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Sweetly Destructive

Sentimentalism would not be high on pastors’ lists of threats to the church, were they to be polled for such a thing. False doctrine, lack of commitment, entertainment culture, the homosexual lobby, Youtube attention spans, radical Islam, the prosperity gospel, declining missions, pornography, moral failure in leaders, pragmatism and a host of others might be on the list. Sentimentalism? You think a few sappy Christians who get teary-eyed over Kinkade and kittens are a mortal threat to the church?  No, not when you put it that way, which is, ironically enough, a sentimental way of defining sentimentalism.

Sentimentalism, as Jeremy Begbie puts it, is at least three things. First, it is a distortion of reality by trivialising or evading evil.  A fiction of innocence is projected onto self, others, and the world. This can only be done by mentally avoiding the irrationality and horrific nature of evil, and selecting those parts of life which are pleasing and good – and exaggerating them. Ambiguity and disharmony are spray-painted over with glib trivialisations, “it’s not that bad”, “people are just people, in the end”, “he’s in a better place, at least”, “death is just a doorway”, or the musical trivialisations of pop tunes.

Second, sentimentality uses that air-brushed view of the world to be emotionally self-indulgent: loving its own feelings more than any reality which supposedly evokes them. It does not merely cry, it loves to cry; it does not simply hate, it enjoys the hate; it is not simply “passionate”, it is passionate about being passionate; it is not only sincere, it deeply moved by how sincere it is. In fact, it is even more satisfied with how its emotion will impress others (how many likes and comments did my Fakebook rant over the poor service or my post goo-gahing over my child get? I’ve checked at least every five minutes). The sentimentalist’s emotions have become a kind of narcotic, a high he seeks to avoid the hard edges of reality. Music is just a soundtrack to the movie he’s starring in, other people are the audience, relationships are the characters that orbit his absorbingly compelling existence.

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How do you treat Independence Day in your Church?

Third, sentimentality takes no appropriate costly action. A sentimentalist uses life as a backdrop for his selfie, which he then views repeatedly. He is not responding to life as it is, and making changes. He is responding to his falsified version of life, which allows him to keep feeling his treasured feelings. He lives in his own little hall of mirrors, and that is as he would have it.

Granted, this sounds amusing at first. But imagine, for a moment, that sentimentalism is a bigger problem than you’ve thought. Imagine, for example, that the following kinds of people existed:

  • “Worshippers” who love their deep worshipful feelings with scrunchy-face intensity, who believe that bands and preachers that can make them cry are totally deep.
  • “Worshippers” who long for the ‘beautiful old hymns’, by which they mean the Smiley-Face hymns of 19th century Victorian Romanticism.
  • Listeners who want sermons that ‘make us feel uplifted’ and hate sermons on sin, judgement and Hell.
  • Listeners who want sermons that ‘tell it like it is’ and hate sermons on mercy, compassion, and Heaven.
  • Preachers who take their listeners on an emotional rollercoaster, but safely deposit them exactly where they were at the beginning, knowing they’ll wipe their tears and come back next week.
  • Preachers who use gutter-talk, racy illustrations and gruesome descriptions because they’re keeping it real, man.
  • Married couples whose marriages are devastated because they were searching for passionate feelings that never seemed to last, who do nothing with biblical counsel, because they are waiting for passionate feelings to develop and propel them into action.
  • Christians in chronic depression over the world, because it is darker, more disturbing, and more ambiguous than they want it to be.
  • Christians in chronic cynicism over the church, because reality is darker, more disturbing and more ambiguous than most Christians admit.
  • Parents who are drooling with ‘love’ over their widdle-munchy-munchykin, but will have all the brutality of a death-camp commander should their child be denied something by the Sunday School teacher, or should the church make demands on family-time.
  • Christians whose believe their deepest spiritual experiences have been while watching The Passion of the ChristFireproof, Ben-Hur, or Facing the Giants.

 

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The Anatomy of a Hymn

Imagine if such people existed.

David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn currently pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

45 Responses to Sweetly Destructive

  1. I submit that Sentimentalism is a method of escaping the irrationality of your belief system.

    When faced with various contradictions, problems and incompatibilities in your belief system… it is easier to turn away from rationalism and embrace sentimentality than to actually deal rationally with these issues.

    In short, sentimentalism and emotionalism becomes an easy way to bolster up any niggling feelings of doubt you might have.

  2. Dear Pastor de Bruyn,

    I suppose I would ask why positive-minded people and positive-minded preachers must be subject to being labeled such pejorative labels as “sentimentality”. I am also wondering that if we criticise such churches and fellowships and preachers, shouldn’t we visit them. Whether a church is big or small, older-aged or younger-aged, I am wondering whether we should spend more time visiting those churches to get a more full sense of what they are experiencing.

    If we do a NT keyword/textual search on happiness, blessedness, and beauty, I am confident we will find a treasure trove of verses and passages.

    One argument I find valid (and I know it’s probably been said many times before) is that God can work through CCM, God can work through films such as “The Passion Of The Christ”, God can work through 4-On-The-Floor modern-type Christian worship/praise, God can work through preachers who use quite a lot of the vernacular and slang terms and phrases (whether or not they’re in a sermon or a song or a testimony). God can use anything, can’t he? Whether it’s one of many things — be it music, modern artistic design, vernacular language, “street-language” terms such as “my homies in the 3d row,” modern pop, and preachers/teachers who don’t dwell on the language of Edwards’ “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God” for the majority of their sermons — can’t and doesn’t God work through those things and those sermons and those preachers?

    I get somewhat of a sense here that someone crying in the midst of a sermon is looked down upon.

  3. Dear Todd,

    I’m sorry you’ve misunderstood this post, but it seems by your comment that you clearly have.

    Sentimentalism is not a pejorative; it is a term that describes a real phenomenon. That phenomenon is not simply ‘different’, it is destructive and, ultimately, idolatrous. We did not, in this post, smear everyone who is different from ourselves as sentimental. We used Begbie’s definition and followed it into application.

