Category: Axioms of Faith

Wrestle with God

church

I believe it is time we Christians relearned how to wrestle with God. Too often we paint God as dictating terms to us but the Bible shows us a God that wants to talk things over. These passages of scripture show how reason and understanding form the foundation of spiritual discernment and love.

Blind faith not needed

We often act as if blind faith in God were necessary for a righteous life but in Genesis 32:22-32 Jacob is commended for physically wrestling with God. As a result, he is told: “No longer will your name be Jacob, but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Solomon was praised and rewarded for desiring wisdom and discernment (sound reasoning).

1 Thessalonians 5:21 says to test all things (especially prophecy). 1 Corinthians 13:2 talks of having the gift of prophecy an the ability to prophecy, and fathom all mysteries and all knowledge (but without love, that’s still nothing).

Clearly, God’s intention is for us to apply reason (another word for discernment) and to ask questions. Especially hard questions. Even if those inquiries cast doubts on dearly held beliefs.

Wisdom is found in the words of the discerning person, but the one who lacks wisdom will be disciplined.

Proverbs 10:13 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Have a  full-on morality debate with God

In Genesis 18:16-32 Abraham has a full-on moral debate with God on the subject of God’s morality in judging Sodom. Abraham, a mere mortal, did not just say “thy will be done” but he actually questioned that will and debated it with God.

Not only that but he got God to agree to withhold judgement if just one righteous an could be found in the city.

God stuck to that agreement too and did not bring judgement until after He evacuated the righteous man in question.

Similarly, Moses talked God out of smiting the entire nation of Israel over the whole golden calf affair.

Both men were prepared to wrestle with God over these matters and lives were saved as a result.

God is happy to debate with us

In the first chapter of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:18) God says “let us reason together”. According to my language tool, this is SG3198 to test and prove. Rendered variously as “argue”, “reprove”, “dispute”, “rebuke”, and “render decisions”. Later in Isaiah 43:26 it says this:

Remind me of what happened! Let’s debate!
You, prove to me that you are right!

Test God rigorously

In Malachi 3:10 God says “test me in this”. The prophet Malachi is literally telling us that the Almighty not only wants but fully expects you to investigate if He is being truthful.

This teaches us an important and key concept. Take your favourite ideas, doctrines, and prophecies and see if they can stand up under less favourable conditions. In fact, give them the least favourable possible conditions and let them fail. What is true and good will not fail but that which is flawed, untrue, or false will fall apart in front of you.

Christians should question God on injustice

Lord, you have always been fair
whenever I have complained to you.
However, I would like to speak with you about the disposition of justice.
Why are wicked people successful?
Why do all dishonest people have such easy lives?

Jeremiah 12:1 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Strong reasoning skills needed

Passively accepting whatever teaching is delivered to you is a recipe for being misled. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 directs us to apply reasoning and logic to light a fire under doctrine to see if it can hold up. Instead of defending our doctrines we should try to see if we can demolish them. God-given doctrine will hold up under such scrutiny.

Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said.

1 Corinthians 14:29 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Love and understanding go together

1 Corinthians 13:2 says that the ability to fathom all mysteries and all knowledge without love is meaningless.

Philippians 1:9-11 (NET) has Paul praying that love will abound with understanding :

And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Discernment and understanding require practice

There is a reason why a degree from a good university is valued by employers. It shows that the owner of the degree has put in the practice required to understand something. Doctrine is no different.

But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 5:14 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Seek wisdom like silver

My child, if you receive my words,
and store up my commands within you,
by making your ear attentive to wisdom,
and by turning your heart to understanding,
indeed, if you call out for discernment—
raise your voice for understanding—
if you seek it like silver,
and search for it like hidden treasure,
then you will understand how to fear the Lord,
and you will discover knowledge about God.
For the Lord gives wisdom,
and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.
He stores up effective counsel for the upright,
and is like a shield for those who live with integrity,
to guard the paths of the righteous
and to protect the way of his pious ones.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity—every good way.

Proverbs 2:1-8 New English Translation (NET Bible).

Fixing Calvinism but you might not like it

There may be a way of fixing Calvinism and the problems that Limited Atonement introduce but I do not think its supporters would like it at all. 

I wrote recently about what I see as the fatal flaw – a hamartia if you will – in Calvinistic doctrine. Today, I’d like to propose a way to correct it.

My problem with the forms of Calvinism (that I have encountered) are the variations on the doctrine of Limited Atonement. More specifically, the behaviour it seems to produce in its adherents. These doctrines that limit the atonement to only God’s elect that are exposed to doctrinal tests go on to fail at every turn.

Calvinism sets up as a core belief that Grace is irresistible. It has to wrestle with the fact that while Philippians 2:10 talks about every knee bowing at the Name of Jesus when very few actually seem to do so. This is where Limited Atonement comes in. It says that God only picks those of us he loves and wants to save – everyone else was born for hell. It is not exactly conducive to loving people unconditionally. Why love those God hates?

As I have indicated before, this can produce a spiritual smugness – “God likes me, but you He hates”. That little bit of the yeast of the Pharisees goes on to corrupt the whole doctrinal system, its believers, and the church as a whole.

The fix (but you might not like it)

The fix to this problem was prosed sometime around the start of the seventeenth century by Moses Amyraut (1596–1664). I’ve talked about this person before when I tried (and utterly failed) to accurately define Amyraldism. My mistake was in not understanding Moses Amyraut’s idea that we are all the elect; everyone will be saved in the end.

Clearly then, I do not understand this doctrine as well as I thought I did. However, it does provide a form of Calvinism that can exist without the Biblically questionable doctrines that God only wishes to save some of us. Of course, you then have to accept a doctrine of the eventual salvation of all mankind. A doctrine is more commonly known as Universal Salvation.

