Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Common Evangelical Fallacy and Scott McKnight [Edited to be clearer & throw Mike Bird under the bus as well]

Thanks Seth for challenging me to make things clearer. So in order to make things clearer I've expanded my post to critique Mike Bird as well as Scott McKnight.

They're both guilt of the same fallacy, but from opposite sides. The fallacy from both directions is this.
  1. Your view is wrong because it is speculative and complicated, my view is correct because it comes directly from Holy Scripture.We'll call that the 'I'm closer to God than you are fallacy.'
  2. Your view is wrong because it's clumsy proof-texting, which makes you sound like a raving fundamentalist, whereas my view is sophisticated and wise. We'll call that the 'I'm not a fundamentalist fallacy.'

The 'I'm closer to God than you are fallacy.' (McKnight)
  • I enjoy reading Scott McKnight but recently he said Kevin DeYoung's view about women not being church leaders is wrong because it's speculative, "extrapolation". Compared to his own view which Scott McKnight believes is more closely grounded in Scripture. "To say the “office” is to be “filled” by “qualified men” is to extrapolate from but not state what is in the Bible...." 
  • You see variations of this fallacy in apologetic debates between Christians and Muslims, the Muslim apologist feels he has an advantage because when he quotes the Quran he is directly quoting the holy words of God himself, whereas his poor Christian interlocutor has to wade through what appears to be speculative and historical theology about the nature of God.
  • Also this fallacy ignores the fact that everyone speculates, weighs the evidence, considers the alternatives and draws conclusions. This is a natural and good thing, when it's done properly. Otherwise you're claiming to put yourself on the same level as Joseph Smith, who alone has access to the special spectacles and the golden plates!
  • Another variation of this fallacy is to say Jesus never said anything about ecology, gender or gay marriage therefore my view of ecology, gender or gay marriage is true. It's amusing to hear fundamentalist Christians and progressive Christians use the same fallacy. The conservative Christian says "Jesus said nothing about guitars in church" and the progressive Christian says "Jesus said nothing about gay marriage", they're both very clear about what Jesus said and didn't say.

The 'I'm not a fundamentalist fallacy.' (Bird)
  • Sadly, it goes the other way as well. Mike Bird in his Evangelical Theology, accuses Wayne Grudem method's of systematic theology as simply a glorified "concordance ... [that doesn't] take into account the ... canonical, hermeneutical, cultural, and historical factors." (page 78) Interestingly Mike Bird ends up using proof texts in his own systematic theology anyway. You can't have your sausage and eat it too!
  • Anecdotally, a friend once reported hearing or reading Don Carson as saying, "you can't be across all the secondary literature on this particular topic" in a disparaging way. A simplistic critique is frustrating but there's no need to get all Gnostic about it and reserve profundity for the ivory tower. 'Keep theology out of the hands of the dirty peasants' I say. 
  • Proof texts are useful as representative summaries of an idea found through out Scripture. To disparage them is snobbish but also short sighted because like Bird you end up doing it yourself anyway.
  • It's good to strive to be as close to the text as possible, to use Biblical language, Biblical metaphors and words from the Bible itself. While we interpret Scripture through historical filters the authority of our ideas comes from their proximity to Scripture's ideas. 
(Additionally it's really cool that McKnight responded on Twitter. :-) I'm using him here as an example, sort of like a proof-text.)