THINKING ANGLICANS

Lust for Certainty

Here’s an interesting event that takes place on Tuesday 21 November at 6.30 pm at St Mary’s Church, Putney.

Called The Lust for Certainty it is a roundtable discussion on the dangers of dogmatism with Anthony Kenny, Kathy Sykes, Mark Vernon, Giles Fraser, Stuart Sim and Mick Gordon.

More details here.

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Dave Williams
Guest

What about the dangers of uncertainty, indeed the arrogance of uncertainty!

It seems that the people doing the discussion are all in agreement on the important dogmatism of the day -that every other expression of dogmatism apart from the humanist, so called pluralistic one is wrong.

All of that is tied into the most anti-christian theology that God is unknowable.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

Well, God is paradoxically unknowable AND knowable. Our finite human minds cannot begin to comprehend the infinte God, yet He is profoundly knowable in Christ. The idea that God is both these things is at the root of apophatic theology, which, far from being unChristian, is one of the core, and most ancient, ways of doing theology. It was how the Fathers approached theology, so it’s hardly the “dogmatism of the day”. The arrogance is the idea that all that is knowable about God can be gleaned from the pages of a book, as though the Eternal Creator of all… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
Guest

Since the Archbishop recently decreed that the divinity of Christ is not up for discussion, then the dialogue of how to better know God is closed. Therefore elements of God remain unknown, forgotten or discounted e.g. God’s feminine side. That is not anti-Christian, it is anti-know-it-alls who then claim that nothing needs to be discussed because they know it all already. Who then poo-poo reality and scripture if there is evidence that confounds their know-it-all edifice. I would rather be the pragmatic and practical “unworthy” Samaritan described by Jesus in Luke 10:25-37 than the elitist priest or scribe rejected by… Read more »

J. C. Fisher
Guest
J. C. Fisher

“the arrogance of uncertainty!” Oxymoron. Because… “It seems that the people doing the discussion are all in agreement on the important dogmatism of the day -that every other expression of dogmatism apart from the humanist, so called pluralistic one is wrong.” …to be in *agreement* is NOT (necessarily) to be “certain” (ipso facto, cannot display “arrogance” arising from that certainty). Rather, Dave W, it would seem that you are actually charging the above roundtable members w/ *hypocrisy* (that they are actually “certain” even though they implicitly claim otherwise). But for that to be true, we need a lot more than… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

There is a strong Christian tradition that God is unknowable, sometimes called negative theology and leading on to other theologies. Also the dogma (call it that) of incarnation implies a form of religious humanism. Christianity demythologised is religious humanism; the creative bit and understanding comes with the remythologising. As for Putney, what that seems to be about is another way to provide a lively church beyond the hand waving and the like – where people are valued for their considered input and where there is likely to be some diversity and that this is seen as positive. Emerging Church is… Read more »

Jon
Guest

Saying that God is unknowable isn’t always anti-Christian. We can’t wrap God up and put Him in a nice, safe, intellectual box precisely because He is God. Sure, this can be taken too far, but it’s good to keep both positive and negative theology in mind when talking about God.

Jon

Ren Aguila
Guest
Ren Aguila

I could quote theologians from the Fathers to our age suggesting that God is unknowable. Actually, the correct formulation is, “God can ultimately be known by what we do not know about God.” Modern constructs of knowledge do not apply to our knowledge of God–precisely because our being created puts us at a great distance from our creator, we may say a lot of things about God, or we may claim to know God (which is what the last comment implies), but our language will always fail us. There is an agnosticism of sorts in Christian thought that focuses ourselves… Read more »

Dave Williams
Guest

The question of whether or not God is knowable is best answered by scripture and if that means throwing away some “classics” then yes please do! That isn’t to say that everything is known about God but rather that God has chosen self disclosure and that what is there in his revelation is understandable. It is about a God whose character is consistent, a God who is trustable. Not to claim to know everything – that indeed would be arrogant but then that isn’t and never has been the Evangelical position but rather to say that there are some clear… Read more »

laurence
Guest
laurence

I used to be undecided — but now, I’m not so sure

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

To say that all philosophies are allowable is to say that we have made no intellectual progress since the year dot. Which is (as everyone knows) the reverse of the truth.

In cases where it is not clear which worldview to take we can at least narrow things down by excluding self-contradictory world views, like pluralism and relativism, which are self-refuting and would not be held by anyone were they not the philosophical dimension of a preferred ideology.

