Tag: doctrine

Metrics for assessing doctrine

fruit

There are numerous methods (or metrics) for assessing doctrine. By this, I simply mean that we have a wealth of tools for evaluating the quality of our faith.

There are few, however, that are as simple or effective than the one I wish to share. This particular tool for assessing doctrine does not require years of study. It does not even require months of study. It is a tool that any Christian can apply right from the get-go.

The fruit of a doctrine

That is the metric of the character the doctrine inevitably leads to. A doctrine that is righteous should lead to righteousness. If a doctrine is loving then it should lead to love. While a doctrine that leads to pride, factions, conflict, aggression, condemnation, and all those other bad things must, self-evidently, be bad.

This stems, from Matthew 7:15-20 which tells us “by their fruits you will know them”. Given axiom zero (that all scripture is good for teaching), we can know that this has something to teach us. Specifically, that the fruit of a doctrine must be good for it to be considered a good doctrine.

What is good fruit?

Now Galatians 5:22-23 shows us what fruits we should be looking for when assessing doctrine:

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control

A doctrine that leads to these sorts of characteristics must, at the very least, be good even if it is not perfect. Yet a doctrine that leads to the opposite is fatally flawed.

Why this matters?

Too frequently we Christians have been quick to insist that a doctrine is right because we say “the Bible says” and yet the very attitudes it leads to are anything but Biblical.

Such characteristics as found in Galatians 5:20 such as hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, and factions. These are the symptoms of a doctrine or belief that are at odds with the character of Christ. They lead to the sort of behaviour I call “trolling for Christ” – which we need to stop doing.

If at any time we find our belief leading us towards hostilities, strife, and dissension then it is our belief and not those of others which needs to be assessed. I can assure you that if we are not readily assessing doctrine that we preach then others will do it for us and be far less kind when they do.

If you need a scripture for this act of self-assessment – 2 Corinthians 13:5 directs us to examine ourselves.

Let us examine our own doctrines to be sure that they produce good fruits and be ready to uproot any that have failed to yield good fruit.

Sola scriptura

The phrase sola scriptura literally means from scripture alone.

Specifically, sola scriptura is a doctrine which holds that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. This is a touch more specific than I got with my zeroth axiom (which just states that scripture can be used to establish doctrine).

Sola scriptura is a formal principle of many Protestant denominations. It has been assumed in almost all that I have encountered. Charismatic churches seem to preach some variation of it.

Sola scriptura sits very happily with doctrines that ascribe infallibility to scripture. It is not the same as prima scriptura – which is that the scriptures come first and above all else.

Sola scriptura was a foundational doctrinal principle of the Reformation held by the Reformers. The reformers taught that authentication of Scripture is governed by the discernible excellence of the text as well as the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man.

Sola scriptura and the Axioms of Faith.

As far as the axioms that I have published so far go, both sola scriptura and prima scriptura are compatible with the axioms. Axiom Zero assumes that one of the two is true.

Criticisms of sola scriptura

I don’t intend to get into one right now but I thought I would list some of the objections to sola scriptura.

Please correct me if I get any of these wrong.

One argument is that if scripture is seen as the only source of infallible teaching, its interpretation is subject to fallible interpretation. Generally, these arguments go on to state the need for an infallible interpreter in order to reach a certainty of Christian belief.

Sola scriptura can be argued to be self-referentially incoherent. The Bible itself does not specifically seem to teach sola scriptura. Therefore, the belief that the Scriptures are the only source of Christian belief is self-contradicting because it cannot be supported without extra-scriptural doctrine. (I hope I’ve presented that clearly enough).

Sola scriptura is not so different to the teachings of the Sadducees that held only to the written law and not the oral traditions. I’m not sure what sort of objection that is but I thought I would mention it. You might want to look at Karaite Judaism if this interests you as Karaite Judaism holds the Tanakh alone as its supreme authority in Halakha (Jewish religious law) and theology. I don’t know enough to say if Karaite Judaism and the Sadducees are the similar (or not).

I read about a writer called Dave Armstrong. Armstrong apparently made the point that, since Jesus and the Apostles acknowledge authoritative Jewish oral tradition, Christians cannot dispute oral tradition’s legitimacy and authority. However, as found in Scripture, Jesus also challenges some Jewish oral tradition. Therefore, Christians can dispute some of that tradition’s authority since they hold that Jesus’ authority is greater. The conclusion of total infallibility is therefore brought into question.

How I intend to use the phrase “sola scriptura”.

I’ve not really thought about using it but I think I might write about the differences between sola scriptura and prima scriptura and try to come down one way or the other. It is a big can of worms, as evidenced by the arguments against it. I might leave that topic for a while.

Agnosis

Agnosis is the first of the seven principles I listed in an essay I wrote called, “Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua”.

It comes from the Greek, and means literally “lacking knowledge”. ἀ- (a-, “without”, “lacking”) + γνῶσις (gnôsis, “knowledge”).