    Nothing wrong with tears, or with joy – the name of this site is Religious Affections, remember? Sentimentalism, on the other hand, is loving my love for God instead of God, enjoying my joy, instead of enjoying God, loving my tears, instead of seeking contriteness before God. Telling the difference is the point of this post.

    Noticing that God can use just about anything certainly glorifies Him as the sovereign. Joseph told his brothers this, though he did not flatter their intentions or their actions. When it comes to what God uses versus what He desires, it is much like determining God’s will. The secret things belong to the Lord, but that which s revealed belongs to us, that we may do the words of His law (Deut 29:29). In other words, mine is not to ask what God will use and thereby make my own judgements as to what He thinks is good. That is sheer pragmatism.

    Mine is to ask, according to the revealed Word, what pleases God? That’s much of the discussion on this site.

  4. > In other words, mine is not to ask what God will use and thereby make my own judgements as to what He thinks is good. … Mine is to ask, according to the revealed Word, what pleases God?

    By this line of logic, there is no way to know what he thinks is good. If you can’t use your mind to make judgments, there is no way to ultimately know the mind of god. Relying on “leading of the holy spirit” is only valid up to a point… until multiple people are led in different directions over the same exact passage of Scripture.

    What do you proffer then? If all these people claim to be led of the spirit, and yet arrive at different conclusions… and if you cannot use the mind to decide between them… you are at a permanent impasse.

    No wonder there are so many different denominations, variant doctrines and differing interpretations of the bible.

  5. Nick,

    I don’t know how it would be possible to search the Scriptures to see what pleases God and not use your mind. The purpose of seeking out the Scriptures to find out what pleases God is to arrive at that judgment.

    Apparently, the axe you wish to grind is about faith itself, and on faith’s approach to Scripture. You seem bothered by the varieties of interpretations of Scripture – as if this is a phenomenon true only of the Scriptures. Have you noticed that the entire human population arrives at different interpretations, conclusions, doctrines regarding the meaning of life? Do you accuse them of not using their minds because of these differences?

    I’m willing to have the discussion about interpretation, and even authority. But don’t make up claims that a devotion to Scripture renders us powerless to know what pleases God. And please don’t pit using one’s mind and believing God’s Word against each other – that just isn’t going to fly here.

  6. > The purpose of seeking out the Scriptures to find out what pleases God is to arrive at that judgment.

    This process involves interpretation. For those issues not clearly spelled out in black and white, you must interpret the scriptures yourself. Interpretation is where you begin to make your own judgments as to what God thinks is good.

    > You seem bothered by the varieties of interpretations of Scripture

    I am bothered that you are not bothered by the infinite varieties of interpretation. If god is god, surely he could direct us to the truth? And if he has, how can you be sure that you’re ahold of this truth?

    > don’t make up claims that a devotion to Scripture renders us powerless to know what pleases God

    The bible has existed in various forms and lengths for almost 3000 years now, and millions of people have been devoted to it. We are no closer to knowing what pleases god than 3000 years ago. For example: the scriptures contain 4 different explanations of the function of faith & works. All 4 are contradictory.

    > And please don’t pit using one’s mind and believing God’s Word against each other – that just isn’t going to fly here.

    Right, that’s a different topic, and not what I’m asking about here… I’m trying to determine wbhy you first said don’t use your own judgments:

    “mine is not to ask what God will use and thereby make my own judgements as to what He thinks is good”

    And then you said use your own judgments:

    “The purpose of seeking out the Scriptures to find out what pleases God is to arrive at that judgment”

    The process of interpreting scripture is fundamentally a process of making judgments on how to apply the text to your daily life.

    I’m curious why you don’t see these 2 statements as contradictory.

  7. Your confusion about my statements comes in confusing the two kinds of judgement I mentioned. I did not forbid judgement, I encouraged it. I said that judgements made by simply examining outward ministries for their apparent success or usefulness is a judgement where the criterion of truth is pragmatism, i.e. what seems to work best. This is a bad standard for making judgements. On the other hand, judgements made by rightly interpreting the Word of God for His revealed will is a good kind of judgement. We must use our minds to make this judgement. Judgements based on flimsy standards are bad judgements; judgements made on eternal verities will be good judgements.

    Yes indeed, interpretation is indeed a judgement. Believers who hold to the inspiration of Scripture believe that Scripture contains within itself its method of interpretation, otherwise Scripture would have to be submitted to an even higher standard of authority (which should then become Scripture). Either Scripture is the final authority, in which case it contains its own authentication and its own interpretation, or it doesn’t. If this seems circular, so is the commitment to autonomous reason. Regarding autonomous reason (or skepticism) as the highest standard of truth or certainty cannot be proved by reason. Nor can empirical science validate its claim that empiricism is the most valid source of knowledge through empiricism. Everyone makes a circular claim when it comes to final authority. If nothing can be assumed to be self-evident, nothing can be proved. Every man’s first principle is an ultimate claim in a hierarchy of claims.

    Of course the varieties of interpretation bother me. What they do not do, is make me cynical about the task – which apparently you have become.

    A blog cannot communicate my tone. I am not hostile to you, Nick. I welcome this discussion. I assume you regard reason or science as certain (or more certain than scripture). Why do you trust these more than the Bible?

  8. > Your confusion about my statements comes in confusing the two kinds of judgement I mentioned. I did not forbid judgement, I encouraged it.

    Fair enough. I understand your differentiation now. This statement still bothers me: “Judgements made by rightly interpreting the Word of God for His revealed will is a good kind of judgement. We must use our minds to make this judgement.”

    Does not this statement imply that the human mind is the key to properly interpreting? If we use our minds to make this judgment then we have to use various forms of reason and logic to arrive at an interpretation. So it would seem we’re back to asking the question: how do we know an interpretation is from God and not arising from our own mind, when our mind, and by extension reason and logic, are so tightly integrated into the process of interpretation?

    > Believers who hold to the inspiration of Scripture believe that Scripture contains within itself its method of interpretation

    First: I have never been able to find this clearly described in the scripture. Can you point me to the appropriate passages?

