Saturday, November 19, 2005

Vague Complainers and the Burden of Proof

Steve Hays recently wrote an article on his Triablogue in response to an article by Tim Enloe. Steve asks a question that I think a lot of us have been asking, namely what view of the Bible Tim Enloe holds. A lot of critics of the Chicago view of Biblical inerrancy make disparaging comments about that view without specifying what view they hold.

Similarly, Tim criticizes Evangelicals for adhering to a "'Grammar Alone' method of hermeneutics", but I have yet to see him sufficiently explain and defend his alternative. This past summer, in a discussion on Greg Krehbiel's board, I explained to Tim how I would approach a Biblical passage like Galatians 3. He said that he agreed with the principles I described. But he suggested that we shouldn't limit ourselves to the grammatical-historical approach I outlined. He referred to allegorical interpretations of scripture that had been popular in earlier generations of church history. When I asked Tim how he knows which allegorical interpretations to accept and which to reject, he said that he might respond to me if he had time to respond later. As far as I know, he never responded.

There's no significant difference that I'm aware of between my approach to Galatians 3 and the approach taken by somebody like Eric Svendsen, James White, David King, or Steve Hays. If this "Grammar Alone" method Tim is criticizing is faulty only because it limits itself to the grammatical-historical method and therefore doesn't include other factors, then why doesn't Tim tell us more about what those other factors are and why we should include them?

Tim Enloe's article is what led me to write this article, but Tim isn't the only person I'm addressing. I've noticed other critics of Evangelicalism making comments along the same lines. We see Biblical inerrancy criticized without much specificity about the alternative we're supposed to replace it with. We see criticisms of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation that tell us we shouldn't limit ourselves to that method, but don't give us any justification for another method. We see appeals to what was believed by historical majorities, yet those same people appealing to such majorities are themselves sometimes disagreeing with what the majority has believed (see here for some examples). We're never given a coherent, verifiable standard by which to arrive at the conclusion that their majorities are correct, whereas the majorities they disagree with aren't.

There are a lot of critics of Evangelicalism who need to start living up to the burden of proof they carry. It's not our responsibility to guess at our opponents' undisclosed opinions or to prove a universal negative. If you want to argue that the Bible is wrong on some scientific or historical issues, for example, without being wrong elsewhere, then give us the specifics and tell us how you know what's reliable and what isn't. Similarly, if we're to follow an allegorical method of Biblical interpretation, then tell us the specifics of it. Tell us how you know which of the many contradictory allegorical interpretations of the past to accept, for example. And tell us how you determine when to follow majorities and when not to.

I think that a lot of these people don't get into more specifics because they know that they wouldn't be able to defend more specifics. They dislike some elements of Evangelicalism, but they don't know of a way to refute those elements, so they just complain without justifying the complaint. Other people with a similar opposition to Evangelicalism and a similar lack of evidence will join the chorus, but what about people who are more interested in being reasonable? What do they do to reach beyond an audience of vague complainers? Or are they satisfied with that audience?