Friday, August 16, 2002

Mail Call

One on my very first posts was on What is A Christian1. The post contained a list of Christian essentials, including the inerrancy and sufficiency of scripture. After the list, there was a paragraph with the heading Axiomatic Christianity. The paragraph began with my recollection of a physics professor who taught Relativity axiomatically, by starting with the axiom: vacuum is vacuum and then deriving all the necessary concepts and equations. I then wrote:
I believe Christianity lends itself to an axiomatic approach, and the proper axiom is the first item in the list [of Christian essentials] above, restated here:

AXIOM: The Bible is the inerrant and sufficient inspired word of God.
The idea being that all the items in the list of essentials are derivable from the axiom.

Months later, a reader has taken me to the shed over that post2. He wrote:
Dear David,

Your first absolute (the inerrant and sufficient inspired word of God) you posit as being the axiom of Christianity from which the other absolutes are "derivable". This way of apprehending Christian truth is thoroughly and deeply wrong. Christianity does not, as you claim, lend itself to an axiomatic approach; such an approach leads inevitably to a deficient understanding of Christianity.

First of all, the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture is not, in any sense, the axiom of Christianity. The starting point of Christianity is the mighty acts of God in human history: the call of Abraham; the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt; the giving of the Law; and above all the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Next in importance after these historic acts of God is the establishment by Him, through those acts, of the people of God: the people of Israel in the Old Covenant and the Church, the new Israel, in the New Covenant. Next in importance is the faith, witness, and experience of the people of God. Finally, out of that faith and experience, as a product of the covenant relationship with God, and in witness to the acts of God, the Holy Scriptures were produced. Outside of the covenant which produced the Scriptures, it is not possible to discern their message or receive their meaning.

You cannot treat the Holy Scriptures as a repository of seed data from which theological truths can be derived by intellection. Christianity is not a matter of belief in the sense of intellectual assent and knowledge; it is a relationship of the heart with Jesus Christ, it is belonging to His Body the Church, and it is the acquisition of His gift of the Holy Spirit. What Christ offers us you can never know by the intellect; you can only know it by experience. And it is not knowing facts or affirming principles that matters, but knowing a Person.

In Christianity, it is the only-begotten and immortal Word of God that is primary, not the written word. Look to Islam or Mormonism for a religion where the written word is truly primary. It is telling that none of the historic creeds of the Church teaches what, for you, is the axiom. Neither the Apostle's Creed, nor the Nicene Creed, nor the decrees of the ecumenical councils, mention belief in the Bible, as such, as an article of faith. Not until the sixteenth century is this "axiom" mentioned, in the Protestant confessions. It is surprising that the Church waited fifteen centuries to articulate explicitly what is thought to be the axiom of the entire faith.

Note that I am not denying the inspiration or the inerrancy of Scripture; but I am saying that to place it at the base of an intellectual system is unworthy of the fullness of the faith. The way to Christian truth is to hear the proclamation of the Gospel; to submit oneself, heart, soul, and intellect, to Christ as King and God; to flee to the apostolic Church, the pillar and bulwark of the truth; to receive proper catechesis, in which the authentic tradition of the Church is imparted to one, heart to heart; to be born again through the waters of Holy Baptism; to participate fully in the worship and life of the Church; and humbly to follow the way of salvation, coming into closer and closer union with Christ, and ultimately becoming a partaker of the divine nature. In the context of that life in Christ, in communion with and loyalty to the apostolic Church in every age, one may humbly offer one's finite and fallen intellect to help clarify the revelation of God for oneself or others; outside of that context, the intellect, trying to synthesize Christianity anew out of axioms and logic,
is doomed to failure.
(emphasis added)

I replied to his email stating:
Dear [Reader],

I don't know how to respond, actually. I agree with most of what you wrote. I should have called it Axiomatic Christian Apologetics instead of Axiomatic Christianity. I did not mean to imply one could teach oneself to be a Christian. As for the historic creeds, everything in them is found in scripture, so with the above modification, I stand by what I wrote.
Actually, in rereading his email, there is much I disagree with. The main purpose of my reply was to concede the point that one cannot pick up a Bible and, with no divine intervention, intellectualize oneself into an authentic Christian.

To which he replied:
If you agree with most of what I wrote, then (a)I totally misunderstand your theological position or (b) I didn't make myself clear (or (c) both).

I think your axiom is wrong to such an extent that I was shocked to see it so baldly stated. To me it is a serious misunderstanding of the role of the Holy Scriptures in the life of the Church. It was unheard of before the Reformation.

It is true that everything in the creeds is found in Scripture; but the sufficiency of Scripture is not found in the creeds. There's a reason for that.

1 Going back to your first week or so of blogging is like reviewing the first few episodes of a long running television series. The style is so different from what eventually jelled that it is almost unrecognizable.
2He is not the first reader to object to that post. In fact, given that I only had about 20 readers that first week, a relatively high percentage found it wanting. He is the first to object in a while, and the first to object so fully.

No comments:

Post a Comment