Tuesday, August 5, 2014

When Grids Are Blinders

Interpretative Grids 
Can Distort Reality

Followers of Cornelius Van Til tell us there are no uninterpreted facts. While I used to try teach Van Tillian apologetics, I have to confess that I have never quite believed it. Did the War of 1812 occur in 1812? Does 1+1=2? Does water consist of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen? These look to me like "brute facts." But Van Til says that there are none such.

I am somewhat doubtful that anyone understands Van Til, but I think he was (over)emphasizing "the antithesis" - that there is an irreconcilable conflict between Christian theism (which for Van Til involves presupposing the truth of the whole Christian system revealed in the Bible) and all other "isms" including atheism, agnosticism, and liberalism. In fact anything less that full-bore Calvinism is at best inconsistent theism. So, I suppose Van Til would argue that without presupposing the God of the Bible you don't know when the War of 1812 occurred, or what the sum of 1 and 1 is, or what the makeup of water is - at least not in principle. It's not hard to see why this is considered circular reasoning, but then, according to Van Til, all reasoning is circular. 

At the level of popular Christianity there can be no doubt there is a lot of presuppostional reasoning - a lot of using grids which are more apt to blind than to illumine. And, whether I suppose or presuppose it, I think it leads to a lot of shoddy thinking. The examples of such thinking, like the demons which drove the pigs over the edge, are legion.

Immigration. On July 11 the Gospel Coalition site published a piece by a Reformed Baptist Pastor, Felix Cabrera, on the crossing of the United States border by children coming from Central America. Some of my friends no doubt think I am a liberal on immigration. I favor some kind of immigration reform because I know it is not possible to round up all the illegals and send them back where they came from. With regard to the young people from Central America I favor erring on the side of liberality, providing for their needs right now, and, if they cannot be reunited with their families, finding them foster homes in the U.S for the long term. These are my political views which I happily acknowledge are not based on Biblical precepts.

But, Mr. Cabrera sees this issue through a grid which he believes is Biblical. After making a logical leap from saying these children are here illegally to saying they should be treated as refugees (which has a legal definition under U.S. law), he argues that our treatment of them should be directed by God's instruction to Israel regarding the treatment of sojourners, citing Deuteronomy 10:17-19, and by our Lord's distinction between the sheep the the goats based on their treatment of others, citing Matthew 25: 35-36. In other words, these Biblical passages should be used to direct national immigration policy. 

What's the grid here? The grid is that God intends the United States to use the Old Testament sojourner teaching and our Lord's distinguishing sheep from goats by their treatment of needy brothers and sisters to establish immigration policy. That grid is not found in either our Lord's or his apostles' view of the state in relation to God. There is no Biblical direction to the United States about how to handle its immigration issues.

Barbara Roberts
Women. On July 9 Barbara Roberts posted at the A Cry for Justice website a "rebuttal" to a "A Christian's Wife's Marriage Catechism" by D. Scott Meadows  which was posted on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship's website. When I came across  this "catechism" prior to Ms. Robert's post, I found myself slightly amused at the idea of such a thing. It seemed to me a rather presumptuous undertaking by an individual minister, and I wondered if there were a similar catechism for husbands, and, if so, if it would not have been wise to lead with it. (It's worth noting, perhaps, that this dust up involves two Reformed Baptists.) 

Now I am, compared to the Bayly brothers at least, something of a liberal on matters of male headship. Whether that is because I have no choice in the matter is for others to say. I can be an old bear and growl at times (ok lots of times - I always enjoy the scenes in "Coal Miner's Daughter" when Loretta Lynn says to her husband Doolittle, "O, Doo, stop actin' like a old bahr"), but I think I generally defer to my better three quarters. 

However, I was quite surprised when I read Ms. Roberts' overwrought rebuttal. An example of dispassionate, Biblical, and logical analysis and argument it is not - to put it very mildly. When I checked out a little more about Ms. Roberts I found that her ministry's website includes a page which lists "blind guides." Among these blind guides are John Piper, John MacArthur, Jay Adams, Peacemakers, and Focus on the Family. 

What's the grid Ms. Roberts is using? First, there is her own unfortunate and painful experience for which she deserves our sympathy. At the website she is described as a victim of spousal abuse. Second, there is a gnostic (that is,"most people don't know this, but we do") definition of spousal abuse that is a construct of sociology and therapy, not of theology. 

Very few people know what abuse really is, though everyone seems quite ready to give advice to its victims. If you believe that abuse is physical battering, you have some learning to do.
Abuse is fundamentally a mentality. It is a mindset of entitlement. The abuser sees himself* as entitled. He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world. His goal is power and control over others. For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.
While this mentality of power and control often expresses itself in various forms of physical abuse, it just as frequently employs tactics of verbal, emotional, financial, social, sexual and spiritual abuse. Thus, an abuser may never actually lay a hand on his wife and yet be very actively terrorizing her in incredibly damaging ways. 
Abuse in any of its forms destroys the victim's person. Abuse, in the end, is murder.
To be sure egoism, selfishness, a poorly operating conscience, and any kind of mistreatment of wives is wrong. But Ms. Roberts has a grid, and it is not based on the Bible. (One wonders as well if she has any place for 1 Peter 3's teaching or for our Lord's and St. Paul's teaching on divorce.) It is the working of this non-Biblical grid that leads her to such vehemence in denunciation of what is at worst a misguided effort to produce a "catechism for wives" with which one is free to take issue on the basis of Biblical and prudential considerations. It is this grid that labels as blind guides ministries such as Peacemakers and men such as Piper and Adams with which and whom again one is free to disagree.

Spiritual Principles. To keep it all in the same month, on July 31 my favorite online World magazine columnist posted "Writing Tip No. 57." The tip was that writers should not hesitate to ask for help, particularly to ask the help of those who have knowledge the writer does not have.  It is a point with which I heartily agree. I for one would be a lot dumber person than I am (I hear the snide remarks) if it were not for the internet. Where would any of us be without Wikipedia? 

It was a good point that writers who are not as experienced as Andree and I can use. And then my jaw involuntarily clenched:
The spiritual principle here is easy to see:   
“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself” (Romans 14:7, ESV).
Or more precisely:    
“For as in one body, we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function. … Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them …” (Romans 12:4–6, ESV).
What is the grid at work here? The grid is that everything has to be rooted in or related to the Bible. It's the old Biblical-world-and-life-view bugaboo. The two texts have nothing whatsover to do with the 57th tip to writers. If you are are writer, and you do not have some needed information, and you know that someone has it, ask. This is a natural or pratical "principle" for living in this world. When you need help, ask for it. There is no reason to make a mistake when there is someone who has the knowledge you lack.

The Romans 14 text has to do with considering not just one's own life and concerns but rather showing consideration for the weaker brother who has scruples about partaking of certain food or drink. The Romans 12 text deals with the church and the various gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the church's members. These teachings are to be sure spiritual, because they come from the Holy Spirit and have to do with the spiritual body he creates and equips. 

But they have nothing to do with picking up the phone, calling the library, and asking what year the War of 1812 occurred.

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