2005-06-25

An open letter to powerFM in Dallas

This is a letter sent to our really cool Christian Alternative rock station in Dallas. As you will find out below, I really love this station and support them financially. I love them enough to tell them that they have done some things that worry me. This letter is written to address these issues. I think this letter is important because it addresses some of the issues all of us Christians deal with when we try to engage culture creatively... and all of the issues I criticize them for are issues I must keep myself in check about when I try to engage culture as a youth minister.

You can find powerFM at: http://www.897powerfm.com
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Howdy from Coppell,

My name is Nate and I have supported the station for the last several years at $10.00 per month. I know that is not a whole lot, but our family doesn't have much more to give above our tithe. Over the last two years there has been some direction with the station that concerns me. I have been sitting on this and not saying anything, hoping it would go away... but it comes up every time I listen to the station.

So, here it goes:

1. The first thing is kind of subtle, but I think it points to a major attitude shift. Your motto shifted from "The True Alternative" to "The Christian Rock Station" about a year ago. I love the idea of powerFM being a "true alternative" to what the world is broadcasting on stations like 102.1, 102.9, and 106.1. It is a phrase that indicates an outreach mentality, an incarnational reality of being the body of Christ "on air" to reach out to the metroplex. On the other hand, the motto "Christian Rock Station" means that we are marketing to Christians only. We are reaching inward and creating a Christian ghetto of alternative culture so we can run away from the world and not interact with it. The word "Christian" turns off anyone who has a negative connotation of Christianity (for whatever reason) and says plainly "this station is for us chosen people, not for you pagans".

The wording itself is not the important part. It's not like I expect you to keep the same catch phrase forever (I know marketing well enough to understand you can't do that). But it is the idea clearly portrayed behind each catch phrase that is the issue. Is powerFM just a service offered to the Christian ghetto, or is it a bold outreach of light and life to a dark world? If it is the latter, I would suggest using a catch phrase that clearly portrays that.

2. The second issue is a mainly a matter of my personal taste, and nothing theological or missional. It is this: most of your bands seem to sound the same, and there is no big difference in most of the music you play. Most of the music you play is of the guitar-driven, angst-filled, three-white-guys-with-long-hair, teen alternative variety. That is nice sometimes, but could you vary it a bit? Some techno? Some electronica? Some hip hop (other than a one-hour show each week)?

I switch off powerFM frequently because the song style gets monotonous for me. Maybe its just that the Christian music community is predominantly offering that one style of music, and you have no choice and you are doing the best you can... but, it just seems like there could be some more variety.

3. Finally, "creation moments" drives me nuts. There are a whole lot of folks out there who completely believe in Intelligent design, but have no place for a literalist reading of Genesis 1. I totally believe that the only way that we got here is that God spoke us into existence, but I think there are not only scientific problems with a "six literal 24-hour day creation", but also serious exegetical and theological problems as well. I love hearing evidence that there must be a Creator. I hate hearing that the only way I can be a Bible-believing Christian is to put my brain in a trash can and believe that God had to do it in six 24-hour days.

I believe that "creation moments" portrays Christians as being willfully ignorant, and ultimately serves to turn people off to Christianity rather than turn them on. You would be better served by dropping them and either (a) switching to a ministry that advocates Intelligent design only, without the 6-day baggage, or (b) switching to another type of apologetics ministry that provides more general "facts" which support Christianity as true and reliable.

Gosh, that is harsh and I am sorry to have said all of that. This is 2 years worth of concerns bottled up in one email, and it makes it sound like I hate what you are doing... and I don't. I really support about 85% of what you do and think its great. There's just some things I wish you would change. I hope you understand.

In closing, I want to reassure you that I am NOT going to pull my funding of your station over this. This letter is not a threat of pulling funding, just a statement of concern. I think that your station is a phenomenal outreach in many ways, and we want to support you for the long haul. However, as my letter indicates, I am concerned that some things you are doing are compromising your outreach.

May Christ fill your life,
Nate Bostian

2005-06-22

Brett Wells on Tradition and Scripture

The following is a conversation started by my friend Bret (http://bretwells.blogspot.com/) about a debate I posted between myself and Steve Rudd (see http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2005/06/debate-on-tradition-and-scriptural.html). Both Steve and Brett are from the Church of Christ, but, as you will shortly see... they are very, very different:

=== FROM BRET ===

Hola,

So I read your debate with Steven Rudd. I have several comments.

1) I didn't see a place on your blogspot to leave comments...I may have just missed it, you may intentionally have left it off. In either case, I'm commenting this way, you may feel free to use any and all comments on your blog (even though it will undoubtedly get me on the "heretic" list - it was only a matter of time anyway.)

2) In your original post you said, "All of this is tradition influencing how you understand and use Scripture, and I have no problem with tradition per se. I would challenge whether or not your tradition is the best tradition, since it is only about two centuries old, and mainly comes from the United States. I would say your tradition is narrow and sectarian; it does not adequately deal with the whole scope of Scripture; and it is not in agreement with the universal Church through the ages across the world. Yet, deciding who's tradition is more valid is not why I am sending this..."

My response would be as follows. It is incredibly arrogant, presumptuous and foolish for anyone to claim that their particular tradition is "the best" - how does one define best? Its like asking "what's the best chess move?" The concept of "best" is situational and a matter of perspective. So, in that regard, I agree with your dismissal of Restoration circles as the "best."

However, I disagree that this tradition is narrow and sectarian. Unfortunately, our tradition, like all others, is riddled with narrow, sectarian individuals who have purported their views as the ultimate arbiter of truth. However, I appeal to anyone listening to simply place these individuals in the same files as those of your own tradition whom you wish had never figured out how to mass communicate.

The basis of the Restoration tradition, as you know Nate, is extremely idealistic and perhaps a bit naïve. The desire to restore the "pristine" faith of the 1st century Church has proven to be much more difficult than Stone or the Campbells believed. And yet the original spirit - one of inclusivity rather than exclusivity - is something I still believe in strongly. There is an implicit desire among these churches to take a step back and reevaluate the scene playing out in Christendom. The constant splitting, reforming, resplitting, etc that arose in the 17th century and following created great division among the Body of Christ. In reading "The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery" one gets the impression that this group of individuals, foundational in creating the movement known as the Restoration, were indeed idealistic, naïve, and hopeful. http://www.bible.acu.edu/stone-campbell/Etexts/lastwill.html

Perhaps what they sought, like such as endeavors as socialism, looks somewhat good on paper but is without any chance of sustainable life among humanity. I hope not. I also hope that this statement represents not the final realization of that which we seek but rather a first step.

I see the Restoration churches as having something of great value to add to the greater Christian conversation. I see this in our desire to be people led by the Word of God; people zealous for Christian community; people desperately seeking to discover what it means to live faithfully for Christ in this world. Do I see this as a contrast to what other Christian denominations have sought / are seeking? Not usually. However, a conversation of one voice is a not a conversation...its a monologue and those can get quite boring.

I personally am not so sure that idealism and naivety are such bad things for someone to hold on to these days. True, our tradition in name is only a couple hundred years old, but I would like to contest that our Tradition exists separately from the past 2000 years of Church history. I hope that an alternative viewpoint of the Restoration churches as one of the voices seated around the table of Christianity - with a long history stemming from the same fathers as the rest seated at the table.

I personally am not so sure that idealism and naivety are such bad things for someone to hold on to these days. True, our tradition in name is only a couple hundred years old, but I would like to contest that our Tradition exists separately from the past 2000 years of Church history. I hope that an alternative viewpoint of the Restoration churches as one of the voices seated around the table of Christianity - with a long history stemming from the same fathers as the rest seated at the table.

