What is the Bible?—Part 2

30Continuing our thoughts on Scripture from Part 1.

(3) FUNCTIONAL INERRANCY. In what sense must the Scriptures be sufficiently truthful, then? That’s difficult to say. But to venture an answer at this point, we’d say first that its being difficult to say shouldn’t be a reason to conclude that Scripture is absolutely error-free. Secondly, and more specifically, we’d suggest that Scripture ought to be a sufficiently truthful source for Christ’s first-century self-understanding as fulfiller and executor of God’s promises to Israel and the redemption of the world. Third, its truth should be sufficient to inform and facilitate human transformation into Christlikeness. In a word, it must be sufficient as a means to the rightly perceived ends for which Christ self-identifies and suffers as the ground for Christian discipleship and character transformation. Much of our modern problems surrounding the question of inerrancy stems from our desire that the Bible be much more than this.

Thus we’re essentially arguing that Scripture is ‘functionally inerrant’ where its function is understood first to be the securing of a worldview adequate for the development of the Word’s incarnate self-understanding (identity and mission) and then secondly as a means for character formation into Christlikeness.

No particular text need be required to do all the lifting. No one text need embody all the relevant truthfulness sufficient for these ends. Indeed, errors may exist within Israel’s understanding of God and themselves as his people, and these errors may be expressed within Scripture. That’s rather to be expected. In our view there’s no need to suppose that Christ or any of the apostles were inerrant in every belief they held. What’s required is adequacy of function relative to Incarnation and character formation.

The Old Testament is thus for Christ before it is for us, and it is only for us insofar as it is understood through him. Israel’s religious traditions and history of relationship with God need not be inerrant in every recorded detail of every text on every level. Rather, the cumulative tradition on the whole has to be capable of functioning as an adequate context for Christ’s self-understanding and mission. And the resurrection assures us we have that.

What are those sufficiently truthful aspects of the biblical narrative without which we could not make sense of the empowering role it played in forming Christ’s self-understanding? Among them are surely the truth that there is One God, that God created the world, that God chose Israel as the context in which to pursue his wider purposes of redemption, that this pursuit included the divine promise of a descendant who would be the means of universal blessing, etc. These can doubtless be expanded upon. But if Christ was fundamentally mistaken on these in his message, it’s difficult to see what God is in fact validating by raising him from the grave. But since Christ did self-identify in such terms and since this self-understanding is fundamentally vindicated by God’s raising him from the dead, Christ can be said to embody, as any telos does, its true anticipations, the only truth of the Old Testament worth being ultimately concerned about. Whatever else may be false in the text, it matters not to the truth that matters at all. And it is simply false in light of the resurrection that if there be a single error in any textual claim then all is lost. The Bible functions without error in its demonstration of the truth/falsity of all things relevant to the identity and mission of the risen Christ and his execution of the promises of God for our redemption and transformation.

How then do we know whether any biblical claim is true or false? How do we know which is which? In many detailed cases we simply cannot know. But the broad strokes can be confidently perceived. Still, in the necessary respects we require, Scripture’s truth is self-authenticating to faith. That is, where its narrative is believed and lived in and through Christ, it either proves itself truthful in all the ways we require (i.e., it saves, it heals, it transforms and perfects us) or it does not. This is where Scripture functions inerrantly in us relative to our identification with Christ. Personal transformation into Christlikeness is the purpose and proof of the only inspiration we should concern ourselves with. To want something more or other than that tends to idolatry.

We have no fail-safe methodology for always distinguishing true from false claims. We do agree that texts are to be assumed truthful until shown otherwise. This is universally how we manage communication. And the primary thing to keep in mind regarding biblical texts is their relevance to those beliefs Jesus held which were also essential to his possessing the self-understanding necessary to his being the means by which God redeems the world and brings it to fulfillment. All we have is a risen Christ who truthfully identified his own life, mission and resurrection as the fulfillment of God’s choice of and covenant relationship with Israel and who invites us to live the life he lived.

(4) CANONIZATION OF HISTORY. In choosing a particular man and his descendants to be the sufficiently truthful context into which God would incarnate, God chooses to identify himself as a covenant partner with Israel, and that means with her successes and failures, with the truth they perceive and the falsehoods they embrace, with the violence they pursue and the good they manage to achieve. It all gets chosen by God as the space in which God’s incarnational and redeeming work is embodied. This space is fallen but not so hopeless as to be void of all truth. God remains committed and engaged. In choosing Israel God is choosing the whole world. He simply chooses to work within this nation with respect to securing a context adequate for the Incarnate One who will mediate God’s purposes universally.

