Comments: Lust for Certainty

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.

Posted by Dave Williams at Tuesday, 7 November 2006 at 9:38pm 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. 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 that is could be reduced to words. Talk about creating God in your own image!

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 12:04am GMT

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 Jesus in the same passage.

Love does and forgives. Hate accuses and ignores.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 1:58am GMT

"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." 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 their mere agreement!

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

Guess I better toss out my copy of "The Cloud of Unknowing", huh? Geez: here I thought it was a classic of *Christian* mysticism!

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 2:19am GMT

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 often associated with open evangelicalism, sometimes post-evangelical. However, there are going to be other models of revitalising churches and this more liberal approach seems to be one.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 2:28am GMT

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.


Posted by Jon at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 5:27am GMT

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 on what is equally important: a movement from discourse to silence, from silence to love, and from to praise. (That is from Marion's God Without Being by the way.) To fail to notice that is to fall into idolatry. The arrogance of uncertainty? More like the arrogance of (idolatrous) certainty biting back.

Posted by Ren Aguila at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 7:20am GMT

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 certainties. The hymn "I cannot tell" expresses those unarrogant certainties very well. There is plenty I do not know about but plenty I do know as well

Posted by Dave Williams at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 9:13am GMT

I used to be undecided -- but now, I'm not so sure

Posted by laurence at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 12:32pm GMT

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.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 1:30pm GMT

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 they are a reaching out and a bringing in; and rather than just saying, "I don't know," they say, "There might be something worth having in that."

For example, there are many structural parallels between Buddhism and Christianity, between Christ and how what came before and followed and Buddha and what came before and followed. But as well as sstructural parallels Buddhism has much to say about suffering, over-attachment, clarity of mind and ceasing attachment for benefit. I see no difficulty in taking that aboard in a pluralistic way, recognising the relativity of truths.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 2:31pm GMT

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).

Posted by Prior Aelred at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 2:47pm GMT

"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, for starters, and what can be contained in the Bible is only a drop in the bucket. Remember, the Bible says that all the books in the world couldn't hold all the stories of Jesus, and He is the emminently kn owable self revelation of God, He is the Word of God that the Bible: the words of God, tell us about.

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 3:03pm GMT


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 at the heart of Nicea and Chalcedon. Do we believe that Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God, do we believe that he is one person, two natures...

Posted by Dave Williams at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 4:12pm GMT

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.

Posted by Merseymike at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 4:47pm GMT

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.

Posted by laurence at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 4:59pm GMT

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:

The comment "...pluralism and relativism, which are self-refuting and would not be held by anyone were they not the philosophical dimension of a preferred ideology..." made me laugh. The same can be said of homophobia, misogyny, elitism and puritism. Especially if you are respectively a closet gay, a woman, a Nazi Jew, a corrupt priest - espousing a standard to which you can not meet yourself.

Actually, the tendency to acknowledge how your philosophy and actions might impact on reality and others is a strength, not a weakness. To embrace such philosophies is to work on removing the log from one's own eye, having the humility to know you don't have all the answers, having the grace to acknowledge others' strengths, and having faith that God works in ways that you can not always see or understand.

And my other contemplations is that Jesus promised that the Spirit of Truth would come to testify about Jesus (John 15:26). Like a scene out of the movie "A Few Good Men", Jesus warned us that many would not be able to handle the Truth (John 14:17). In part because the Truth will tell us what is to come (i.e. that which was not revealed by Jesus at that time) (John 16:13).

Then remember John's words 1 John 4:6 "...whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood." The last passage should be a warning to those who are not listening to the stories of GLBTs, and as the scandals of closet gays rock even the "purist" of organisations, maybe some listening might be in order?

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 5:33pm GMT

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!

Whilst on the topic. We are no more angry or argumentative than anyone else on this site or so it seems. We get involved in caring for the poor and the environment, engage in courteous conversation with people of other faiths, experience suffering and saddness... have a concern for God to be glorified and for people to be in relationship with him. We get things wrong, get embarressed, lose face... and sometimes our pride gets in the way and we can appear arrogant!

Posted by Dave Williams at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 6:22pm GMT

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 our thinking. I am saying that Scripture, up until the Reformation, was not seen as the sole repository of authority in the Church and the idea that God can be understood fully by any of us this side of the Parousia is a contradiction of what Christians have always understood. God is, by virtue of His infinite nature, in some sense incomprehensible to our finite human minds, and will be till the day when we "know as we are known". Yet, He IS knowable in Christ, who is God made flesh, and Scripture is the written icon of Christ, thus must play a major role in our understanding of Him.
The reformers may have, in some instances, thrown out the baby with the bathwater in their rush to innovate and remake Christianity, but I doubt Irenaeus would have rejected one of the major schools of Christian theology because it dared to say that the Bible isn't all there is to know about God.

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 8 November 2006 at 6:38pm GMT

"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.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 1:27am GMT

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 would say, pied beauty - of our current best practice understandings of the natural cosmos (including ourselves and our animal relatives), we are hardly in anything like a position to implement or pursue a unified discourse on natural reality yet, let alone divine reality.

If/when we achieve once again that unified natural, stable empirical descriptive and predictive discourse; then perhaps for a time we shall be able to discern a stable understanding of that natural description, speaking along with the divine poetry of revelation.

Fortunately, none of all that prevents us from meeting Jesus of Nazareth and following Jesus as Risen Lord, despite our fallible and conditioned human situation. How strange, still, is this continuing work of the Spirit - whose holiness blows wherever it will, and we see the signs of its breezing in all the leaves of all the trees though we steel ourselves not to make anything of what we see, both because it is not the Holy Spirit in all of God's selfhood compleat, and because nobody can find a plain proof text for this or that shaking, trembling leaf - no, not in the Old, no, not in the New Testaments.

To know God is to know and follow Jesus, period. So far as I know so far, we can start knowing and start following, from any one of a plethora of grace-filled occasions of encounter/allegiance; but we shall hardly come to the complete end of knowing and following in this life. Any alleged religious authority which does not point beyond itself to those realms is eventually doomed to irrelevance or to sheer ossification in service of legalisms and penalisms which are in themselves hardly the essence, let alone the sufficient whole, of our salvation.

