essentially understand mystery and poetry better than strict logic. All the stuff that Mark talks about was happening for me, too, but my approach and diving into Orthodoxy — and my later periods of trouble with it — were much more like the dynamics and decisions of a love affair than a series of conscious, logically considered decisions.

        I have believed in Jesus Christ since I was 6. I still remember the dead bee floating in the baptistry as I got dunked. I believed. But so much of it was an intellectual assent and inside there was a deep frustration of impersonal faith — I believed, but was also empty inside, grasping to find God in a way that I could understand better than by a series of doctrinal assertions. When I found Orthodoxy I was overwhelmed with a sense of the presence of God, the scent, if you will, of Him lingering about everything. I could not only think about God, but taste, touch, hear, smell the life of the community of Christ. And the inner emptiness didn’t go away, but it transmuted from a longing after an unknown to a longing after someone I have met. All my life I had understood the God as Father metaphor, but now I had found the Jesus as bridegroom, the lover of the Song of Songs. I *knew* of this metaphor before, but it meant nothing too me because it meant little to those who spoke about it. It was a rather abstract analogy, but in Orthodoxy it became a reality to me.

        I’m not a very good bride. I’ve got hairy legs for one. And a hairy tongue that gets me into trouble. (Which is to say, I hope I haven’t offended with any of my crass images.) I’m a doubter and sometimes incredulous. I’m arrogant and all too arbitrary at times. But my hope is here, in God, through His Bride, the Church. “…just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27

      2. Re: Zoroastrian Inquisition

        This post was great, thanks for making me feel not so alone. And I went to Teen Missions twice, though I was too young to go overseas. Hi-five to the only other person I know who literally has bathed in the swamps of Florida with alligators. 🙂



        1. Teen Missions Alumni

          What year did you go? Where did you go?

          I went to Haiti in 1987 when I was 14 years old. Baby Doc had the Haitians pretty riled up against Americans, so we had to leave two weeks early.

          It was a great experience and forever altered the way I view the world.

  13. Conclusion?

    OK, I think I get it now. The difference here is that you don’t believe in sola scriptura. Your authority is Christ, not scripture (or at least not scripture alone). You see Christ’s authority in a union of Scripture, Tradition, and the Church.

    Did I get it?

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