We are thus arguing for the canonization of Israel (as opposed to her texts per se) as the sacred space within which God creates the conditions sufficient for incarnation. Are the OT ‘texts’ inspired? In the sense that these writings are the written record of that created covenantal space God has sanctified for pursuing his incarnational purposes, yes. And it’s a mixed history; a history of misconstrual, of despairing nationalism, of religious hubris, but also of honest praise and humble dependence upon God. It’s a history that sufficiently succeeded at preserving the socio-religious conditions necessary for incarnational vocation. Israel is that space in the world where God does not give up on carving out a worldview sufficient for incarnation. They got it right enough for what ultimately mattered.

What is truthful then is the manner in which Israel (her worldview and actions as inscribed as Scripture not just in Scripture) and we alike are confirmed or judged (whichever the case may be) based on Christ our telos. We really do read the Old Testament in light of Christ apart from whom the Old Testament is simply a narrative with no conclusion. And here the conclusion interprets the previous chapters—where those chapters were going, where they get it wrong or right, what they mean, how they matter or not, and how and where they demonstrate the transforming judgment of Christ which all of us likewise are called to embrace.

(5) CHRIST-CENTERED READING. How do the OT texts function “usefully…” as Paul suggests they do (2Tm 3.16), “…for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”? Only as read and understood through Christ. For Paul, there simply is no usefulness to the OT texts outside of Christ. Furthermore, this usefulness is for teaching, rebuking and correcting relevant to development of Christlike character and the doing of good works. Thus, the OT can be trusted when read Christologically to shape godly character and to empower the doing of good. That’s its purpose. Uses outside of this narrow purpose, whatever they are, are not explicitly embraced by Paul’s belief in the purpose of Scripture.

But traditional ‘inerrantists’ implicate the truth of any biblical claim in the truth of every other claim, so that if any link in the chain proves false, the purpose of Scripture fails utterly. We view the relationship not as links in a chain, one after the other and so on, but as bodies orbiting a center, and that center is the risen Christ. Christ exercises a gravitational pull, so to speak, over all of Israel’s traditions and texts which revolve in their orbit around Christ, sometimes approaching theological truth better than at other times. So where inerrantists typically see the truth of any one text (say, the text claiming Christ rose from the dead) as implicated in the truth of every other text (say, an understanding of Jonah as literally swallowed by a great fish), we suggest viewing the truth of all texts as relative to Christ, so that Christ becomes the determiner of the relevancy of Scripture as a whole, the same way the Sun is the central force that determines the course and trajectories of those bodies that rotate around it. To what extent is the course trajectory of a planetary body ‘accurate’? To the extent that it maintains its course relative to the Sun, not relative to the orbits of other planetary bodies.

However, Paul claims “all Scripture” is God-breathed (2Tm 3.16). Isn’t that equivalent to claiming all Scripture is equally truthful and thus inerrant? Not necessarily. For example, humankind is also “breathed into” by God and becomes a living soul and yet retains this “God-breathed” status even as fallen and prone to error. He inevitably remains the consecrated space in which God works to secure his incarnational purposes. Similarly, all Scripture is God-breathed in the sense that God is choosing all of THIS history — good and bad, true and false—as the sanctified space in which God works to prepare an adequate social-religious context for Incarnation and redemption.

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27 comments on “What is the Bible?—Part 2

  1. kurtkjohnson says:

    give us part 3! 🙂

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  2. Keith R. Starkey says:

    Hello Tom and Dwayne! Very long time no post with.

    As Tom well knows, I can’t follow analytical, formal logic, and academic philosophical conversation (heavens, I tapped out years ago over on the Open Theism board!), but I can follow this topic.

    I believe the inspiration of Scripture revolves around the incarnation, as I believe so much else does. In view of God’s love, and that love seeks to express itself, I’d be willing to say that most likely the entire universe was constructed with the incarnation in mind. Everything about mankind and the universe in which he lives speaks of preparation for and a destiny because of the incarnation: no greater love is there than one being willing to lay down his life for another. If we are not careful, however, such thinking might be construed to see man is the center of the universe. But man’s construct, however, is simply to enable the incarnation in order to facilitate God’s expression of love in what was the greatest display of love ever seen (not just talked about, which would leave us wanting, but literally seen). Scripture is simply the extension of that message.

    Scripture, in the cultural contexts in which it was created and given to the world, is of the same origin as the world in which it exists but is also from the same God who intersected the world with an overarching and over-riding display of love. Scripture, by its message, continues the stream of this the interplay of God and the world, of His love for us, the incarnation.

    The inspiration of Scripture, then, is first and foremost the message: “Did you get the message?” Not any message from any man, but a message from the transcendent God who, however, dies for His creation. This message, then, is the most important inspired aspect of Scripture. And to get the message (very simple and easily stated when all is said and done), it is neither required nor here nor there if what accompanies and circumscribes that message—cultural and contextual matters, language barriers, knowledge (or lack thereof)—is incorrectly presented in the text. “Did you get the message?”