[From a later email] I'm not going to rewrite it here but I was actually saying that I do not see our heritage as only 200 years old because it grew out of the last 2000 years, just as the other Christian traditions. Ours came in response to a specific need that was recognized and in light of that, still has (I believe) a prophetic word to speak regarding the issue. We are intimately connected whether we want to be or not.

=== MY COMMENT ===

Bret got me here. He is RIGHT that the Stone-Campbell tradition is not merely 200 years old, but is part of the continuous 2000 year history of Christ's Church wrestling with what it means to live the Gospel and follow Christ. I over-stated the case in my debate with Steve. Although, to be honest, Steve and Bret seem to have two TOTALLY different conceptions of how Restorationist tradition fits into the whole panorama of what God has done in His Church through the Ages. Let me explain:

Steve sees Restorationist tradition as a radical break with everything that has gone before, and is utterly (or willfully) oblivious to any continuity that his tradition has with the larger Christian Church. If one sees the Restoration movement in this light, then it truly is only 200 years old, because in discussing the issue with Steve it is clear that he will not recognize anything outside of his myopic interpretation of Church history. He follows the line of thought that "The Church was pure in the NT, and fell into a dark chasm for 1800 years until Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell rescued us... anything good that happened in the Church in those 1800 years is merely because someone happened to be lucky enough to realize what Stone and Campbell would figure out".

Bret, on the other hand, sees the Restoration movement as a unique and vibrant tradition (small t) that is rooted in, and grows organically out of the great Tradition (big T) of the universal Church. This is exactly how I feel about my own Anglicanism. When one views it from Bret's perspective, he is certainly right. There is no discontinuity, but rather a new instrument (or should I say voice?) is added to the symphony of theology and piety played from the notes of Scripture and conducted by Christ. Sure, the Restoration movement misses some notes (we all have our pet heresies, don't we?) but my own Anglicanism has its own share of missed notes (anyone been to New Hampshire lately?)

=== BACK TO BRET ===

3) As for you dialogue with Steven Rudd...dang it. Dang it, dang it, dang it. I wish that I could just dismiss this guy as an anomaly, but I can't completely. I do believe that he, and others like him, are very genuinely interested in maintaining the purity of the Church in a very impure society. I believe that in his mind he is a protector of the Faith. Unfortunately, your description of his apologetics as "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" is way too accurate.

Honestly, I am not a good one to give a ready defense to your probing questions because I don't fully buy the anti-Tradition rhetoric myself. Nor do I buy the anti-denomination, anti-ordination, anti-everything else rhetoric. If you are interested, perhaps I could provide musings on these issues, but since we've talked about these at length recently I will await your request.

I know that I have not done justice to the well thought out replies of brother Rudd...but hey, I'm just a 25 year-old youth minister, what do I know?

Grace and peace,

Bret

=== ME AGAIN ===

I would like to add that I bear NO ill will toward Steve. I pray abundant blessing upon him and his family and his Church. Steve is a Fundamentalist, and as much as I may not want to admit it: We need Fundamentalists, dang it! They are the "Keepers of the Faith", and they serve a very important function of drawing folks like us back to the middle. A Church that kicks out its "fundamentalist wing" and denies the validity of ultra-conservative piety and theology is a Church that is truly closed minded.

I firmly believe that the most open-minded and liberal denominations are the ones that allow for a genuine fundamentalist piety and a genuine revolutionary piety to co-exist together and to debate one another without rejecting one another as followers of Christ and brothers and sisters. And I do not mean that liberals should keep the "fundies" around to remind them of how far they have evolved, or that the "fundies" should keep the "libs" around so that they can pray self-righteously like the Pharisee "Lord, I thank you that I am not like that man!" (cf. Luke 18.11). Rather, I think that "libs" and "fundies" sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron.

Look, if Jesus' original crew of disciples can have a tax-collector (i.e. conspirator with the Roman government to keep the Jews under the Roman military boot) and a zealot (i.e. terrorist dedicated to killing as many Romans and Roman sympathizers as possible) who both live "in one accord" (cf. Mat 10; Acts 1.14), then we should be able to bridge our ideological, political, and even theological divides and be "of one accord" in Christ.

Like I have said in another essay: Liberals need Evangelicals need Charismatics need Catholics need Liberals (et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum).

Furthermore, I think the process of growth and development in Christ REQUIRES times of both severe fundamentalism and extreme liberalism. For me, once I accepted Christ, I went through an extreme throw-out-all-my-secular-CDs-and-only-read-the-Bible fundamentalist phase... and you know what? It was gooood for me! I needed a sharp break with the world I was living in. I needed to step back, see things from a radically different perspective, so I could later step back in and engage the world from a Christocentric perspective.

Likewise, I have gone through many phases of deeply questioning certain aspects of my Christian faith. What is the best way to understand Scripture? What is the best way to understand Christ? What can I learn by looking at things from a radically different perspective? I find that as I go through life with Christ, I learn to understand the same death-defeating-God-man in new and fresh ways. And I go "fundy" on my new view for a while until I really "get it", and then I question it and look at it again. There is a never-ending tension between fundamentalism and revisionism in my own walk with Christ, and I do not see why this should not be played out and writ large in the Body of Christ in general.

Is life in Christ about purity, pat answers, and set formulas, or about engaging the world, growth, and change? Yes... to both. And we need both sides to remind us of that.

2005-06-20

So this priest and two monks walk into a delivery room...

The following article is a re-publication of an essay on fatherhood I posted to my daughter's website. The website is defunct, but my daughter is not... and this essay was too good to leave on my harddrive for no one to read...

This is a story about fatherhood for guys who aren't real emotional and who are completely out of touch with their "feminine side". Let me start this off by saying that I am not a touchy-feely kind of guy. I am humorous. I am passionate. I am intense. But touchy-feely... not so much. I don't cry at weddings or funerals... or very much at all for that matter. I don't watch chick flicks unless my wife makes me. And I am not even empathetic about most injuries. I am from the "no blood, no bones broken, no problem" school of thinking.

So it was with great reservation that I heard several young fathers say something like this to me before I had my first child: "When my baby was born, I cried. I felt my heart expand to twice its size. I never thought I could love someone this much. My heart melted and I immediately bonded to the baby. Just wait, you will understand what I feel." I was skeptical about this, because I just did not see myself getting that emotional. Not because I was trying to be macho, but because I just don't feel that way about nearly anything... hardly ever. For instance, I love my wife incredibly. I tell her I love her all the time. I brag about how wonderful she is regularly. But, I don't have "Harlequin Romance Novel" type feelings about her very often. Not that I think gushy feelings are wrong or non-masculine or anything like that. Those type of feelings just don't happen to me often. I guess its just not how I am wired.

So I really wondered how I would feel when Elise (my baby) came into the world. It all started when my wife, Kim, and I checked into the hospital on Thursday night, and they put a pill on her cervix to start her dilation and light contractions. I won't get into all the anatomical details, but it did not look very comfortable... at all. Some days I am really glad to be a man. After the last three days I am overjoyed to be a man! They also gave her some pain meds and a sleeping pill, and after that, we sat and waited, and nodded in and out of sleep for the next eight hours.

Then we started the pitosin drip into Kim's I.V. at 7 am Friday morning. If you have ever seen the movie "Aliens" you will remember how the creature moved around under the skin of its victim right before it broke through the skin with its razor sharp teeth. That is kind of like what the pitosin drip did when it started Kim's contractions. Except, if Kim did have an alien in her stomach, the sheer strength of her contractions would have crushed it to death.

For the first four hours, Kim was stoic. The electronic monitor measured contraction strength on a scale of 0 to 100. Most of Kim's contractions registered at a 90 or so. Some of them went off the chart. But Kim took them like a bad case of heartburn. She handled those contractions, if I may say it, like a "man", with the exception being, of course, that most "men" would have been reduced to a whimpering ball of pain huddled in the corner. But not Kim. She sat there. She breathed deep. She even joked a little. Then, about four hours into it, she called for the Epidural. The Epidural, in case you were not aware, is where they take a 6 to 9 inch needle and jam it into your spine to make a place for a small catheter to be implanted which delivers pain medication directly to the spinal column. The upside is that after it is done, she can't feel anything from the abdomen down. The downside is that they are sticking a 6 inch piece of steel into your back!

