Saturday, July 23, 2011

Starting Points for Discussion

Starting with “End-Points”??

Several weeks ago, I posted my refutation of Ted Slater’s article regarding nudity. Thereafter, I personally contacted him with the hope of entering into dialog with him about it.

At one point in our discussion, he challenged me with some “end-points”… evidently with the intent of demonstrating that what I believed just couldn’t translate into real life. He challenged me to go to church nude the next Sunday. No one would ever worship nude… or so he must have thought.

Of course he had no way of knowing that the previous weekend, I had gone “to church” and worshiped with other believers at the CNC-Texas. And yes, almost everyone in attendance was nude; I led worship unclothed and the preacher preached without a stitch. And it really was no problem at all. In other words, the “end-point” that Ted thought would prove my beliefs false had actually been experienced by me and others a few days before… and proven them true! He didn’t even comment when I told him that.

Better to Start with “Starting-Points”!

Instead of chasing “end-points,” I wrote to Ted and asked him to affirm some “starting points.” If we are going to enter into a discussion on Biblical morality—no matter what the issue—we need to know our foundational assumptions, else we will never have any chance of coming to a consensus.

Agreeing on initial assumptions is critically important… consider what a discussion would be like where one person considered the Bible authoritative, but another considered the Bible to be nothing more than fairy tales. Clearly, there would be no chance of agreement on moral issues.

By the same token, if two people agree that the Bible is true, but their method's of interpretation to discerning that truth are different, there will still be no consensus reached on biblical morality.

But… if two biblically conservative Christians hold the same view of Scripture and hold to the same presuppositions about how to approach a moral issue, then it should be a constructive dialog where agreement can be reached!

My “Starting-Points” with Mr. Slater

So, I gave Mr. Slater a list of seven assumptions which I believe should undergird any investigation of biblical morality.

Let me say it another way… no matter what issue you want to examine from a biblical perspective, these seven points must be the starting point before we can have confidence that we will arrive at a trustworthy conviction of moral truth!

I did not invent these points myself… I learned them from my father (a lifelong pastor), my Bible College professors, and many other Bible teachers that I respect.

These assumptions have nothing at all to do with nudity, but they are indeed worthy of our trust to help us discern God’s perspective on nudity as He has expressed it through the Scriptures.

So… here they are… see if you agree with them.

  1. God is sovereign over all the affairs of men, and He alone is the measure and source for all morality.
  2. Moral absolutes (based as the are on the character and person of the unchanging God) are for all men for all times.
  3. The Bible is God's inerrant Word and it alone is our authority for knowing the mind of God on moral matters.
  4. The traditions and cultures of men are NOT authoritative in matters of morality (Isaiah 55:8-9).
  5. Only Biblically specified exceptions to moral absolutes are valid... "exceptions" based on the reasoning of man are false.
  6. The Bible must be interpreted according to what the original author meant when writing to the original audience in the original language (Grammatical-Historical).
  7. Translations of the Scriptures are only authoritative to the degree that they accurately convey the original meaning of the original language text.

I believe that any Bible-believing Christian should be able to affirm every one of those points.

If you’re wondering what I mean by #7, let me add some clarifying comments about it as I did with Mr. Slater:

 

Point #7 is not an attempt to undermine the authority of English translations. It is simply the acknowledgment that:

  • a) the very process of language translation is never exact;
  • b) translators themselves are human and therefore subject to making mistakes; and
  • c) we must be careful not to base our understanding for significant moral issues and interpretations on the English translation alone.

To the best of our ability, we must examine the original language text to ensure that the understanding we have reached is not contrary to what we find in the original languages of the Scriptures (a process which is also not "error-free," but which is, thankfully, much easier now with the online resources available to us). Where original language study leads to a different understanding than English translation study, the original language understanding must be preferred.

He Didn’t Affirm These Starting-Points.

To my great disappointment, Mr. Slater did not bother offering any comment at all about these points. Instead, he only cast aspersions at my character. I requested three times that he address these seven points, but instead, he checked out of the dialog with an air and presumption of “rightness.”

