Temple of the Future on Morality

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’d like today to write on something that Justin Brierley presented on the Unbelievable Facebook page. It’s an article on a site called “Temple of the Future” concerning morality and biblical truth. It can be found here.

Temple starts off with discussing recent programs of Unbelievable. To be fair, I have not got to listen to the most recent one yet on women in ministry. However, does the first one mentioned of a look at Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” really have much to do with morality? It’s quite likely that most evangelicals would agree with Bell on several moral issues. My opinion on “Love Wins” is coming sometime soon, but regardless of whether Bell is right or wrong, the question is not about whether an action is right or wrong. Bell could be a universalist or not be a universalist and still believe murder is wrong.

What of the program on the true face of Islam? It’s a wonder that this is being seen as something on the Bible when this is really something on the Koran if anything. An atheist could have been a guest on the show and could have stated that Bin Laden was or wasn’t the true face of Islam. If he knew what the teachings were in the Koran or Hadith, then he could have presented what he believed to be an accurate argument for whatever position he held. Again, whether Bin Laden was or wasn’t the true face of Islam doesn’t matter to me at this point.

The last one is the closest one we have to a moral issue, but is it really so much a moral issue? Does anyone really believe someone would go to Hell, for instance, for having a female minister? Augustine dealt with a question similar to this back with the Donatist teaching. What if someone was baptized by someone who was a heretic? Does that mean their salvation is null and void? Augustine said no.

Temple says it is foolish to let the questions of morality become exercises in literary criticism.

However, what is actually meant by literary criticism? Here are the main issues that we can raise.

Is the text that we have what we had then? This would be textual criticism. Whether what the text says is true or not does not really matter. Even if all that say, Paul wrote in Romans, is wrong, does that mean we don’t have what he originally wrote? All we want to know is if we have what he wrote.

What style is the writing in? Are we going to take Revelation in a literal sense? When Jesus says “Pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin” is he to be taken literally? At the same time, when he says “Love your neighbor as yourself” is that to be taken literally, and how do we know when to take the text literally and when not? This is part of hermeneutics, that is, the art of interpretation of a text.

Finally, we come to the questions of “What does the text mean?” and then for our personal application “What does it mean to us personally today?” The first question is the most important one although we usually skip to the second. What does the text mean? This can also be a difficult one, but it’s not just with the biblical text. It’s with any text. We wonder what the text means in Plato, the Upanishads, the Koran, Nietzsche, government laws, or just ordinary conversation. ALL texts must be interpreted and some interpretations are right and some are wrong.

Turning to the program on church leaders, Temple simply says this is a dumb question to be asking. Why? Because it’s not the way most people in the 21st century think. So what? If someone wants to remain faithful to a text, it’s an important question to ask if there’s debate on what the text means. Granted, it’s not the most fascinating topic to the secular man, but again, so what? Are Christians forced to have debates and define debates in the way that the secular person prefers?

Temple sees this as discrimination when we don’t allow women to be in ministry. To begin with, it is discrimination, but that assumes all discrimination is wrong. My work place is discriminatory. They only allow men to go into the men’s room and they only allow women to go into the women’s room.

The Boy scouts are discriminatory. You have to be a boy to participate. Places that give senior citizen discounts are discriminatory as you have to be at least 65 to get one. Restaurants that say kids eat free are discriminatory since you have to be a kid in order to eat for free.

The question is “What is the basis for the discrimination.” Does the Bible say women should not be in ministry because they are inferior? It would be good to see such a text. The closest Temple points to is Ephesians 2:22-24. Nowhere mentioned however is that the man is to love his wife as Christ loved the church which is hardly a dominating theme. As a married man, it calls me to constant self-sacrifice for my wife. Now do some people misuse this text? Of course. People can misuse any text, but does Temple want us to think the text has no meaning and is open to any interpretation. If so, then can he really say that the text teaches the inferiority of women? Can I not say “That’s just your interpretation.”?

Temple writes about two scholars of Shakespeare’s works and how they disagree over the meaning of what Shakespeare said and asks if we could ever come to a conclusion on what Shakespeare meant. Temple tells us that of course we couldn’t. Temple tells us that like any complete text, it’s open to interpretation.

Okay. Agreed. It is open to interpretation.

Then he says multiple valid interpretations.

Is this really the case? He would have to demonstrate this. Is he saying that supposing Paul wrote Ephesians that Paul believed in the inferiority of women and didn’t believe in the inferiority of women both? How could this be? If Paul puts the meaning into the text, then the text can only mean one thing. It could be difficult or even impossible for us to find out what he meant, but that does not mean that there is no meaning.

