In a recent conversation, M reiterated his belief that there is little in the way of "Truth claims" that we can firmly stand on in the context of the Biblical text by itself. (See this post for a more comprehensive articulation). He has also expressed support for the well-worn - though often not properly analyzed - assumption that people do not come to faith on the basis of the historical truth of the Bible, or words on a page, but on the basis of a heart transformation as the result of such a God encounter. Taken together, I believe these conclusions amount to something of an intellectual copout and leave Christians vulernable to the critiques of several groups we ought to be evangelizing with confidence. Thus I offer the following observations/critiques:
- If an "encounter with the divine" is both the telos of Scripture and it's illuminating light, then the encounter preceeds Scripture in importance and becomes it's Judge. This model has no independant resource to judge those who claim to have "experienced God" and then set out to interpret Scripture in an entirely unbiblical manner (think Heaven's Gate or Jonestown here). Since human experience of the divine is undeniably unreliable, Scripture must act as the foundation and judge of our experience of the divine. We must seek Truth in Scripture so that we are not led astray by our own interpretation or the faulty interpretations of others, and more importatly, set limits on what is an acceptable reading with a clear understanding of what the text says.
- On a similar note, we become impotent to articulate the Gospel to members of other religions (think Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, etc). Each tradition claims to have encounters with the divine, and without an appeal to a verifiable Scripture, we can only counter by somehow claiming that our experiences are "more true," or by lamely restating that Christ is somehow unique in a way that can only be "experienced" and not verified.
- While it may be true that people will not believe on the basis of rational, historical or logical arguments, I think it is often true that people will disbelieve on the basis of such arguments (think atheist/agnostic here). I personally know several people for whom this is true. If Scripture can't stand up to intellecutal scrutiny, they won't give it a second look. While we may not win converts with articulations of historical truth, by doing so we remove obstacles for the skeptic and allow the Spirit to soften the hearts of those that would otherwise disbelieve. If the truth of Scripture is not itself sufficient, neither should it be proven false.
- Lastly, simply claiming that the truth of Scripture is unknowable and appealing to a subjective encounter with the divine amounts to an intellectual copout. I realize this is a controversial point, but if the material cannot stand up to tough scrutiny, then we should honestly recognize that and reject it. We would expect the same of members of other religions (the Mormons, for example) or in any other area of life (science, politics, history). Our desire to hold on to what we cannot understand on the basis of subjective experience is admirable, but foolhardy. We feebly claim that this Christianity cannot make sense, or it would lose the mysterious or we try to hold on to the trappings and symbols of Christianity for the sake of our heritage or personal comfort, but we have lost the foundation on which all else is built.
Grace & Peace