    Second: This is problematic. fF the method of interpreting the scriptures exists within the scriptures, how do you interpret the method of interpreting? You need a method of interpreting the method of interpretation. Does this meta-method also exist within scripture?

    > If this seems circular, so is the commitment to autonomous reason.

    I’m curious: can you defend the authority of Scripture without resorting to using reason? You made a claim: “Either Scripture is the final authority, in which case it contains its own authentication and its own interpretation, or it doesn’t.” And then you proceeded to defend that claim. And used reason to do so.

    > What they do not do, is make me cynical about the task – which apparently you have become.

    Certainly not cynical. I am neither selfishly or callously calculating… or negative or pessimistic. I have been curious as to why various claims in the bible I assumed to be true, have begun to fail for me when I investigate them. For example: why the unity of the church, as promised by Jesus, is something that has never been fully realized. Jesus claimed that we would know the truth of his words by how his church would look… by their love and unity. And looking at 2000 years of history I don’t see this claim stands up.

    > I assume you regard reason or science as certain (or more certain than scripture)

    Nope. Both are merely functions of human minds. And both are used in both the defense of, and proper interpretation of, the scriptures. You used them yourself. I don’t think pitting reason and/or science against the scripture makes any sense. Instead it makes sense to me to try the promises of God and see if they hold true, test the scriptures and see if they hold true, and when they don’t, to ask why.

  9. >Does not this statement imply that the human mind is the key to properly interpreting?

    Well, since interpretation is an act of human thinking, it cannot be done without the mind. This is like asking, doesn’t this show that human words are the key to properly communicating? Words have meanings, which we must understand. Premises must be related logically. This does not make language or logic higher than their source, God. It makes them necessary, not ultimate, and the human subject and his mind necessary for understanding.

    >First: I have never been able to find this clearly described in the scripture. Can you point me to the appropriate passages?

    You want me to unfurl the art and science of hermeneutics in a blog post comment? I think you know the volumes that are out there discussing this question. I suspect you are uncomfortable with any truth that is not self-evident, or transparently visible. God’s Word is not a colouring book – it is complex, and we would expect vast disagreement on its interpretation.

    >I’m curious: can you defend the authority of Scripture without resorting to using reason?
    No, and there is no problem with using reason, experience, or even tradition to help us understand Scripture. Scripture is the final and ultimate authority, not the only authority. We submit our reason to Scripture, we do not abandon it.

    > How do you interpret the method of interpreting? You need a method of interpreting the method of interpretation. Does this meta-method also exist within scripture?
    This is like saying, give me the reason for using reason, or asking, How can you prove that your words have any meaning? We do not require an infinite regress of authorities to say something true or meaningful. At some point, something is axiomatic – your yourself are doing that in this very conversation. First principles cannot be proved, or they are not first principles.

    >Instead it makes sense to me to try the promises of God and see if they hold true, test the scriptures and see if they hold true, and when they don’t, to ask why.
    In other words, your ultimate authority is your own reading of history. You evaluate the past and present (with an apparently all-seeing and all-knowing eye), and then decide if Scripture is true. So the final authority is Nick, who uses his supposedly neutral powers of interpretation to read the facts of history and then uses (some unstated, but apparently trustworthy) method of interpreting the promises of God, and with these two infallibly correct interpretations, he compares them, and then rules on whether God’s Word is God’s Word.

  10. > This is like asking, doesn’t this show that human words are the key to properly communicating?

    No, I’m asking if the human mind is so integral to the process of interpretation, how can we ensure that the judgments arrived at are not influenced by malformed reason and logic. Even the process of submitting them and comparing them to scripture is a process of interpretation and relies on that same reason and logic.

    > You want me to unfurl the art and science of hermeneutics in a blog post comment?

    You claimed the method of interpretation of the scriptures was to be found in the scriptures. Where is it to be found?

    > I think you know the volumes that are out there discussing this question.

    You’re dodging the question. Just point me to the passages in the bible. Why do I need to read other books in order to understand how to interpret Scripture? You said yourself the method was in Scripture.

    > I suspect you are uncomfortable with any truth that is not self-evident, or transparently visible.

    You suspect and assume a lot about me, almost every comment you’ve made has assumed something about me that is incorrect. I am very comfortable with assuming axiomatic truths.

    > …we would expect vast disagreement on its interpretation.

    Why should we expect vast disagreement? This makes zero sense. What about God’s Word would naturally invite vast disagreement. I’d have thought the word of the creator of the universe would instigate harmony.

    > Scripture is the final and ultimate authority, not the only authority.

    Ah, that’s a very fine point. Very interesting… I was taught growing up that it was the only authority. So you would seem to disagree.

    > This is like saying, give me the reason for using reason, or asking, How can you prove that your words have any meaning? We do not require an infinite regress of authorities to say something true or meaningful… First principles cannot be proved, or they are not first principles.

    So you’re claiming a first principle here: that the Scriptures themselves hold their own method of interpretation. Correct? Thus this first principle, since it is a first principle, cannot be proved. Correct? Therefore it cannot be proved the Scriptures themselves hold their own method of interpretation. This is something that must be assumed to be true. Correct?

    If that’s not what you mean, then please demonstrate how I can know for certain that my method of interpreting Scripture is correct. Without relying on volumes of books written by men.

    > In other words, your ultimate authority is your own reading of history.

    What do you mean by “ultimate authority”? Is this a concept found in Scripture?

    All I’m saying is: If God makes a claim about himself, or his church, or his creation… I can read that claim, and go see if it’s true or not. And if it is, cool. If it’s not, I ask why. Maybe I misunderstand something, maybe I lack some important information, maybe I did something wrong. I write down these questions, and I share them with others. So far I’ve been surprised how few people care to discuss them with me.

  11. Every OT quotation of the NT is an example of Scripture’s interpretation of itself. But you will ask me, why do men, having those texts in hand, differ then on how the Bible interprets itself? Answer: because fallible subjects are grasping an infallible object. Hence the art & science of hermeneutics, and the books of men that you don’t want to read.