    The question might be asked, however, How can we get the message if what conveys the message isn’t perfect? This, however, is to say something along the lines of, How can we read words if we do not see every single letter (which is not the case when we read; instead, we see patterns, similarities that help us piece the message of the words together)?

    Nothing in life is ever perfect or experienced with absolute wholeness in all that circumscribes it, and yet we get the message. As a matter of fact, in life we even subconsciously throw away much of what doesn’t fit, is in error, or is simply not understood, which often times makes getting the message an easier task. Such is the case with much of Scripture; we glide over (better than saying “throw out”!) what we cannot piece together into perfect harmony, and the result is an earthy, relative, clear and concise extension of God’s message to us of His of love, of His incarnation. (For this, hurray for that old Four Spiritual Laws booklet!).

    Good to see you guys,

    Keith R. Starkey

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    • tgbelt says:

      Hi Keith,

      Great to hear from you. I’m not sure I’m following you entirely. I think we’re agreeing that creation is what we might call an inter-trinitarian gift that is about incarnation before it’s about anything else. I’m not sure how this runs the risk of construing man to be the center of the universe. That Scripture shares both a divine and worldly origin—yes. Beyond that, I’m not sure I’m following you. Are you asking how any of it is trustworthy if any of it is errant?

      Tom

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      • Keith R. Starkey says:

        Hey Tom.

        First, let me be clear that man is not the center of the universe; he is the means by which God was able to display “No greater love is there than one be willing to lay down his life.” It’s as if God was thinking, “I want to demonstrate my love in the most extreme way, so I will create a being of whom I can become one and for whom I can die, I will then fashion all of creation around this being to accommodate My plan of incarnation.” Though man was created last, he was first in mind. Creation, then, served to make way for God’s entrance into the world as a man. In order to do that, man had to be made in just such a way, and creation had to accommodate that in just such a way.

        And no, I’m not asking how Scripture is trustworthy if any of it is errant. Quite the opposite; that nothing in life need be perfect for us to get the message, anything from the things of daily life to important matters, including the message of Scripture.

        And finally, the trinity in creation is first and foremost, I believe, an expression of the God who has always existed in loving trinitarian relationship and most certainly knew the appreciate His creation would have of getting in on the act!

        Take care.

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      • tgbelt says:

        I’m tracking with you, Keith. Right. This is pretty much our view too (here), would you agree?

        Tom

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      • Keith R. Starkey says:

        Yup. Sure would, Tom, particularly (in that reference) where you said, “Creation is just the stage upon which the persons personalizes their love as creative expression.” To think that God not only so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, but that He so loved the idea of creating the universe in order that He might have opportunity to make showing His great love for us! So cool!

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  3. Jeff says:

    The pertinent question is how do you know the claim that scripture is “sufficiently” true to provide the putatively requisite “space” for something or other is plausible to humans qua humans in the first place? It would seem that you would have to evaluate the canon in terms of inductive criteria. How else would you do it? But if you don’t assume it is susceptible to inductive criteria, what, other than mere personal credulity, is causing our particular beliefs? And if it is susceptible to inductive criteria, then it’s those criteria that are to be used by humans QUA humans to infer what, if anything, in scripture is true.

    If, on the other hand, God gives private revelation to some such that they know things about scripture that others with mere human inferential and categorical capacity can’t (including the contradictions entailed in what is and isn’t warranted to believe regarding scriptural statements derived from the 2 different modes of belief formation), then what does that say about God if God intended such a state of affairs from the get-go? And if such diversity of modes of belief formation is the current state of affairs, but God didn’t intend it from the get-go, are we to assume that those who disagree with Tom/Dwayne just aren’t good enough or loved enough by God to get that private revelation? Or that the private revelation doesn’t benefit or potentially benefit one over another in the first place? Or that those currently without the privately-revealed truths received it in the past but rejected it and now either don’t remember having received it or lie about having never received it? Or is such an attempt to try to think through the logical possibilities pointless since the law of identity/law of non-contradiction is invalid as a principle as the quantum/relativity theorists claim (even though it’s logically impossible to demonstrate that if you start WITH the belief that the LNC is valid as a principle).

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    • tgbelt says:

      I might not be following you Jeff, so correct me if I’m wrong…

      It seems to me that your real (longstanding) concern is LNC. It comes up in every comment, so I’m guessing that’s front and center.

      More specifically, I’m guessing, you’re interested in LNC’s scope (i.e., Are there ever cases in which we may be justified in making claims whose truth-values are not strictly compossible under LNC, and if so, what are those cases? If not, how is most of what Tom/Dwayne say about Christology & theology coherent or admissible?) and the consistency with which we submit our discourse to its rule within the agreed upon scope.