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 5:21am GMT


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

Posted by Dave Williams at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 8:09am GMT


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 exist.

You are a breath of fresh air and I pray to see more of these kinds of evangelists.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 10:22am GMT

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.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 10:48am GMT

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

Posted by DaveW at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 11:39am GMT

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 supposed to love other Christians as Christ loved so demonstrating that love and showing Christ through His disciples.

Posted by DaveW at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 11:49am GMT

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 us are different) that does not mean there are as many valid worldviews as there are people. A worldview is something quite different from a person. Unless that is one's worldview is nothing but a projection from one's psyche which is precisely the danger.
How does the variety of people demand a variety of worldviews? There is no connection, and the only reason anyone could think there is a connection is that they are confusing worldviews with ideologies and wishes. People have a limitless variety of psyches, and of ideologies. But in what way does this demand a limitless variety of worldviews? After all, a worldview is something too big to be primarily concerned with individual psyches. Surely all people should subscribe to whatever worldview best fits the evidence (as opposed to their own preferences) - though there will be a degree of legitimate disagreement here.
(2) 'The desire to understand' - absolutely.
(3) 'The desire to include' - this too is self-refuting. Everyone has those whom they do not include; and why is the term 'include' so vague and ill-defined unless because it is masquerading as a laudable ethic while smuggling in permissiveness and/or self-refuting relativism?

Posted by Christopher Shell at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 12:56pm GMT


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 is going to be renewed and recreated so it isn't only a plaything for now."

Posted by Dave Williams at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 3:55pm GMT

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 the specialized domains of best practices, though we know in advance we shall fall short of the real and final whole, let alone the real and final divine whole. At least for the foreseeable time being as the underpinnings of western science continue to shift, evolve, and sometimes dissolve away.

So far as God communicating, surely our understandings of the cosmos that is (known according to provisional empirical best practices that are capable of eventual empirical self-correction) can overtly or keenly conflict with the received authoritative reading of scripture as to the same domain(s) that we have in this or that legacy view. This is precisely what makes the relationship of authorities between science and scripture a two-way street, not at all the one-way transmission of some special divine authority that always and ever simply says, Take God or leave God and be damned.

Another way to get at this distinction is to explore the differences between distinct ethical, mystical, and pseudo-empirical readings of scripture - versus the rush to collapse all of these distinct hermeneutics into one grand and externalized, stable religious authority that indeed answers to none of us, let alone to this or that silly piece of stable empirical findings. But our real history of such hermeneutic collapses demonstrates just how wrong they may be, and defending a flat earth view of the planet is as untenable a witness to the Jesus gospel as defending a flat earth view of human personality and society. Perhaps.

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 4:03pm GMT

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 fulfills the Abraham Covenant, and abolishes it, simultaneously - hence the Sabbath is made for humanity, not humanity for obedience to the oldest available rules of some written Sabbath. God is so good to us in Jesus that we can start following inside penal and legal frames, but surely these are not the fullness or the total of mature essential faith, any more than the secular legal law books are the total essence of the core concepts and values to which they point. Not least we learn these lessons afresh when we find tensions, complexities, and conflicts between/among our available provisional best religious authorities, discerning through the glass, darkly. Maybe. Prayerfully. Maybe. Together. Maybe.

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 4:08pm GMT

"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 theology of Sacraments.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 5:14pm GMT

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 me??? Rather lets be tighter -it is God's Word, it contains God's words, so God communicates through it. Therefore it's role is to get me to God. So it doesn't point beyond itself as an extra (I'm sure that's not what you meant but it helps to be watertight). That means I meet God when I read Scripture. Not simply that I learn about him.

I have to admit I'm not clear on what you mean by the rest of your post. It happens to me sometimes that the fingers and the brain operate at different speeds. Could you have another go at it?

Posted by Dave Williams at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 5:51pm GMT

"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 you can't play nicely w/ your toys, we'll take them away from you" *g*)

Scripture, Tradition (including "The Cloud of Unknowing"!) and Reason: *THAT* is the Anglican basis for determining Truth, for determining God's Will. "Sola Scriptura" (which is a misnomer anyway---it only means "My Scripture-Interpretation ALONE") is for the (heretical) birds!

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 8:28pm GMT

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 viewpoint. I may judge her viewpoint by mine, and she mine by hers, but this can only end up as a conversation or a power play. In terms of religion, there is no falsifiable method for knowledge as application (what works as knowing) and religion is really more like art. You cannot say that picture is better than this. All you can do is say this has an internal consistency (or not), and the other has an internal consistency (or not) and that, here and there, they have aspects in common and potential to give and take.

There is the potential for syncretism in places, and just as a dialect can become a language so a faith tendency can become its own religion.

My notion of including is that they can be included as being as us whilst they retain themselves as they. It means understanding that we have these different viewpoints, and these may be tribal (in one sense or other) but that we can still meet and get on.

In all of this there is the ethical argument; what the various beliefs lead to in terms of what people do. Then we can have a difficult debate and might even need to defend ourselves and others. Sometimes politics and force are unavoidable.

I notice in intercessions prayers for Christians and maybe say Christian-Muslim relations. I would include people of faith and faiths and none. We may be in different tribes but we are one world.

Posted by Pluralist at Thursday, 9 November 2006 at 11:02pm GMT

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, that are not part and parcel of our very human selves.

This keeps us at a minimum, open and provisional and self-scrutinizing - alone and together - when we identify and choose from among our available interpretive strategies. Thus, these unavoidable and seemingly given hermeneutic necessities are another aspect of the unavoidable human realities of meeting and following Jesus, with an intentional reading of scripture as one root source of proximal religious authority.

If I get it, so far, partly - the difference between my views and most evangelical ones that are explained to me is that most of the evangelical views do two things which I think are too fraught with danger and with hubris to gain my honest and willing Jesus freak allegiance. The first thing I cannot pledge is to give scripture a privileged place (and a fallibility free or culture free place?) as God speaking to me, while I deliberately ascribe lesser power to all my modern, non-scriptural means of best practice discernment, interpretation, and understanding. The second thing I cannot pledge is the flip side of the first doubtful pledge, that I should allow scripture to amend, correct, and discipline everything else, but that nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing shall ever permit me to reconsider what I am reading from scripture – either via a de novo, or legacy-conformed interpretive strategy.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 10 November 2006 at 4:59am GMT

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 Jesus spoke the words of the Father God. We know a lot about God nonetheless as Jesus taught us how to speak to communicate with God….(even though we may not communicate properly a good deal of the time.)
But Jesus was a Jew, the NT writers were middle eastern and yet I can travel the world and worship and pray and discuss God with believers from any culture because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Indeed thee are many cultures represented in my local church congregation.