Pluralist
Guest

The fact that relativism relativises itself, and pluralism is subjected to pluralism, is a strength, a built in self-moderation in each case. They are held because of the differences in the world and the desire to understand and include; they are held because we see that within each particular philosophy or theology there is something of the other. Pluralism and relativism (they are not the same: Isaiah Berlin’s pluralism is not relativistic for example, as he sees clashes of realist values) can be held alone or along with other commitments. They are also more positive than just “doubt” – because… Read more »

Prior Aelred
Guest

St. Gregory Palamas said that God is “hyperagnostos” (i.e, “beyond the unknowable”) — advocates of the apophatic appraoch would say that to use it as a tool for cataphaticism is completely wrong (but I speak only for the saints).

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“The question of whether or not God is knowable is best answered by scripture and if that means throwing away some “classics” then yes please do!” So, then, a rather large chunk of the theology that has underpinned Christianity needs to be jettisoned because Evangelicals need to be able to believe that they can find everything there is to know about God in the Bible. Talk about arrogant! That’s not really what you’re saying, though, right? What’s in the Bible is knowable, because it is God’s self-revelation. Fair enough, but it isn’t the only way God reveals Himself to us,… Read more »

Dave Williams
Guest

Ford, It’s not arrogant to say that there is an authority that you submit to and that authority controls your thinking! Quite the opposite. If a child says to you “I know my daddy loves me because my mummy told me” your instant reaction whatever it may be certainly isn’t “That child is arrogant” And yes! There is going to be a requirement for Christians to get rid of certain teachings if they don’t conform to scripture -it’s not an Evangelical funny, it’s what the reformation was about, it’s at the heart of Irenaeus contending with the Gnostics, it is… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

I don’t think those who claim to ‘know’ do anything other than express their opinion.

They can claim to know, but others will claim the opposite or to know something quite different.

Religion isn’t science. It isn’t something where ‘knowing’ can ever be proved. Thus it is opinion.

laurence
Guest
laurence

Unfortunately, Nicea, was imposed on Christians, by the secular Emperor. He forced the bishops together and forced them to produce this innovatory Creed.

The Emperor himself, was one of the bloodiest; and his ‘Conversion’ skin deep, as his conduct throughout his life so clearly shows.

Cheryl Clough
Guest

I loved this passage from an Ekklesia article posted overnight: “For many Christians, it seems, amassing wealth at the expense of others or sanctioning war are no bars to recognition within the church – but forming a loving and committed relationship with someone of the same gender is. The decisive issue, so it is claimed, is the Bible. But one wonders whether it is not more to do with an ideology about the Bible, privileging its claimants over other interpreters, than the text itself – which, like God, can be gloriously difficult to pin down.” The article: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/news_syndication/article_06118haggard.shtml The comment… Read more »

Dave Williams
Guest

By the way. We Evangelicals as humans are guilty of enough as it is so it would be helpful if we didn’t have to carry the burden of things we don’t wrongly believe. Evangelical Christianity doesn’t teach that God exhaustively reveals himself in his word. We believe that what he has chosen to disclose about himself is authoratively available there. We also happen to believe in general revelation as well as special! So no we don’t believe that God can be reduced to words, that is a misunderstanding of the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture as held by Evangelicals!… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

But you’re not talking about getting rid of certain teachings if they don’t conform to Scripture, you are saying that the claim that God is in some sense unknowable is unChristian! That requires getting rid of apophatic theology, which has played a major role in Christian theology for the past 1700 years. It IS arrogant to say that most of the major theologians that preceded the Reformation were wrong in their understanding of the omnipotence of God! We’re not talking about submitting to authority, I never said we shouldn’t. Neither did I say that the authority of Scripture shouldn’t control… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“We …. as humans are guilty of enough as it is so it would be helpful if we didn’t have to carry the burden of things we don’t wrongly believe……We believe that what he has chosen to disclose about himself is authoratively available there.”

Right back at you, Dave Williams.