      I’m guessing it’s your sense that LNC is never to be transgressed. And since Dwayne and I hold to a view of divine transcendence and the Incarnation that escapes the embrace of LNC, something other than LNC must be guiding our reasoning. Our comments about the kind of book the Bible is just highlight this longstanding dispute between us over divine transcendence and the nature and limits of human discourse.

      Is that at all close?

      Tom

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      • Jeff says:

        Tom: Is that at all close?

        J: The issue is whether God gives humans (assuming there is such a knowable class of of entities, which I’m guessing you assume) anything epistemological that is just HUMAN whereby humans qua humans can know there is such an entity as God and whether He has anything to do with the truth, falsehood, or plausibility of our other beliefs. If your answer to either of these is “no,” you’re saying something about God that is quite noteworthy. And thus far, I haven’t seen you or Dwayne account for how the answer to either could be “yes” that starts with anything like what we could recognize as a HUMAN set of of properly basic beliefs or discursive modes of warranted inference.

        Of course, I don’t expect you to understand a thing I just said if you think it’s humanly-intelligible apart from applying the LNC/LOI to it, as proper conventional language interpretation requires.

        As an example of how I can’t make sense of your view, consider this: you seem to hold to Einsteinian relativity since that’s the “consensus” view of folks who call themselves “scientists.” The first problem is that the consensus of philosophers of “science” say that “science” can’t even be demarcated from “non-science” anymore. Moreover, the “professional” “scientists” I read don’t even deny that they are an extreme minority in denying the validity of the common, intuitive notions of time, space, causality, etc. Second, the 4-dimensional space-time ER theorists talk about means the future and the past is just “out there” “somewhere” (see,, e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9AiPuIsqck — “Prof. Brian Greene: Past Present & Future Exist Now:). IOW, per ER, “now” has no temporal meaning in the sense that the past and future are not “out there” at the same time as the “present.” A particular “time,” per ER, is more like a point in a fourth “spatial” dimension. We just use the old “temporal” words to refer to those points. But if there is a future and past out there (that is not temporal in the intuitive sense of the word), do you believe God created it per creatio continua? And if so, how can open theism be conceived of intelligibly? Doesn’t God not know what He creates?

        I’m not seeing how your “knowledge” of God has anything to do with other knowledge yet. And if knowledge of God has nothing to do with any of our other knowledge, then what is true of God that implies anything about how we are to CHOOSE?

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  4. Jeff says:

    And by the way, scientists admit to back-sliding to the same intuitive conceptions of time, space, causality as used by the rest of us mere mortals. IOW, they can’t even continuously think consistently with their own denials of those intuitions. And in the meanwhile, they haven’t proven those intuitions false in the first place. Intuitions are what we interpret and infer BY. They are not derived discursively, by definition. But we can, consistent with deduction and induction, change our mind about what is intuitive and derived if we realize that we can account for everything important to us in our belief system with even fewer intuitions. But what value is that even if we can’t live consistently with that change of mind thereafter? Isn’t intellectual consistency just part of what we mean by intellectual integrity? And isn’t the pursuit of intellectual integrity a virtue? Or more to the point, how can I choose better by believing that the future is a “point” in a fourth dimension “out there” as I write? Indeed, how can I even conceive of how my seeming “choice” makes a “difference” if my future is already “out there” as I write?

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  5. Jeff says:

    J1: Indeed, how can I even conceive of how my seeming “choice” makes a “difference” if my future is already “out there” as I write?

    J2: More to the point, how can I conceive of how my seeming FREE “choice” impacts the future if my future was already “out there” before I was conceived in my mother’s womb? It’s just these kinds of non-starter epistemologies that makes folks like Beck, due to his regard for contradictory epistemologies, oblivious to the relevance of LFW. I suspect that he, like me, thinks God couldn’t care less what we choose or whether we choose if we ourselves can’t conceive of what it means or causes TO choose.

    Of course I think it’s much worse. I think the non-existence of a human foundationalism that somehow entails something knowable about God just means God, if a god even exists, has given humans qua humans nothing epistemologically and therefore doesn’t give a squat about what we believe, let alone what we choose.

    So, Tom, if you believe that the incarnation escapes the embrace of LNC, how is it that you can ever intelligibly say of a “view” of incarnation that it is not “Christian?” When does the LNC kick in so as to condition the distinction between what is “Christian” and “non-Christian?” Alternatively, what else would condition the distinction other than the LNC?

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    • tgbelt says:

      Denys Turner might help, Jeff:

      Faith, Reason and the Existence of God (2004)

      Silence and the Word (2008)

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    • tgbelt says:

      We’ve been over all this territory before. But just to clarify my position…

      Jeff: The issue is whether God gives humans anything epistemological that is just HUMAN whereby humans qua humans can know there is such an entity as God and whether He has anything to do with the truth, falsehood, or plausibility of our other beliefs. If your answer to either of these is “no,” you’re saying something about God that is quite noteworthy.