    First principles can be reasonable, they can be sensible, they can have all kinds of evidence that support them. But first principles cannot be proved by something beyond them, otherwise we must move to that to find the criterion for truth. So yes, I believe a first principle is that God exists and God has spoken. I believe the 66 books of Scripture represent that revelation, and I believe that because Scripture contains, within its covers, and throughout the people it has shaped, its own authentication.

    “All” you’re saying is that you posses the power to transparently read the events of history, as if they are brute facts not requiring interpretation. All facts require interpretation, and that interpretation can be right or wrong. What you cannot see yet is that you believe interpreting Scripture correctly is impossible, but somehow interpreting Reality is easy and self-evident.
    The interpretation of both requires the interpretive key of the only One who comprehends all of reality (Prov 1:7, 9:10).

  12. I wrote a long-ish reply and wordpress ate my comment. Ah well… here is a much abridged version:

    >So yes, I believe a first principle is that God exists and God has spoken. I believe the 66 books of Scripture represent that revelation, and I believe that because Scripture contains, within its covers, and throughout the people it has shaped, its own authentication.

    No, that’s not what I was referring to. The first principle you were claiming is:

    “Scripture contains, within its covers, and throughout the people it has shaped, its own authentication.”

    Every other point of belief you mentioned follows from this first principle. But if this is a first principle, then it cannot be proved. And must therefore be assumed. Correct?

    So on what real basis lies your belief?

    > What you cannot see yet is that you believe interpreting Scripture correctly is impossible, but somehow interpreting Reality is easy and self-evident.

    I believe interpreting Scripture correctly is possible, and that interpreting reality is difficult, not self-evident, often confusing and often contradictory.

  13. And by the way, you added an additional clause, originally your first principle was:

    “Scripture contains, within its covers, its own authentication.”

    If unprovable, it must be assumed to be true. But if unprovable, then everything else that follows is unprovable. Am I wrong here?

  14. David, I agree that everyone starts at a first principle, or starting assumption. I’m am genuinely curious what you personally hold as a first principle, and how you build your worldview from there. In one comment you said:

    “Either Scripture is the final authority, in which case it contains its own authentication and its own interpretation, or it doesn’t. … Every man’s first principle is an ultimate claim in a hierarchy of claims.”

    So based on this, I assumed Scripture holding it’s own authentication and interpretation was your first principle.

    Later on you said:

    “I believe a first principle is that God exists and God has spoken. I believe the 66 books of Scripture represent that revelation, and I believe that because Scripture contains, within its covers, and throughout the people it has shaped, its own authentication.”

    So is your first principle that God exists and has spoken? Or is this a belief that arises out of the other first principle that Scripture holds it’s own authentication and interpretation?

    Thanks!

  15. God exists, and the nature of God is to speak and has spoken in His Word.
    In understanding why I think the Bible is the place where God has spoken, it has all the marks of a self-authenticating book. In other words, while it it is axiomatic that God has spoken, there are reasons/proof.evidence that that place is the Bible. But in order for the Bible to be God’s Word, it must be a self-authenticating book, otherwise the standard it is held to is higher than itself. A self-authenticating canon is not a first principle per se, but it is an inference from saying God has spoken.

    The authority of the canon is self-authenticating, with the authority for determining the limits contained within itself. This delivers us from saying that God’s Word is subject to some other man-made standard.

    The Old Testament canon was recognized by Christ Himself (Luke 11:51) and the apostles (2 Tim 3:16). The Old Testament apocrypha was implicitly rejected by Christ (Matt 23:35), and the writers of the New Testament do not quote from it. The New Testament canon recognizes apostolic authorship, or the approval of an apostle. The New Testament began to recognize its own inspired character (1 Cor 14:37; 2 Thes 2:15, 3:14; 2 Pet 3:15-16; 1 Tim 5:18).
    The canon reveals the marks of canonicity: divine qualities (beauty, power and efficacy, and doctrinal, thematic and structural unity), apostolic testimony (with the apostles as ministers of the new covenant), and the corporate reception of God’s people. This took place in an environment in which God providentially exposed His people to these books, and His indwelling Spirit guided His people to recognise the attributes of canonicity. Over the first centuries, the church was recognizing the inspired books of the Bible, not deciding which books were or were not inspired. Since canonical books were providentially made available to the church, there are no ‘lost’ books, and the canon is limited to the sixty-six books in the Bible today.

    I hold to a number of first principles which cannot be proven. I exist. Reason is reasonable. Experience reveals experiential data. The past truly exists. All of these I assume to then work towards any other reasonable conclusions. So I hold to the first principle: God exists, and God has spoken. I hold to the follow-on truth – God has spoken in the collection of 66 books called the Bible, and has given proof/evidence/reason for this in a self-authenticating criteria for inclusion in the canon.

  16. Thanks for your reply.

    How does this:

    “God has spoken in the collection of 66 books called the Bible, and has given proof/evidence/reason for this in a self-authenticating criteria for inclusion in the canon.”

    Follow immediately from this:

    “God exists, and God has spoken”

    If your first principle is: “God exists, and God has spoken” it follows that any body of work claiming to be the word of God must be considered by humans as a potentially valid source of the word of God.

    There are many bodies of work claiming to be the word of God… We owe it to ourselves, and to God, to find out in which of these works he spoke to us.

    If God exists, and if God has spoken, you can’t just jump immediately from there to “God’s word is the Bible” – you have to prove that the Bible is the only word of God, and rule out any other work, such as the Quran, Hindu Scriptures, various gospels (thomas… etc) and other ancient writings. Only after ruling those out can you say “The Bible is the word of God”

    But you skipped this step…

    Perhaps your first principle isn’t so much that “God exists, and God has spoken” but rather “The specific version of God compatible with David’s understanding of the Bible exists, and that specific version of God has spoken” – this version of the principle is indeed compatible with the immediate jump you make to “God spoke via the Bible”.