This much wider and more inclusive Calvinism is, at least, more internally consistent, and less at odds with scripture. It would require you to abandon any doctrine of eternal punishment in hell too. In short, it calls for a full dose of metanoia. Which is okay because a change of mind is a vital part of repentance. Something we Christians should be comfortable with.

I am undecided about Calvinism but this way of fixing Calvinism at least leaves it doctrinally coherent.

Testing Doctrines: Limited atonement

In this post, I will try to apply the Testable Doctrine Theory to the doctrine of limited atonement.

Testable Doctrine Theory is an idea I put forward that says that a sound doctrine should be able to stand up to a series of tests and that only sound doctrine would pass these tests.

Limited atonement is the idea that Christ only died for some people and not others.

Continue reading

Testable Doctrine – Pure Theory

fire

All doctrine should be testable doctrine – with this one idea we can create an axiomatic faith.

What is an axiomatic faith?

Axiomatic means something that is self-evidently true. So a faith (or more accurately a doctrine) is one which by its own evidence is true.

I am going to add in one external axiom (unquestionable truth) that something can only be true if it is not false. I’ve talked before about the idea of agnosis – that we cannot know everything. This is an extension of that. Each doctrinal idea can be considered true (sound doctrine) only in the absence of evidence against it.

Think of axiomatic faith as the result of a court hearing. A single idea fails if the prosecution can provide reasonable doubt. Where there are competing doctrinal ideas only those ideas that are likely to be true on the balance of probabilities shall be taken as true. In other words, we seek a doctrine that is the least likely to be false or at least fatally flawed.

A scriptural basis for testing doctrines

In 1 John 4:1 we are urged to diligently test everything so as to avoid false prophets. 2 Peter 2:1 tells us to expect not just false prophets but false teachers too. Likewise, 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 says to test all prophets. 1 Corinthians 14:29 says that a few should speak and everyone else must weigh what is said.

Acts 17:11 holds those that check the scriptures to see if what they were told was true in very high regard. In a similar way, 2 Timothy 4:3-4 warns against believing things simply because we wish them to be true.

Tested as with fire

Each doctrine can be exposed to a number of testing fires. Each designed to ask the same question – is this a true (and sound) doctrine?

The fire of scripture

Using Axiom Zero – that scripture is good for establishing doctrine – the doctrine to be accepted must be the one with the best fit with scripture. That is to say, doctrine with the least scripture that could potentially contradict it.

One approach to applying this fire is to list all scriptural passages that address the topic of doctrine and then assess if that passage on its own (but within context) supports, is indifferent to, or disputes the doctrine. The doctrine with the best support and least conflict passes that test.

The fire of reason

This is an idea I first expressed when I introduced the Axioms of Faith. Having passed the test of being rooted strongly in scripture a doctrine must also be examined to see if it is reasonable.

This test acts as a check against concluding wildly irrational and foolish notions because they can be deduced from a specific reading of scripture. Established axioms can, therefore, be used as a reasoned test of doctrine.

The fire of existing doctrine

Doctrine can and perhaps should be tested against other doctrines. A doctrine that is internally consistent but at odds with other dearly held doctrines highlights only that one or more doctrines is in error.

Therefore, should a doctrine fail in this comparison, both doctrines must be re-examined. This cycle must continue until such time that all existing doctrine are consistent with each other.

Other reasonable tests

Other tests of doctrine, such as listed here, might include a comparison to the teachings of the early church, spiritual discernment, fruit, prayer, the origin of doctrine, relevance to spiritual growth, and comparison to long-standing traditions and practices of the church.

The ideal doctrine would pass through all these tests unscathed. At the very least, it should pass most and bring the remainder into reasoned testing.

Axiom zero: All scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

For the purpose of this blog, we shall take as a given one single axiom. An axiom zero, if you will.

All scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

This axiom is based on 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”

Everything else that I write here is based on the assumption that this is a self-evident truth.

By taking it as a given that scripture can be used to understand scripture and form doctrine we bypass a lot of logical and doctrinal gymnastics attempting to get ourselves to the same point. Or, in other words, you have to trust something and I am happy to trust scripture.

The Axioms of Faith

An enquiry into doctrine using both reasoning and scripture.

In an attempt to develop a clear and systematic understanding of scripture (internally and externally consistent) I have, over the years, found myself questioning and examining foundational principles of doctrine. With each re-evaluation, I have had to revisit many assumptions and found that while some doctrines were strengthened by this process others were fatally undermined.

This state of constant flux was no way to study.

I have found it useful to start from the very beginning, with few if any assumptions and build upwards from there. While I state that I am starting with only a single assumption (that scripture can be used for establishing doctrine, 2 Timothy 3:16-17) I have no doubt that I bring to this study my own theological and cultural assumptions (as anyone would).

What is an axiom and why would I want one?

An axiom is a statement that is so evident or well-established, that it is accepted without controversy or question.

Well-founded doctrinal axioms are, therefore, useful tools for examining our faith and exposing our own flawed thinking and unreasoned assumptions. In this, establishing axioms – that is, points of agreement which are beyond question – we lay a foundation for a reasoned examination of scripture.

I am not interested in being right. I am interested in what is true.

When a doctrine is in conflict with a doctrinal axiom we must carefully consider if our axioms are flawed or if our doctrine is flawed. While it is technically possible to make great efforts to explain away the conflict with special cases and complex additional doctrines, what we are at risk of doing is simply saying that we are determined to be right regardless of what is true.

To avoid such proud attempts, the axioms presented here (in this blog) will be built carefully, one upon another. So that each branch grows from a good root. If you disagree with the case I make for a given axiom then you should reject it and all axioms that rest upon it.