      Tom: Our answers to both of those would be ‘yes’.

      Jeff: Tom, if you believe that the incarnation escapes the embrace of LNC…

      Tom: I don’t remember claiming that the incarnation violates LNC. In fact, I don’t see that it does. More specifically, I don’t see the traditional two minds Christology as generating any obvious contradiction.

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      • Jeff says:

        Tom: I don’t remember claiming that the incarnation violates LNC.

        J: Sorry, I thought that’s what you meant by “And since Dwayne and I hold to a view of divine transcendence and the Incarnation that escapes the embrace of LNC…”

        Tom: In fact, I don’t see that it does. More specifically, I don’t see the traditional two minds Christology as generating any obvious contradiction.

        J: I agree. Because you’re not remembering what you never answer with regard to your claim that “We’ve been over all this territory before.” Indeed, you have talked about these things before. And multiple times I have asked you, Dwayne, etc “just WHAT is it that we have human categories for that the Father, Logos, and Spirit ARE?” Are they attributes of a being, locations, frames of reference, durations, lengths, what? You have never answered. None of you have ever answered. So there you have it: That which is undefinable can not be known to contradict anything. But it is no less unintelligible to use undefined words as it is to say “2+2=4 AND 2+2=5.”

        So when you say above, “Our answers to both of those would be ‘yes’,” how is that the case in your view? How do we know something about God’s existence and relevance to our choices in terms of just human cognition?

        Tom: Denys Turner might help, Jeff:

        Faith, Reason and the Existence of God (2004)

        Silence and the Word (2008)

        J: So you’re saying those 2 books specifically address how open theism can be true even if my future is already “out there” in a fourth dimension? Or are you talking about something else?

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      • tgbelt says:

        J: So you’re saying those 2 books specifically address how open theism can be true even if my future is already “out there” in a fourth dimension? Or are you talking about something else?

        T: I’m saying they may help you appreciate the limitations of our reasoning capacities with respect to divine transcendence.

        As for the future being “out there” in a fourth dimension, I don’t believe that, so I have no idea what point you’re trying to make.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Jeff: Sorry, I thought that’s what you meant by “And since Dwayne and I hold to a view of divine transcendence and the Incarnation that escapes the embrace of LNC…”

        Tom: We’ve shared (with tentative approval) Adams’ arguments for a coherent Chalcedonian metaphysics of the Incarnation, so it’s clear we don’t think incarnation PER SE violates LNC. My point in the portion you quote above is just to say that (Adams’ and other attempts aside) the reality we name with the word ‘God’ isn’t exhaustively explainable (i.e., rationally comprehensible) in terms of our discourse or categories and that we’re likely to run into this in our doctrine of God, creation, incarnation, etc. This doesn’t mean we think LNC should be discarded. It means it should be relied upon to take us as far as it can, which if we are careful, will be that moment at which our language collapses under its own weight.

        ———————

        Tom: In fact, I don’t see that it does. More specifically, I don’t see the traditional two minds Christology as generating any obvious contradiction.

        Jeff: I agree.

        Tom: You’ve objected to Chalcedonian (Two-minds/Two-wills) Christology every step along the way, claiming it violates logic, parsimony, and half a dozen other rules.

        ———————-

        Jeff: Indeed, you have talked about these things before. And multiple times I have asked you, Dwayne, etc “just WHAT is it that we have human categories for that the Father, Logos, and Spirit ARE?” Are they attributes of a being, locations, frames of reference, durations, lengths, what? You have never answered.

        Tom: We have Jeff. I think you’re just missing it. Your question encapsulates the problem between us, for to reduce God to one of your ‘terms’ is to deny that God is transcendent (in anything other than an inconsequential sense; he’d be WHAT we are but just LOTS MORE of it). So our not answering by way of picking one of your terms out and identifying it as ‘what God is’ IS our answer. God is no ONE of your terms, and yet they all aspire to him, all approximate him. If pressed, I’d say the traditional transcendentals (truth, beauty, goodness; and perhaps consciousness) are the terms I’d be most comfortable settling on, but these too expire before escorting us into a view of God’s entrails (as it were).

        Your answer is all over the place; we’ve tried: here and here and here.

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  6. Jeff says:

    Tom, your answer makes no sense, for trinitarians claim that God IS ONE being/substance. It’s just that that being is said to NOT be the Father, the Son, or the Spirit but the “trinity.” The problem with that, of course, is that it means that God, defined thus, is only distinguishable from other beings in terms of the mere mode of His existence, not any other attribute. But that’s just another way of saying that God as a single being explains nothing while “god” the F/S/Sp are undefinable–they’re not even conceivable as attributes of the ONE trinity-god, apparently.