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

Scripture itself bears witness to the more of God, and the more of God in Jesus – beyond canon scripture. Any believer who has at all closely and plainly read the New Testament knows about this witness. Anybody who has closely and plainly read the Old Testament through Jesus follower eyes also realizes that the foundation of all religious thinking is revelationally grounded for us in the first Jewish commandment as it were: Make no graven images unto yourselves that are comprehensively identical with me (God). Hence, bibliolatry. Given the pluralistic variety = some would say, sheer disarray = some… Read more »

Dave Williams
Guest

Drdanfee,

Evangelical Christianity certainly does say that the Bible points beyond itself to its author God :o)

Scripture is NOT equal with God or an alternative place for worship. Rather it is God’s word. God’s chosen method for communicating sufficiently about himself (2 Tim 3:16).

There then is a method for interpreting creation and what it tells us about God. The error is not to do that rather it is to rely on our own reason for this to expect some inner light to illuminate it. Rather, again, it is Scripture that explains God’s revelation in creation

Cheryl Clough
Guest

Dave I am so glad to hear that you are one of the evangelists that care for the environment (maybe that is why I have a soft spot for you?). At least you are not of the camp that used their offices earlier this year to pass out edicts to parishes that working on the environment was taking attention away from the godly activities. It has been wonderful to witness evangelists such as yourself and Rick Warren come out on things like the environment and AIDS, looking for proactive compassionate solutions rather than cudgelling intimidation or ignoring or denying problems… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
Guest

Oh. And what is love?

Would you risk your soul to save Jesus’?

And thus to redeem and reaffirm every principle that he lived and died for? Would you dare to contemplate challenging God for a new covenant, continuing on the best of Jesus and improving to meet new circumstances?

There are many of you who are stuck on what I am. For those who have moved to the next stage, the question being answered is why I am.

DaveW
Guest
DaveW

I basically agree with Ford Elmes posting of 8 November 2006 at 12:04am GMT.
“Well, God is paradoxically unknowable AND knowable. Our finite human minds cannot begin to comprehend the infinte God, yet He is profoundly knowable in Christ.” (eg. Matt 11;27 and John 8:20)
But of course Jesus does speak to us through His words in the Bible his teachings to the NT apostles disciples and writers, and so do the prophets, indeed the very idea that God is knowable and unkowable comes from the Bible as the record of His testimony

DaveW
Guest
DaveW

I my opinion Dave williams makes a good point in his post of 8 November 2006 at 6:22pm GMT but its not limited to ‘evangeleical’ I am not aware that any Christianity believes that God exhaustively reveals himself in his word. In fact I would say all Christians believe that ‘what he has chosen to disclose about himself is authoratively available there.’ So that would apply to protestants, Roman Catholics, orthodox etc in general. I think ‘getting involved in caring for the poor…’ etc is part of what Jesus taught, love God and love ones neighbour, and that Christians are… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

The question needs to be addressed: are pluralism and relativism self-refuting or aren’t they? The answer is: yes, they are, since pluralism must by its own principles see *itself* as no more valid an option than the others. And relativism must see *itself* as merely relative. Next question: Are there other philosophies in the world which are not self-refuting? Answer: Yes, many. So why bother with those that are? Pluralist mentions the differences in the world and the desire to understand and include. These are 3 quite separate points: (1) Differences: Just because people are different (and certainly all of… Read more »

Dave Williams
Guest

Cheryl, Re the environment-the problem was that a lot of Evangelicals got trapped into seeing the parousia as being when we all go to heaven -so this world goes and we end up -well in airy-fairy land if we are honest. As Tom Wright has commented -there’s a good dose of gnostic influence there. That’s why I believe that Christians shouldn’t simply be reformed (as in benefiting from the reformation) but constantly reforming. Well the good thing is that there’s a lot of good Bible teaching going on now saying “Hold your horses, God is interested in this world -it… Read more »

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

Ah, I once more disagree with these facile notions of pluralism or so-called relativism. You can no doubt read both terms in the preferred new conserved straw argument/definitional manner. Truth is, pluralism can better be read/defined provisionally as a prevailing best practice assumption about the status of all of our domains of knowing. This is a very old insight, akin to the letters telling us, we know in part and we understand in part, seeing through a glass, darkly. Relativism can be better read/defined as our pressing but fallible need to keep on, making our best efforts to inter-relate all… Read more »

