Location: Texas, United States

Evangelical Anglo-Catholic Deacon in the Episcopal Church (Dallas). I also received a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary in Historical Theology and Pastoral Ministries and am completing a post-graduate certificate in Anglican Studies from Nashotah House Seminary.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Quest for certainty

A friend of mine and I where discussing modern psychology and its relation to Christianity. In the process of discussing various views we thought about the view of those for "Biblical counseling" as an antithesis to "secular Psychology" One of the arguments for it is the idea of sufficiency of scripture, being that scripture should be all that is needed to work with someone in the realm of behavioral change. The basic idea is in seeing scripture as regulative as opposed to normative. The specific writer who endorsed this view I know from another book has a good dose on influence from the Puritan Theologians, and lead to the idea of the regulative principle of worship. These two concepts are connected in the way they both view scriptural authority. "Sufficiency" being all that is needed for Christian life and godliness. Where "needed" seems to be "all one is allowed to do" (I would also question this concept of "need").

One issue is all the definitions! How far do we take "sufficient for Christian life"? Some argue that this entails not seeing a medical doctor! Perhaps this writer would not go this far, and make the definition narrower, this is fine but the fact is he is still making qualification on this idea. If scripture is regulative these things are a big issue as we have to find exact instructions for at least very narrow logical deductions.

But is scripture for the Christian regulative? I would argue no, had it been intended that way, we would see something akin to a Leviticus in the NT. Even church government can be unclear to an extent and there is no direct guidebook in the NT on par with the Levetical regulations of the OT. Even in Leveticus there are unanswered questions such as Lev 19:9 to "not reap the corners of your field". How much corner is required? This problem lead to later Jewish regulations prescribing the amount. But the point is that God gives no such regulative specific even in the OT! It is left ambiguous on purpose! The generous man will give more and the stingy one will give less in general, but this is similar to the idea of giving (and not tithing) in the NT now. In the NT we have even less of a guide, and so perhaps " Sufficiency " should not be taken in a levitical way, but as a normative guide.

Ultimately this is a quest for certainty. If other sources are allowed to influence our thinking, then our knowledge can change over time, in psychology we know treat people differently then we used to even with scripture. Suddenly aspect of life become less concrete. Even within a regulative principle everything is not clear cut, some argue musical instruments are allowed and some not, some that we should not have Sunday schools because they are not mentioned and other things. If these were really regulative issues they would have been made more clear, but instead we have actually little direct instruction on specifics. Everyone can come to scripture and all have different interpretations.

Does this not mean there is a real truth there? No, but just that some truths are more ambiguous then others. Even adding Creeds and Councils makes things ambiguous. Which creeds and councils? Or which canon of scripture? We can have good arguments for all, but there is no guarantee of 100% certainty on almost anything. Perhaps the Christian life is not about reaching for perfect certainty, but about faith also, where the will moves the intellect to believe (St. Aquinas). Secular psychology is natural revelation and can be used because Scripture does not give us a direct answer to every problem in life, but creates our epistemology, metaphysic and basic philosophy while giving us Christian truth for interpreting other truth. So that we then have the framework under what has been revealed and the power of the Gospel story to evaluate both science and life and worship without needing a direct 100% certain answer every time and trying to find a Christian leviticus.


Anonymous John said...

The only certainty is that every body-mind dies. Therefore the only real questions are about the meaning & significance of death. These related references provide an Illuminated understanding of that question.

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I know this blog is old, and the person (John) who commented above probably will never read this... But let me just say:

1. I completely agree with your central thesis in this blog, and I have written many essays about this myself (check the archive on my blogs).

2. John's comment is perhaps the most absurd thing I have ever read. The "only real questions" are about death? So the only meaning to my life is my death? Our entire lives are nothing but a holding pen for the slaughter of death? The only thing significant about my daughter is that she will die? The only thing important about my wife and my marriage are that we will die? If someone gets raped, or genocide is committed, we are supposed to say "that's OK, because the only thing that matters is death"? In the face of massive injustice, hunger, plague, and oppression the only meaningful thing we can do is tell people "hey- I can assure you life after death"?

Are you really saying that the only thing important about seminary education (or any education) is getting people to have a good death (i.e. insuring personal destiny after death)? When Jesus said the main point of all of the Law and Prophets was love (Matthew 22.36-40), what he really meant is that what is really important is death? Is the only thing important about Jesus his death? The only thing important about God is that he assures our life after death?

And, if all of this is so, then why did it take about 1000 years of Hebrew writings before salvation after death got truly defined? What the hell was God doing all of that time, if the only thing that matters is certainty of life and salvation after death?

Dude, if that is your Christianity... I pray for you, and I pray for the people you share that anemic, truncated Christianity with, that you all will come to something more fulfilling and more Biblical and more Christian.

5:09 PM  

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