In my essay I wrote:

Man is ignorant and the full truth is inherently unknowable to us. All that we think we know is faulty due to our own limitations. Our own best knowledge, doctrines, and understanding are forever flawed and full of error. We seek to embrace metanoia – a change in our thinking – freely confessing our ignorance and, in doing so, we allow our nature to be changed into the nature of Yeshua.

The concept of agnosis is that there is simply so much that we do not know about The Father and about even ourselves. It follows that as we are finite and God is infinite that we cannot possibly know as He knows.

Many of the other principles flow from this one. Along with love, and trust in Yeshua, you could easily work out the others.

Embracing our own agnosis requires humility. Appreciating our own agnosis keeps us from being proud about what we do know. Agnosis keeps us open to learning from others. Which is why I recommend it for the Church of tomorrow.

Agnosis from the axioms of faith.

The principle of agnosis can be reached from the axioms of faith. The zeroth axiom states that all scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

  • Luke 10:21 and Matthew 11:25 show us that there are things that The Father has hidden from us.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.”
  • Romans 3:23 tells us that all have erred (sinned) and therefore we are flawed.

Scripture never asks us to understand everything, only to trust Father, and walk humbly in righteousness.

How I intend to use the words agnosis and agnosia.

Sparingly. However, when I do use these words it is always as a reminder (to myself) of the limits of human understanding.

The demands of an evil god

In this post, we will be talking about why people may have difficulty taking some Christian doctrines seriously and that it is entirely our fault.

The problem, I contend, is that through failing to fully rationalise our own doctrines, when others do it for us they see not a loving God but an evil one.

Definitions

As with all my articles, I will preface with a few definitions so there is no doubt or confusion.

This article rests on the axiom that all scripture is good for establishing doctrine. In this article I am going to be talking about two topics:

  • Evil
  • Calvinism

That is not to say that one is the other, I do not wish to say that, only that one rises in the context of the other.

What is evil?

Evil, in the abstract, is a noun or verb indicating a thing, action, or entity that is in any way harmful or tending to harm or profoundly immoral and wicked. I’m going to go one step further and state that evil is the seeking or willful attainment of privilege or agency without the implied responsibility or price associated with it.

For example, a person wants a car but being unwilling to pay for it they steal it. For another example, the bully who waits until the teacher is not looking and takes the paper-round money earned by a smaller child. Both of these are privilege without responsibility.

The opposite of this form of evil, responsibility without any agency, is an injustice. For example, slavery where people are expected to work hard but not enjoy the fruits of their labour. The Romans had a particularly violent form of this injustice – decimation. Should a military commander fail spectacularly his troops might be lined up and every tenth man would be killed.

The Romans had a particularly violent form of this injustice – decimation. Should a military commander fail spectacularly his troops might be lined up and every tenth man would be killed. This too was responsibility without agency.

What is Calvinism

I am going to be talking about Calvinism throughout this post. I do not intend to give a full overview of Calvinistic doctrines and would probably not do a very good job of it but here are the basics.

To quote the Wikipedia on predestination:

Reformed theologians teach that sin so affects human nature that they are unable even to exercise faith in Christ by their own will. While people are said to retain will, in that they willfully sin, they are unable not to sin because of the corruption of their nature due to original sin. Reformed Christians believe that God predestined some people to be saved.

To summerise, Calvinism teaches that we lack a completely free will. The atonement is limited and was only for the elect. Calvinism is, therefore, a predestination, doctrine.

This is generally coupled with a doctrine that only those that accept Christ in the form of a sinner’s prayer, or similar are the elect and all other souls are bound for hell.

What is an evil god doctrine

An evil god doctrine arises when we fail to fully rationalise our own doctrines. Often when we chose a theistic framework and try to jam in doctrines that are not a good fit. In this case, you guessed it, jamming extras into Calvinism.

When fully and logically explored the god being presented mutates into a vicious and malignant being deserving of no-one’s worship.

Dissecting an evil god doctrine

The atonement is limited and was only for the elect is pretty harsh but, you know, kismet – fate is fate. Right? Yeah, I’m not fully convinced but that is another discussion for another time.

The problem arises when some Calvinists try to combine predestination with pre-reformation theology without thinking through the consequences.

This sealed fate paradigm is less than ideal for motivational recruitment. So, somewhere along the line, evangelical ideas of “reaching the lost” get added to the mix. Now you find a doctrine that heaven and hell are a done deal with a drive to go out and make converts and “save people”.

A “god” who loves everyone but you

One of the inherent weaknesses of this doctrine is that it preaches John 3:16 with God loving the world but at the same time not enough to save everyone.

This is countered with the claim that while it is true that God is love He is also infinitely just and His law is absolute. Thus we have a God angry at sinners for being sinners but some (via verses like Exodus 33:19) will get the gift of a free pass.

From the other side of the fence – as a hell-bound soul, it must seem like God is picking favourites. Whichever way you cut it, this is very hard to reconcile with claims of an infinitely loving God.

This is, apparently, perfect justice. I don’t see it myself but I am not here to discuss Calvinism as a whole. If Christians want to believe that they had no choice but to accept Christ, I am willing to let them believe that.