Now, here comes the hitch in the plan. The Epidural specialist happened to be working on another Caesarian section when Kim's pain endurance ran out, and could not come for about an hour. You could see Kim's whole demeanor change. Confidence turned to frustration, and she started sweating profusely. Then, almost as if on que, a train of visitors started arriving. First up was our priest, stopping by to pray for us, and bringing in tow with him two monks. Yes, I said monks. Now you have visions of a priest in black and two other men in brown habits, with rope belts and the very top of their heads shaved bald. Not so with our monks! These were brothers evidently from the "Casual Order" of Saint Benedict. One was wearing shorts and Teva sandals, and the other a t-shirt and jeans.

It was almost like a bad joke: "So this priest and two monks walk into a delivery room..." Along with them there is Kim, who deeply appreciates the prayers and pastoral visit, yet is completely overwhelmed with pain. Kim's mom, who is Baptist, is completely bewildered by priests and monks, and wondering what the heck is going on. And me, laughing inside at how wonderful and yet weird the whole situation is. As an observer, it was hilarious. After a short sermonette on Isaiah 26:3 and Psalm 139 by our priest, we laid hands on Kim and prayed for her and Elise. Kim's mom still remained confused by the whole thing.

Then the ecclesiastical menagerie left, and after that came the parade of parents. Keep in mind that during all of this Kim is undergoing extreme contractions and is not properly medicated yet. I am frankly amazed that she did not erupt in a torrent of words that would make a sailor blush, but then again, she was stoic. My parents walk in, start talking and greeting everyone like it’s a family reunion. Kim, sweaty and groaning, is hugged and kissed. Her father then walks in, and says hi to everyone in the room. During all of this Kim is withstanding pain that would cripple me, and yet she is surprisingly kind and courteous. The adjective, again, is stoic. Now, Kim's father is a professional nurse, so he begins inspecting the whole set up and making generally positive comments. He starts asking Kim about how everything is going, and I can see that Kim is on the edge of completely exploding (Yes, I know THAT look). Thankfully, at the last minute, the nurse comes in and shoos everyone out into the lobby.

Shortly after that comes the anesthesiologist to administer the epidural, and finally Kim was tired, yet happy. Almost peaceful. But there was just one problem: Kim's cervix was not dilating. It got to three centimeters and then stopped. Now, at this point, if you do not know already, you may be asking yourself: "Self, how do they check a woman's cervix to see if it is dilated? What type of instrument do they use?" Answer: they don't use an instrument. They use their hand. And yet again, I am incredibly glad I am a man.

Basically, you loose all dignity when you are giving birth. Dozens of people see you- all of you. Amniotic fluid is running everywhere and monitoring devices are plugged into the most ingenious places. While cords and wires are stuck to every part of the body, the medical staff poke, prod, and measure every square inch. But Kim doesn't care, she just wants the pain to stop. And I don't care because I am just standing there like a deer in the headlights, wide-eyed, and all I can say is: "Great job honey! I'm proud of you! Breathe deep!". Basically I was a 300 pound cheerleader, Kim was the playing field, and the doctors and nurses were the players.

But I digress. There we are. Kim has gone through 12 hours of immense, bone-crushing contractions, and she wasn't dilated enough to push the baby out. The net effect was that Elise was being pushed into Kim's pelvis over and over with no place to go. I would imagine it was kind of like a fat man sitting on a sack lunch repeatedly. As a result, Elise's heart rate would drop precipitously after each contraction, except for when Kim was laying on her side. The doctor then told us that we needed to have a Caesarian Section. This was NOT what I wanted and NOT what I was praying for, but when he asked me, I said: "I figure you know a hell of a lot better than I do what is best, so let's go with what you say" (I was putting on my "game face" at this point). A little confused and a little upset, I watched as they wheeled Kim down the hall and put me in surgical garb.

They then put me in a room, all by myself, to wait to be called into the O.R. by the nurse. That was probably the worst part of the delivery for me, because I was stuck in a room with nothing to do, and no one to talk to. So, I did what I had been doing all morning: I prayed. First I prayed for everything I could think of for Kim, Elise, and the doctors. Then I prayed through it all again. Then I prayed in the Spirit for a while. Still, no one came to get me. Twenty minutes passed. Was she alright? Had they forgotten me? Was my baby already born and no one told me? Was something horribly wrong? I was freaking out. So, I did what anyone would do who was stressed out but could do nothing about it: I found hospital literature to read. You know something is wrong when you are actually READING the pamphlets from the hospital. But I found out some great procedures to do if someone is going into severe hyperthermia, as well lots of information on the admission, security, and discharge procedures for the nursing staff. Anything to keep my mind off of worrying.

Finally, after about 35 minutes they came and got me, and everything was alright, thank God. I came into the O.R. and Kim was on the table with a curtain under her arms, separating her from all the doctors and nurses operating on her abdomen. The nurse tells me: "Whatever you do, do NOT look over the curtain to see the operation. We do not want to pick you up off the floor." Now, I have got to tell you that it was all I could do not to stand up and look. I was that curious. But, I focused on Kim and started talking to her. The anesthesiologist was on our side of the curtain too, and we had a great conversation while the surgery was going on. He was from the same town as us, so we talked about Elementary schools and fund raisers.

The whole scene was absolutely surreal. On the other side of the curtain, some type of funky music with a good baseline is playing and the surgical team is having a conversation that sounds like a party. On our side of the curtain, Kim is totally conscious, and she can feel pressure and movement on the other side of the curtain, but no pain. Every once in a while I can see her jerking around, as they move her, but she is completely calm. I mean, I know that on the other side of that curtain they are cutting through her skin, pushing aside muscle, pulling out intestines, and cutting into the uterus. But on our side, we three are having a conversation like we are at a Starbucks somewhere (you know, the Starbucks where they do major surgery).

Then we hear "There's her head!" I pull out my camera. Followed by "The cord is around her neck." At that point I KNOW that the C-section was an answer to prayer because if Kim would have dilated and had the baby normally, then it could have strangled Elise. Then they say "Here she is." For about three seconds they put Elise over the curtain. I am so transfixed that I am not able to get the camera up in time for a picture. Now, I am not going to romanticize it. Some people say a newborn is the most beautiful thing in the world. I disagree. A baby just pulled from the womb is NOT pretty. She is bloody and covered by this white creamy stuff called "vernix". She looked like a small panicked monkey that had been shaved and covered in Crisco. But she was MY small panicked monkey!

Then the nurses whisk me over to the cleaning table with the baby, and I am simultaneously transfixed by the baby while also inexorably drawn to look at what they are doing to Kim on the other side of the curtain. I fight the urge to look at Kim and I watch as they suction the baby's nose and mouth and clean the vernix off of her. She immediately begins to turn an adorable shade of pink, and she screams the prettiest scream I have ever heard. And of course, I have the digital camera taking pictures and video of everything that is going on (check the website out when you get a chance!).

Then they wrap the baby up in a little burrito and take her back over to Kim as I follow. I finally take a two-second glimpse at the surgery as we walk over. It wasn't gross as much as surreal to see four people working together to pack everything correctly back into Kim's stomach. It was just weird to see the same person- the same body- who I had hugged and held and married, be opened up and have other people's hands packing her intestines back inside her. Again, the word surreal comes to mind. I quickly turned away and followed the nurse. Kim got to hold the baby (with my help) and we even got our pictures taken by the nurse while surgery was being completed on the other side of the curtain.