I have experienced this before… one time I was being confronted about my naturism by another brother in Christ and a pastor friend that he brought into the email dialog in his effort to “correct” me. I sent that pastor a list of foundational principles of hermeneutics so that we could agree on a common starting point for our discussion of the Scriptures. Rather than affirm them, this pastor made this astounding statement:

  I often teach, as you likely do as well, that many can read the same Scripture and come to different conclusions. You read a passage, consider its greater context, and come to a conclusion. I read the same passage, and its greater context, and come to a different conclusion. Using all of our "tools" for exegesis, form criticism, contextualization etc. we will likely still continue to come to different conclusions.

The whole point of agreeing on the “Starting-Points” is to avoid all sorts of subjectivism and the disagreement that it brings! Yet instead of agreeing to an interpretational approach I’m sure he would normally teach and promote, he shut down the dialog! This pastor used the very fact that I was trying to reach an agreement on “Starting-Points” as an indication that we would not come to agreement!

Perhaps He Was Correct!

I doubt that anyone would ever admit why they (as normally honest interpreters of the Scripture) would refuse to agree to “Starting-Points” that they would normally agree to in a heartbeat. The only reason I can think of is that they know deep down that on the issue of nudity, their beliefs would NOT be affirmed if they applied those principles to its Scriptural investigation!

I don’t think they can afford to agree to the seven points above because all of the “biblical” support for their beliefs about nudity would crumble away, and they would be forced to lay them aside… and the views about nudity that they were presumed to buttress.

Why do I think that? Because that’s exactly what happened for me! When I applied those same assumptions about how to study God’s Word to the issue of nudity, I could no longer hold to the “Nudity-Taboo” I had always assumed the Bible taught!

And that’s exactly why I present them to people when discussing nudity from a biblical perspective… affirming these principles and basing our study of Scripture upon them will not confirm a perspective that nudity is wrong or offensive to God!

We Have a Choice…

When it comes to the issue of studying nudity in the Bible, we have to make a decision…

  • Will we hold on to our tried and true principles of Scriptural interpretation, trusting them to guide us to a correct understanding of God’s mind on nudity, even if it means we must lay aside our belief in the “Nudity-Taboo”?

    or…
  • Will we hold on to our belief that the the Nudity-Taboo really expresses God’s mind on nudity, even if it means we must lay aside our tried and true principles of Scriptural interpretation?

For me, the choice is clear.

It seems equally clear what choice has been made by Mr. Slater and the other pastor I mentioned.

On the Side of Truth

I am reminded of a quotation by Richard Whately that seems to be apt at this moment…

Every one wishes to have truth on his side,

but not everyone sincerely wishes

to be on the side of truth.

So I issue a challenge to anyone who considers themselves an honest student of God’s Word…

What is your choice?

— Matthew Neal

-------   Related Posts   -------

Obviously… (a discussion about assumptions)

Quotes and Comments #5

When is Nudity OK for a Christian? (the precursor to the dialog from which this post was drawn)

The Unchallenged Belief

Does the Bible Ever Condone Social Nudity?

A Surprising Admission

-------   Related External Articles   -------

An Initial Foray Into Hermeneutics

Eight Rules of Interpretation

3 comments:

FatherOf4 said...

While this is true, it's hard to get someone with a different viewpoint to agree. Sometimes, it's better to shoot holes in their argument

Matthew Neal said...

FatherOf4,

Thanks for your comments. I think that you're right, but the "shooting holes" may take on different form, depending on the nature of the disagreement to start with.

If someone simply holds to different presuppositions and you attach their beliefs which are actually consistent with their presuppositions, you'll get nowhere. In that case, you need to attack the presuppositions to show that they are inconsistent with reality!

However, when someone shares your presuppositions (which is what I was addressing in this post), once they have been agreed upon, you simply demonstrate how their beliefs are actually contrary to the presuppositions that they hold.

Which gets us back to the point of my post... when someone refuses to allow their beliefs to be examined by their own professed presuppositions, it belies the fact that know deep down that their position is *not* consistent with them, but they are unwilling to lay aside their beliefs.

Matt

Boyd Allen said...

I was reminded of a pastor who told one our Christian friends, after they talked about the naturism issue, that he didn't care about the truth, he only wanted to be a good pastor!

Wow.

Boyd Allen
Christian Nudist Convocation