Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Loftus on theological differences

Loftus on the differing views Christians have of many theological issues: Either God was not clear in his revelation about these issues, or the Holy Spirit isn't doing his job in illuminating the truth of the Bible, or God doesn't care what Christians believe.

VR: I think God wants to appeal to our wills and not simply fill our minds with information, and this seems to be furthered by not making everything "settled" by this that or the other Scripture. Let's take everlasting punishment as an example. I am prepared to take seriously the perspective of Tom Talbott, who thinks that it's essential to believe that God wants all to be saved and thinks God will eventually pull it off, even in the face of human free will. At the same time, I believe that sin doesn't reverse itself, it is not a minor detail, and if left unchecked it damages our relationship to God and to every other creature. That being the case, my inclination is to go agnostic on the question of hell. I accept the doctrine of hell as a perfectly accurate account about what happens to people if sin persists, I believe in a loving God bound and determined to save all, I think the passages saying that only Christ can save are there for a reason, and no attempt to "resolve" the relevant issues prematurely will be adequate. God has, in my view, left pieces of the truth around, and for our own good has refused to tell us how they fit together.

4 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

VIC: God has, in my view, left pieces of the truth around, and for our own good has refused to tell us how they fit together.

ED: Since you admit you lack knowledge of how "pieces of the truth fit together," how can you be certain that situation is "for our own good?"

If that's your "view" then it's no more impressive than say, other "views," constructed of "pieces of the truth."

For instance on the question of "hell" and your proposal to remain agnostic about the eternality of the punishment, Talbot whom you cited, is not agnostic over that question, is he? He's a universalist.

Neither was C. S. Lewis agnostic over that question, though he seemed to vacillate in places when he wrote The Great Divorce. Late in life Lewis responded in a letter to the question of whether or not he was a universalist, saying he was not one, primarily because of the evidence of the "dominical sayings" of our Lord ("dominical" refers to the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels). Jesus spoke of "eternal punishment," told people to "fear Him who can cast both body and soul into hell," added mention of "the unforgiveable sin," and allegedly spoke in a parable about an unbridgable gap between the rich man named Dives--suffering an unquenchable thirst in Hades--and the poor begger named Lazarus in Abraham's bosom. In that sense Jesus expressed and respresented many of the apocalyptic/eschatological beliefs of his day, as held by Jews (i.e., Jews who were not Sadducees).

What "pieces of the truth" do those words of Jesus represent to you? And if various means exist to reinterpret such words of Jesus, what ELSE in the Bible might not be interpreted in different ways?

*For instance, speaking of different interpretations, one might argue that the road to salvation as preached by the historical Jesus of Nazareth differed from the road to salvation as found in the writings of Paul and in the final written Gospel (John).

John W. Loftus said...

As a former Christian I had difficulty with why there were so many different ways that professed Christians interpreted the Bible. I could never answer that question. I just put it on the backburner of things I didn't know, and I proceeded to try to come up with what I considered the correct interpretations, because that's all I could do.

What I now believe is that history is not a reliable "point of contact" for God to speak with man, assuming God exists. Anyone who studies the philosophy of history knows that history (and historical writings) should be interpreted in light of the historian's present perspective. Why? Because that's all we can do...we cannot do otherwise. So women gain rights in Christian countries and Biblical historians (theologians?) interpret the Bible to say what they have come to believe on other grounds, and so forth, hell being another doctrine. Besides, practically any event in history can be rationally denied, even if that event actually occurred! And this goes for non-miraculous history, so how much more does it apply to purported miraculous claims in history? Again, if God chose to reveal himself in history, then he chose a very poor medium to do so.

Grano1 said...

Although I never got to the point where I doubted Christianity per se, I had a similar difficulty with multiple interpretations. I took it upon myself to read my way backwards through the history of Christian theology. Eventually I came to see that despite all of the contemporary divergences, a similar situation did not exist in early Christian theology. There was, in fact, a consensus fidelium, which was expressed in the teachings of the Church Fathers in consensus, a consensus patriae. This consensus not only agreed on the "essentials," but agreed on what the "essentials" were.

Of course the Patristic writers often disagreed on what they would call theologoumena -- theological opinions -- but they at least knew where to draw the line between opinion and dogma, and their consensus bears this out.

As for history being a point of contact for God to speak to man, a lot of modern theologians have addressed this issue. But in keeping with what I said above, those modern theologians who tend to be more Patristically-minded seem to me to be quite helpful here. From the Catholic perspective, I'd recommend Hans Urs von Balthasar -- his theological and philosophical work is literally monumental. From the Eastern Orthodox side, there is the phenomenally learned Georges Florovsky, who spoke something like 15 languages and was conversant with almost all modern theology and philosophy (he died in 1979). More recently the Protestant Thomas Oden has been theologizing in a Patristic direction, even editing an excellent series of Patristic Bible commentaries.

I'm sure this may seem to some to be a rather retrograde approach to take. But when minds of the quality and capacity of von Balthasar and Florovsky commend to us the cultivation of a "patristic mind," surely the possibility is at least worth a look?

Jason said...

If any event in history can be rationally denied, even if the event has actually occurred, this might inspire at least a bit of scepticism about sceptical denials of certain events... {amused g}

Somewhat similarly, if the solvency of 'interpretation by present light' cooks the modern Christian goose, it cooks the modern sceptical gander as well. On the other hand, if a modern sceptic may respectably consider his interpretation by present light to be something worth believing about what happened (or didn't happen), then in theory a modern Christian may have a similarly respectable case despite being a modern interpreting from his own present standpoint. A post hoc explanation of incorrect interpretation which is provided in universal terms, cuts universally.

It still comes down to the actual analysis on a case-by-case basis, by responsible individuals, to whatever degree they can do it. Some responsible persons on both sides of the aisle have concluded, from the state of the evidence, that the Bible was not intended (for whatever reason) to be a systematic theology text. If we can agree on that, then we can go on to disagree about the reason(s) for that, without appealing to universal solvencies which would undermine our _own_ conclusions if actually applied.