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July 19, 2010


Aren't you arguing for exegetical relativism, Greg?

I wish I had thought to call the show yesterday. I'm having a similar problem.

I have seen many Christians lately using the OT to justify illegal immigration. (I wish I had specific passages to cite. I can't recall them offhand.)

According to this view, God wants us to take care of the orphan and widow and alien. Therefore speaking out against illegal immigration and enforcing/creating laws against it is immoral.

Greg has helped me in this area, and it has led to my understanding that the "End Times" warnings Jesus gave to "this generation" in Matt. 24 and Luke 21 had to apply to His listeners and not to us. In fact, the "immanency" passages throughout the New Testament make sense only if kept in context. "It is the last hour," "must shortly take place," "at hand," "is near," etc., must drive us to a re-evaluation of the traditional American Evangelical understanding of "End Times."

Perry is correct, so long as what he is advocating is the historic or orthodox preterist perspective concerning these passages--namely, that the "coming" Jesus spoke of in these passages was not His Second Coming, which remains in our future and about which we read elsewhere, but rather a coming in judgment upon apostate Jerusalem which was fulfilled in and leading up to AD 70.

However, a small but particularly vocal group in modern times advocates a view perhaps best labeled "hyperpreterism," a heterodox (some would say heretical) view which Paul called "gangrene" and which he said was destroying the faith ofsome. It denies a future bodily return of Christ, a future bodily resurrection of all the dead, a future "white throne" judgment and the future consummation of all things. In so doing, it distorts Scripture and rejects the consistent testimony of the historic Christian faith, placing it outside the pale of orthodoxy.

Perry, I can see your point, but what is the, 'traditional American Evangelical understanding of "End Times."'? There are at least half a dozen, aren't there? That is, where is that 'tradition'? In reality, there isn't one, is there, but Just competing 'End Times-isms'?

Also, more importantly, although Greg's helped you - so far - what if someone then shows you a more convincing, yet alternative and conflicting interpretation?

In relativism, don't the 'relativisms' use the same rules Greg suggests: one uses one's 'judgement' as to what one considers the most 'reasonable' of the options?

There seems to be no authority to guide, and so modest secular relativists conclude: 'I could be wrong': in the way Greg, too, finishes his video.

So, Greg's 'right', I'm 'right', Mo's 'right', Perry's 'right', Chris's is 'right',... and on and on it goes...?

Hi Chris
How do you show, in concrete terms, that something's 'outside the pale of orthodoxy'? Or is it just your orthodoxy?

Hi, Perry. To answer your question directed toward me, most would, I think, consider orthodoxy to be defined by those doctrines upon which the Church has united strongly for nearly 2,000 years, and admittedly that doesn't include a whole lot. We can discuss particulars, but insofar as it relates to my comments following Perry's, the Church has united firmly upon the truths that a) Christ would return bodily, b) all the dead would be bodily resurrected from the dead at c) the final "white throne" judgment and d) consummation of all things.

Additionally, certain views are explicitly called out as heretical in the Scriptures. Paul, for example, said in 2 Timothy 2:17-18 that the claim that the resurrection has already taken place--a claim made by hyperpreterists--is a "gangrene" that destroys peoples' faiths. Such explicit condemnations of heterodox views help define orthodoxy as well.

Sorry, I meant "Hi, Pete."


I think the issue for people and illegal immigration is not that we shouldn't "help" them, we should, but that they need to go through the proper channels to be here in the USA LEGALLY.

If the immigrants (Not just Mexican’s but all immigrants of all nationalities) came in through the border gates, signed in, got a Visa, and are here to work / go to school / visit / whatever, for the two years; and then went back, we wouldn't have a problem.

But, instead, they decide to come in under the dark of night, steal jobs that could be done by LEGALLY born citizens and don't pay the taxes we do and still benefit from free medical and so on.
And the people that say the illegal’s do the jobs we don’t want to do need to go talk to those that don’t have jobs. Most of the people I know would die to have any job. And they get upset that because they are legal citizens they have to pay taxes and so on while others work tax free.

Make them all legal and the problem goes away. Then they can pay taxes like the rest of us, get health insurance like the rest of us, and also pledge allegiance to America, like the rest of us. Lock down the borders and then we can focus on helping those in real need.