    I agree that the Father, e.g., can’t be exhaustively defined for the same reason you say He can’t. But that per se doesn’t mean the Father isn’t a being. Your approach renders the Father, Son, and Spirit undefinable in every conceivable sense. And that means they explain nothing about our experience. You can say all you want about them just like quantum believers say all kinds of things about an electron while violating the LNC thereby. But neither or you are saying anything intelligible yet–you, because you can’t define your terms; them, because they say of an electron what is inconceivable per the LNC/LOI if it is only ONE being.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Jeff: Tom, your answer makes no sense, for trinitarians claim that God IS ONE being/substance. It’s just that that being is said to NOT be the Father, the Son, or the Spirit but the “trinity.”

      Tom: I’m sorry, Jeff. Are we on the divine unity and personal distinctions now? First the nature of Scripture (what this tread is supposed to be about), then LNC and divine transcendence, then what you wanted me to pick a term to ‘call’ F, S, and SP (‘hypostasis’, for which I’m happy to settle upon ‘person’, is the Orthodox term), and now what overall term is used for ‘God’ that distinguishes ‘God’ (as ‘being’ or ‘entity’ or what have you) from the ‘persons’.

      And we’ve never discussed this before? So many times. 😛 We’ve never refused to employ a term for the ‘persons’ (like ‘person’). You seem to just take it from there and generate violations of LNC. Be that as it may, my answer to your question remains the same: there’s no saying “what” God is, no comprehending him with a single ‘term’. God is no ‘one’ of our terms. That does not mean none speak of God. It means all creation both describes him to some measure and fails to comprehend him (by reducing him to a single term). Whatever ‘term’ one uses to denote who the triune ‘God’ is in his unity will come with some qualification. Some terms take us closer to the divine reality than others: God is more like a tree than a rock, more like a dog than a tree, more like an ape than a dog, more like a man than an ape–all this is legitimate reasoning for an Orthodox writer like Pseudo-Dionysius. Likewise with whatever ‘term’ one uses to denote Father, Son and Spirit in their personal-relational distinctions, there’s an ultimate failure of categories to comprehend God.

      You’re doubtlessly not satisfied with leaving ‘God’ ever untethered from the constraints of human language and comprehension in this fashion. That’s OK. I don’t know how to bring it about that my faith makes sense to you. If that means you have to dismiss us as irrational, incoherent and meaningless, that’s OK too.

      Blessings.

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      • Jeff says:

        Tom: And we’ve never discussed this before? So many times.

        J: Indeed, and they always end like this–with you not answering my question. I asked HOW a human qua human using human cognition can know anything about God’s existence or relevance to human choice. You insist such human cognition can result in such knowledge. And you do NOT explain how, in terms of any human categories and/or modes of inference that can be true. Sure, you have “never refused to employ a term for the ‘persons’ (like ‘person’),” but then you say a divine person isn’t a being. And then you refuse to commit to it being anything else a human qua human has a category for either, rendering “divine person” absolutely meaningless to a human qua human (i..e., a human limited to HUMAN cognition).

        I’ll never know exhaustively what you are, Tom–never mind God. But if that means I know nothing about you, then you’ve made my point–where there is no knowledge of God, there is no knowledge period. Because not even foundationalism gets us anywhere once we accept human fallibilism for human beliefs while having no way to at least account for warranted beliefs built on reality-corresponding categories/intuitions. Benevolent teleology is what does this for us. If you can think of another way to do it, I’m all ears.

        Can we know that our categories are the only relations/concepts that “capture” all of reality? No. That’s why it’s fair to say “divine life” may consist of more than what our categories can capture. But that doesn’t mean our categories aren’t at LEAST true of what they capture.

        But if our categories/intuitions capture NOTHING about God, then you have yet to show that we could possibly know per human cognition THAT there is or God or THAT a putative God has any relevance to our choices. Given such a state of affairs, scripture and all else has no relevance to a PRACTICAL theology to a human qua human. And if that’s what you’re actually trying to say, great. Because then you’re making sense. That’s a theology that has no discernible (to a human qua human) relevance to human choice, but at least it’s intelligible to a mere human. And since you’re all about Greg, e.g., owning up to his putative academic “obligation” to make “sense” of his view, I would think human thought is somehow involved in this endeavor. Maybe I’m confused on that point.

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  7. Jeff says:

    Tom: God is no ‘one’ of our terms. That does not mean none speak of God.

    J: That’s your claim. I disagree with it. I say God is a being, and you can’t prove me wrong. But even if you’re right that God is not a “being” or anything else we have a HUMAN category for, that doesn’t mean that any of those terms DO speak of God to a human qua human, either. You’re asserting that it’s so isn’t the logical equivalent of showing it to be so in terms of a theory of human cognitive capacity that has some HUMAN criteria of plausibility. We all have beliefs. The question is, what is it that makes us think anyone else should our beliefs seriously? This is the question you seem to render unanswerable.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Tom: God is no ‘one’ of our terms. That does not mean none speak of God.