    But it’s problematic, because it begs the question… you essentially picked which version of God you want to assume, and assume that God to be real. So, the question now is: Why do you assume the specific version of God compatible with your understanding of the Bible?

  17. But that is why I said what I did about canonicity.

    If we say God exists and God has spoken, we are already beginning with faith, as an organ of knowledge, not merely trust. With that organ of knowledge, we must look for where He has spoken.
    The problem is, autonomous reason or empiricism will not aid us in finding out what is God’s Word. Our reason is polluted, and we as humans have no idea how to recognize the marks of divine inspiration. Any book claiming to be God’s Word will have to guide us, within itself, to recognize God’s Word. Of course, this is circular. The nature of the case, grounding an epistemological claim, would make it so. It is equally true for the Quran, the Talmud, etc. We should also expect, if evil is a reality (another presupposition) that God’s Word will be counterfeited in numerous ways, and each of those counterfeits will make circular, ultimate claims. Does this leave us with a stalemate, of competing claims for God’s Word? I do not believe so, for two reasons.

    First, presupposing faith, we believe that the true God will reveal Himself to those who seek Him (Heb 11:6). That is, those who repent of suppressing the truth of Him that they already know through creation and conscience, and proceed with the belief that He is and He has revealed Himself in Scripture, will discover His statements to be true. Something will be at work here beyond the human mind left to itself, scrambling in the darkness. The Holy Spirit will open eyes. The earnest, honest seeker (though he will not be honest except by intervening grace) will find.
    Second, God has then given authenticating marks, within Scripture, that give an external and internal witness to the divine inspiration of the 66 books. In other words, the Tri-Une God has left marks of beauty, power, unity on its pages, along with the authenticating power of eyewitnesses and miraculous deeds in history, combined with the corporate reception of God’s people. Whether one finds these persuasive goes back to the first reason. These are not first principles, they supply warrant to the belief that the Scripture that claims it is Scripture has grounds to do so.

    Believing, as we do, that God has acted in history, we would look to the testimony of history to supply further warrant that God has spoken in His Word. We believe God has acted in history, calling a covenant people (Israel), and ruling them, however preposterous it might sound, through a book. We believe this book was then accepted by God Incarnate as the Scriptures, and His delegated representatives wrote the New Covenant section of this book. Again, history is an interpreted account of the past, and you either accept the Bible’s interpretation of history, or a competing interpretation. Within the Bible’s interpretation of history, we do find external witnesses verifying its testimony. We also find problems. The question then becomes, which are you going to weigh more heavily? Why? What is your governing assumption?

    We can apply this same approach to the Koran. Of course, you either begin that test by believing that Allah is the true God, or you do not. If you do, the chances are, you will not find the Koran to be self-refuting. You will explain the problems in light of the assumed truth, and find evidence that supports the claim. You begin the test of the Bible assuming that the God it reveals is the true God, and then see if its self-revelation is consistent with that kind of God. Within submissive faith, it is fair to compare the testimony to the Bible to the testimony for other competitors to be God’s Word. I believe the external testimony to the Christian God and the Christian Bible is overwhelmingly greater than its nearest competitor. But the chances are, your interpretation of the evidence will confirm your starting point. The occasional few (Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Frank Morrison) have the opposite experience, which has perhaps some weight in this argument.

  18. David, you mentioned we all have a first principle or basic assumption we start with. I agree. I’m having trouble understanding what exactly is your first principle.

    I asked: “Why do you assume the specific version of God compatible with your understanding of the Bible?”

    You then gave an answer detailing how you understand and intrepret the Bible. But this didn’t answer my question, because I was asking about your method of determining your starting assumption.

    Am I to understand that you take the integrity of Scripture as a starting point? But this is confusing, because earlier you said no, it wasn’t your starting assumption.

    Instead you claimed as a starting point: “God exists, and the nature of God is to speak and has spoken in His Word.”

    But now it appears your basis for this assumption is because the Bible told you to believe this way… thus making the integrity of Scripture to be your starting assumption.

    It feels like when I ask “Why God?” you say “Because Bible” And when I say “Why Bible?” you say “Because God”.

    So what is your starting point?

    From my point of view, I see these 4 assumptions that you’ve made. Correct me if I’m mistaken:

    1) a god exists
    2) this god is specifically the version of Jehovah that sent Jesus as Messiah, and wrote the New Testament (and not the Jewish version of Jehovah who didn’t)
    3) this god has spoken
    4) the bible is a record of what god has spoken

    Are these 4 assumptions your starting point? If so, where did these assumptions come from? What was your method for formulating them?

  19. Nick,

    These starting points are known intuitively. This is what Romans teaches, and if you want to know why I trust Romans, see above and below.
    God exists. God is a Person, with morality and beauty. He has made the cosmos and all other persons. There is evil in the world, which includes my own heart. God has spoken. As a Person he speaks, as we do, with words, and for those words to be heard by successive generations, they must be written down and preserved. All this I know intuitively, as a presupposition of all other knowing, not inferentially.

    Since I suppress this truth, and respond deceitfully to what I know, God is not obligated to reveal any more truth to me. It is rather like expecting you to send photo-albums of yourself to someone you know has been slandering you.

    Graciously though, God does reveal Himself. This special revelation is through language in a book, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. That book is not recognized or understood through autonomous reason, or empirical research. It is understood with the fear of the Lord as its starting point. In other words, the revelation of God Himself to an individual takes place simultaneous to revealing the Bible as God’s Word. This too, is a starting point, but it is not a starting point that happens to the natural man. It is an act of grace.

    A circular verification between general and special revelation would provide a the believing heart with further warrant for trusting the Christian canon. Creation reveals an absolute and personal God. Only Christianity, Judaism and Islam have an absolute and personal God. However, God is clearly good and loving, as witnessed by the goodness of creation. Only a God who has love within Himself can be good, so only a Tri-une God can best account for the world.
    Of course, I would not have reasoned to a Tri-une God from natural revelation. I needed special revelation. I needed the interpretation that the Christian Scriptures provide. The Christian Scriptures then provide the most coherent, compelling and plausible account of perceivable Reality. General revelation strengthens my belief in the self-revelation of God in Scripture, and faith in Scripture provides me with the correct interpretation of general revelation.