After about five minutes, they put Elise in a crib and wheeled her out to the nursery as I followed. Kim stayed behind for the next hour as they finished working on her and sent her to post-op. As we walk out the door, it was like walking onto the red carpet at the Grammies (or should I say the "Grand-ma's"). All of our respective parents- now grand-parents- are standing outside the double doors with digital cameras blazing like a mob of middle-aged paparazzi. Elise is a super-star! She is then whisked away into the newborn nursery and my dad ceremoniously gives a baseball cap with "New Dad" stamped on the crown of it (the non-smokers equivalent of a cigar). It may be a little gimmicky, but it was still pretty cool.

We all then proceed to the nursery windows to ogle, ooh, and ah as Elise is given her first bath. Everyone is patting me on the back, and I am definitely feeling like a proud papa... but there is just one catch: No tears. No melted heart. No gushy feelings. No miraculous expansion of my heart. I mean, at least the Grinch's heart expanded for goodness sake! I immediately started feeling guilty. If "bonding" to my new baby meant having some type of touchy-feely gushy emotional response, then it wasn't happening. I tried. It just wasn't happening. Was something wrong with me? Or is there more than one way to bond?

Then I noticed something that was demonstrably different within me after she was born. I LIKED her. You've got to realize that I am not a "baby person". Its not that I dislike babies, I just don't like them. I don't enjoy them. I am not the type of person ho sees a cute baby and thinks "I wanna hold her". In fact, babies have always made me nervous. Too small and too fragile. I will hold them if asked, just to be courteous, but I always try to give them away as fast as possible. Sorry to anyone who's baby I have held before, but it is true.

But this is not true for Elise. I really LIKE her. I like to hold her. I like to talk to her. I like to smell her. I like to look at her. I even like changing her and meeting her needs (though probably not ALL the time). I enjoy this baby, and I have never really enjoyed any other baby before. I don't enjoy her in a mushy, gushy way, but in the way someone enjoys having a deep conversation with someone they care for. Or the way someone deeply enjoys a work of art, a beautiful sunset, or a great piece of music. Looking at Elise I realize exactly what the Psalmist means when he wrote "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well" (Psalm 139:14). She is indeed fearfully and wonderfully made, if I do say so for myself: from the tips of her cute little toes to the top of her fuzzy little head.

Another thing that tells me I am "bonded" is this: I would die for her. Really. I would give up my left arm, my kidney, my bone marrow, or my lung, if that is what she needed. Without hesitation. I love her that much... and I barely even know her! Furthermore, I would do anything to help her become all that God has made her to be. I will use my time, my talent, my treasure, and my prayers to help her live out the purpose she is made for. I will hold her, I will discipline her, I will comfort her, I will protect her. I will do whatever it takes. I would beat someone to death with my bare hands to protect her if that is what she needed.

Future boyfriends of Elise, pay attention to that last sentence.

This gives me deep insight into what the Bible means when it says God is our "Father", our "Provider", our "Shield", "Stronghold", and "Refuge". He disciplines us for our good, and he provides for all of our needs (see Romans 8 and Hebrews 12). Our Lord is a "mighty warrior" who protects and provides for His family of faith. I think I am just beginning to get an insight into what that type of love really means. Warrior love. Tough love. Powerful love. Fatherly love.

I guess I am trying to say that bonding- real love between two people- is not necessarily or even primarily an emotional feeling. It is commitment. It is action. It is enjoyment. It is self sacrifice. If you are not gushy about love, there is no need to feel guilty because maybe, just maybe, deep love is more than just "deep" feelings.

Scripture says that "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zephaniah 3:17) This really hits me hard after having Elise. Through her, I have a deeper grasp of God's grace. On one hand I take great delight in her. I enjoy quieting her when she is fussy. She is a really, really cool kid. But, on the other hand, there is the question: WHY do I love her? Is it because she will somehow make my life easier or benefit me in some way? No way. I have no guarantee she will EVER benefit my life by giving me wealth or prestige (or extra sleep or more time to "enjoy myself"). I personally owe my own parents more than I would ever be able to pay them, and my dad still pays for dinner every time we go out and eat.

What can Elise give me? Dirty diapers. Food bills. Lost sleep. Clothing and medical costs. Worry, stress, and heartbreak. College tuition. Paying for the wedding. In every material and emotional way, Elise will cost me. She will cost me big time. So, back to the question: WHY do I love her? I love her for the same reason God loves me: she is mine. I made her (with a bunch of help from Kim, of course). She comes from my soul, my body, my being. She is made in the image of Kim and myself. She is my life, and I would do anything for her, even to the point of dying.

God loves us all like that. We are his own, made in his image, and we come from his own being. We cost him everything. We can give him nothing. We keep screwing up, and yet he showers us with his grace over and over and over. He emptied Himself and became one of us and died on the cross, giving everything he could to bring us back to him. He exchanges our sin for His righteousness, just like changing a dirty diaper for a clean one. Every time we "mess ourselves", he is there to clean us up and hold us close to himself.

Grace is a free, undeserved gift given to someone who could never earn it. My love for Elise is pure grace. God's love for us is like my grace toward Elise multiplied by infinity. I have just a glimpse of His grace in Elise, but what a wonderful glimpse it is! Maybe it is not a touchy-feely, over-emotional glimpse of grace, but it is a strong, bold, courageous vision. Love may have a "feminine side", but we should never forget that it has a "masculine side" as well. Now, I don't know about "rejoicing over her with singing", because with my voice that would probably just make her cry... but you never know, I might just write a rap song.

2005-06-13

Debate on Tradition and Scriptural Interpretation

Here is a friendly debate between myself and Steven Rudd (of the Church of Christ) who runs the website http://www.bible.ca. The debate started over his postings that said that ALL tradition is bad in interpreting the Bible (see http://www.bible.ca/sola-scriptura-tradition.htm). Here is how it went down:

===============================
FROM ME
===============================
Hello,

I do not know if I have contacted you specifically or not, but I have used your site to email the following question 3 times, and nobody has contacted me. I am very interested in your reply...

Please answer... Thanks in advance...
----------------------------------------------------

Howdy from Texas,

Great website in many respects... I deeply admire your dedication to our risen Lord Jesus Christ and your zeal to serve Him...

I have been checking it out for a couple of years off and on as I have researched various topics, and I have always found it helpful even if I don't often agree with your specific interpretation...

And that brings me to my question:

I am from a Christian tradition that is different from yours. I left a very conservative independent Christian Church of the Stone-Campbell/Restoration variety to come to my Church tradition, so I am quite familiar, both by study and by experience, with where you are coming from.

One of the reasons I left is the Bible / Tradition issue...

You say that your website and your church is "Bible only", with no tradition, and yet:

1. You have thousands of online web pages of text detailing exactly how to interpret the Bible, and how to live a Christian life (extra-Biblical tradition explaining how to understand Scripture)

2. You quote other authors, teachers, and preachers from your own tradition and others to "prove" your points.

3. You use certain Bible translations, which are dependent on tradition-bound resources (such as lexicons, grammars, word studies, etc.) in order to put Scripture into our language

4. You are involved in a local Christian fellowship, in a certain time, a certain place, using a certain language, with certain customs, dress styles, technology, etc.

5. You listen to certain preachers, worship in select ways, sing select songs, pray in a certain way. All of this influences and reinforces how you interpret Scripture.

6. You use a Bible that was put together by consensual Church Tradition, since there is no book in the Bible that tells which books to include in the Bible... (Yes, I am aware that Jesus, the Apostles [esp. Paul, Luke, and Peter], along with some OT prophets, cross reference certain books and authors and cite them as authoritative... but this is incomplete and far from a canonical list). The Bible itself is a process of tradition.

7. Typically, ministers in your tradition need to be graduates from certain implicitly approved Bible colleges, which teach the Bible in a manner consistent with your Restorationist traditions.

