No Apologizing

Christian Apologetic, and Social Commentary in a world gone mad

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What is truth?

What is truth?

There was an article published in Christianity Today about Christian Psychology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The story had a lot to do with Eric Johnson stepping down as the leading Christian psychology professor from Southern.  There is a backstory associated with his resignation, his relationship with the head of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Heath Miller and Albert Mohler, President of the college.  The article details interactions, statements, who said what, and who potentially influenced who.  The primary issue though is more subtle, and potentially damaging to Christian education in general.

The primary question that should be examined is this, what is truth?

Wrapped in the human interactions of what has transpired between these gentlemen is the idea of biblical sufficiency.  To be specific issue here, Eric Johnson believes Christian Psychology can be an integrated field between the Bible and science.  He has and continues to argue that the Bible is the final source of truth and that God’s truth is universal.  Meaning that it can be applied or seen in secular fields of study.  Heath Miller, and it would appear Albert Mohler, disagree with this point arguing in the supremacy of scripture alone.

This article has a special meaning to me.  Being an alum of Southern, and knowing the impact that it has on the church, I am and will continue to be interested in what it teaches young students as they become pastors and head out into the world.  With a Doctorate in Education, I have a passion for how these students are educated and ensuring that they are prepared for the real world that lies outside of the confines of a seminary.  The other reason that this has a special meaning is that I have been on the frontline of this war between integration, and scripture alone.  My engagement began before entering Southern and was pushed to all-out war by the time I graduated.

Let me explain.

During my first trip to Louisville for classes, I entered into a discussion about church planting with a few of my classmates.  It was an excellent discussion.  Of those involved, two were directly involved with ministry, and two were involved in the business world.  I suggested that church planting could be more effectively and efficiently managed through project management.  The two involved with ministry balked at the notion, arguing that it wasn’t biblical and that project management was more business-oriented rather than church oriented.  I loved that discussion because it was an open and honest exchange, which paled in comparison to the discussions I had had with local pastors who simply deny that business tools and skills are simply not applicable to church management.  Again, the default position is that the using business skills, administrative skills as the Bible calls them, cannot be employed or are not applicable because they are not biblical.  At least with my classmates, there was a dialogue  and a great academic discussion.  With the local pastors…not so much.

My next encounter with this issue was with the presentation I made on Idealism.  During this presentation, I argued that Plato had unknowingly discovered the truth of God while exploring his Allegory of the Cave, had precisely described the separation between spirit and body, and began to argue for an absolute moral ethic, which could only be supported by God.  As such, I argued that incorporating these grander idea’s and philosophies into church education could be paramount to helping Christians explain their faith, and asked for a paradigm shift to include philosophy, as well as the practical components of day to day living.

The response was predictable, and only one student out of our group of 12 agreed.  Most argued precisely what Albert Mohler and Heath Lambert argued.  I and the classmate who agreed with me took the position of Eric Johnson.  This was not the only time that this would happen.  This issue would come up in my dissertation, as I argued that complexity theory was compatible with the Bible and that secular research for organizational change identified characteristics of general change which are found in the Bible.  At one point in my argument, my supervisor had stated that one of my points was unbiblical, to which I responded…I disagree.

Fast forward to today.  I have started listening to a lecture series on CS Lewis and what shaped his philosophy.  Several quotes were noted in the second lecture which caught my attention.  And several that I found on my own.

  • “the only possible basis for Christian apologetics is a proper respect for paganism”
  • “[I]t is only since I have become a Christian that I have learned really to value the elements of truth in Paganism and Idealism. I wished to value them in the old days; now I really do. Don’t suppose that I ever thought myself that certain elements of pantheism were incompatible with Christianity or with Catholicism.”
  • “Theology, while saying that a special illumination has been vouchsafed to Christians and (earlier) to Jews, also says that there is some divine illumination vouchsafed to all men. The Divine light, we are told, ‘lighteneth every man.’ We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story—the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth.”

What is Lewis talking about?  Integration.  This idea, that divine inspiration could motivate secular non-biblical thought.  This notion that there is value to studying secular theology to improve our ability to communicate to a lost world.  Which begs the question,  would Lewis have been able to get a job at Southern based on his belief that apologetics must be inclusive of more paganistic writings and philosophies as a point of reference?

For Lewis, it would appear that the answer to the question of ‘what is truth?’, would have been the universal truth that can be attributed to God. Even if it came from the mind of a lost soul.

Having taught Biblical Ethics, I now can fully grasp the point that Lewis is trying to make.  There is biblical truth found in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.  There is biblical truth found in Kant’s Categorical imperative.  There is biblical truth found in Bentham’s utilitarian ethics.  However, they are all not biblical, and many aspects of each theory do not line up with the Bible.  I agree with Lewis; we can use these philosophies to have a greater understanding of atheistic ethics and use them to shed light on biblical truth during an apologetics discussion.  However, that involves utilizing texts outside of the Bible and would be an integrative approach.

My heart is concerned about the message something like this sends to those who watch how the Baptist church acts in general.  Many people still look at the Baptist church as the church that wouldn’t allow Kevin Bacon to dance to Kenny Loggins.  Things like this, further that perception.  To actually argue that only those who are saved are the only ones who can discover God’s truth is simply unrealistic, and not historical.  For Southern to take the position and actively engage in staffing decisions based on the idea of excluding the integration of knowledge is a flawed position, and opposes CS Lewis’s view.  From an educational perspective, you have more students, who head out as pastors, with very little understanding of the real world, and how real people educate themselves in it.

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