  20. > These starting points are known intuitively. This is what Romans teaches, and if you want to know why I trust Romans, see above and below.

    Wait, if your assumption is that these points are known intuitively, you don’t need Romans to teach these things to you. Are they not apparent and self-evident?

    Instead you’re claiming they both: 1) need to be taught to humans, and 2) are known intuitively by humans… it can’t be both so which is it?

    If you are basing what you know on Romans, then you take as a starting point and foundational assumption the integrity of Scripture. Correct?

    So these 4 points I mentioned are not your starting points. I should add 2 points to the stack to include your assumptions that the Scriptures (specifically the Christian Bible) has complete internal integrity and is divinely inspired:

    1) the christian bible has complete internal integrity
    2) the christian bible is divinely inspired
    3) a god exists
    4) this god is specifically the version of Jehovah that sent Jesus as Messiah, and wrote the New Testament (and not the Jewish version of Jehovah who didn’t)
    5) this god has spoken
    6) the bible is a record of what god has spoken
    7) thus the christian bible has complete internal integrity

    Which point in the stack have you chosen as a foundational assumption?

    You told me that everyone starts with a foundational assumption. I agree. I am curious about 2 questions:

    1) What is your foundational assumption?
    2) Why is it your foundational assumption?

    But every time I ask these questions you walk the stack, jumping to the previous point in the points listed above.

    Is it perhaps because you don’t actually have a foundational assumption from which to build your worldview?

    I’m genuinely puzzled here.

  21. Pastor David,

    Can you provide a concrete example of so-called “pragmatism” and how such a thing is not scriptural?

    Thank you.

  22. Todd,

    A biblical example would be the carrying of the Ark on an ox-cart, and Uzza’s attempt to steady it when the oxen stumbled. Many practical reasons could have ‘justified’ the act – a desire to make the Ark visible, the success the Philistines had obtained in doing so, the unity of Israel’s leadership, David’s sincere desire to celebrate the Ark, the need to protect the Ark from damage etc. When David spoke about it afterwards, he rebuked all of Israel’s pragmatism, including his own (1 Chr 15:13).

    Church history is littered with concrete examples, but more recent ones would include Charles Finney’s New Measures, liberalism’s social gospel, fundamentalism’s embrace of pop culture, evangelicalism’s seeker-friendly methodology. Look up A.W. Tozer on pragmatism, and you’ll find a plethora of writings from a man who warned the church when the behemoth was growing, but at that time, still possible to slay. Needless to say, the church fed the beast.

  23. I suppose I should inquire into fundamentalism’s embrace of pop culture. The Apostle Paul said he became all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel. He did not become sin for the sake of the Gospel but I supposed he used Roman or Greek conventions to ration with unbelievers. That wouldn’t include worshiping Greek gods, and it wouldn’t include sinning. As to evangelism’s seeker-friendly methodology, I don’t know what is inherently wrong with it.

    It seems to me that the church should be filled with those who love God with their all and love their neighbors as themselves, and fulfilling the Great Commission in the Gospel of Matthew: reaching the lost and making disciples of them.

    I think I’ve heard “pragmatism” described as the end justifying the means. If both the means and the end are scripturally sound, then I don’t know what’s inherently wrong with them. If the church obeys God in terms of the means, and if the church obeys God in terms of the end, then it seems to me that nothing is inherently wrong.

    For example, if we follow God’s commands for the means, and in doing so we follow God’s commands for the ends, I don’t see what’s inherently wrong with that. Since all truth is God’s truth, and truth can be expressed and manifested in various sundry ways by various sundry kinds of people with various customs in various languages, I don’t see what’s inherently sinful in using various kinds of expressions to preach the Gospel to the lost.

    Thanks so much for bearing with me.

  24. From David’s answer it appears the definition of pragmatism is:

    “Doing anything or living in any way not explicitly or implicitly defined and/or decreed by Scripture”

    So pragmatism is fundamentally fundamentalism, just dressed up in Big Fancy Words.

    The definition should be modified a bit to reflect humans’ flawed understanding of Scripture:

    “Doing anything or living in any way not explicitly or implicitly defined and/or decreed by my understanding and/or perception of Scripture”

    I think I can simplify this a bit more:

    “Doing anything or living in any way contrary to my understanding and/or perception of Scripture”

    Anti-Pragmatism: Holier Than Thou because not only What I do pleases God, but How I do What I do pleases God.

    Hooray for the anti-pragmatists, for they alone shall enter the kingdom of heaven.

  25. Nick, does attempting to avoid pragmatism necessarily equal Pharisaism? Is there another option?

    Hooray for you, if you have avoided some sort of self-congratulationism.

  26. It’s not sanctimoniousness or Pharisaism if you are actually doing What pleases God, in the exact Way that pleases Him.

    For those who do so, the claim to being Holier Than Thou is literally and honestly valid. (at least within their understanding of Scripture, so at the least it’s not hypocritical, although it may be misguided.)

  27. Todd,

    You’ve re-defined pragmatism to mean, basically, obedience. Pragmatism is an approach to truth and ethics that defines the good as some practical, measurable result. The means, however flawed and evil, are justified because of the greater good they achieve.
    The example I gave you, Uzza, is one where the end may have been noble, but the means was wrong. In evangelicalism, the end – more converts – may be noble, but if the means includes revelries, amusements, profanities, trivializations of the faith and distortions of truth, then the whole approach is condemned by Scripture. We do not evaluate methods by what they claim to want to achieve. We evaluate methods for their meaning as methods – do they communicate the meaning of God faithfully, or do they distort it?

  28. Nick,

    When I was a boy, we’d walk to school, and our route would take us past a police station. Two stories above us, were some cells. Occasionally, some of the locked-up inmates would scream out through the bars and tauntingly insult us – we who were free.

    It was weird.