Furthermore, why should I believe that we could never reach a conclusion on what Shakespeare meant? Who knows what the future will hold. I’m certainly open to the possibility that we could someday. Temple just takes it as a foregone conclusion that we won’t. Where does this knowledge of the future come from?

Temple says to build our morality on the Bible is to be build it on sinking sand.

We’ve seen this song and dance before. One would think that Temple would have some familiarity with Natural Law thinking. Does he not read any Christian ethicists who argue not from Scripture but from the basis of Natural Law? Does he read someone like Budziszewski in a work such as “The Line Through The Heart”?

Of course, in the comments, he does present the Euthyphro dilemma as if this is something embarrassing to Christians. Granted, most don’t know how to answer it, but the answer is to ask what goodness is and if it can be defined apart from God. I believe it can just like Aristotle did and when we define goodness, which is that at which all things aim according to Aristotle, we eventually realize that God is that which is goodness in being being itself. Temple could read Aquinas in the Summa Theologica for information on goodness and the goodness of God.

The point is that this is the same idea we’ve seen over and over. So many today arguing against morality believe that Christians use the Bible and only the Bible, not realizing the Bible itself argues against such a claim in passages like Romans 2. Are we to think when the Israelites got the Ten Commandments that they had no idea murder was wrong before that? Of course not. Moses himself made sure, though not doing a good job of it apparently, to make sure no one was watching when he killed an Egyptian.

Hopefully atheists and others will soon stop making this argument and start actually interacting with Christian positions.

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7 Responses to “Temple of the Future on Morality”

  1. James Croft Says:

    Hi there!

    Thanks so much for reading and responding to my article at such length. I’ll update mine with a link to this page so that people can see the discussion.

    I want to respond to a few points you raise which I think merit further analysis. You say:

    “does the first one mentioned of a look at Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” really have much to do with morality?”

    I’d say emphatically yes. It deals with how we are to be “rewarded” or “punished” in the next life for our actions here on earth. The answers to these questions have profound moral consequences. Also, you’ll notice in the discussion much of Bell’s seeming discomfort with the idea of a God that would send people to hell forever is a moral one – he seems to think that the moral character of God would be impugned if God were to act in such a way. So I think the discussion was intimately related to morality and to how we ‘should’ interpret morality via scripture.

  2. James Croft Says:

    You then say:

    “What of the program on the true face of Islam? It’s a wonder that this is being seen as something on the Bible when this is really something on the Koran if anything”

    You’ll notice that my post is not really about the Bible, per se. It is about the dangers of using scripture (whichever scripture) as a moral guide instead of looking to the consequences of an action and the effects it would have on this life. That’s why I say “it is supremely foolish to allow questions of morality to become exercises in literary criticism.” I’m not limiting my critique to the bible.

    You then say:

    “The last one is the closest one we have to a moral issue, but is it really so much a moral issue? Does anyone really believe someone would go to Hell, for instance, for having a female minister? ”

    The answer to both questions is clearly “yes”. Let’s say we decided as a society that women shouldn’t be able to be Prime Minister (again). Would that be a moral issue? Of course. Discrimination against a person because of their sex or gender is wrong. We recognize it is wrong. Why, in a religious context, does it stop being a moral issue? Especially in a society which often treats women abominably, the bigotry of the church is has profound moral consequences. And yes, there are loonies who really think the sky would fall in if women could be priests. Hence the controversy around it.

    You say:

    “What does the text mean? This can also be a difficult one, but it’s not just with the biblical text. It’s with any text. We wonder what the text means in Plato, the Upanishads, the Koran, Nietzsche, government laws, or just ordinary conversation. ALL texts must be interpreted and some interpretations are right and some are wrong.”

    I make this same point in my article – this is precisely my point, actually. That you repeat it doesn’t make it work against me – it’s part of my argument that since complex texts have multiple valid interpretations secure moral guidance shouldn’t be sought in texts.

    Your discussion of “discrimination” takes “discrimination” in its technical, pedantic sense and not in its sense as commonly used today. What I meant by the term, as is clear in my piece, is an illegitimate denial of a set of privileges to a person or group of people because of certain identity characteristics irrelevant to the question of whether they can perform their job. In this way it is different to your example of the bathrooms and the Boy Scouts, which separate the sexes for a clearly-defined positive purpose and provide equal other opportunities for women (women’s bathrooms and the girl guides, for instance).

    This next paragraph is interesting. You say:

    “The question is “What is the basis for the discrimination.” Does the Bible say women should not be in ministry because they are inferior? It would be good to see such a text. The closest Temple points to is Ephesians 2:22-24. Nowhere mentioned however is that the man is to love his wife as Christ loved the church which is hardly a dominating theme. As a married man, it calls me to constant self-sacrifice for my wife. Now do some people misuse this text? Of course. People can misuse any text, but does Temple want us to think the text has no meaning and is open to any interpretation. If so, then can he really say that the text teaches the inferiority of women? Can I not say “That’s just your interpretation.”?”

