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January 10, 2008

Comments

Don't judge a book by its title.

Now, a title could be offensive or immoral in and of itself, although the work would probably substantiate rather than exonerate a "bad" title - a racist, sexist, profane, hateful, or anti-Christian title, for example.

There is a nuance in both of these titles that Steve has not mentioned - presenting an ostensible meaning that is quite different from the actual meaning. There is a kind of a double-entendre in both titles (more clearly in Greg's) that piques the reader's ire as much as his curiosity. "Is this Chrisian apologist really against the Bible? I've got to read and find out." Then, lo and behold, he turns out to affirm what he appeared to be denying. It is a bit of a bait and switch, which I agree is clever and catchy, and a fine idea. An innocuous deception that we get to share with the writer, rather like a joke with an extended punch-line.

Unfortunately, people these days (both Christians and non) have such a short attention span that a title is all they can even absorb.

I like it when a title tells you what the writing is actually about. Greg and Moreland's titles my draw attention just because they are provocative, but they both do it by being misleading. I find that annoying. Ravi Zachariah's titles annoy me more than anything, because you never have a clue what he's going to write about just from his title.

The reason I like titles that tell you what the writing is about is because sometimes I'm looking for a written pieces on a certain topic, and sometimes you have nothing but the title to go on. I don't want to waste a lot of time reading if there's something specific I'm looking for.

Of course, these are all just personal preferences of mine. Just like I prefer footnotes to endnotes so I don't have to flip back and forth in a book to read them.

In the case of Dr. Moreland's paper, yes, there were many responses that revealed little, if any, interaction with his paper. However, there were also many responses that were much more nuanced but still expressed criticism of the substance of his paper. Not all of the controversy was due to superficial, reactionary responses and to dismiss it as such would be fallacious. (Actually, even many of the criticisms that were less than appropriate were posted in response to analysis contained in a CT article at a time when Moreland's article was unavailable. So your claim that people were simply reacting to the title is not completely fair.)

Yes, we should be able to have fun with provocative titles while carefully examining the content. But Dr. Moreland carried this idea of overcommitment to Scripture beyond a mere acknowledgment that truth can come from other sources than the Bible to an acceptance of extra-biblical sources of truth (e.g. regarding such things as demons and angels) as authoritative for faith and practice while seeming to eschew careful scrutiny of such truth claims. You and others here at STR may not agree with the concerns that this causes, but it's irresponsible to dismiss them as simply knee-jerk reactions to a title.

Dr. Moreland chose to use the terminology of "over-commitment" in his paper. If people criticize the substance of his paper using his own terminology, one cannot assume that they are merely reacting to the title.

PS: I haven't read Greg's paper "Never Read a Bible Verse" but it sounds intriguing, and I can guess as to the content. Did it generate great controversy because of the title? If not, maybe your thesis needs a little more support.

Curt,

I've got concerns with some aspects of Moreland's paper, myself. I mentioned them in the comboxes of Brett's & Melinda's earlier entries. But from what I recall, this is not an accurate characterization: "while seeming to eschew careful scrutiny of such truth claims"

I really don't know what part of his paper seemed that way to you.

I never met a title that fully revealed the content. I consider that an author that writes an interesting title may also write and interesting article/book/etc. I scan through it for structure and look for the theme. If I find something that may be good to read I'll look at it in more detail.

So, I don't mind titles like this. They're not disingenuous as much as they are an indication that there may be a valid admonition I need to consider - not that, say, I shouldn't hold a high view of the Bible, but that there may be a sense of distorted priority that works against my sanctification. I haven't read the piece referenced, but I'd look for such things. Even if they really wanted to tell me something that's not true, I can read it and get a sense of the lies the enemy is currently dispensing so I can develop an effective response.

On the other hand, if an article with a title about Biblical authority was about, say, penguins mating in captivity, then I would say that the author wasn't rational enough to write an accurate article about anything.

