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”?

  • 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

Monday, July 4, 2011


This post is not specifically about naturism… although it certainly applies to its discussion.

Every issue has more than one “side” or viewpoint, and every viewpoint is supported by assumptions which form the foundation for the conclusions that are ultimately reached by the proponents of each viewpoint.

Obviously there is no “god”…

For example, In the discussion about the origins of the universe and mankind, evolutionary scientists assume that there is no agent outside of the observable universe which could have ever had any impact on what we see today.

By contrast, creation scientists assume that it is possible for an outside agent to exist which may have been a causative agent in our universe’s birth.

Looking at the very same physical evidence, the creation scientist finds multiple evidences for intelligent design in our universe, for no amount of time and chance could produce the exquisite order than we see… from the structure of atoms to the celestial interaction between galaxies.

The evolutionary scientist on the other hand is forced to accept the conclusion—despite the astronomical odds against it—that chance and natural processes produced everything we see in the universe. He concludes this because… obviously there can be no such thing as a “god.” He is literally forced to accept an impossible explanation because his assumption precludes any other.

Any and every evidence contrary to his assumption is summarily rejected and/or explained away.

Alas, though, I fear that we all are guilty of that error… it’s rather human…

Assumptions aren’t bad… unless they are false assumptions!

There will always be concepts which—while they cannot be proven—do impact the conclusion of an investigation. Sound assumptions lead to sound conclusions; faulty assumptions result in faulty conclusions.

Consequently, when people examine an issue with the very same data set but reach vastly different conclusions, the problem is not generally with the data, but with the assumptions that each side brings to the data to start with!

When such is the case, endless discussion about the evidence will never accomplish anything, because the data being discussed is not really at issue… it is the underlying assumptions that are not being discussed where the true differences between the opposing parties lie.

Differing Assumptions

This problem is manifest many times within the Christian community, and especially between those who hold the Bible to be absolutely authoritative, and those who do not.

Just recently, I was talking to a Christian brother who does not consider homosexuality to be wrong, but rather just the way some people are born. I expressed the opinion that no one was “born gay”—in fact, in God’s eyes, there is no such thing as “gay”—because gender is not determined by subjective ideas like “preference” or “orientation;” it is determined objectively by physical attributes. A male body is designed by God to unite sexually with a female body. Clearly, we were not in agreement with one another.

However, in the course of the conversation, he told me that he did not believe that Bible was truly authoritative in everything it taught.

And herein was our true disagreement… For me, the Bible is the authority upon which any conclusion may be safely reached. For him, it is not. Therefore, our differing assumptions about the authority of Scripture led to different conclusions. And until that difference is resolved, no agreement will likely be reached.

Obviously God wants people clothed…

People hold the same such assumptions when it comes to the issue of human nudity. They hold a belief system that assumes that nakedness is shameful and against God’s moral law. Consequently, when they read the Scriptures, every piece of “physical evidence” is interpreted in light of that assumption.

Obviously, nakedness is wrong.

Obviously, nakedness is shameful.

Obviously, nakedness is sexual.

Obviously, God wants us to be clothed. Why else would He clothe Adam and Eve??

Everybody knows these things!!

But when someone says, “Obviously,” it usually indicates that they hold an assumption that they don’t really have any real evidence to support.

Again… that’s no problem, provided the assumption is correct. But when it comes to morality and knowing the mind of God, we dare not makes such an assumption when there is no concrete biblical evidence to support it. And of course, if there were sufficient biblical evidence, then we wouldn’t call it an “assumption” at all!

“My thoughts are not your thoughts”Isa. 55:8-9

God tells us plainly by the prophet Isaiah that we have no business assuming what His thoughts are on a subject.

When considering moral issues, we must not bring assumptions about God’s moral standards to the Scriptures, else we may be found guilty of telling lies about God, for we may declare that God is offended by something when in truth He is not.

Obviously we need to reexamine our assumptions!

When we (or anyone) make statements that are (or could be) prefaced with the word, “Obviously,” we should stop and reexamine the nature of the assumptions behind the statement… regardless of the issue being discussed. We just might find an argument built on a false foundation.

On the issue of nudity, only those who are courageous enough to question the “Obvious” assumptions mentioned above will ever see anything different in God’s Word. If they do not have that courage, they will instead hold tenaciously to the prevailing sentiment in the church today that sees only shame and indecency in the simple and chaste exposure of God’s image as found in human embodiment.

— Matthew Neal (…Obviously!)

See also:

The Unchallenged Belief

Quotes and Comments #5