Posted by DaveW at Friday, 10 November 2006 at 9:06am GMT


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!

Posted by Dave Williams at Friday, 10 November 2006 at 11:30am GMT

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 are also different ways of arriving at, and looking at, each right answer - but that does not gainsay the fact that for every right answer there are millions of possible wrong ones.
The same even applies in history. 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.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Friday, 10 November 2006 at 12:38pm GMT

Dave W

Your response in understanding that God cares for the earth (as well as heaven) are a delight.


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 extinct because one has the ability to refuge in an extreme the other can not tolerate or more general in its diet so that it is not dependent on one particular food that is the fetish of a more aggressive niche competitor.

Go and feed chips to a flock of seagulls or pigeons. You will see birds' behaviour based on aggression and survival traits, the birds know which ones to stay out of the way of and will eat after they are finished. Unfortunately, I saw one only the other week that was too timid and was literally starving to death.

You will also see that ecosystems that have lost diversity are less stable and resilient. The classic study of the island that had feasts and famines until a pack of wolves moved in and moderated the herbivore numbers. In Australia people sometimes find isolated water spots missing land animals, because a rogue cat moved in and ate everything before it died from starvation after exhausting its food source.

The dynamics on interplay between cultures, theologies, and philosophies is very similar. The consequences of excessive aggression, greed or diminished resiliency from too little diversity are similar. Some brilliant mathematician somewhere can probably prove they follow the same fractal pattern principles.

Cultural genocide is no less damaging than ecological or actual genocide and is equally despised by God.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Friday, 10 November 2006 at 5:33pm GMT

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:

Posted by David Huff at Friday, 10 November 2006 at 6:30pm GMT

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

Posted by laurence at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 12:03am GMT


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 kant leading into Existentialism and through people such as Foucault, Bartes and Derrida in terms of the deconstruction of language.

The issue then is what is knowable. It isn't simply that God is unknowable but rather that reality itself is unknowable. We cannot know the real world because we perceive things with preset catagories that we are born with. Whilst kant saw the present catagories as universal, that view seems to have died so that we all see things according to the views of a particular intepretative community.

That is different from respecting the different communities and cultures and variety. It is about our ability to communicate sanely on the basis that there is objective truth that it is possible to share in and that in consequence there is right and wrong

Posted by Dave Williams at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 8:12am GMT

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!

Posted by Dave Williams at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 8:15am GMT

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) is “worthy of consideration”.

In the case of deutero-Pauline Ephesians (and its identical twin of the opposite values, Colossians) Pauline authorship is hardly even possible. See the New Jerome p. 883f

“The author’s use of the genuine letters of Paul and of Col suggests a date late in the 1st cent. (AC 80-100) after the collection of the Pauline writings into a corpus.”

But then, the collected Pauline corpus also would have hade to be published and (not least) spread, in order to make the writing of “Ephesians” (and of Col) possible in the first place ;=)

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 9:23am GMT


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 don't make a decision, I am therefore not responsible.

I was reading Rabbi Jonathan Sack's book "To heal a fractured world" today. On page 121 he refers to a conundrum the Jews contemplated over who is responsible for sin - the individual or the society. He refers to the idea that if the sin is condoned by society (i.e. unjust laws and practices) then the whole society is condemned - this is what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah. Sacks refers earlier to that the reason Sodom was destroyed because they burnt a woman to death for giving charity, which was illegal in that society. However, if the laws are just and fair, then only the individual/s who undertake the acts and collude with the sin are deemed guilty.

This section of Sacks' book is also interesting because it looks at the idea of just societies in God's eyes, irregardless of their denomination or form of government. It is worth reading because it takes a perspective that faith has a place in public discourse. Perhaps going so far as to suggest that it is in the tension of dialogue that true justice can be found.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 9:48am GMT


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 that we disagree on what the right answer is doesn't mean that the right answer doesn't exist or that it can't be discovered or worked out.

It is interesting that with all this talk of what can and cannot be known and the attack on certainty that something that is blatantly opinion is asserted as fact.

You will also appreciate that those who accept it as Pauline -as in of the tradition of Paul will sometimes refer to what Paul wrote as "shorthand" for the author who wrote as Paul in the same way that they refer to what Matthew and Mark wrote.

Posted by Dave Williams at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 10:17am GMT

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

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 sometimes spill over into each other?

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 10:20am GMT

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"...

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 12:43pm GMT

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 is split on the issue (e.g., MBarth, the Robinsons and O'Brien favour authenticity, Schnackenburg, Best and Lincoln don't) Two questions are pertinent:
(1) You really believe it's more than likely that Ephesians and Colossians are not by the same person and delivered on the same trip of Tychicus? Or that Colossians and Philemon are not by the same person with precisely the same entourage? Or that someone forged Philemon (which is not even a public document) in Paul's own style for some unknown purpose?
(2) Why does Ephesians correspond precisely with what we know about the 'letter from the Laodiceans' (Col 4.16) in every particular while also (independently) being parallel to Col in so many ways; whereas the other letters of Paul somehow fail to have the first thing in common with the letter from the Laodiceans?

Of course multiple-author works can have two or more different dates. But the large majority of works are not multiple-author: hence I wrote that 'in most cases' it is the height of absurdity to say that more than one actual date is likely to be correct.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 1:24pm GMT

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 in our ecological past there were human beings whose legs were overdeveloped for tree life and who were a bit of a nuisance in planning ahead when life was always the same. Pretty useful later on.