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

If the scripture points beyond itself to God, and what a relief to find an evangelical believer who admits that starting point; then surely the next step is not to reify scripture again in an interpretive strategy that cannot trust and let go of closed religious authorities (while still deeply scrutinizing its own methods and motives and outcomes); but to meet and follow Jesus of Nazareth who is the fullness of God’s revelation, both in ancient near eastern time/culture, and in our own time/culture. One apparently cannot reduce the revelation complexities further, at least for the time being. Jesus both… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“Well the good thing is that there’s a lot of good Bible teaching going on now saying “Hold your horses, God is interested in this world -it is going to be renewed and recreated so it isn’t only a plaything for now.”” I’d say that’s far more than just “a lot of good Bible teaching”. I’d say that’s one of the themes of the Incarnation. It wasn’t just about justifying humanity, but about redeeming all of Creation, as it fell with us in the Fall it is redeemed with us in the Incarnation. This is also a theme of the… Read more »

Dave Williams
Guest

Dr Fee, The position that the Bible points to God is what you will find Evangelical Systematic Theologies saying (E.g. I have Grudem in front of me and it’s almost word for word, see also Jensen “The Revelation of God.”). So I’m surprised that you are surprised that an Evangelical is saying that. Either you mix with some badly taught Evangelicals, or they are explaining things badly or you’ve really badly misheard them! You see the point is stonger than it points beyond itself -as though it is a seperate entity in itself. Do my words point beyond themselves to… Read more »

J. C. Fisher
Guest
J. C. Fisher

“The question of whether or not God is knowable is best answered by scripture and if that means throwing away some “classics” then yes please do!” I must confess, Dave Williams (so “Dave Williams” and “DaveW” are two different Evs? Oy vey, the confusion! ;-/), you provoke a *reaction* in me which is positively Magisterial (or at least, flaming Anglo-Catholic)! ;-p *The Bible belongs to the Church*, that wonderful and sacred mystery, NOT the Church to the Bible! The Church created the Bible, not the other way ’round (suddenly having a certain sympathy for the patronizing Papist view that “if… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

I’m not sure about pluralism as best practice – but a practice of active toleration is better than not tolerating. It is more than about knowing, it is about the social and the institutional – even the tribal as a way we are organised and think because of how we are organised in our tribes and institutions. Relativism does go further, about how all that impacts into the world of ideas and thought forms when the plurality is so intense and immediate. The problem with which valid viewpoint is better than another is finding the basis for judging the valid… Read more »

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

One aspect of the larger point I am trying to make, DaveW (& others?), is perhaps that God is far greater than any fallible, culturally embedded human reading of scripture as such. A corollary to that cautionary starting place is that we cannot gain access to any communication of God, from God, that is not going to be heard by us as fallible and culturally embedded – because we are never not capable of fallibility (conditioned as humans are), nor are we ever, ever, ever, ever not standing beholden and embedded to the cultural realities that are our plural contexts,… Read more »

DaveW
Guest
DaveW

Dear drdanfee, When you ask whether God is greater than any fallible, culturally embedded human reading of scripture, I am sure God is. For example I cant comprehend a creator of the universe, but if one believes in the same God the writers of the Bible knew then ones believes God is greater because that’s what the Bible tells us. I completely disagree with your comment We can hear clearly form God through the word and through the Holy Spirit no matter what human culture. Men have already talked to God and have recorded what God has told them as… Read more »

Dave Williams
Guest

DrFee,

Within all the constraints of human fallability lets not forget that God communicates on the basis that he expects us to understand and that God the Holy Spirit helps us to understand!

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Anyone concerned with science or with history or with anything else that involves facts will often find pluralism and relativism more hindrance than help. OK we should bear in mind, and weigh carefully, all points of view that are supported by argument – but we have been doing that for centuries. That is not pluralism: that is just scholarship. Pluralism is the idea that somehow all of them have a right to be considered valid in some way: an idea that bypasses the entire scholarly enterprise. Obviously in science there are millions of wrong answers for every right one. There… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
Guest

Dave W Your response in understanding that God cares for the earth (as well as heaven) are a delight. CS Your arguments against pluralism and relativism fall over when you look beyond text books and fellow scholars’ endorsements. Go out and look at an ecosystem (Darwin found the Galapagos islands quite interesting). When one looks at ecosystems, God repeatedly affirms pluralism and diversity. For example, you will find animals evolving to suit vacant niches, sometimes with physical mutations being advantageous and endorsed in the DNA of their offspring. You will find animals that share the same niche, but neither becoming… Read more »

David Huff
Guest
David Huff

Dr. Shell wrote, “Pluralism is the idea that somehow all of them have a right to be considered valid in some way…”

No, pluralism is the idea that, in some circumstances, more than one of them has a right to be considered valid in some way.