8. Usually, you have some type of yearly regional and/or national gatherings of ministers, whereby you encourage each other to keep up your particular tradition, as well as censure ministers and churches that have "fallen away" to some degree.

9. Even in small incidental things you go outside of the bounds of Scripture. For instance, you use computers and the internet to spread the message of Christ (which is hardly Biblical, in the narrowest sense). You use indoor plumbing, electricity, and automobiles (none of which are in Scripture). You don't speak koine Greek or wear a toga or read from scrolls (which would be Biblical in the narrow sense). You adapt Scripture to your culture, your tradition...

All of this is tradition influencing how you understand and use Scripture, and I have no problem with tradition per se. I would challenge whether or not your tradition is the best tradition, since it is only about two centuries old, and mainly comes from the United States. I would say your tradition is narrow and sectarian; it does not adequately deal with the whole scope of Scripture; and it is not in agreement with the universal Church through the ages across the world. Yet, deciding who's tradition is more valid is not why I am sending this...

I am sending this because I have a problem with someone claiming to not be tradition-dependent, when it is clear that they are...

You worship the Lord of Truth. I worship the Lord of Truth. His Name is Jesus (John 14:6). Why then make the un-truthful claim that your tradition is superior to all other Christian traditions because yours is "Bible only" and uses "no tradition"?

It is clear that you go beyond the bounds of Scripture and use tradition, so why be dishonest about it?

I have no problem with you arguing that your tradition has the BEST interpretation of Scripture (that would be honest, from your perspective)... Just don't pretend that you are not tradition bound like the rest of us...

What is your response to this?

May Christ fill your life,
Nate Bostian

===============================
FROM STEVE
===============================

From: Steven Rudd

>And that brings me to my question:
>
>You worship the Lord of Truth. I worship the Lord of Truth. His
>Name is Jesus (John 14:6). Why then make the un-truthful claim that
>your tradition is superior to all other Christian traditions because
>yours is "Bible only" and uses "no tradition"?

Ok you are anglican, the church that was started because a king wanted to divorce his wife for no reason.

Go here and learn why tradition is invalid and we need scripture only:
http://www.bible.ca/sola-scriptura.htm

>It is clear that you go beyond the bounds of Scripture and use
>tradition, so why be dishonest about it?

Wrong. name it.

>I have no problem with you arguing that your tradition has the BEST
>interpretation of Scripture (that would be honest, from your
>perspective)... Just don't pretend that you are not tradition bound
>like the rest of us...

wrong. scripture interprets itself.

Steve

===============================
FROM ME
===============================

Steve,

Thank you for your well thought out, caring reply to my honest question. It is clear that you truly follow your own Scriptures when it says:

"...always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence... so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame." (1Pe 3:15-16 NASB)

I had asked, "It is clear that you go beyond the bounds of Scripture and use tradition, so why be dishonest about it?"

And your stunningly well thought out answer was "Wrong. name it." Although, I personally would have used "Nanny, nanny, boo, boo." I mean, come on man! You are a very intelligent guy. I would imagine that you really Love Jesus, and are not just some legalistic postmodern Pharisee. I would imagine that you want to "reach the lost". If you are right, and I am wrong, that means I am one of the lost that you are trying to reach for the sake of the Savior you Love. If you are who you say you are, and not a- pardon me- royal prick like you came across in your reply, then for the sake of Christ I expect a better reply than what you gave me.

Therefore, as I did in my first email, I will "name" NINE instances in which you use tradition and not "sola Scriptura". Each of these nine instances could be further subdivided if I wanted to waste the keystrokes. I would like an actual reply to why these nine things are NOT use of Tradition.

Remember, in order to show me wrong, and show that you are actually a completely "sola Scriptura" guy, you will need to decisively show why, with any reasonable definition of Tradition, the following NINE things in no way constitute your relying on Tradition.

By the way, I have read your "Sola Scriptura" web page, and I understand your arguments... BUT it does not answer why YOU yourself use tradition... it merely says that all traditions are bad and the Bible alone is good.

Here are my nine things (again):

------------------------------
You say that your website and your church is "Bible only", with no tradition, and yet:

1. You have thousands of online web pages of text detailing exactly how to interpret the Bible, and how to live a Christian life (extra-Biblical tradition explaining how to understand Scripture)

2. You quote other authors, teachers, and preachers from your own tradition and others to "prove" your points.

3. You use certain Bible translations, which are dependent on tradition-bound resources (such as lexicons, grammars, word studies, etc.) in order to put Scripture into our language

4. You are involved in a local Christian fellowship, in a certain time, a certain place, using a certain language, with certain customs, dress styles, technology, etc.

5. You listen to certain preachers, worship in select ways, sing select songs, pray in a certain way. All of this influences and reinforces how you interpret Scripture.

6. You use a Bible that was put together by consensual Church Tradition, since there is no book in the Bible that tells which books to include in the Bible... (Yes, I am aware that Jesus, the Apostles [esp. Paul, Luke, and Peter], along with some OT prophets, cross reference certain books and authors and cite them as authoritative... but this is incomplete and far from a canonical list). The Bible itself is a process of tradition.

7. Typically, ministers in your tradition need to be graduates from certain implicitly approved Bible colleges, which teach the Bible in a manner consistent with your Restorationist traditions.

8. Usually, you have some type of yearly regional and/or national gatherings of ministers, whereby you encourage each other to keep up your particular tradition, as well as censure ministers and churches that have "fallen away" to some degree.

9. Even in small incidental things you go outside of the bounds of Scripture. For instance, you use computers and the internet to spread the message of Christ (which is hardly Biblical, in the narrowest sense). You use indoor plumbing, electricity, and automobiles (none of which are in Scripture). You don't speak koine Greek or wear a toga or read from scrolls (which would be Biblical in the narrow sense). You adapt Scripture to your culture, your tradition...
--------------------------

I look forward to your answer, and please, for the sake of your Lord and mine, and in accordance with the Spirit of 1Pe 3:15-16, please come up with a better answer than "wrong. name it." A man with intellectual capacities as good as yours should be able to do that.

I would love to talk about the Anglican Tradition, and hear any "Henry VIII" slurs you want to hurl my way... as well as talking about the self-authenticating, self-interpreting nature of Scripture... but not until you give me a satisfactory answer to why you rely on tradition (as evidenced by the nine instances above) while saying that you use no tradition...

Thanks in advance...

May Christ fill your life,
Nate Bostian

===============================
FROM STEVE
===============================

From: Steven Rudd

>1. You have thousands of online web pages of text detailing exactly
>how to interpret the Bible, and how to live a Christian life
>(extra-Biblical tradition explaining how to understand Scripture)

These web pages are a fallible non binding guide and not tradition.

>2. You quote other authors, teachers, and preachers from your own
>tradition and others to "prove" your points.

this is not a tradition, and they are not authoritative

>3. You use certain Bible translations, which are dependent on
>tradition-bound resources (such as lexicons, grammars, word studies,
>etc.) in order to put Scripture into our language

We use all translations and the original greek and hebrew. this is not tradition

>4. You are involved in a local Christian fellowship, in a certain
>time, a certain place, using a certain language, with certain
>customs, dress styles, technology, etc.

wrong, nothing we do except what the Bible says.