Hi Albert. I think you meant to reply to Mo!

However, the difficulty is, Albert, that your reply simply reinforces Mo's point, even if you're right, doesn't it?

Hi Pete- by "traditional American Evangelical understanding of End Times," I am referring to the popular "Left Behind," Hal Lindsay-inspired construct that many American Evangelical Protestant churches espouse without realizing that it is, indeed, a construct based on a particular point of view. It is not neatly laid out in Scripture.

And yes, in a sense, since the original authors are not here for us to ask what they meant in certain passages, we are making our most educated guesses. We need to remain somewhat flexible, because better evidence can be presented that may make more sense with our particular internal logic. This marked my move from Dispensationalism to Preterism. I acknowledge, though, that I could be wrong.

Though well-meaning people, educated and sincere, read the same Bible, they often walk away with different interpretations. This is not odd, as reading a text (or watching a film, or listening to music) involves a relationship between our own internal logic, past influences, and understanding. While there is probably a "correct" interpretation out there, we may be close, far, or right on it. It depends on the factors I mentioned.

Hi Chris.

But how much of the teachings of the Church Fathers do you take seriously? Do you just pick and choose those with which you happen to agree?

Many Christians I know are Sola Scriptura, and so what those First Christians believed, however universally, doesn't count for anything for them - it's not in the Bible, so it's not to be considered, or considered apostate - as the Mormons do.

Are they right? If not, why not? Who's the judge? How are you right?

Hi, Pete.

I take most seriously those teachings upon which the Church Fathers were most united. On the other hand, as is the case today, and as I'm certain you know, they weren't united in every issue of doctrine, either.

As for Sola Scriptura, you've mischaracterized what adherents to that view--including myself--actually believe, or at least what the term has historically meant. It is not true that "what those First Christians believed, however universally, doesn't count for anything." Quite the contrary, historically we Protestants have highly valued the early creeds and teachings of the Church Fathers, as well as theologians throughout the centuries. The question is not what's important, but rather, what's most important. Tradition must be treated as having lesser authority than Scripture, and tested in light thereof.

But this doesn't allow any group to simply claim that their view is compatible with Scripture, and thus give them license to reject the essentials of the historic faith and still be considered orthodox. We need to critically examine the claim that their theological novelties are, in fact, compatible with Scripture, and we need to ask why theologians have united for nearly 2,000 years in opposition to these novelties. As Dee Dee Warren puts it, "Theological novelty is not a good thing."

Hi Pete,

I've noticed that your comments thus far have been mostly de-constructive of other comments and approaches to the topic at hand. I'm curious if you have a constructive hermeneutic you might offer to the "exegetical relativism" that you perceive in Greg's video (and presumably in the comments).

This isn't a rhetorical question so please don't take it that way. I'm sincerely interested.



Not to beat a dead horse or inflame the conversation, but is it your understanding that the OT passages in question about how aliens and orphans and widows should be treated applies only to "legal aliens"? If so, I am curious how you arrived at that interpretation of those OT passages.

One further point:

If the immigrants (Not just Mexican’s but all immigrants of all nationalities) came in through the border gates, signed in, got a Visa, and are here to work / go to school / visit / whatever, for the two years; and then went back, we wouldn't have a problem.

I can only speak for myself on this point, but that argument bothers me quite a bit. My reasoning is quite simple. America wasn't founded this way. Europeans invaded (in the literal sense of the term) a land that was occupied by tribal groups and forcefully relocated them in order to take their land.

So the argument running contrary to yours is more nuanced than what you are presenting. The argument means something like, as Americans, we have historically violated aliens -- the others among us. Many see the way we are treating Mexican immigrants analogously to how the native people were treated by our ancestors.

Additionally, while there certainly are some that want to throw the rule of law out the window, the majority of people for immigration reform are for just that -- reforming, i.e., changing, immigration law so that it's easier to become a legal immigrant.

So to your statement, Make them all legal and the problem goes away, I think a lot of people would agree, so long as the process to make them legal is "easier" than it is currently.

Hi brgulker!