  29. Yep, I bet it was odd. While an interesting anecdote I’m not sure how it applies to the discussion at hand.

    I’m being serious here: if you’ve figured out What pleases God and the correct method How to do it then you’ve been given a special gift and should derive some pleasure or fulfilment from it.

    But as someone who is not a fundamentalist, when someone communicates to me the exact methods (the How of the What) of pleasing God and also tell me any other method is sinful… It smacks heavily of legalistic fundamentalism. It’s a booking down of metaphor and poetry into a set of rules and regulations. It is a distortion and misapplication of the texts. (Look at me making claims without evidence. Hooray!)

    > We evaluate methods for their meaning as methods – do they communicate the meaning of God faithfully, or do they distort it?

    So this goes back to the other discussion we had earlier about how does one know how to correctly interpret Scripture.

    My claim of anti-pragmatism being fundamentalism in different clothes is just as valid as any other claim.

    How can you reallycknow you have ahold of the correct meaning of a method (as you put it)? How do you know that you have ahold of the truth?

  30. And btw David, sorry if you feel I’ve insulted you. Unlike the prisoners in your story, I’ve never tried to insult you. That’s not how I roll.

    In this thread I’ve questioned your viewpoints, and inquired as to your methods of arriving at those viewpoints. I’ve suggested sentimentalism is a way people deal with doubts or tough spots in their beliefs. I’ve poked fun at fundamentalism & anti-pragmatism and claimed they are the same. (I don’t know if you’re a fundamentalist…)

    But I’ve not insulted you as a person, and in fact have respect for your willingness to write about and discuss your beliefs in a public forum.

    And I’m still curious as to your starting assumption or first principle. Do you take the Presuppositional position?

  31. Pastor David,

    Regarding a seeker-friendly methodology, I would submit to you that it is scriptural. It seems to me that Christ Himself was seeker-friendly: he said that the healthy do not need a doctor; it is the sick who do. It seems to me that the early church was seeker-friendly also. The faith grew in number with the passing days. The scripture says, for example, that three thousand were saved in one region in one day.

    The use of profanity is not scriptural, and I have a conservative-minded approach to hymns and songs. I find use of much of the latest “cutting-edge” music to be problematic; yet I don’t see its use as sin. Some church leaders may oppose it; but that doesn’t mean that it’s a sin to play it.

    What’s wrong with church growth?

    We should not trivialize or minimize the Gospel. But if entertainment or humor is used, I don’t automatically criticize it as sin. Although humor and entertainment perhaps shouldn’t be the primary vehicles for teaching and preaching, but that doesn’t make them sin. And humor and entertainment (in film or TV, for instance) may reach many people for Christ.

    Christ and the Apostle Paul did not criticize people for things other than sin, I don’t think.

  32. Todd,

    You’re in the habit of defining things as you would like them to be, not as they are, and then asking your interlocutors what they find wrong with that definition. You defined pragmatism as being practically obedient, and now you have defined seeker-friendly as compassion, or as a desire to see the church grow.

    To have a coherent discussion, I’d encourage you to pick up MacArthur’s “Ashamed of the Gospel”. There you’ll find an adequate history of pragmatism in the church, and a fair analysis of what’s being done. This is not a question of well-meaning people using ‘different’ methods. Those methods include, in MacArthur’s words: “staged wrestling matches, pie-fights, punk-rockers, rappers and any other form of secular music used to perform some kind of vaguely Gospel song, ventriloquists’ dummies, dancers, weight-lifters, knife-throwers, body-builders, comedians, clowns, jugglers, show-business celebrities, prominent businessman, politicians or sportsmen giving their testimonies, restaurants, ballrooms, roller-skating rinks, special-effects systems that can produce smoke, fire, sparks, and laser lights in the auditorium. ”

    This is not answered by referring to noble motives. Again, that’s the idea behind pragmatism – a supposedly noble idea (seeking the lost) justifies means that actually distort the meaning of repentance. Nor is it answered by tarring the critic with a ‘judgmental attitude’ or claiming that the critic of these methods has adopted a proud, negative stance, looking down his nose at everyone else. These are cheap shots, and ironically, they are thinking evil – the very thing that the critic is accused of doing.

    Answering the question of unacceptable pragmatism means being willing to examine each of the methods for their meaning – in terms of associations, use, or intrinsic meaning. It’s comparing that meaning to Scripture’s understanding of God and the gospel. It’s then determining if those methods actually detract from the end being sought – God’s glory, and the salvation of sinners.

  33. Well, Nick, I’m glad you may possibly feel sorry if I have possibly construed your comments as possibly insulting. I may possibly feel better about that.

    In answer to your question, I share an insight from presuppositionalism. That insight is not unique to presuppositionalism. It has been the insight of philosophers such as Plato, Christians and non-Christians alike. That is, axioms cannot be proved by reason or evidence. We reason from our interpretive grid, not to it.

    Where does this interpretive grid come from? I believe it is built up in different ways. Part of it is intuitive knowledge. I believe every human has innate knowledge of God’s existence and God as a Person – who speaks, is moral, is beautiful.

    But beyond that, the grid is built up through very formative things. One is language -which shapes our very metaphors of life. Another is our development of value judgements – our moral imagination, shaped through everything from family, to the arts, to our school. Most broadly, our culture gives us this grid, this imaginative idea – what Richard Weaver called ‘the metaphysical dream’. This is where meaning, value, and interpretation operate. Therefore, it is also where the affections, desires and faith operate.

    My belief is that God gives every man innate knowledge of Himself – through creation and conscience. In His common grace, He also gives humans culture, in which further develops moral meaning, and in which values are given. However, sin and idolatry distort both the intuitive and the imaginative, leading to idolatry. Unless God intervenes, man will judge, interpret, reason and believe wrongly.

    In special grace, God allows Christian ideas to permeate cultures, and gives His Word. His Spirit uses these to change what someone knows and loves in this imaginative grid, leading to faith. The fundamental change is not a conclusion of reason. It is trust in a Person.

