Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Christian Society Built on Fideism

In recent days, Tim Enloe has been posting a lot of messages on Greg Krehbiel's board, in which he criticizes me, Ronnie Brown, James White, Eric Svendsen, David King, and other Evangelicals. Many of his comments are too vague, too hyperbolic, or too obviously false to warrant much of a response, if any. But since some people, primarily some Roman Catholics who seem to want to believe what he says, are encouraging him in his behavior, I thought I'd give some representative examples of the unreliable nature of Tim's latest criticisms.

At the outset, I want to note that there are some questions I and other Evangelicals have been asking Tim that he's so far failed to answer, at least in the discussions I've seen. As far as I know, Tim still hasn't answered the objections I raised to him in my recent thread with Jonathan Prejean on Greg Krehbiel's board. I asked Tim how he determines, without limiting himself to the grammatical-historical method, which scripture interpretations are correct and which aren't. I also asked him why he wouldn't consider Roman Catholic errors on justification to be highly significant from a logical standpoint, even if we accepted his view of the anathema of Galatians. Tim said that he would read my post, though he wasn't sure that he would respond. He mentioned the time constraints he had. It's now been more than two weeks. Tim has spent time posting a lot of things since then. He still hasn't responded to me.

In a more recent thread, Tim has made a series of false or misleading claims. In one of the posts there, Tim uses "knowledge" in one sense when referring to Baptists, then refers to "knowledge" in another sense when discussing Presbyterians, and he acts as if he's shown some sort of major disagreement between the two groups. I've never met a Baptist who denies that "knowledge" can be defined in different ways in different contexts. What Baptist has ever denied that to know a person is different from knowing a fact?

Elsewhere in that same thread, Tim suggested that the "New Testament" in the name of this ministry (New Testament Research Ministries) is a reference to the New Testament canon, thus suggesting that we want to distance ourselves from the Old Testament canon. Does Tim need somebody to explain to him that "New Testament" can refer to something other than the canon, and that even a reference to the New Testament canon wouldn't inherently involve a distancing of yourself from the Old Testament? If Tim thought that the name of the ministry had these implications, then why was he part of the ministry for so long?

Here's what Tim wrote:

They [the people at New Testament Research Ministries] are destructive radicals, not humble reformers. They don't like anything that's adorned, anything that's grown up, anything that's mature. They want to get at the beginning, the root, the primitive condition, the thing that nothing has gotten into and "corrupted." It's not an accident that Eric's organization is called "New Testament Research Ministries", or that it used to be called "New Testament Restoration Ministries." Notice the words he chose to describe his aims. "New Testament", not "Whole Bible". "Restoration", not "reform." These are very significant word choices. The first lops the Old Testament, with all its types and shadows, completely out of the picture. We don't want a religion of continuity with the past, he's saying, but one that's totally brand new and discontinuous in every important respect with what came before. Same with "restoration." Where do you find the big impulse for "restoration" in Church history? In the 19th century, of course, which gave us the Disciples of Christ, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Mormons--among the "host of sects" that were invented wholecloth then for exactly the same radical reasons that drive Eric Svendsen's heart.

Does it sound like Tim is putting forth much effort to be accurate?

Notice the trend in Tim's recent writings. He denies the sufficiency of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation, though he gives us no coherent and defensible alternative. He refers positively to the use of allegorical interpretation among people of past generations. He criticizes Baptists for limiting "knowledge" to propositions, and he gives the example of an infant "knowing" God. What's the thread we see running through all of these arguments? Fideism.

It seems that Tim knows that he can't publicly verify his belief system. There are things he wants to believe that he can't defend in public. He may have feelings or intuitions about those beliefs, and he may think that his conclusions are true, but he can't publicly show us that his beliefs are correct in the manner in which we would publicly demonstrate any other such belief system. So, since Tim can't publicly verify his beliefs, he apparently wants to convince people that public verification shouldn't be expected.

The grammatical-historical method of interpretation is insufficient, he tells us, which means that we can't hold him accountable for using that method of interpretation when he wants us to believe that a doctrine is Biblical. Allegorical interpretation was popular in the past, so it must be acceptable for us to use it today to justify our doctrines, Tim suggests. So, Tim can use an allegorical reading of scripture to support something he wouldn't be able to support with the grammatical-historical method. And just as a baby can "know" God without propositions, Tim can "know" that his beliefs are true without putting forward any propositions.

Yes, Tim can know something without being able to publicly verify it. But if he wants other people to agree with him, if he wants to build a Christian society with other people (a commendable ideal, though not in the way Tim is pursuing it), then he needs to reason with other people. And we have no way of getting inside Tim's soul in order to know that his feelings or intuitions, for example, are correct.

It does seem that Tim has taken a turn toward fideism. He wants to arrive at his ideal Christian society, and the grammatical-historical method of interpretation and other publicly verifiable methods of argument won't get him there.

If he wants to claim that he does have a way of publicly showing that his beliefs are true, then he needs to do more than just make vague references to "authority", "the church", "tradition", etc. If he accepts a particular council or creed as authoritative, then how does he show other people which councils and creeds to follow and which not to follow? If he shows these things by means of a grammatical-historical reading of scripture, then why is he criticizing other people for taking the same approach? Just making vague references to how his opponents supposedly aren't giving enough attention to scripture's context isn't a sufficient response. He needs to get specific. So far, Tim is long on criticism and short on specific solutions that people can verify and implement.

In closing, I want to respond to Tim's comments on justification and Lutherans. He referred to my "monumental arrogance", my "dumb" reasoning, how my comments on Lutheranism were one of the primary factors in convincing him to leave this ministry, etc. The main discussion about Lutheranism that Tim is referring to occurred about a year before he left this ministry. And Tim spent several months after that discussion fellowshipping with us and speaking about us in a radically different way than he is now.

What have I said about Lutherans? I've said that baptismal justification is a false gospel. I've said that any Lutheran or any other person who claims that it's normative for people to not be justified until the time of baptism is distorting the gospel. I didn't say that believing in some type of post-justification grace being received through baptism is equivalent to a false gospel. But saying that a person can have faith, yet not be justified until he later participates in a ceremony (whether circumcision, baptism, the eucharist, foot washing, or whatever) is a false gospel. I believe that people can be justified despite following a false gospel, as I've explained to Tim, but the salvation of individuals within a system shouldn't prevent us from criticizing that system where it's wrong. And while baptism is different from circumcision, neither of the two is equivalent to faith, so differentiating between the two ceremonies doesn't make it acceptable to add one of them to faith as a means of attaining justification.

I've given Tim my reasons for reaching these conclusions. His recent responses do nothing to interact with those reasons, but instead make references to how my conclusions must be false because of implications they have for post-apostolic church history. That's Tim Enloe for you. Ignore the evidence a person cites from the scriptures themselves, then just assume that the person's beliefs must be false because they don't align with Tim Enloe's ideals for a modern Christian society. When I suggested to Tim that he might be doing what I just described, in a discussion with him on the Reformed Catholicism blog, he assured me that he wasn't doing that. Tim may want to avoid doing it, and he may sometimes make an effort to avoid it, but I think his recent posts suggest that he hasn't had much success.