>5. You listen to certain preachers, worship in select ways, sing
>select songs, pray in a certain way. All of this influences and
>reinforces how you interpret Scripture.

this is not tradition

>6. You use a Bible that was put together by consensual Church
>Tradition, since there is no book in the Bible that tells which
>books to include in the Bible... (Yes, I am aware that Jesus, the
>Apostles [esp. Paul, Luke, and Peter], along with some OT prophets,
>cross reference certain books and authors and cite them as
>authoritative... but this is incomplete and far from a canonical
>list). The Bible itself is a process of tradition.

we use the bible only

>7. Typically, ministers in your tradition need to be graduates from
>certain implicitly approved Bible colleges, which teach the Bible in
>a manner consistent with your Restorationist traditions.

our ministers are not ordained, ordination is non scriptural

>8. Usually, you have some type of yearly regional and/or national
>gatherings of ministers, whereby you encourage each other to keep up
>your particular tradition, as well as censure ministers and churches
>that have "fallen away" to some degree.

these are not binding or tradition

>9. Even in small incidental things you go outside of the bounds of
>Scripture. For instance, you use computers and the internet to
>spread the message of Christ (which is hardly Biblical, in the
>narrowest sense). You use indoor plumbing, electricity, and
>automobiles (none of which are in Scripture). You don't speak koine
>Greek or wear a toga or read from scrolls (which would be Biblical
>in the narrow sense). You adapt Scripture to your culture, your
>tradition...

these are not binding or tradition

===============================
FROM ME
===============================

Steve,

Thank you for an honest answer... I appreciate that... I honestly do not think that we will get anywhere on trying to convince each other, but since you are trying to convince other people of your views, I would like to be helpful to you and tell you where I find flaws in it, just so you can think about how to give a better "answer [apologeia] for the hope that you have" (cf. 1Pe 3:15).

Let me enumerate my points, and if you want to reply that's great... if you don't I understand:
----------------------------------

1. I think that you are trapped in a similar situation as- ironically- the Roman Catholics are... except you have a "Paper Pope" and they have a human one. You claim that all Tradition is bad, and that you use no Tradition except the Bible... then you use Tradition to back that claim up... but you can't admit that you use Tradition because Tradition is bad... so you come up with great arguments to prove that Tradition is bad... and really hollow, circular arguments to say that you don't use Tradition... It's a tough spot you are in.

I mean, think about it... the phrase "Sola Scriptura" displayed so prominently on your website is a Latin phrase (not Greek or Hebrew) developed by the Reformation Tradition... and nowhere in the Bible is the phrase "Scripture only" used (although 2Ti 3:16-17 does promise that it gives us all the teaching we need to be thourougly equipped to live for God). Sola Scriptura is a tradition-based phrase to support a tradition based argument, just as Papal Infallibility is not defined by by an infallible Pope, but rather a synod of the Catholic Church.

Here's what I believe about Scripture: 2Ti 3:16-17. That says it all.

It says that it (Scripture) gives us (the Church) all we need to live for God. Notice, the Bible does not do the living for us. The Bible alone does not convert, heal, pray, give, share, or serve. We do that. It gives us the data to know how. It is like a horse that needs a rider, or a Constitution that needs a government to carry it out. I believe Tradition helps us interpret Scripture and apply what it says. Tradition is the servant of Scripture, not the master. Tradition cannot add to Scripture, but the data of Scripture cannot be understood without the help of Tradition (unless, of course, you are a first century Jew who spoke Greek and lived in the culture that Scripture was written in).

Since we are not first century hellenistic Jews, we must rely on Tradition to help us, including, but not limited to:
+ A Bible Canon that was recognized by Church Tradition
+ Lexicons, Grammars, and Greek and Hebrew Bible texts edited by textual critics
+ Commentaries and historical studies that help us understand the cultural background of Bible texts
+ Creeds, doctrinal statements, and theological treatises
+ Bible study guides and manuals (such as your website)
+ Bible colleges and seminaries
+ Pastors, Bible teachers, and sermons
+ Bible study groups and the Christians we fellowship with
+ The implicit and explicit norms and expectations of the Believing community we are involved with

I do not think Tradition is a bad thing... it is a neutral thing that can be used by God or by Satan... just like almost everything else in creation. When Tradition does a good job of making sense of ALL that Scripture has to say, without trimming off bits here there to make it fit into a certain "box", then it is a good Tradition. When a Tradition twists Scripture and offers unconvincing explanations for why it interprets Scripture the way it does, then it is bad Tradition.

For this reason I am where I am at, and no longer where you are at... I think that my Tradition makes the best sense of Scripture (and no, I am not a liberal Anglican who wants gay bishops)... and I am no longer involved with the Independent Christian Church because I believe it has glaring flaws in its Tradition (most noticeably, denying that it has one!).
-------------------------------

2. Jesus said for our "Yes to be Yes" and our "No to be No". That is, He expects honesty in our speaking, and for us to not hide what we mean by messing with our definitions [and playing word games]. Christians are not people who say with President Clinton: "Well, it depends on what the meaning of is, is".

I would think that your definition of "Tradition" would include (1) a body of extra-Biblical teachings, (2) which tell us how to interpret and apply Scripture, and (3) which have some level of authority and expectation to be followed as the norm for a certain community. Note on point (3) that it does not matter whether or not the authority is official and explicit (like a dogma defined by the Pope), or whether it is implicit (people will shun you if you disobey). It is still authoritative Tradition within the group that holds it.

By this definition, you have Tradition. The teachings on your website, and specifically your claims about the correctness of your community's interpretation of Scripture over against every other Christian community, matches points 1, 2, and 3 above. You shun communion with other Christian communities on the basis of your Community's interpretation of Scripture. That IS Tradition. It is BINDING to those in your community.

For instance, if someone in your community took a different interpretation of Scripture than what you teach, you would discipline them. Someone could make a good Biblical case for women leading worship service (Gal 3:26-29; Rom 16), using only real wine and believing that Communion IS the real body and blood of Christ (1Co 10-11; John 6), and demanding confession to the elders on a regular basis (James 5:13-18).

If someone started spouting this off in the middle of Church or Sunday School, solely on Biblical basis and not using any Tradition at all to "prove it", would you not give them the boot, or at least censure them in some way? You would. And this shows that what you teach on your website IS BINDING... You have a BINDING system of Tradition that governs how people can rightly interpret Scripture and remain part of your fellowship. You may not spell it out in a Creed or Canon Law, but it is a binding Tradition (although you certainly DO spell it out on your website and in your Bible College textbooks).

Let your Yes be Yes, and admit that, by any meaningful definition of Tradition, you have one.
-------------------------------

3. I found this quite interesting in your reply... I said: "Typically, ministers in your tradition need to be graduates from certain implicitly approved Bible colleges, which teach the Bible in a manner consistent with your Restorationist traditions."

You replied: "our ministers are not ordained, ordination is non scriptural"

But notice, I said NOTHING about ordination, on purpose. I know you don't "ordain" (although I would argue that you simply call ordination by another name)... but let's assume that you really don't ordain in name or in fact... the people whom you allow to preach and teach in the pulpit have to be trained somewhere... usually in an implicitly approved Bible college that teaches how to interpret the Bible in a prescribed way.

Again, no matter how Biblical someone's arguments were, I doubt you would ever allow someone to minister in the pulpit if they affirmed women as preachers or elders, or if they believed communion was the real body and blood of Christ, or if they mandated that Christians confess regularly to their elders.

You wouldn't let me preach or teach in your Church, even though I can offer plausible, convincing Biblical reasons for everything I believe. Why? Because I do not match the norms of your Tradition and its method of interpretation. Again, evidence that your Tradition is binding.
---------------------------------

4. Finally, and most importantly, look your answers and my questions from the perspective of someone who is not a Christian. Who would be more convincing? In your heart of hearts, do you really find your own answers convincing?

I have no problem loosing a debate. I loose all the time. My wife reminds me of how fallible I am on a regular basis. But, I haven't lost this one. Your answers are just not convincing. Not at all. Its like I am saying "The sky is blue", and you keep saying "No, it's red", and it is clear to anyone who looks up which person is more accurate.

In fact, I don't think that you refuted any of my 9 points. The "fallible non binding guide" explanation doesn't work, because, while I agree it is fallible, it is certainly NOT non-binding. If it really was non-binding, you wouldn't care enough to write about it.