    From this place, a person is going to evaluate the evidence, and reason and interpret it, as a convinced believer. Questions of canonicity, resurrection, historicity, will be evaluated, and vindicate the faith already held. But there will be no changing a person’s interpretation of the evidence at the level of empirical sense. We do not reason from the facts up to God.

    But God is not an axiom. He is a Person. He must be approached appropriately to be known properly. That’s why I think someone who denies that innate sense of God is already lying.

  34. I’d appreciate it if you answered simply. I’m trying to understand your belief.

    Your comment, while thoughtful and well-worded, is so broad as to apply to any version of God humans claim to have knowledge of.

    For example, I could take your comment, and replace “Christian” with “Muslim” and the comment would apply nicely to Islam, with the implication that the word “God” is referring to Allah.

    Or I could replace “Christian” with “Hindu” and the implication is that the word “God” in your comment is referring to Vishnu (or Krishna). And it works just as well.

    You did use the word “Christian”… but this is also a very broad definition. Roman Catholic? Mormon? Jehovah’s Witness? Seventh-Day Adventist? Baptist? Episcopalian? etc.

    Why don’t you clearly state your positions and foundational assumptions in simple terms? I don’t know most of the context for the words and phrases you use… I’m honestly trying to learn about your belief and it’s much harder than I anticipated.

    You’ve alluded to your assumptions several times but haven’t really clearly summarized them. I’m trying my best here:

    – God exists
    – God is a person
    – God speaks
    – God is moral
    – God is beautiful
    – The 66 books of the Christian Bible is God’s Word


    Maybe you can continue this onwards… or correct my errors if I’ve made any.

    And another additional question: Why don’t you specify the God you believe in by name instead of by label? “God” is just a label, is it not?

  35. Also I’d really appreciate it if you were less patronizing. “Share an insight” … “axioms cannot be proved by reason or evidence.”

    That’s what we’ve already been over. I agreed with you early on that everyone has basal assumptions we start with.

    I’m just asking you what your basal assumptions are, and how you arrived at them.

    I’m not asking for you to talk down at me in cryptic words, dispense insights from on high, assume me to be a cynical atheist, or make insinuations in anecdotal stories.

    Is this how you treat everyone who asks these sorts of questions?

  36. Wow, Nick, I thought we were having ‘a discussion’, because you were ‘genuinely puzzled’. Is this how you treat everyone when you’re puzzled?

  37. I have no idea how ‘an insight’ is patronizing language. We certainly have different worldviews.

  38. When I’m puzzled, I ask the person to describe things more simply. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

    When I ask clarifying questions, why put me down instead of saying “Hey that’s wrong because X, it’s wrong because Y, Christianity is different because Z”

    Instead of sharing your faith, and answering my honest questions (which are asked in earnest, I’m actually trying to understand your worldview)…

    Instead you take a flippant tone and brush me off.

    From the beginning you’ve assumed things that are wrong about me, and insinuated I am things I am not.

    When I ask questions about your beliefs, I’m not attacking you. Why not just say “Hey, here is why you’re wrong, here’s why you misunderstand my position”

    You’re patronizing when you share “an insight” when it’s something we not only already discussed, but is a basic part of most if not all philosophical worldviews.

    To trot it out again as some sort of special tidbit for me to think about comes across as patronizing.

    It’s not just me, you’re even patronizing and condescending to Todd H. “To have a coherent discussion, I’d encourage you to pick up MacArthur’s “Ashamed of the Gospel”.”

    Implying that Todd’s side of the discussion was not coherent.

    He’s asking you questions about your view of Scripture, and instead of answering him with actual passages from Scripture to explain your position, you belittle him, and shunt him off to a non-Scriptural source.

    Why not just show him a couple passages from the Bible to help answer his questions?

    Why is it the professing Christian who is talking down to his fellow Christian, and to random people on the interwebs, and it’s the assumed cynical atheist who is apologizing for potential offenses and trying to actually learn where he might be wrong?

    Perhaps it’s not intentional on your part? Maybe it’s just how you write? If so, I’m sorry if I’ve offended you…

    At any rate, if you’re interested in answering some of my questions, awesome. If not, no problem.

    Just understand this isn’t a “worldview” problem, it’s just basic human communication and you come across as really condescending and patronizing.

  39. paul,

    I honestly don’t think that’s called for there. I really don’t think you should have said that. It doesn’t seem to help or instruct anyone.

    Todd

  40. David,

    If I may address concerns of MacArthur as presented here in your post: I don’t see reason to decry “show-business celebrities, prominent businessman, politicians or sportsmen giving their testimonies” per se. Certain celebrities who, when we test all things, are questionable? Yes, I’m alarmed. But I don’t see reason to criticize use of testimonies of celebrities and businessmen per se.

  41. No, indeed, I have no intrinsic problem with testimonies either. The point of a generalisation is to extract a pattern. Just as in counselling, the patterns are what we look for, not merely the individual incidents. Once we find a pattern, we are finding a habitual tendency. MacArthur is referring to a habit found in evangelicalism since the 20s – piggy-backing off what is amusing, popular, sensational, fun, expedient, impressive, exciting in order to garner interest, gain political clout, market the gospel or otherwise pedal the message as one would any other product for consumers or ephemeral item for amusement junkies. Evagelicalism and populism have walked hand-in-hand since the American Civil War.

    Again, let me pre-empt a possible response. I also don’t oppose every use of what is fun, expedient, exciting etc. But if we keep taking these ideas in isolation, holding up each of them to the light and asking, “What’s wrong with fun?” “What’s wrong with excitement?”, we then miss the point entirely. The point is, what does the Gospel mean? What kind of God is God? What affections and responses are commensurate with an encounter with Him, particularly in worship? Do the methods MacArthur mentions ever communicate meanings beyond their end-goal (garnering interest or credibility or political clout for Christianity)? What if some of these methods communicate meanings contradictory to, or at least inharmonious with Christianity?

    Once we agree that we must not think evil of others, and once we agree that not everyone assumed under a generalisation is guilty of its evils, why would we object to the process of scrutinising methods for their meaning? Surely this is part of the discernment we all want?

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