And while your example of “examining what date Paul wrote to the Ephesians” is certainly true as far as it goes, not all theological questions resolve to similar black and white answers. And to reason as if they do is to commit the fallacy of the False Dilemma: http://www.fallacyfiles.org/eitheror.html

laurence
Guest
laurence

Paul didn’t write the Letter to the Ephesians, I am given to understand.

Dave Williams
Guest

Cheryl It seems you and the other Dave are discussing two different issues. You are talking about the type of plurality that there is and that there must be in creation, especially in a Creation that we would associate with a God who has plurality within him, in terms of many characteristics and indeed in the Christian Trinitarian God. Dave is talking about philosophical pluralism that claims that all truth claims are equally valid (David Huff is the first person I’ve heard in a long time to limit this). Essentially it is a consequence of modernism and the thought of… Read more »

Dave Williams
Guest

I’ve added an article to blog on whether God is unknown. I felt 400 words might be a bit short to do apophatic theology justice here. Readers will probably still find my answers simplistic -but that’s life, maybe I’ll balance out those who have written in an over complex way elsewhere!

http://davewilliams-random-thoughts.blogspot.com/

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Christopher Shell wrote: ”Suppose I am examining what date Paul wrote to the Ephesians. It is the height of absurdity to say that every possible answer that is given is worthy of consideration, or even (in most cases) that there can be more than one right answer, whether or not we are currently able to find it.” I beg your pardon? Paul did not write the theological treatise called “the letter” to the Ephesians. What you do when you pretend he did, is precisely saying that a different answer from the “one right answer” (the most probable/ least unlikely one)… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
Guest

Dave Thank you for that clarification. I will admit that I find existentialist type thinking absurd when taken too far. Contemplations about whether this is a desk that I am sitting at and a computer on which I am posting goes too far for me. I write, you read, therefore I am, and so therefore is the desk and the computer and the internet. In that sense, I would concur that pluralism and relativism can go too far and lead to excessive procrastination or “ostrich in the sand” cop outs. If I don’t see it, therefore it isn’t. If I… Read more »

Dave Williams
Guest

Goran, You are quite emphatic that Paul didn’t write Ephesians and I appreciate that there has been some scholarly debate over the authorship of a number of his epistles. However there is a strong view that he did write Ephesians. His authorship is claimed within the Epistle, there is nothing particularly unPauline in it to suggest he didn’t. Even liberals such as JAT Robinson go for an early and orthodox authorship of all of the NT. Indeed you have well and truly proved the point made because you are saying there is a right and a wrong answer. The fact… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Also, referring to the dating of texts, biblical or otherwise, the word “absurd” is out of place. There are a host of different criteria by way of which a text may be dated. The more criteria answered, the more likely the result. I just put some suggestions on by blog http://gkochswahne.blogspot.com But doing so – at least in theory – one may get more answers than one ;=) Not “absurd” but possible. Is the presence of Academic Greek idiomatisms in (present) “Romans” yet another indication that Marcion wrote 1/3 of it? Or simply that different levels/social strata/kinds of a language… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

The Relativism of Dave Williams’s comment strikes me as just as automatically distorting the truth as the Absolutism of Christopher Wells’s comment.

Both defending the same “certainties”…

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Cheryl- If you are speaking about diversity, I am with you 100%. I was not speaking of diversity but of the ideology of pluralism, namely a commitment to the idea that not only are plural positions to be considered (which would be quite correct) but also plural (and potentially contradictory) answers and solutions are simultaneously possible. Hi David- The date of Ephesians is not a theological question – not even 1% theological. It is an historical question. Hi Laurence and Goran: No pluralism on your part: you are 100% sure Paul did not write Ephesians. Unlike the academy which… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

Just to agree with Cheryl Clough about cultural diversity being similar to ecological diversity. It is actually more successful to carry some redundancy in any overall system, because an environmental change can make the redundant suddenly the ones to survive. The same is true with ideas and forms, that ideas seen to be barmy and developed in one corner or other, or different ways of organising social life, suddenly become relevant after a cultural environmental shift. This is the argument for society and protecting the marginal, weak and vulnerable. At a small cost the future may be protected. No doubt… Read more »