Those of us who cultivate minority theological ideas might just have a future.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 2:37pm GMT

Dear Cheryl,
Thank you for your post,
Sadly there are scholars and scholars. I must thank Dave Williams for his statement, neither do I think we are talking about the same thing

Dear Goran,
You are wrong in fact, Paul did write the letter to the Ephesians, I have the original in my loft.
But seriously though. I am convinced like most scholars that he did

Posted by DaveW at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 2:46pm GMT


Thanx for another interesting post. One slight quibble. Whilst who wrote Ephesians is a historical issue it still is a theological one too because if I believe Paul didn't write it and other documents it will no doubt affect my theology. For example I was listening to someone the other day raise the issue about what the Pastorals have to say to the debate about Paul's Theology. They simply are ignored from the debate in his opinion (by all sides). Maybe it is time for an "Even Newer Perspective on Paul" who is up for that? I'm a little way off getting to do my PHD and I'm more interested in getting into Gospel criticism if and when I do -so any one up for it you get first refusal -otherwise I might have to change my mind!


We are going to have to watch that we don't agree too often or rumours will start that either I've gone soft or you've about to go fundi -but thanx for the Chief Rabbi tip off I do admire him as a very clear and thoughtful theologian

Posted by Dave Williams at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 6:09pm GMT

Now we are having one Absolutist, one Relativist and one Convinced.

All certain of the same "certainties" ;=)

Not my line of buisness, I'm afraid. I have to refer you do Drs Fee and Mercy.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 7:31pm GMT


For the record I'm very firmly in the Paul as author camp!


Posted by Dave Williams at Saturday, 11 November 2006 at 11:11pm GMT

And conversely, Dave Williams and Christopher Shell,

if one believes the Pastorals to have been written a century later by Polycarp's boys at Smyrna, to change the message of the real Paul into its pro World, pro monarchical episcopate, pro congregational discipline opposite, this would (in places) effect the understanding also of authentic letters.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 12 November 2006 at 7:28am GMT

Dear Goran,
But if not it wouldn't, Any evidence that Polycarp's boys changed it in the way you say?

Posted by DaveW at Sunday, 12 November 2006 at 3:26pm GMT

Christopher, it is good to see some common ground but I am bemused by "...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."

But the bible often ask us to hold in tension two apparently contradictory ideas at once. A wise minister’s wife once commented that it is like walking along a railway track. There are two lines to stay within bounds. Crossing on one side leads to one set of problems but veering too far and crossing on the other side leads to another set of problems.

It is further compounded when one takes into account the layers of interpretation in the bible. So something can appear to be untrue in this space time continuum is actually valid in a metaphysical context. For example Ezekiel's vision of the dead coming to life might be untrue in this space-time but is valid at a metaphysical level. Then there are the cherubim of the ark whose interactions are not bound to space and time.

Sometimes a pattern can occur as a confirmation of something that is to happen in the future. E.g. Jesus early surprise at the Gentiles eager response to him (he started out telling the disciples to only go to the Jews e.g. Mathew 10:5-6). However, when the gentiles also responded Jesus included them in his ministry. That makes particular sense if one accepts that God made the Daughter of Zion to be his soul mate (her brief was always to the Gentiles, the outcastes and the afflicted).

Let no man split asunder that which God has bound, and God deems two conjoined souls as a one. Each bears the consequences of the other's mistakes, as well as the gifts and acknowledgements that belong to the other. God makes soul mates to complement one another. So if one is perfection, planned, ordered and steady; then the other will be fallible, creative, innovative and pragmatic.

God exhorts us to be our best but loves us at our worst. God gives us freedom to make choices but restrains us when we would destroy ourselves. God hates sin, but then intervenes to create a way to forgive us from our sin (even though we don't deserve it).

These are examples of embracing two contradictory paradigms as both are valid.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 12 November 2006 at 8:49pm GMT

Christopher you are confusing poor scholarship and biased thinking with pluralism ---again !

Posted by laurence at Sunday, 12 November 2006 at 11:14pm GMT

A question: if the Scriptures are the inspired word of God, then why argue over who wrote the words down? Does it really matter if Paul wrote Ephesians or if it was some unknown author? I mean, they're actually God's Word, not the words of men, right?

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 13 November 2006 at 3:36pm GMT


The issue about who wrote what when can become a red herring.

The real issue is not who wrote what when but who decided what would be retained when.

Many books and holy texts have been edited or removed from the bible. The process of editing brings in subjectivity.

It is also why when scholars say Jesus was "silent" on things that I don't worry about what they say Jesus didn't endorse. Jesus did not decide what of his ministry would be recorded in history. It was men (and a few women) at various times deciding what was palatable and useful for their generation.

There is subjectivity in the conservation of holy texts, just as there is scientific testing, running governments, raising a family.

The intellectual and moral high ground goes to those who are honest and acknowledge this subjectivity and editing.

Don't let the solo scripturists paint you into a corner, their barn is a deck of cards. Use you foot and push, the whole thing falls over and there is a green lush field waiting for you and those caught in the same pen as yourself.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 13 November 2006 at 7:36pm GMT


Sort of but

1. The guys who were confirming the canon of scripture were going on the basis of authorship and the writer says he is Paul -so here it is to do with trustworthiness -are these reliable, credible documents
2. It relates into the question, were the Church affirming documents that were already accepted as Scripture or were they controlling and deciding what was scripture. So in other words does scripture have authority over the church or the church have authority over scripture -if it decided arbitarily then it does.
3. Authorship is often a cover argument for date. If it wasn't Paul it probably was late by someone or someones who weren't involved in the formation of the church and had no direct access to eyewitnesses of Christ. It also is a cover for "These aren't inspired they are human words"

Hope that helps


Posted by Dave Williams at Monday, 13 November 2006 at 10:02pm GMT


You can't do better than read THe New Testament Documents by FF Bruce. He was Professor of Biblical Studies at Manchester and founder of the Biblical Studies department at Sheffield University so not some random fundamentalist :O)

There are a lot of conspiracy stories around about the new testament at the moment especially by the Dan Brown school of thought. Well its worth having a read of some documents that are being held up as alternative claimants to the New Testament -most of them badly written and unreadable babble :o)

Posted by Dave Williams at Monday, 13 November 2006 at 10:06pm GMT

First, it wasn't some guys checking authorship for trustworthiness that decided the Christian canon, but the Spirit guiding us into all truth, as the Spirit always does. Second, they weren't affirming what was already considered Scripture, they were discerning what was Scripture from a mass of stuff that had varying degrees of relationship to the Truth they had seen and lived. So the Church has control over Scripture, but a decision guided by the Spirit is anything but arbitrary!