I'm not sure if questions 'deconstruct' so much as what you might be reading into them. :)

I'm an orthodox Catholic so we've got the "hermeneutic of continuity". To me, the Catholic hermeneutic is far more coherent and wonderful than what I was taught before I returned to the Church. The Bible now makes sense as outlining Our Father's plan for the whole of the world through His covenants with His people, and the fulfilment of Torah and Temple, and the wonderful true adoption offered by Christ, which is imparted rather than merely imputed to us.

Sorry, Chris, but those really are only your own views.

Nearly all the 'bible believing Christians' on the 'shop floor' I know don't accept anything outside scripture. They really believe the Church Fathers, even Polycarp and Irenaeus, were 'Catholics', and so could 'let the devil in' if they read them.

You can't deny millions of Evangelicals believe the same. I did as an Evangelical and all my friends did, too! Neither can you say that they're wrong in believing that, can you? Because, by whose authority do you question them? They're Baptists, Methodists and Anglicans in good standing. If you do criticise, then you're asserting that 'true faith' is dependent upon the intellect, aren't you?

I really struggled with this before returning to the Catholic Church. You can't just 'wish away' all those who don't accept what you believe can you, because there's no authority apart from human reason and the power of numbers. But because so many people believe something doesn't make it right, does it?

STR does a great job, but it's merely introducing reason - which is just as much a secular skill - but it's not authoritative, is it?

Your criteria for who's Christian and who isn't will differ from those who don't agree with you, but who's to say who's actually right?

Pete, did you reason your way into accepting the authority of the Catholic church, or do you base that on some other authority?

If a person like me wants to decide whether to accept the authority of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, the prophets of the Latter Day Saints, or the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church, what authority should I appeal to to help me out with that decision? Or should I look at the evidence and arguments offered by each and make the best judgment I can?


What I commented on was what the definition and application of Sola Scriptura is. Simply because those Christians with whom you've had experience, and indeed "millions of Evangelicals," may incorrectly understand and apply that concept does not mean that's what the concept means, or that that's what Protestants have historically taught.

So yes, I can say they're "wrong" in the sense that they're incorrectly understanding Sola Scriptura, because that's never been what that concept has communicated. Now, they may choose to adhere to some other concept besides Sola Scriptura, and instead say that the teachings of the Fathers and theologians throughout history are utterly irrelevant. And so long as they are in agreement with the Church concerning the essentials, then they are "right" doctrinally even if they are ignorning the Church's historical testimony and are relying solely upon Scripture.

Now, you may have struggled with the question of authority before returning to the Roman Catholic Church (I make that distinction because the term "Catholic" originally meant merely "Universal), but that does not mean your struggle was logically or biblically warranted. We see from the nobility, as Luke put it, demonstrated by the Bereans in testing the apostles' teaching in light of Scripture, that the Scripture is of superior authority to the Church.

Reason is not authoritative, no. However, God's word is authoritative, and it is a communicated word, written in languages, which require reason to properly understand. Reason is one of the tools we have as humans created in the image of God, and is to be employed alongside prayer, meditation and fellowship in properly understanding it.

As for who's to say what's actually right? God, of course.

Excellent question, Sam.

Pete: Aren't you arguing for exegetical relativism, Greg?

You know, this is the second time I've noticed on this blog that a Catholic has accused protestants of being relativists because they interpret the Bible for themselves rather than relying on an interpretive authority. In both cases, the accusation was based on a misunderstanding of what relativism is. The first time I saw this accusation made was by James Findlayson here. The fact that this same accusation came up, both by Catholics, both for the same reason, and both based on a misunderstanding about relativism, it makes me wonder if there's some Catholic apologist out there somewhere who has made this argument popular. So I'm just curious where this comes from. Does anybody know?

Articles like this, Sam.

The article's a critique of a book by Keith Mathison, a Reformed Pastor, and how he tries to differentiate between solo scriptura and sola scriptura, and ends up digging a deeper hole.