Tim,

The section of the paper I was referring is on pp. 7-8 of Moreland's paper. It includes a quote of Priest, et al (see Moreland's endnote #16 for complete reference) and Dr. Moreland's response. The quote is identified as criticism by Priest, Campbell, and Mullen regarding the demonology of Charles Kraft, Peter Wagner, and others:

"Our concern about the new doctrines . . . [is that they] are theories about spiritual realities not given in Scripture . . . We do not cast doubt on contemporary accounts of the supernatural which are congruent with what we know of the supernatural from Scripture (as in many account of demonic possession). We believe in the supernatural---within the framework of biblical teaching. It is only when such accounts imply ideas about demonic power not given in Scripture . . . that we are interested in submitting such accounts and doctrines to careful scrutiny" [Ellipses and brackets in original quote].

Dr. Moreland responds in this manner:

"By 'submitting such accounts and doctrines to careful scrutiny' Priest et al. mean 'rejecting them.' "

Dr. Moreland may very well be correct in this evaluation, but nowhere in his paper does he establish such an a priori rejection on their part. It is certainly not reflected in the quote he references. Perhaps this leads one to an incorrect inference, but Dr. Moreland at least appears to reject out of hand their call for careful scrutiny of extra-biblical accounts and doctrines. I see no other reason for such a cavalier dismissal of their concerns and approach---concerns and approach which are sound and balanced IMO.

He does go on to decry their use of the term 'extra-biblical doctrine.' However, Moreland's paper argues for acceptance of extra-biblical sources of knowledge and beliefs as authoritative. How is it inappropriate to refer to this as doctrine?

I could go on, but this is already straying from the topic of the original post and many have written on these things elsewhere.

Hmm. OK, that's a credible response.

Myself, I *can* think of an "other reason for such a cavalier dismissal of their concerns and approach". It sounds to me like he is expressing frustration with people who pay lip service to scrutiny--like those who consider themselves "skeptics" (as in careful thinkers) but who actually just disbelieve. He believes that Priest, Campbell, and Mullen themselves are engaging in dismissal.

I don't know that his frustration was justified, and I agree that he was too cavalier--he should have attempted to demonstrate what he said about Priest, Campbell, and Mullen. His comment warrants criticism.

But I think your own interpretation of his words risks making the same mistake. It's possible that you're right. But I doubt it strongly, because many people do dismiss entirely the sources of knowledge that he is suggesting for the spiritual world. Jumping to criticize the use of the word "authority", people reject out-of-hand the idea that there could be any extra-Biblical "source of knowledge or justified belief in this area".

You ask, "Moreland's paper argues for acceptance of extra-biblical sources of knowledge and beliefs as authoritative. How is it inappropriate to refer to this as doctrine?"

I think there's a reasonable answer to that: "Doctrine" rightly carries an authority in our community only reserved for the explicit and rationally inferred teachings of Scripture.

I fear that some people equivocate Moreland's use of the word "authority". (You may be doing that, I'm not sure.) He is explicitly not suggesting that any extra-biblical source carries the authority of doctrine. He is suggesting that they might yield "knowledge", or "justified belief". Such a belief must never contradict Scripture, and it would never carry the weight of any belief derived from Scripture, but it can be "justified" and acted on at a lower level of confidence & authority.

So saith he. I'm not convinced we've worked through the issues involved. It's a rather risky business. But do want to see people moving forward in working through those issues; I hope the controversy over the details of his paper doesn't prevent that.

Tim,

Thanks for your posts. I appreciate your concerns. In my defense, I did qualify my statements by saying Dr. Moreland was "seeming [to] eschew careful scrutiny" and that he "at least appears to reject . . . their call for careful scrutiny." And there is at least something in his paper for me to point to, while his comments regarding Priest et al are completely unsubstantiated. But perhaps I should have worded this a little differently to not make so strong a (potential) inference. Thanks for your caution.