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 2:40am GMT

Indeed FF Bruce is probably most widely quoted as an expert in this area amoung theologians and historians. Dan Brown's proposals have been widely rejected by theologians and hsitorians and increasingly proposed by people I have noticed.

Posted by DaveW at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 7:58am GMT

No body needs conspiracy theories. Find a good website that lists the missing books.

Historians and novelists can spin the story of how and when they were excluded. But excluded they were.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 8:33am GMT

Re exclusions from the Bible:
Not everything can be included within two covers. However much I muight think 'Animal Farm' or 'Pride and Prejudice' worthy of inclusion in the Bible there have to be certain criteria.

The point of saying this is that there is a difference between 'actively excluded' and 'not included'. Very few works were actively excluded: most were simply never considered for inclusion in the first place. Why not? Authorship and date.

Thus our NT quite possibly contains the 27 earliest surviving Christian works. only a few others have been touted to fall in this category: e.g. Didache, Clement, Thomas.

The public which loves conspiracy theories has fallen for this one hook line and sinker.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 9:07am GMT

Dear Cheryl Clough,
I think you would accept that good historians dont spin the story of how and why some texts were included and excluded, they refer to the reasons given. There is also considerable debate about the books of the Bible. Personally I think too much credance ahs been given in recent years as to the linguistic styles, I believe the claimed authors of the works were so and there was some scribing. Indeed 2 Peter implies that and I wouldnt deny the probability that Peter was assisted with 1 Peter.
But the historic apostlic Christian faith remains that for Christians, there may well be those for whom a different gospel than the one delivered by Paul and company is valid but that would hav to be something other than Christianity.

Posted by DaveW at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 9:43am GMT

Not sure what you mean? Pls elaborate. An unargued commitment to postmodernist pluralism may be a *root* of some poor scholarship and some unwarranted biases, but a root and its fruit are not the same thing, tho' connected.

Hi Cheryl
the fact that the Bible (and even science) contains apparent paradoxes is evidence of the fact that we don't yet know everything or have a complete 'system'. no surprise there: we already knew that we dodnt know everything. So apparent paradoxes should occasion no surprise. Postmodernism however would have us believe that there is something intrinsic about some paradoxes which means that they will always remain paradoxes. How do we know that? It certainly breaks the first rule of logic: noncontradiction. For example, light being both a wave and a particle is no longer considered a paradox, presumably because we previously looked at this matter using the wrong frame of reference.

With improved and more detailed explanation paradoxes can be seen to be noncontradictory. Take the one in Php 2.12-13 'Work out your own salvation...for it is God who works in you'. Experience gives us no reason to deny either half of this, and with a bit of unpacking many ppl could give an account of how these two things could be logically compatible.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 12:29pm GMT


Well that is the argument that tries to put the church in control of the Bible! That the Holy Spirit gave people the ability to discern and decide this book is in this book isn't.

However what you find is that criteria including authorship -and usage in the church mattered. There are real earthy criteria -real arguments, real checking.

To assume that God told a council what was in and what was out is to make as equally a historically wrong conclusion as to say that there were conspiracies to keep stuff out.

Posted by DaveWilliams at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 6:15pm GMT


Find a good website and accuse the historians of spinnig -sounds like a conspiracy theory if ever there was one!

Honestly you can't beat reading the guys that have been doing the work on the subject! Blomberg and NT Wright are contemporaries who have a lot to say on the subject

Posted by davewilliams at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 6:18pm GMT

"Thus our NT quite possibly contains the 27 earliest surviving Christian works. only a few others have been touted to fall in this category: e.g. Didache, Clement, Thomas."

Thomas? Can't help but feel that's pretty late, looking at the content. Hermas, another (and, of course, it almost made it).

A bigger issue, though, is the arbitrary exclusion of the apocryphal/deuterocanonical works. If they were good enough for the first Christians (and one might argue they were included in the 'all scripture is inspired by God...' of Timothy), why the unease concerning their use in some Christian circles? Odd.

Posted by mynsterpreost at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 6:18pm GMT


You've convinced me. I'll look up the authors this weekend :-) I just try to avoid conspiracty theories. There's enough collusion to protect face by priests and other power brokers and God's been busting enough shams in recent times that one doesn't need any conspiracy theories.

CS. There are sometimes texts that are excluded by one group and not another. For example I have been told that the Book of Susanna or Bel is in the Good News Version of the bible but not the NIV. Then we have our Dutch friends who only a matter of weeks ago published a bible removing the confusing passages that caution against selfish prosperity.

And on the thing of paradoxes indicating we don't know everything, I don't agree with that paradigm. The grand theory of everything acknowledges that not everything fits into one model or explanation. There are boundaries and areas of turbulence where one the ascendency of set of rules or another is not clear cut.

I was also thinking about this in terms of God made Eve from Adam. Adam was alone - an amoeba if you like, as anything that came from him was like him. When God introduced Eve, reproduction became the blending of two different entities with genetic variation and unpredictable outcomes. To want to return to "perfection" is actually a form of self-love and rejection of the other, even when you have contributed to the offspring created.

I don't think it is a coincidence that the males who reject the feminine also tend to hate in other ways as well (e.g. homophobia, xenophobia, cruelty to animals, indifference to creation). They long to return to a world where they are in a primordial soup of themselves. But that is an evolutionary dead end.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 7:36pm GMT

mynsterpost I would go with a late dating for Thomas too.

Sayings 12 and 13 are concerned with leadership of the community, the claims of James the Just and of Thomas himself. If Thomas was early and the "orthodox" to want to respond by making it clear that leadership was through Peter, especially if the canonicals are late. Rather we see Thomas being explicit about the leadership issue whilst the canonical books leave it much more up in the air, Peter has its strengths as a spokesman but his weaknesses too. James chairs a council. Paul has a widespread influence. But there isn't an out and out argument for one man's supremacy.

Then there is saying 30 which Stephen Davies thinks is a rebuke against the Trinity. Only some use if a doctrine of the Trinity is being articulated to some degree.