      Jeff: That’s your claim. I disagree with it. I say God is a being, and you can’t prove me wrong.

      Tom: I wouldn’t want to prove you wrong, Bro. I’d only want to disagree with certain understandings of God’s being “a” being. But I don’t have a problem with using the term “being” of God. I often talk about divine being, God’s being, etc.

      Jeff: But even if you’re right that God is not a “being” or anything else we have a HUMAN category for, that doesn’t mean that any of those terms DO speak of God to a human qua human, either.

      Tom: I’m honestly sorry I’m doing such a poor job of explaining. Anyhow, I tend to agree with Hartshorne: whatever is metaphysically necessary is a priori definitive of all things. Nothing can exist which does not exemplify the necessary a priori features of existence. I don’t see how anything that exists can fail to say something true about God.

      Jeff: Indeed, and they always end like this–with you not answering my question.

      Tom: You’re not accepting my answer. I’m not going to pick “a” term and claim that it captures univocally “what” God is. Heck, we can’t even say “what” matter really is. It obviously exists, behaves certain ways, makes a certain way of relating possible, etc. But we can’t say precisely “what” it is. I stood next to John Polkinghorne when he admitted, “We really don’t know what ‘matter’ is. Perhaps the closest we can get is something like…” and he went on to suggest that “waves of information” was about it, and even that was only an analogy.

      So you’ll have to forgive me for finding it hard to take seriously your insistence upon a “definition” of God, indeed, a definition of what the ‘one’ nature really is over against what the ‘three’ persons really are. I’ll use all the terms at our disposal to describe God’s relating to us and our experience of him, but in the end humbly admit that I still haven’t captured God on a petri dish. I’m sorry for your frustration, Bro. I understand if you dismiss us.

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      • Jeff says:

        Tom: I wouldn’t want to prove you wrong, Bro. I’d only want to disagree with certain understandings of God’s being “a” being.

        J: If you mean that can we can also talk about modes of being (necessary and contingent, e.g.), then virtually everyone agrees, including me. But the existing/being part of the mode is the same thing. “Being” is a category. As such, it isn’t rich with positive meaning so much as it is rich in negation. A “being” is NOT:

        1) a distance
        2) a length
        3) a width
        4) a location
        5) a spatial or temporal dimension
        6) a spatial or temporal frame of reference
        7) a duration
        8) a 3-D volume
        9) a color
        10) a smell
        11) a taste
        12) a sound
        13) an audible volume
        14) a feeling
        15) and so and so on.

        All these can be referred to by nouns. And yet I doubt most people would call them beings. Because people distinguish what is meant by “being” from those other nouns. Once we can’t say what God is, we can’t say non-arbitrarily what He’s not, either. Words mean things, however little. Otherwise, we couldn’t distinguish the meaning of any word from that of another word.

        Tom: I tend to agree with Hartshorne: whatever is metaphysically necessary is a priori definitive of all things.

        J: I thought you’ve been contending God isn’t definable. How then could we compare other “things” that we can define to what is indefinable?

        Tom: Nothing can exist which does not exemplify the necessary a priori features of existence.

        J: I thought we couldn’t know what all those features are since they transcend human concepts. What does “exemplify” mean, then, in that case?

        Tom: I don’t see how anything that exists can fail to say something true about God.

        J: Give me one example of something that exists and what it says truthfully about God merely by existing. I’ve yet to hear it.

        Tom: Heck, we can’t even say “what” matter really is.

        J: People with humility can. They say it’s 3-D extended entities (if it exists at all) and then don’t claim to have a model that predicts/explains its behavior at the level of fundamental material entities. But if you insist that you know what matter is not (3-D extended entities) even though you couldn’t possibly know that by discursive reasoning from mere subjective conscious experience conditioned by human categories, then you end up with mystery. Because contradictions are unintelligible. And the denial of foundationalism is intellectual suicide. For some reason, there are lots of physicists who have a deep need to know what they can’t yet possibly know (and may never know) given their DEFINABLE axioms.

        Einstein defined time is that which you measure with a clock (i.e., positivisticly, which is itself absurd, since positivism is unintelligible when reflected upon). This means time is indefinable if you say a clock is that which measures time. Circularity doesn’t define. That’s why ER’ists end up saying unintelligible non-sense like the future exists out “there” right “now.”

        LR’ists just say the math models the macro-level appearances and don’t claim to know the details at the level of fundamental material particles or even what the fundamental material particles are (since they may be significantly smaller than the smallest wave-length of light we “observe” by, for all we know). And they have the God-given sense to realize an empirical observation can’t observationally DEMONSTRATE time slowing-down, let alone as contrasted with a CLOCK slowing down. Indeed, doesn’t “slow down” mean something like a decrease of some quantity with respect to time? Is it intelligible to say that time decreases with respect to itself? Or that a particle slows with respect to itself? Of course not. It’s sheer non-sense.