Blaming the victim

At the more extreme end of things, you have well-meaning and otherwise mild-mannered Christians who espouse the belief that the condemned sinner is somehow responsible for their own damnation.

Now, I should point out this is not a Calvinistic doctrine. It is not even especially compatible with Calvinism. This free will aspect is a pre-reformation idea found more commonly in, for example, Catholic dogma.

This leads quite logically to a doctrine where the choice is God’s but the responsibility for is ours. Which, as we established earlier, is the definition of evil.

You cannot blame a victim who lacks any agency for what was done to them and still claim justice has been served. The child forced to hand over his money for the “crime” of being weaker might not have any choice but that child is a victim of injustice no matter how many times the bully says “You are lucky, other bullies would beat you up as well.”

Evil god in the wild

Lest you think I am making this stuff up I present to you an actual example of this doctrine being preached. This is a blog called The Gospel Truth written by a man named Bob Hutton. I have no doubt that Mr Hutton is sincere in his zeal for the gospel but someone has sold him some incompatible doctrines.

For example:

Remember, too, that the natural man refuses to accept God’s word unless their eyes are opened (1st Cor. 2 v 14).

Either way, by pointing out that God has opened the way for people to be saved we put them on notice that, if they end up in Hell, it is entirely their own fault.

In case you think that Maybe Mr Hutton has just not made his point very clearly, he clarifies in the comments:

If you die in your sins and end up in Hell, you have no complaint because you have received justice, and the blame for your sin, and its consequences, is entirely yours.

If God plants the gift of faith in you and converts you (John 6 v 65), then He has shown you His mercy, and all glory goes to Him.

And agains, citing John 5:40 (out of context, I might add), Mr Hutton says:

the choice is God’s but the responsibility is still man’s

This responsibility without agency, as we defined already, is the injustice that evil serves. It makes for a very strange form of Calvinism. By strange, I mean self-refuting and contradictory.

The “god” presented there appears to be a bully demanding people suffer the outcomes of His choices. Mr Hutton’s answer, though not untypical, defines an evil god. This is the perfect illustration of a failure to fully rationalise our own doctrines.

This god only picks some people and the rest he condemns for not being picked. It is a doctrine devoid of love but packed to the nines with condemnation and blame.

It is also not just a little smug. The “saved” sitting there smugly telling everyone else that he or she is “teacher’s pet” and everyone else is doomed. What worries me most is that no one who espouses this doctrine is the least bit bothered by this. It is as if their very sense of justice were somehow scorched and blinded.

What is the problem with “evil god” doctrines?

The problems with this hybrid Calvinism are manifold. Not only are we unlikely to convince any rational people of a loving God while also presenting them with a self-evidently evil lying god but we look like we have no idea what we are talking about.

Much worse, though, are the implications of the evil god doctrine.

In John 5:19 we see Jesus saying that he only does as His Father does. Ephesians 5:1 commands that we also imitate God. We see in teaching’s, such as Mr Hutton’s, the outworking of that where, imitating the evil god, they effectively say “I have no pity, this is all your own fault.” The resultant behaviour is devoid of compassion or kindness. It is without love.

If a country ever enacted statutes that imitated this god, you would have a country where one person commits a crime and quite another can be punished for it. We call such regimes oppressive and evil.

The fruit of this doctrine is evil because the god (root) of this doctrine is evil. As Matthew 7:15-20 says, by their fruit you shall know them.

What’s the solution to the “evil god” problem?

There are three possible solutions as far as I can tell.

  1. Refine your doctrines to weed out the ones that do not belong
  2. Reject all your current doctrines and start again
  3. Resign yourself to worshipping an evil and inconsistent god

This extreme-Calvinist doctrine arises from a failure to think through the doctrines that have been loaded in together. Doctrines which simply do not fit together. Such self-refuting doctrines could be avoided altogether if we made even a little more effort to fully rationalise and consider what it is we claim to believe.

At the very least, we must take note of 1 John 4:1-3 and put the teachings that are presented to us to the test. Those that lead to a hate-filled god are, scripturally, anti-christ. Something I am sure zealots, such as Mr Hutton, would want nothing to do with.

I would be prepared to accept a relatively indifferent god if the Calvinistic framework were to not also include a blaming the victim mentality. I might, with some persuasion be willing to see God as loving for only saving some.

As long as some proponents of Calvinism also try to have their cake and eat it, the conclusion must be that the god they worship is evil.

What I am saying is that’s not my God.

That’s not my God

I do not know this evil god that the extreme-Calvinists preach.

The God that I worship is loving (1 John 4:8), His mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13), and is well able to save us all (Isaiah 59:1).

The God that I worship does everything he says He will (Numbers 23:19). He says that His intention is to save all mankind (I Timothy. 2:4) because he is full of loving compassion (Psalm 103:8) and cares about the well being of people (Matthew 9:36) and expects us, his followers, to be the same.

The God that I worship sent His son, Jesus, to Earth as a ransom all (1 Timothy 2:6) from the grip of our imperfections (sins) and grant us the power to forgive sins (John 20:23).

The good news that makes me glad is a good news of restoration, not this dictatorial nonsense. How about you?