It also only makes sense if you have some backstory to it. The writer seems to be assuming some knowledge of the tradition that people will know who these disciples are and why they are talking with Jesus. In that respect it strikes me as subversive. I'm increasingly thinking that the Gnostics beat Derrida to deconstruction by a lot of years!

Posted by dave williams at Tuesday, 14 November 2006 at 9:41pm GMT

Dave Williams,
Of course the Spirit guided them by things like dates, claims to authorship, linguistic and writnig styles, etc. Also by whether or not the books taught what the early Fathers knew to be the Christian faith. It wasn't some sort of seance, you're right, but it wasn't a rubber stamping of what everyone knew to be Scripture either. I'm sure you're not saying the Spirit DIDN'T guide them in their task of producing the canon of Scripture. But there were a lot of groups around, all with writings they considered to be Scripture. To suggest that there was one more or less accepted body of writings that simply needed a bit of trimming is not accurate. I'm not some conspiracy theorist, neither am I some sort of Dan Brown fan. One can accept that the situation was a complex one without being either. The church gave us the Bible, the Bible didn't give us the Church. You seem to be claiming the exact opposite.

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 15 November 2006 at 4:30pm GMT


I'm not arguing the opposite. I am simply not arguing that the Church produced the canon.

I would rather say that "The Spirit gave the canon" which is another alternative.

That isn't to disagree that there was a process and it was messy at times.


1. There was a lot of commonality -more than is being suggested by some today
2. They didn't just pick up books and pray and then say alright that one is in. Rather they looked at evidence -was it associated with an apostle, was it widely used. Was it regarded as authorative? That's why I'm saying that it wasn't the Church producing it.
3. FF Bruce is very strong in saying that they put the books in that were regarded as authorative rather than that those books that were put in became authorative

Posted by dave williams at Wednesday, 15 November 2006 at 10:20pm GMT

Dave Williams
But isn't the Church the body of believers filled with the Spirit? I would agree with nearly everything in your last post, actually, including "the Spirit gave the canon". Yes, there was a lot of commonality, and yes they didn't just pray over a book and that was it. And yes, they included what was authoritative. The question is, how did they know it was authoritative? Because it taught what they knew to be true, from the Tradition they had been given, under the guidance of the Spirit. That's why I'm saying the Church gave us the Bible, the Bible didn't give us the Church. We seem to have much the same understanding of the process, but attach very different significance to it. You are also put in the position of justifying the Reformers, in many cases, rejecting the Septuagint in favour of the Mosaic canon. Those who formulated the Canon did the opposite, feeling the former to be more authoritative.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 16 November 2006 at 12:09am GMT


1. If you assume that there was a long oral tradition and then books emerge from that tradition then the test is by the oral tradition.

2. If the books were being written whilst the Apostles were still alive then there wouldn't be a need to check it against a later oral tradition, it would have been seen as authorative from publication.

3. The key is whether those books were Scripture before the Church recognised the canon or whether it was Scripture only once declared to be. It seems that when you look at the adhoc and occassional lists that appeared prior to any formal decision to agree a canon that people were recognising that the books were already Scripture and acknowledging common acceptance.

4. At those points where some books were disputed does that mean that they weren't Scripture? No! They are Scripture not because the Church gave to us but because God inspired the writers to write Scripture.

Therefore it is fundamentally wrong to say that the Church gave us Scripture. God gave us Scripture and the Church has affirmed that.

Posted by dave Williams at Thursday, 16 November 2006 at 10:54am GMT

Hi Mynsterpreost

There have always been fuzzy edges re what is and is not apocryphal/pseudepigraphal. Just as there are fuzzy edges in naming the 12 tribes or 12 apostles. 85-90% is undisputed in each case - but there are fuzzy edges among those whose case for inclusion is less clear cut.
The Jewish canon was fixed around 100 AD. Broadly speaking the works first written in Hebrew (and/or before c400-300 BC) made it and those first written in Greek (and/or after c400-300 BC) did not.
So - if you wrote in Hebrew before that date and your work survived then you count as inspired scripture. Which doenst count as much of a quality check. But you see my point. Canonicity is all to do with date and closeness to the events described, nothing to do with literary or spiritual quality.

I assume you were referring to OT not NT apocrypa/pseudepigrapha, since the NT ones were not written at the time of 2 Tim 3.16.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Thursday, 16 November 2006 at 12:36pm GMT

Dave, I agree that by the time it became necessary to define the Christian canon, a good many of the books were generally accepted as Scripture. The canon was always the divinely inspired words of God, it didn't become so only when the Church recognized it for what it was. As you admit, some books were disputed. They were still Scripture, I agree, still God breathed, but the compilers of the canon still debated over them. I am not saying God didn't give us Scripture, why would you say that? I am not saying the Church didn't affirm what God gave. The very fact that the Church needed to be led to discern what God had given us from all the stuff that was available is what I mean by saying the Church gave us the Bible. But the Church, as Spirit filled body of believers, is the way that God acted to define what writings were His words and what weren't. Thus, the Church gave us Scripture, identified what was from God. Thus, as well, God acts within the Church to explain what His words mean.

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 16 November 2006 at 1:33pm GMT


If God gave scripture and those books were already objectively scripture then I'm not sure how we can talk about the Church giving us scripture. We seem to agree that it wasn't a special council convened to acknowledge something new.

Therefore it is right to say that "God gave Scripture to the Church" with a responsibility to teach it.

Watch a parent giving a child its presents at Christmas. It unwraps each in turn and delights in it. He likes some more than others, some he nearly disgards. At the end he picks up the pile of presents and puts them together into his room and declares that he gave himself the presents!

So lets stick with a clear statement that God gave Scripture to the Church. That seems to be the best basis for drawing any theological interpretations!