        Humble people just admit that our categories can’t conceive of the one (time slowing with respect to itself), and observations can’t rule out the other (that clocks, not TIME, are slowing down or speeding up with velocity). And since we can’t omnisciently know that there aren’t particles “out there” smaller than our theorists posit, that’s not even remotely counter-intuitive!

        Science is tentative, so we don’t need to insist that our categories (which can’t be captured by positivism) are false. Indeed, if any one of them is non-correspondent to reality, what does that say about God if God endowed us with them? And if He didn’t endow us with them, either directly or indirectly, what could they tell us ABOUT God?

        Tom: So you’ll have to forgive me for finding it hard to take seriously your insistence upon a “definition” of God,

        J: I don’t insist you do anything, Tom. I’m just saying that your view is utterly radical in the sense that it can’t account for how humans qua humans know a thing about whatever “God” means.

        Tom: I’ll use all the terms at our disposal to describe God’s relating to us and our experience of him, but in the end humbly admit that I still haven’t captured God on a petri dish.

        J: You need a bit more humility. You’ve rendered “God” utterly intelligible to humans qua humans, if logic books are right about about how humans conceive of “meaning” in the definitions of words and, therefore, propositions. And if logic books are wrong about meaning, then what pray tell is a better guide to how humans qua humans conceive of “meaning” in words and propositions? How many students in logic classes get in there and go, “Huh, what’s this non-sense you’re talking about? This stuff is nuts!”

        I’m not saying you might not know something about “God” by private revelation. But that’s a different matter altogether. Private revelation can transcend merely human cognition for all a mere human knows.

        Tom: I’m sorry for your frustration, Bro. I understand if you dismiss us.

        J: I’m not frustrated, and I don’t dismiss you. I engage your view as I would that of anyone else that speaks in the name of my Lord contrary to what I think is true of Him and, more importantly, what renders Him worthy of praise by humans qua humans. I think God is knowable to SOME extent by humans qua humans.

        But that’s because I hold a theory of human cognition/foundationalism that implies that humans can’t even in principle explain their subjective, conscious experience A-teleologically and can’t account for a way to distinguish non-arbitrarily between warranted and unwarranted belief. And that’s the only way TO show that humans qua humans might know something about God–even that doesn’t prove it; one can always deny another’s axioms, but coherence is the most fundamental test of “possibility” we have, if we have one at all.

        To merely assert that humans qua humans know something about “God” while simultaneously insisting that we don’t know what the word “God” means, in any categorical sense whatsoever, is just word salad.

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      • Jeff says:

        J1: But that’s because I hold a theory of human cognition/foundationalism that implies that humans can’t even in principle explain their subjective, conscious experience A-teleologically and can’t account for a way to distinguish non-arbitrarily between warranted and unwarranted belief.

        J2: Bad wording. Should be more like:

        But that’s because I hold a theory of human cognition/foundationalism that implies that humans can’t even in principle explain their subjective, conscious experience A-teleologically and can’t OTHERWISE account for a way to distinguish non-arbitrarily between warranted and unwarranted belief.

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      • Jeff says:

        Dad-nab-it! even that was wrong. More like:

        “But that’s because I hold a theory of human cognition/foundationalism that implies that humans can’t even in principle explain their subjective, conscious experience A-teleologically WHILE also accounting for a way to distinguish non-arbitrarily between warranted and unwarranted belief.”

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      • tgbelt says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful and passionate comments. Let’s leave it there. We’ve tried to resolve things, and it’s OK to walk away without agreeing. Blessings,

        Tom

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  8. Hey Tom…

    I always appreciate your posts and I try to read all of your recent ones…but I have to admit that if it wasn’t you writing on inerrancy then I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole because I don’t believe that inerrancy is plausible at any real level though I do appreciate your creative thinking and respect the necessity of what you are doing within the theological circles within which you live and work.

    Inerrancy, as espoused 30 years ago, (the domino effect and all that) was eventually what forced me to leave the Evangelical faith all together and consequently to leave all faith in Christ behind…or so I thought at the time. My last class in seminary was an independent study class guided by a professor at Trinity Theological Seminary…a well-known Evangelical school…and the study was the inerrancy of the Bible. After that class I dropped out of seminary and left the Faith as I understood it at the time.

    Funny how I could never stop reading theology. There is certainly much that we can agree on concerning the nature and intent of scripture and also concerning Open Theology…though I have to admit that the final theological jury is still out for me…but I try to live day to day as if it true

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    • tgbelt says:

      I know what you mean, Larry! Dude, you have to come to MI first of August. What’s stopping you? Drop me a gmail.

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