On Fri, 23 Apr 2004 10:49:27 -0400 Douglas Barber
D. F. Siemens, Jr. wrote:
(Doug Barber wrote)<mostly snipped>
If there is a way - and I believe there must be - to ultimately ground
our beliefs about God in anything other than the degree to which a
proposed belief or system of beliefs emotionally satisfies us, I have
not yet discovered it in any way that I can clearly articulate, and it
seems to me to be something of the utmost importance.
I agree that there must be a way to ground our beliefs. I believe that
there is. Christianity is the ONE historical faith. I think it was Ramsay
who intended to show up the errors in the New Testament by archeological
evidence, and was forced to the conclusion that Luke was a first-rate
historian. Then there was the chap who intended to debunk the
resurrection, and became a believer. Can't think of his name, but I think
the book was _Who Moved the Stone?_ Most of the New Testament was
written by men who claimed to be eyewitnesses, and there appears to be
mounting evidence that their writings existed in the first century. No
time for myths to develop. No chance to deceive those still living who
had also been observers.
J. B. Phillips wrote that translating the New Testament was like rewiring
a building with the mains energized. This can be dismissed as a purely
subjective matter, but the similar effects across civilizations, peoples,
tribes, cultures, etc., carries some weight. There is a transforming
power in the gospel.
That's a striking and illuminating quote from Philips.
Let me say a little about one way of reading a part of the argument you
make in the paragraph above that quote. I take it that a part of your
argument is that evidence which favors the historical accuracy of the New
Testament favors the beliefs about God which the New Testament proclaims.
If this type of argument is meant to stand in isolation (and I don't
presume that that's the way you mean it), it requires us to assume that,
before God reveals himself to us, we have some way of knowing what must
characterize God's revelation - historical accuracy, in this case. Calvin
denies that this type of discernment is possible, and I've never been
able to find fault with his reasoning here. [The heart of the argument is
in Book One, Chapter VI of the *Institutes*]. God, in Calvin's view, is
not just "what we think is good (again, 'historically accurate', in this
case), more perfectly expressed", nor "what we think is powerful, but
more so", but God is qualitatively different than we are, and we have no
valid way of intuiting what "good" or "perfect" means, with respect to
God, apart from what God tells us about God. Even the statement, "I will
not accept as God's self-manifestation anything which is not at least as
good as the best in the human spirit", when that "best" is discerned
without the use of God's revelation as a guideline, must be disallowed.
Further - Calvin does not make this point, but I believe it is utterly
consistent with his argument - we must disallow the belief, when advanced
prior to and apart from what God tells us about God, that, were God's
self-manifestation to be contained in or pointed to by a book, that book
would have to be inerrant in every respect, because, again, we have no
way of knowing what *must* characterize God in any respect apart from
God's self-disclosure. In any case, Calvin, I think, self-consciously
avoids *basing* his belief that the Bible contains or points to God's
self-manifestation on any argument of the type just criticized, and must
instead rest that belief on God's testimony, within the heart of the
believer, to the fact that God's self-manifestation is in the Bible. He
certainly does not deny that, once that attestation has been made, the
believer may discern many other testimonies (such as the possible
testimony of historical accuracy) tending to confirm the truth of the
belief that the Bible is revelatory, which was already confirmed in his
or her heart by the Holy Spirit, and this is what I take to be the real
thrust of your argument.
I think, in further reflecting on my argument that you cited, that what
I'm sometimes chasing is a way of testing the validity of beliefs about
God which is intersubjectively compelling even to subjects who disagree
concerning where to look for God's self-manifestation, and that Calvin
shows (at least to my provisional satisfaction) that such a chase is
nonsensical. By the same line of reasoning, it would be nonsensical to
seek an intersubjective standard for evaluating the truth or falsity of
competing, contradictory claims to have received the inward guidance of
the Holy Spirit concerning where to look etc etc. I'm afraid that
sometimes, unlike Augustine, "I believe in order to be perplexed".
I fear you take off into the stratospheric upper reaches of philosophy
and theology. Since God is ineffable, we'll have an impossible time
getting a literal description of him, his character and his works. My
approach is pedestrian, akin to Jesus' statement (John 10:38)."believe
the works." The documents attesting his works and those of his followers
turn out to be dependable histories in all we can check. Christ's
followers were so convinced of the truth of Jesus' claims that they were
willing to suffer any indignity, even to death, rather than deny him.
Additionally, what I know of the deity is primarily from his
self-revelation, and secondarily from the universe. But both have to
filter through my limited understanding. On the basis of my commitments,
this is dependent on faith and election.
As to "a way of testing the validity of beliefs about God which is
intersubjectively compelling," this is clearly hopeless. A person can
dismiss everything in the gospels with a Humean "I don't believe in
miracles." Hume wrote nonsense, but it is good a foundation as any for
invincible ignorance. You may as well work on a perpetual motion machine
as to seek arguments universally compelling.
I'll go along with Augustine's original rather than your version. There
are reasons advanced by various persons that are grounds for perplexity.
There's plenty I don't claim to understand. But I find that many problems
go away when there is a clear answer to the questions: What is being
tacitly assumed? Is it necessary and relevant? Note that even in that
most strict discipline, mathematics, a theorem only holds within a
specified set of axioms. It is silly to ask for the sum of the interior
angles of a triangle unless the specific geometry is given, explicitly or
Despite our preoccupation with knowledge, the apostolic greeting involves
grace, mercy and peace, gifts.
Received on Sat Apr 24 00:16:28 2004
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