Posted by dave Williams at Thursday, 16 November 2006 at 3:34pm GMT

God inspired people to write His words. Other people jumped on the bandwagon and wrote things that were not Divinely inspired, but claimed to be. The church recognized the "real McCoy" in some writings from a very early time. Others, She had to debate about, and seek God's guidance about. She didn't write them, but, with God's help, She discerned the truth of them. I'm not sure what we're disagreeing over here, unless it's authority. I'm not sure why it is so unthinkable for you that the Church was able, with God's guidance, to identify the gold from the dross, so to speak. My understanding is that this is the traditional understanding of Scripture. To say that the Church gave us Scripture is not to say God didn't give it to us, since the Church is the body of believers filled with the Spirit, and the Spirit led us to discernment of the Scripture, and the Spirit is God. God led us to discernment of what He had inspired people to write. You seem to be saying He handed it to us with us having no role at all other than passive recipient. Am I right, or am I missing something?

Posted by Ford Elms at Thursday, 16 November 2006 at 7:39pm GMT


Yep -definately missing something -because I've explicitly argued against the idea that it landed on a plate!

Yes the issue is authority here!

But first of all you seem to be describing one thing -The Church being given the Bible by God and then calling it something else -The Church giving the Bible to....someone!

Back to the authority issue. If we stick at "God gave the Scripture to the a discerning Church who knows his voice" then we seem to be sticking to the idea that Scripture is God's word -so it is about God authoratively communicating with us.

Alternatively we can say that the Church gave us the Bible -under God's guidance obviously but still the emphasis moves from God speaking to us through the Bible to the Bible becoming a tool for the Church to use.

If it does then authority is no longer about God speaking objectively to the Church through Scripture.

So then where does authority come from?

Is it that the Church leaders have that authority? But then who corrects them when they go wrong? Maybe they can't?

Or is it an inner light within each individual church member -but then how do you settle disputes. Not by Scripture because that would place it in authority over us!

Or is that when we go back to the beginning of this debate and decide that we therefore cannot know anything for certain!

Posted by dave williams at Thursday, 16 November 2006 at 10:53pm GMT

Yes, Scripture is about God authoritatively communicating with us, I never said it wasn't. You ask where authority comes from, then seem to be suggesting that the Church is merely a body of people who do what God has told them, via Scripture, to do. I would argue that the Church is the icon on Earth of the Kingdom of God. It is the body of believers filled with the Holy Spirit. So, authority is vested in the Church because the Spirit fills the Church and gives the Church authority. That's not exactly a new concept. The authority comes from God. Your idea of putting all authority in Scripture seems to come from a mistrust of human fallibility. I would agree, except when we trust the authority of the Church we are not trusting to humans, but to God who fills His Church and leads Her into all truth. To deny this and claim that authority lies with Scripture seems to me to deny the work of the Spirit. Individual humans, individual bishops are fallible. The process by which the Spirit leads the Church is very slow, and requires us to have these often noisy and heated debates. The problem with us today, as has happened so often before, is that we aren't listening to our Guide. We are all, on both sides, so full of the righteousness of our particular understanding of Scripture and of our eagerness to yell at those with whom we disagree that we don't listen to the God who has told us He will be with us till the end of time. The Church has not always proven trustworthy, but that's because She hasn't always listened in meekness to the Spirit. We're not doing it now, either.

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 17 November 2006 at 12:36pm GMT


But how does God lead the Church. How does he speak to the Church? This is the crunch isn't it. Here I am talking about a community in a living relationship with a God who speaks oh so clearly to them against all the background on this thread about us not being able to know God and you try to reduce my understanding of this amazing body in relationship with God to "merely a body of people who do what God has told them, via Scripture" How could you possibly attach the word merely to such a high view of church.

So now we are in an interesting position. On the one hand we this Church that because it is God's Church filled by his Spirit and spoken to clearly. But what do we have on the other hand? I'm still not sure!

Is it that there are God annointed people who fulfill some form of charismatic office and then pronounce judgement? Or is it that there is agreement amongst everyone? But then what if we don't reach agreement? Have we failed to hear God or just some of us? Or can we rely on a specific group of people to agree because they are the church whilst others disagree because they are outside?

Again a very simple question. When it comes to the crunch where do you go for ultimate authority is it to the church or to the Bible?

Posted by dave williams at Friday, 17 November 2006 at 1:42pm GMT

I use the word "merely" because you did not give a very high view of Church, IMNSHO. You are saying that God speaks "oh so clearly" through Scripture, I think. Obviously not so clear, or else we wouldn't be in the fractured state we are in. Even those for whom the word of Scripture is "oh so clear" do not agree on what it means. There IS a God annointed body, it's called the Church. As far as I'm concerned, THAT'S the high view. As to how the authority of the Church is manifested, that is answered in different ways. For Rome, it is concentrated in the Pope. For the Orthodox is it concentrated in the Church as a whole. See Fr. Kallistos Ware's The Orthodox Church for a discussion of their understanding of authority. At the Reformation, in response to the obvious errors that had come into the faith, the idea arose that authority is found solely in Scripture. That, however, is not the Catholic Faith, it is not Orthodox. Scripture as an important part, perhaps the most important part, of Holy Tradition, but it is Holy Tradition, received and transmitted by the Spirit filled body of believers which is the Church, where authority lies. I am not saying Scripture is irrelevant, or not to be obeyed. I'm not saying there is no authority to which we must submit. I'm not saying the Anglican Church is getting it right now or ever. I'm just saying that I do not agree that all authority is vested in Scripture, and for 1500 years, no-one in Christianity did either. Question: Do you understand the Church to be the Spirit filled body of believers, if so what does that mean for you, if not, what is the action of the Spirit?

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 17 November 2006 at 5:17pm GMT


1. I asked you how authority works in the church not how different people are doing it!

2. Obviously I disagree with you on the reformation. I realise that people quickly brought other forms of authority into play and that that increasingly competed with Scripture but I don't think that because for certain parts of those 1500 years that therefore the reformation was wrong. Even during those 1500 years people would have seen Scripture as having primacy over other authorities

3. Our fracturedness is a sign of our sinfulness not God's lack of clarity. Let's not try and excuse ourselves by blaming him! For example the fracture at the reformation wasn't because the Bible wasn't clear but because listening to it would have meant the Pope giving up his cash cow!

4. Yes I do think that the Church is the Spirit filled body of believers and have never ever said anything that would or could imply otherwise! I believe that the Bible is God's word and that the Spirit is God one of the persons of the Trinity. I believe that he inspired Scripture and I believe that therefore it is his work on the believer that enables him to understand it. I believe that each believer can hear God speak for himself in that he doesn't need a priest to intervene. However I believe -and you can see plenty about this on my blog that the best place to study Scripture is in the context of the community, both contemporary and historical.


