Below is a short presentation I wrote this year for a discussion group I attend locally from time to time. I do not attempt to answer everything here or address objections. I specifically designed this piece to facilitate discussion so as to allow various objections to come out in due course. I did write it as part of a larger argument because I think it gets to the heart of the matter concerning Reformation disputes. That is, the argument is not over epistemological issues (how can we know the correct interpretation of scripture?) but rather normative issues (what interpretation of scripture is binding or obligatory?) So I think that framing the matter in this way helps to clear away much of the confusion over the Reformation’s formal distinctive that is left untouched by most discussions of this topic. I hope you find it profitable.
While my compatriots and I continue to gather and compile documents and information from many groups of former CRI employees across the country, I thought I would write a short piece. (I’ve included what I take to be some suitable musical accompaniment. ) Some critics no doubt think that my claims of Hank’s theological incompetence and the evidence I gave in the previous post are a matter of cherry picking. Likewise no doubt, some have wondered if the video I linked where Hank simply reads off of works by others without attribution is truly indicative of his lack of education. After all, everyone makes mistakes, right? You’re just being too hard on him, right?
(Musical selection A 07 The Pink Room)
EP is focused on Orthodox theology with a special eye to the theology of Maximus the Confessor. As such it is devoted to questions of historical and philosophical theology. It could be about other things relative to Orthodox theology such as Biblical theology as a discipline, but since I am not trained as a Biblical theologian, in the academic sense of that term, I tend try to limit myself to areas in which I have some competence. This is also why I try to steer the blog away from whatever happens to be going in the world, whether politics or the wider culture. There are plenty of other venues for that. I have a niche and I like my niche very much.
But every so often something pops up in the culture that impinges upon Orthodox theology. Of course the on going cultural yelling match (we haven’t yet begun to have an argument) about “Gay” marriage has had a flare up with the recent North Carolina state constitutional amendment. This I would usually ignore on EP except for the fact that David J. Dunn, has written for the Huffington Post an article as an “Orthodox Lay theologian” defending “Gay marriage” or at least objecting to it being banned.
Trying to enter a discussion/debate with someone using reason vs experience, I realised the power that experience has to fix ones mind on a religious doctrine regardless of the reason for that religious doctrine. Because someone experiences “the divine” it immediately seems to fix for him the truth of the particular belief system that he already holds or to which the experience is associated. This connection, I believe, is used expressly by Mormons in the process of making new converts.
From experience hearing/reading a number of experiential stories from people of many different faith backgrounds and my own personal experiences, I can see that, regardless of belief, people dedicated to spiritual matters have almost the same experience of the divine, at least to a certain, yet very deep, extent. Thus, I have heard testimonies from Japanese Buddhists that profess very similar experiences as Evangelical Christian testimonies. Also the experiences of Buddhist monks are very close to experiences of Orthodox Christian monks.
How can we explain this? Given that the experience is genuinely perceived, many may say that this proves that no matter which path one takes one will meet the divine and so religious doctrine, which speaks of a right way to God, must be ultimately false, although participation in any religious group is often seen as nevertheless more beneficial than rejecting particular religious affiliation altogether. Others may state that religious doctrine that teaches of a divine being transcendent to the universe is therefore obviously not true and that these experiences are normal to humans that act in a manner as to be able to experience them. Those committed to a particular religious path may see such experiences as being perhaps of the devil, a delusion, or even of God, but that the experience is not in itself conclusive of being on the correct path. There may also be many other nuances of explanation or combinations of explanations.
What is clear is that experience in itself is unable to define the truth of a particular religious path to salvation without that path also being tested by other means of determining truth, such as reason. This does not mean that experience of the divine is not an essential part of one’s life nor that there is no particular path to salvation but only that the experience in itself cannot be said to be enough of a reason to guarantee the truth of the particular religious path that one follows. So, to say that one has decided to believe in Jesus and that due to this decision one’s life has changed for the better, an experience which may very well be true, does not mean that one is necessarily saved or even on the right religious path; this will depend on one’s doctrine, the truth of which requires reason as well as experience.
This is a perspective on what the Lord meant when he said that it is necessary to us to revere God in spirit and truth. Thus, the orthodoxy of our reverence is as important as any experience of our reverence, even if the experience seems to be beneficial and like that expressed in the Scriptures or seen in the Saints. It would seem that one cannot rest on experience with the first doctrine that seems to explain it but one must ensure that one is revering God in truth even if this means to some extent questioning the validity of one’s experience.
I unlocked the door and pushed it aside as the damp air from the morning seemed to sweep past me. It was a bit chilly. I was still a bit groggy since I hadn’t had my morning coffee. It took me a few seconds to get a handle on who was at my door at 8:45 on a Saturday morning. Needless to say I wasn’t especially happy to be bothered. But there they were, two well dressed older women of some minority descent. We exchanged greetings “Good morning” they said and I replied in kind.
“We’re going through your neighborhood visiting folks with the news of God’s Kingdom.” Before I could open my mouth she continued with a set of rapid questions. “Do you think there is too much violence in the world? Don’t you believe that the world’s governments have failed to solve mankind’s basic problems?” “Uh…yeah I guess so. That seems pretty obvious to me.” I replied. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I tried to work my face into something like a presentable appearance of interest. It was difficult.
Then came the pitch. “Well, God’s Kingdom is coming where He will set right all the wrongs that earthly governments have done. We have an article on this very subject that we’d like to leave with you. Maybe we can come back and discuss it with you at another time? We’d be happy to answer any questions you have about it” By now I had my sea legs. “Well, I was thinking as you were talking just now about a question I’ve had for a good while about a part of the Bible. But I don’t want to hold you up so maybe it is better if we talk about it whenever you come back.” Read the rest of this entry »
Below is a dialog written by a friend of mine, Russ Mansion. Russ had in his home an apologetic disucssion group that ran once a month for twenty one consecutive years. The group consistend mainly of Chritians of from a variety of traditions, which ensured that we always had something to discuss and argue about. I began attending as a young teenager.
The dialog itself has appeared in a shorter and older version before in other locations, but to my knowledge the full version has never been made available. Since it was written in 1993, it could use tweaking in a few places, principally in metaethics due to developments there concerning projectivism and the Frege–Geach problem. Reading Alexander Miller’s, An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics, and Sinnott-Armstrong’, Moral Skepticisms I think will bring the reader up to date and put them in a position to see how the dialog’s criticisms of moral projectivism can be extended. Other than that, I do not think in principle the problems for metaphysical Naturalism in epistemology and ethics have changed. I believe readers will find it helpful in blowing through the sophmoric proposals by the likes of Sam Harris and others of that ilk. Feel free to afflict your local villiage atheist with it
Here is your musical accompaniment.
THE OTHER SIDE:
METAPHYSICS AND MEANING
by R. M. Manion