Thursday, October 08, 2009

Scripture has authority on which area of our lives?

Christianity is a religion of words, a religion of the Book… The Reformers insisted that Scripture not only has the final say, but it is the formal principle of everything we believe about doctrine or conduct. That is, it shapes and forms out faith. It does not simply sign off on essentially secular definitions of reality borrowed from psychology, business, sociology, politics, and the like. Rather, it is more likely to overthrow our presuppositions… [Earthly things] including science, art, and philosophy, unbelievers could contribute to the advance of knowledge and experience. After all, Scripture is not interested in telling us everything about everything, and God’s world is open to the investigation of everyone. But the transcendent realities of God’s character, His commands and His saving work, are not available to the philosopher, scientist, artist, or therapist. Secular wisdom may lead us to the truth about the revolution of planets, but it cannot explain the nature of God, the self and guilt and redemption. It cannot lead us to the truth about how we are saved from God’s wrath, for it refuses to believe that this is even a reality in the first place.
(Michael Horton, ‘Foreword,’ in Sola Scriptura, ed., Don Kistler, [USA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995], xvi-xvii. Emphasis mine).

This is a common feature of believers' view on the function of Bible. But there is a deep flaw with this. We assume too readily that we understand our 'belief', 'doctrine' and 'conduct' came to us as pre-packed. Women's voting rights and anti-slavery laws did not come to us pre-packed. It took humans centuries to realize these and work them out. (A good contemporary example is the issue on polygamy).

Hence the assumption of scripture's authority is a given to believers, and it is our understanding of 'doctrine' and 'conduct' that cannot be assumed so readily. Therefore to demarcate secular studies from theological studies can not be as clear as some of us want to.


reasonable said...

Thinking aloud:

The documents in the bible are written by fallible and imperfect human beings and hence exhibit imperfections and errors. An empirical analysis of the bible shows that God's inspiration is a type of inspiration that does not prevent the human authors' imperfections, limitations and errors from entering the text in the various biblical documents. Hence an interaction with other knowledge outside the bible helps Christians to correct errors (including errors in behaviours - e.g. defending slavery on biblical ground) that might have been influenced by the imperfections and errors of the text in the bible.

reasonable said...

Even some central "doctrines" such as salvation and nature of God might be improved by interacting biblical info with experiences and knowledge outside the bible. For example, the doctrine of strict exclusivistic salvation: upon the interaction with other major religions, it might be a case of moving closer to the truth when a strict exclusivist changes his view to become some sort of inclusivist position. The understand of the nature of God's omniscience might become nearer to the truth upon interaction with philosophy when one moves from "God knows all details of the future including what colour of underwear u are going to wear on any exact calendar date next year" to "God knows all that is logically posible to be known and future free choices is impossible to be known".

So the separation of domains proposed by the quoted author seems to be too simplistic a picture.