Posted by Dave Williams at Friday, 17 November 2006 at 9:08pm GMT

1. I answered you, authority is vested in the Church.
2. I'm not suggesting the Reformation was wrong, but the idea that all authority is vested in Scripture is a Reformation era innovation. If you are going to espouse an innovation from the Reformation as Truth, then that has implications for how you repsond to what you see as modern innovations.

3.The Reformation was a reaction against Papal abuses, but the fracturedness WITHIN Protestantism isn't about that. There are many groups of Protestants that preach sola scriptura. If Scripture is so clear, why can't they all agree?

4. The idea that it is up to the individual believer to interpret Scripture for himself is another innovation of the Reformation.

You certainly show the Lust for Certainty that is the topic of this thread, Dave. Rather than listen to gay people telling you how the Church has and still is oppressing us, you tell us that what we know from experience to be true is actually false. Is this because you are afraid that to listen to us might make you doubt the certainty of Scripture? It needn't. You don't have to repudiate the truth of the Bible to acknowledge that the Church has been oppressive of us. Listening to us, to how we have been wounded by the Church and the world might even help you find ways to preach your message in a way that gays can hear. You won't do it by denying what we know to be true. You can't heal anybody's hurt by pretending they aren't actually hurt.

Posted by Ford Elms at Saturday, 18 November 2006 at 11:29pm GMT


1. Firstly where on earth did that last paragraph come from. How on earth has our discussion here had anything to do with homosexuality??? Apart from anything I'm the one defending the authority of Scripture your the one placing authority with the Church! For the record your accusation is wrong and personally I would consider it malicious. An attempt to malign my character on this thread in order to win the argument. I hope that we can resume a proper discussion of the topic at hand without making such off topic and personal accusations.

2. I asked specifically how authority then works in the church. You gave me several theories but didn't explain how it should work. Come on play ball Ford. It's a straightforward and easily answerable question

3. I answered the question on why Christians disagree on what Scripture says in part earlier -which was to point to human fallibility and sin. That doesn't mean the Bible is unclear. It means we have to really work together at understanding it! Clear doesn't necessarily mean that everything will always be immediately easy to understand. But it does mean that there is clarity there and it is possible to understand -even if it takes a long time!

4. So what if something was a reformation innovation! The question is was it right or wrong under the authority of Scripture and that is the test for any innovations today!

5 The Reformation was much more than a reaction to papal abuses!

Posted by dave williams at Sunday, 19 November 2006 at 6:03pm GMT

I wasn't trying to be malicious, and certainly not to malign your character, but you are absolutely right, I shouldn't have said what I said, and I apologize.

As to authority, I thought I had given a clear answer: authority is vested in the Church. I didn't think what I had given were theories, but examples of how different traditions understand the way in which authority is vested in the Church. It is a messy process in which the people of God discern His will. I believe Scripture is a very important part of the process, but not the only part.

Human fallibility and sin certainly do cloud our understanding of Scripture, which is why we trust to the Church as a whole to guide its interpretation. Individuals may misunderstand and then, because of pride, refuse to let go of their error. If we trust to God to guide the Church as a whole, that won't happen.

You seem to be saying the same thing here:

"It means we have to really work together at understanding it!"

Again, I'm sorry for the last paragraph in the previous post. I think I may have attributed to you statements made by other people named Dave on other threads, and then gotten all worked up. It was wrong of me to do so and to speak in that manner. I also don't think there's much to be gained from further discussion between us. The things you find comforting in sola scriptura are the very things I find discomforting. The things I find most comforting about my position are the very things you find discomforting. I consider authority to be vested in the Church, you in Scripture. We won't change each others minds. We both, I think, see ourselves as standing solidly in the tradition.

Posted by Ford Elms at Sunday, 19 November 2006 at 8:08pm GMT


Thanks for your apology. For the record I'm always ready to listen to people and their accounts -Christians in the Church are not perfect and we can easily end up hurting each other. Whatever our opinions on the rights and wrongs of specific issues such as homosexuality that is no excuse for deliberately causing hatred, hostility and hurt.

Secondly it might help you to know that I find sola scripture both comforting and discomforting at times we actually need to be made to feel uncomfortable.

We agree on the point that understanding Scripture is something we do together. I think the question with "The Church as authority" that remains is you haven't really given it any authority after all if you think about it. Just different people working together to understand what God is saying to them. Maybe that's intentional. In that sense we are perhaps closer to agreement than we have realised so far. The question then is more about how God speaks to us.

In the end it is God who has authority and that's really what is meant by the authority of Scripture -that God speaks to us with the authority that comes from him being God. So his words then have authority because they are his words. It isn't an abstract authority in the Bible

Posted by dave williams at Monday, 20 November 2006 at 1:47pm GMT

I know what I said about not continuing this discussion, but I'm talking and I can't shut up! I agree our faith needs to challenge us as well as comfort us. It's quite a challenge to vest authority in a Church that often seems to not get it at all!

We agree that our fallen human nature can have difficulty understanding Scripture, and, as you said, we all have to work together to understand. For me this means the Church, the people of God, struggles to discern the meaning of Scripture. Whenever we meet in councils/synods/whatever, we ask for the Spirit's guidance. How much of that guidance we receive is directly proportional to how much we put ourselves aside and listen. I don't think we're doing much of that in our current debate. This, for me, is the meaning of the Church having authority. It is not just some group, it is the community of the baptised seeking the guidance of God to understand the faith, and Scripture is an important part of that process, but it isn't the only one. Its contents also don't encompass the entirety of the faith. Oh, and BTW, the Reformation in England was quite conservative in comparison to that in other parts of Europe, but I think even in England it threw out the baby with the bathwater. I suspect your opinion is different:-)(can we just agree to disagree jovially on that one?)

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 20 November 2006 at 5:24pm GMT

Hi Ford,

I'm always happy to disagree jovially. And yes I would have a different intepretation on the English reformation but maybe that's one for another day and another blog!

Posted by dave williams at Monday, 20 November 2006 at 9:55pm GMT
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