However, I must again say that I find nothing to oppose in the quote from Priest et al, and I'm amazed that Dr. Moreland does. When it comes to extra-biblical claims of insight regarding the spirit realm, I would hope that we would all have a healthy skepticism. And I say that as one who is not a cessationist, BTW. Indeed, the more one has had experience with these kinds of claims the more one will see the need for just such careful scrutiny, IMO. Yes, they may be using this desire for careful scrutiny as a smokescreen to simply dismiss anything too uncomfortably supernatural. But to suggest this without cause is uncharitable and fallacious, along the lines of those who have accused Dr. Moreland of opposing biblical inerrancy.

Dr. Moreland has argued that the Bible is not our sole source of knowledge. A vast number of evangelical believers would readily agree with him; one need only peruse their local Christian bookstore to verify this. We routinely disseminate extra-biblical knowledge. He also argues that Scripture is neither our sole source of justified beliefs regarding such things as angels and demons, nor our sole authority for faith and practice. This needs much more exploration. To claim that a scriptural belief that is authoritative for faith and practice is doctrine, but another belief that is also authoritative for faith and practice is not, begs the question. In what sense is a belief that is authoritative for faith and practice not doctrine? And how exactly is an extra-biblical belief authoritative for faith and practice?

I share your hope that any controversy regarding this paper doesn't derail a discussion of these issues. We don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But we also don't want to accept alternative authorities for faith and practice that can ultimately diminish the authority of Scripture, even if Scripture is now held up as a supreme authority. History is replete with examples warning us of the dangers of such an approach. What Moreland is advocating may not lead us to these dangers, but many things within his paper amount to a red flag to many and call for much more examination and clarification.

Blessings,
Curt

Note: This is still Tim. I changed my display name to be consistent with what I use at other sites.

Curt,

1.) I recognize that you spoke with some caution and qualification. If you did misinterpret, you were not being so cavalier as Dr. Moreland seems to have been.

2.) He did not back up his interpretation, which is a real flaw, but I'm still not sure that he *was* being cavalier & uncharitable. There is certainly nothing in the quotation he provided to justify his "what they really mean" comment. But there may be justification in the context. That is, how did Priest et al. actually deal with Kraft and Wagner's demonology? How did their comment play out in practice? Did they engage in genuine discernment, or did they dismiss? I don't know. (I'm really ignorant here. I hadn't heard of them before you pointed this out.)

If his interpretation of Priest et al. *was* justified, he would have done well to justify it in his paper. If not in depth, at least in part. A footnote with a brief explanation would have sufficed.

3.) You said, "To claim that a scriptural belief that is authoritative for faith and practice is doctrine, but another belief that is also authoritative for faith and practice is not, begs the question. In what sense is a belief that is authoritative for faith and practice not doctrine? And how exactly is an extra-biblical belief authoritative for faith and practice?"

Yes, it would be helpful for Dr. Moreland to flesh out what he means by "subordinate authority". That word "authority" seems to be a stumbling block for many. I suspect that he means something like what I said in my last comment: That beliefs derived from extra-biblical sources can be "justified" and acted on--so long as they do not contradict Scripture--but at a lower level of confidence than biblical doctrine.

By "authority", he would mean that if one of those sources justifies a belief, it would be unwise or foolish or wrong for us to disbelieve it. (Unless we are convinced that it is inconsistent with Scripture.)

4.) You said, "History is replete with examples warning us of the dangers of such an approach. What Moreland is advocating may not lead us to these dangers, but many things within his paper amount to a red flag to many and call for much more examination and clarification."

Yea and amen.

Dr. Moreland did conclude with: "Second, in dispatching our scholarly duties as Christian intellectuals, we need to develop biblical, theological and philosophical justifications for such knowledge along with guidance for it use. In particular, we need to direct our efforts in developing epistemological reflections about non-empirical knowledge." (bold added)

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