This is what Mathieson, the Reformed Protestant, writes:

"The typical modern Evangelical solution to this problem is to tell the inquirer to examine the arguments on both sides and decide which of them is closest to the teaching of Scripture. He is told that this is what sola scriptura means-–to individually evaluate all doctrines according to the only authority, the Scripture. Yet in reality, all that occurs is that one Christian measures the scriptural interpretations of other Christians against the standard of his own scriptural interpretation. Rather than placing the final authority in Scripture as it intends to do, this concept of Scripture places the final authority in the reason and judgment of each individual believer. The result is the relativism, subjectivism, and theological chaos that we see in modern Evangelicalism today."

So it's not a Catholic who's saying it, either...

Interestingly, that's what the Bereans did: They examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul was telling them was so. In other words, they measured the scriptural interpretations of Paul against the standard of their own scriptural interpretation. And Luke called them noble for doing so. If that's relativism, sign me up.

However, what the kinds of evangelicals being railed against are doing is misunderstanding and misapplying Sola Scriptura. It is true that Scripture, not any man or group of men, is the ultimate authority when it comes to doctrine. But the reformers never meant that individuals were to sit alone in the closet apart from the rest of the Church and try and figure things out on their own. The Church is a community and Scripture is interpreted as a community. Theological novelties come about when the unified testimony of the Church throughout the ages is ignored.

That is interesting, Pete. I'm curious if you agree with Keith Mathison, though. If so, then by the same reasoning, couldn't we say that rather than placing authority in the Church/Prophets/Governing Body, Catholics/Mormons/Jehovah's Witnesses are actually placing authority in their own assessment of which of these organizations has authority?

I hope you can see that Keith Mathison has a misunderstanding of what relativism is. Relativism is the view that there is no objective truth to be discovered. The truth of an interpretation depends on the interpreter. That means nobody's interpretation is false; everybody's interpretation is true for them. I don't know of any protestant who thinks that. We wouldn't argue with each other if we were hermaneutical relativists.

@ Albert
I was in agreement with you until you said: "Make them all legal and the problem goes away."

That doesn't solve the problem. (At least not in a just way.) How can we reward people for breaking the law? Especially when there are so many others who go through the proper legal process for becoming a citizen? It takes years and money and lots of red tape. But we should just let those who did it the illegal way just get away with it?

That's like saying, "We know this person stole merchandise from the store. But charging him and having a trial and all that is such a time consuming task. Just let him keep the stuff already and let him go home. Problem solved."

I also need to look up the particular OT passages so I can get some input either here or elsewhere. I'm usually pretty good at thinking and working difficult issues through in a biblical manner. But I admit on this issue I am at a loss. (On the use of OT passages by some people, not on the general biblical position. I am not seeing how the Bible in general condones and excuses lawbreaking!)

Hi Sam.

Isn't it that relativists believe that some truths are truer than others, depending on criteria used - rather than there not being any objective truth - like the story of the blind men feeling an elephant? Don't they all think their own viewpoint is correct, and might even believe it objectively true? I'd say most Protestants I know think this.

I think Mathieson is right, but also, your argument only works outside Catholicism. Am I right in thinking you believe in choice - or 'decision for Christ' - as being the lynchpin of salvation?

Therefore, in a sense, aren't you responsible and make your choice to 'the best of your lights'? That is, don't you choose which religion you'll belong to?

However, Catholics believe Christ predestined us for salvation (Eph 1.4-14), and that becomes real and effective through the sacrament, or seal, of Baptism. That is, Baptism makes us Christian, not our decision or going forward at a rally. I become an adopted Child of God, and Baptism opens the channel of sanctifying grace in my life, even though I was a baby. I wasn't even imputed with righteousness, but it was imparted to me - at Baptism, I was made as clean as the prelapsarian Adam. That is, I didn't have to perform a 'work' of faith. Grace is available through Christ's action in the sacrament. But I have to avail myself of that Grace...

In reformed (and, I believe, biblical) doctrine, our choice is the result of regeneration, not the cause thereof. We choose Him because He first chose us. And those whom He has not chosen will not choose Him. That--not whatever it is you're describing--is predestination.

Also, I find it laughable that you somehow draw a distinction between the kind of choice you claim Sam is speaking of and choosing to avail yourself of Grace. Either way, a choice is being made, and as Sam has pointed out, that choice is being made through reason whether by Catholics, Protestants or anybody else. Either way, it's relativism as you're defining it.

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