If you are going to continue to teach that ALL tradition is bad, and that you do not use tradition, then you need to come up with a much better argument... because, while you say many convincing things on several portions of your site, you are not convincing at all in this issue.

Anyway, hope this critique helps you. I probably won't write again about this issue unless you come up with a real whopper of an argument that looks at the issue from a different angle. May the Lord richly bless you, your wife, and your family as you follow Him.

May Christ fill your life,
Nate Bostian

===============================
FROM STEVE
===============================

Wrong, I have been preaching 25 years with no theology training. This is the norm for us.

steve

===============================
FROM ME
===============================

Steve,

Wow... 25 years... That's great Steve! I hope some day to be able to say the same thing... I've only been at it a decade or so... a quarter century in service to our Lord... I am sure that God has used you to impact people's lives for eternity, and I pray He keeps blessing and enabling you to reach people for Christ...

About training:

1. I'm sorry if I wrongly classified how you folks train your ministers. Down here in Texas, nearly all of the preachers I know from Church of Christ / Independent Christian Churches have a degree from a Bible college such as "Dallas Christian College". If ya'll don't do that up where you live, I stand corrected.

2. I seriously doubt you have no theology training and are completely self-taught. I would hope that you have at least had some Christian mentoring and Bible study leaders / teachers who have helped you understand Scripture. If you claim to be a completely "self made man", without any assistance from God's people in raising you up, then you are: 1. Prideful and self deceived. 2. Dangerous because you are teaching others without ever submitting to being taught yourself.

But, I know from your teachings about the importance of being part of the Church, and from my experience with Churches of Christ, that this is not the case. You probably are misunderstanding what "theology training" actually means. Theology training is not simply "going to seminary" or "going to Bible college". Theology, as you probably know, comes from the Greek words "Theos" = God and "Logia" = Talking, reasoning. It is simply reasoning about God, or better yet, learning about God.

Every Bible study, every sermon, every Christian mentor who reasons and talks with you about God is part of "theology training". Theology training is nothing more than the formative influence of a Christian community shaping how we understand Scripture and how we relate to God. Theology training is thus synonymous with Tradition.

3. I would hope you didn't simply take the pulpit without anybody testing you and making sure you are actually Biblical. Did you march in 25 years ago and say "I've got a Word from the Lord and I'm takin' over this here pulpit!" If you did, you are scary. But, I seriously doubt that happened. Probably it involved lots of Christian mentoring, talking, testing your faith, lifestyle and doctrine, and praying a whole lot before they allowed you to take the pulpit.

4. Your entire website is nothing but "theology training", and you actually run the equivalent of a very basic "Bible college". Check out:

http://www.bible.ca/seek-bc.htm
http://www.bible.ca/seek-req-info.htm
http://www.bible.ca/seek-question.htm
http://www.bible.ca/tares.htm

If that last page doesn't constitute the curriculum for a Bible College, then there is no such thing as a Bible College.

===============================
FROM ME
===============================

A couple of more thoughts on whether your Tradition is "fallible and non binding". I have shown clear evidence that your teaching is binding for your own community, and if it is not followed, will be disciplined by your community.

Now, let's answer whether you truly consider your own teachings (and the main interpretations of your tradition) to really be fallible.

Fallible means "to be in error, or subject to error". If you truly believed your teachings were fallible, you would be open to being corrected by clear evidence that shows you are in error.

You claim to not use Tradition, but "Scripture only". I have clearly shown that, using any reasonable definition of Tradition, you definitely DO use tradition, and not "Scripture only". Yet, you will not be corrected. Furthermore, the meager arguments you have sent me to the contrary are very circular, sometimes do not even address the issue, and are not convincing at all.

Therefore, since you will not be corrected in the face of clear and convincing evidence, you MUST consider your extra-Biblical teachings to be infallible (at least to you and your community, if to no-one else).

In addition, if you truly believe any of the teachings on your website are indeed fallible, please point them out and identify them as such. BUT, if you do, then you admit that what you are teaching stands a fair chance of being incorrect. If this is so, why would you teach it as truth? If anything on your website is knowingly untrue, then aren't you causing people to stumble? Doesn't Jesus say pretty bad things about teachers who would cause the little ones to stumble?

I really doubt that, with the amount of certainty with which you present your teachings, that you believe any of them are actually in error. Furthermore, I bet that you think that anyone who holds views contrary to yours is something of a heretic. In light of this, it is clear that you present your teachings as an infallible tradition.

All of this is to say that your teachings are: 1. binding; and 2. infallible; to you and your community of faith. You may not officially define them as binding or infallible, but that is just semantics. In reality, they are functionally binding and infallible.

I think there is little doubt that you use tradition, and not just the Bible, to teach the Christian Faith. Therefore, I would highly encourage you to get rid of your anti-Tradition arguments and Sola Scriptura arguments, and instead argue on the basis of which Tradition (yours versus mine versus everyone else) has the best, most Biblical, most comprehensive, most historically rooted interpretation of the Christian Faith.

2005-06-09

Irrelevant appeal to authority???

Rejecting the so-called "appeal to authority" is a tactic used by all kinds of "skeptics" to "debunk" ideas that they do not like. Most frequently I encounter this tactic in discussing God with people who claim not to believe in God. Usually, it turns out that I do not believe in the God they do not believe in either, because they are not actually discussing the Person whom I know as God, but that is another point entirely.

When someone appeals to authority, they usually put it in terms such as "Because [Person/Institution/Source X] supports [Truth Claim Y], then I support [Truth Claim Y]". Usually, in debates about God, it goes something like this "Because the Bible says [Y], I believe [Y]. God says it, I believe it, and that settles it." Nontheists rightly argue that this proves nothing, because the reliability of the Bible is still in question. It may say that Y is true, but how do we know it is accurate in what it says? I mean, there is the issue of who wrote the Bible and when, and whether these writings are authentic and accurate. Then there are the textual issues of how well the text has been preserved, even if the original text was accurate. And then there are issues of interpretation, linguistics, and historical-cultural context, not to mention genre and purpose, in considering how to understand the text. Then there is the question of what presuppositions we bring to the text, and if there are other legitimate ways of understanding the text. All of these must be considered before making an appeal to Scripture to support a certain truth claim.

Most nontheists, like those arguing against "appeal to authority" at websites such as infidels.org and skepdic.com, seem to think that learned Christians are not aware of such problems with appeals to Scripture. They seem to think we do not consider such problems in making statements about reality based on God's revelation through Jesus Christ as found in Scripture. They think that by pulling the "appeal to authority" card they are pulling a surprise on Christians, and shutting down any distinctive content we can bring to the table in discussions about the nature of reality. This is, speaking from the standpoint of a thoughtful learned Christian, pure nonsense. It is pure nonsense for purely non-Biblical reasons.

The main reason is because in actuality EVERYONE appeals to authority in their arguments, either explicitly and implicitly. There is not a single person who comes to know and understand anything outside of a community of knowing. All our knowledge is a completely intertwined matrix of information gained from our senses, reason, emotion, and what we have learned from others. In fact, our very categories of knowing and presuppositions in examining evidence come from the communities that surround us. As Newton rightly observed, we get to our epistemic positions by "standing on the shoulders of giants". No person comes anywhere near believing things only because they are proven by personal reason or empirical observation. Our own names- what we call ourselves and the "label" around which our own self-identity forms- are given to us by the authority of others. Our parents tell us who we are, and what our name is. How do we know our name? We only know it from the authority of our parents, and from the authority of whoever wrote our birth certificate.

To demonstrate the absurdity of rejecting authority altogether as a source of knowledge, I would like to write a few observations about the article "appeal to authority", written in "The Skeptic's Dictionary" by Robert Todd Carroll (found at skepdic.com).

