Friday, November 30, 2007

Word of God, Word is God, or Just Mere Words?

True Discernment links to From the Lighthouse, which links to an item in the Christianity Today blog.

While the ballroom sessions of the first day of the Evangelical Theological Society meeting had more attendees, no session was as packed as J.P. Moreland’s “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.”...

ETS membership has only two doctrinal requirements: you must affirm the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture....

In short, to accuse evangelicals of over-commitment to the Bible at ETS would be like accusing environmentalists of talking too much about climate change at a Sierra Club meeting. But Moreland, who has gained some prominence as a philosopher and apologist, wasn’t pulling any punches.

“In the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ,” he said. “And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.”

The problem, he said, is “the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice.”...

[H]e thinks evangelical scholars and the movement as a whole are rejecting “guidance, revelation, and so forth from God through impressions, dreams, visions, prophetic words, words of knowledge and wisdom.”

“We shut that down because of charismatic excesses,” he said. “Because of abuses, we fear teaching people how to use it. We think it’s all going to be Benny Hinn or something like that.”...

[M]ore provocative was Moreland’s argument about why evangelicals became over-committed to the Bible. Rather than developing a robust epistemology in response to secularism, he said, evangelicals reacted and retreated. Now evangelical theologians aren’t allowed to come to any new conclusions about the truths in Scripture, and they’re not allowed to find truths outside of Scripture. As a result, he said, they’re engaged in “private language games and increasingly detailed minutia” and “we’re not seeing work on broad cultural themes.”

Frankly, I don't believe that Moreland is describing the symptoms of over-commitment to the Bible. I think he is describing the symptoms of under-commitment to the Bible. There is one party of Bible believers that believes in ministry to the poor, but disregards Biblical admonitions against sexual immorality. Conversely, there is another party of Bible believers that highlights Biblical admonitions against sexual immorality, but disregards ministry to the poor.

From the Lighthouse explores the issue of "Bibliolatry:

Some may agree with [Brennan] Manning and Moreland by saying that we should not worship a leather bound book but rather the One who the book is about. But few "over-committed" Bible-believing Christians would argue with that. Christians who believe the Bible is the actual inspired word of God know that it is the Jesus Christ proclaimed in that Bible that is to be worshiped. But they also know that within the pages of the Bible are the holy words, ideas, and truths of God. So for Moreland and Manning to suggest that these types of Christians don't really worship God but rather pages in a book is a complete misrepresentation of Bible-believing Christians.

There may be a logical reason why Moreland and Manning condemn those who adhere to the Bible too strongly. Both have something in common - their promotion of contemplative spirituality. And those who turn to contemplative mysticism, often shift their focus from the moral (doctrine) to the mystical (as Henri Nouwen suggested).

Roger Oakland's evaluation of Moreland's book The Lost Virtue of Happiness is then reprinted:

Moreland and [co-author] Issler provide tips for developing a prayer life. Here are some of the recommendations they make:

[W]e recommend that you begin by saying the Jesus Prayer about three hundred times a day (p. 90).

When you first awaken, say the Jesus Prayer twenty to thirty times. As you do, something will begin to happen to you. God will begin to slowly begin to occupy the center of your attention (p. 92).

Repetitive use of the Jesus Prayer while doing more focused things allows God to be on the boundaries of your mind and forms the habit of being gently in contact with him all day long (p. 93).

Moreland and Issler try to present what they consider a scriptural case that repetitive prayers are OK with God. But they never do it! They say the Jesus Prayer is derived from Luke 18:38 where the blind man cries out, "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me,"(p.90) but nowhere in that section of the Bible (or any other section for that matter) does it instruct people to repeat a rendition of Luke 18:38 over and over. (from Faith Undone, pp. 117-119)

An Amazon review of Moreland's book The Kingdom Triangle highlights the danger:

On page 159, Dr. Moreland encourages the reader to participate in an unbiblical form of meditation which is more akin to the religious practices of Yoga and Eastern mysticism than orthodox Biblical Christianity where he details a 2-step process first alluded to in the Lost Virtue of Happiness book. In step one, he tells the reader to "[f]ocus the center of your attention on your physical heart muscle."

But there are differing views on Moreland. rjd:

J.P. Moreland is one of my heroes. I was a graduate student in engineering, with a background in physics, when I became a Christian and Moreland's "Scaling the Secular City" was a foundational work for me during that time. It convinced me that evangelicals don't check their brains at the door of the church. That and "Christianity and the Nature of Science" are both on my bookshelf, but I think the latter is out of print.

All these years and I didn't know he looked so much like Cal Thomas.

It be be noted that Moreland is a professor of philosophy, not theology, which explains comments such as this one:

"I think it is like the people who claim that the 2nd law of thermodynamics refutes natural selection. They are misunderstanding how a term (entropy) is defined so it leads them to make false conclusions about what it being claimed. I think the same is true for the idea that the calculus refutes Kalam."

Errr. I don't think is a very good example Joe.

The calculus/Kalam thing is more of a category error. Calculus is a mathemical model that can use the concept of infinity. Reality is not a mathematical model where infinity logically cannot exist.

The thermodynamics/evolution thing is more of a misunderstanding that in the increasing of entropy does not stop complex forms, it just makes them more unlikely and more quickly decompose to higher entropy states. So 2nd Law vs Evolution does not refute evolution, it just makes it less probable.

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