1. First of all, why should I believe this article is actually written by Robert Carroll? All I have is the authority of the web page to tell me that, which is hardly worth anything, since anyone can post whatever they want on the web. I have never met this so-called "Mr. Carroll". I am not even certain he exists. For, even if I were to meet someone calling himself Robert Carroll and carrying identification of Robert Carroll, how could I know that it was really him? After all, such claims and documents are merely appeals to what someone said or wrote, and hence, appeals to authority, which, as we have noted before, can say nothing about the state of reality. Furthermore, I cannot believe He actually penned the article, since I cannot go back in time to directly experience his writing of the article (and I cannot trust video tapes of such an event, since so many computer manipulations are possible these days). Also, I cannot take seriously any purported claims by so-called "eye witnesses", because they are probably lying. I guess the only rational opinion is to believe that Robert Carroll did not write it, and that no such person exists. Since we cannot prove that anyone wrote the article, not having first hand knowledge of its actual writing by any particular person, I guess it would be best to just assume that no one wrote it, and it sprang into existence on its own.

Either that, or we must put some basic trust in the author to be competent and truthful. You decide what makes more sense.

2. What is this language that the article written in, and how did the "author" learn it? Did he learn the meaning of the words by studying books and dictionaries written by other people (which is knowledge gained by appeal to authority), or did he learn language by talking to other people (again, appeal to authority). Either way, it is clear that his whole use of language, vocabulary, and sentence structure in the article is invalid, since it was all learned from authorities. Furthermore, since there is no set, universal entity to observe which is the "English language" (with all its varying usage and dialects), and since only humans use the "English language" (and anything they have to say about English would just be an appeal to authority), then we can know absolutely nothing about this supposed "English language" because all such knowledge is based upon authority. If we can learn nothing about the "English language", then we cannot use it or make sense of it, and thus his entire essay is just a bunch of gobbeldy gook and random black marks on paper that signify nothing.

Either that, or we must grant that our whole basis of communicating information is based on language, which is solely gained through authority, tradition, and community. You decide what makes more sense.

3. The author states in his article that "Einstein was an expert in physics, not religion". Now, how could he possibly verify this statement by either reason or empirical verification? Who says what an "expert" is? Or for that matter what "physics" or "religion" is? If you got together a hundred so-called "experts" in these fields there would be disagreement over what "physics" and "religion" even means, and further disagreement over what it takes to be an "expert" in such fields. The only way the author could have gathered such information, seeing as the author probably did not know Einstein and cannot certify who is an "expert" in anything, is to read books about Einstein. Books are written by authorities, and hence, his whole argument about Einstein is an "appeal to authority".

Either we must remain absolutely agnostic about Einstein's life, and say that no-one is an expert, or we must grant a certain amount of trust to sources which our communities recognize as "expert". You decide what makes more sense.

4. The author speaks of "religion" as a controversial field, with the implications that the "sciences" are not controversial fields. I find this laughable. Go to any three universities and talk to the respective professors of the various sciences about: (a) what are the areas of controversy in their discipline right now, and (b) what major beliefs have been overturned in their discipline in the last two decades. Then you will find out how "controversial" the sciences are. Sit in on any scientific experiment or research and just listen to such issues as (a) what should be observed; (b) how should it be observed; (c) how to remove human error from observation; (d) what data to exclude from consideration, and you will find out that most of the knowledge gained through science is gained by the scientist arbitrarily, often blindly, making subjective decisions about what to observe, why, and how. For instance, it takes competent scientists years of training by "authorities" to be taught how to observe phenomena using microscopes, telescopes, supercolliders, and other scientific instruments. Without "authority" telling scientists how to use equipment, what to look for, and how to look, then they could gain no data whatsoever. The whole project of modern science is based and rooted in authority and tradition from beginning to end.

Either we must reject science, religion, and all other fields of academic study as hopelessly based on "authority", or we must embrace the communitarian structure of knowledge and find other ways to verify and test our beliefs that do not reject things just because they are rooted in "authority". You decide what makes more sense.

5. The author says that "appealing to non-experts as if they were experts, or appealing to experts in controversial fields, as evidence for a belief, are equally irrelevant to establishing the correctness of the belief". As I pointed out above, the only way to decide who is "expert" is to appeal to the authority of humans who label themselves, or are labeled by others, as "experts". So, the whole process of finding experts is by appealing to authority. If that is true, then we can appeal to precisely no-one, at any time, in any place, to validate our beliefs. Furthermore, we cannot communicate our beliefs with others without making ourselves an "expert" of some sort. If the above sentence by the author is granted as true, then that relegates any statement made about reality by anyone as "irrelevant".

Again, either we must say that there are no experts and nobody can make any valid statements about reality that can be accepted by others as true, or we must accept that some people and some sources of information have the right to be counted as "authoritative". You decide what makes more sense.

6. In his final paragraph, the author states that "it should be noted that it is not irrelevant to cite an authority to support a claim one is not competent to judge... in such cases the authority must be speaking in his or her own field of expertise and the claim should be one that other experts in the field do not generally consider to be controversial". Without going into the self-defeating claim that some people are "experts" again (see above), there are other glaring inconsistencies with this statement. First, he offers no proof for the claim made here that someone can "cite an authority" in a field he or she is not an "expert" in. On what verifiable basis is this claim made? On the author's own authority? This simply shoots his whole article in the foot. Second, it refutes his whole article because how could anyone possibly certify that they are, or are not "an expert", and hence do or do not need other "experts" to tell them what to believe? If they go to other people to tell them that they are an expert, this claim rests on other's authority. If they proclaim themselves an expert, their claim rests on their own authority. It amounts to saying "no argument from authority is ever valid unless it is an authority you pick".

7. The sheer fact that the author wrote a book on the subject of skepticism shows that he wishes to set himself up as an authority in the matter, that others may learn from him and quote from him. This fact alone negates not only this article, but most of the rationale behind his being a "skeptic" in the first place. The skeptic cannot be skeptical of everyone else's presuppositions and truth claims EXCEPT his own and those who he agrees with. If he is skeptical of others, he must either be skeptical of himself, or intellectually dishonest.

In short, using the moniker of "appeal to authority" to disbelieve in something is circular and self-defeating. You cannot use it without destroying almost all of your own beliefs and presuppositions. When using this argument to discredit the Bible (and hence the God of the Bible), it is about as effective as saying "Nanny Nanny Boo Boo I don't like your Bible and will not believe it". There most be a better way of evaluating beliefs and epistemic claims than just dismissing things because they are based on "authority". That is simply not enough, because all knowledge is based on a mixture of authority, reason, and empirical verification. Instead, if an authority is to be disbelieved, there must be a verifiable or logical reason to disbelieve it, coupled with correct understanding of it. Otherwise, you are stuck with rejecting authorities for the childish reason that you simply do not like what they have to say.

The use of authority and community in forming our structures of knowledge is inescapable. We can adopt one of two basic stances to knowledge reported to us from "authority". Either we can account "authority" trustworthy until proven guilty of error, or we can account "authority" untrustworthy until proven to be true. If we adopt the first stance, then we can feel comfortable in using the knowledge we find in our society as a starting point for exploring what is true. If we adopt the second stance, then we cannot believe anything told to us by anyone, we must learn everything on our own, and what we learn we cannot communicate to others, because that would be setting ourselves up as an "authority". The first stance allows us to share knowledge, trust each other, and grow together as a community of knowing. The second stance dooms us to continual uncertainty and the inability to learn from the experiences of others. If we cannot learn from "authority" then the first field of knowledge to die is language acquisition, then history, then the social sciences, then philosophy, then the physical sciences.

The same author advertises a book on his website called "Becoming a Critical Thinker". I do not think it would be a very good idea to buy it, but that is just a statement based on my own authority... so believe it if you want to.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.