    This neatly makes my point for me. YOU interpret the text in one way, others in another way. It is PRECISELY because you CAN say “that’s just your interpretation” that my point is valid. There is no way to adjudicate between certain interpretations to find the “final” one. Therefore, my point about the dangers of scripture-based morality is proven. QED.

    “If Paul puts the meaning into the text, then the text can only mean one thing”

    Sadly this is clearly not the case. Have you ever been misinterpreted by a reader or someone you’re speaking to, and had to say “that’s not what I meant!” It happens all the time, and demonstrates that even when you try to convey yourself clearly people can interpret your meaning in ways you didn’t intend. This problem is exacerbated in complex multi-authored texts like the bible.

    “Does he not read any Christian ethicists who argue not from Scripture but from the basis of Natural Law?”

    I was not arguing with Natural Law theory in this post. I was arguing against scripture based morality. Therefore the point is irrelevant.

    “in the comments, he does present the Euthyphro dilemma as if this is something embarrassing to Christians.”

    Not so – one of my smart readers presents that dilemma, which is still extremely powerful. Your “answer” is simply to fall into tautology.

    Hopefully that’s enough “interaction” with your positions. Your main error is to misread my argument. I did not claim in the post that there are no ways which Christians can get morals. I merely make the more limited claim that looking to scripture is a very bad idea. Most of what you’ve said here supports that analysis, ironically, and nothing refutes it.

  3. Temple of the Future Says:

    [...] on the blog ‘Deeper Waters’ wrote a lengthy response to this article. You can see it here. I still think my analysis is sound, but I like to foster discussion, so head over and see if you [...]

  4. apologianick Says:

    Actually, the best place to go to is TheologyWeb for discussion on this. Just go to the Deeper Waters section. I already have a thread there on it just like I do every Deeper Waters blog.

    For Bell, no. Morality is not the issue there but rather eschatology. If any morality is discussed, it is whether God is doing actions we deem moral or not. The reason Scripture must be used is eschatology is part of special revelation and is not part of natural revelation.

    Now let’s look at what you said further:

    You:You’ll notice that my post is not really about the Bible, per se. It is about the dangers of using scripture (whichever scripture) as a moral guide instead of looking to the consequences of an action and the effects it would have on this life. That’s why I say “it is supremely foolish to allow questions of morality to become exercises in literary criticism.” I’m not limiting my critique to the bible.

    Reply: And such is really a straw man of the classical Christian position. Again, I recommend reading a Budziszewski or someone similar on the matter or even better, the writings of Aquinas. While I as a Christian and others hold that Scripture does contain truths of morality, a moral truth is not a moral truth because Scripture proclaims it, but Scripture proclaims it because it is true.

    You: The answer to both questions is clearly “yes”.

    Reply: Clearly? I do not deny it is a moral issue, but I do not know of evangelicals making it an issue of salvation. It could be an important issue, but it is not salvific.

    James: Let’s say we decided as a society that women shouldn’t be able to be Prime Minister (again). Would that be a moral issue? Of course. Discrimination against a person because of their sex or gender is wrong. We recognize it is wrong.

    Reply: Not saying I agree or disagree. I just want to know your basis for saying it’s wrong. How did you come to this conclusion?

    James: Why, in a religious context, does it stop being a moral issue? Especially in a society which often treats women abominably, the bigotry of the church is has profound moral consequences. And yes, there are loonies who really think the sky would fall in if women could be priests. Hence the controversy around it.

    Reply: Nor did I deny it was moral. However, could this be a moral truth known by reason alone if it is true? That’s another question.

    James: I make this same point in my article – this is precisely my point, actually. That you repeat it doesn’t make it work against me – it’s part of my argument that since complex texts have multiple valid interpretations secure moral guidance shouldn’t be sought in texts.

    Reply: But if your reply is that texts can have multiple interpretations, then I say that itself is a text and why can it not also have multiple interpretations? (Which I think it can.)

    James: Your discussion of “discrimination” takes “discrimination” in its technical, pedantic sense and not in its sense as commonly used today. What I meant by the term, as is clear in my piece, is an illegitimate denial of a set of privileges to a person or group of people because of certain identity characteristics irrelevant to the question of whether they can perform their job. In this way it is different to your example of the bathrooms and the Boy Scouts, which separate the sexes for a clearly-defined positive purpose and provide equal other opportunities for women (women’s bathrooms and the girl guides, for instance).

    Reply: Correct on discrimination. The problem is that people automatically assume discrimination is bad. You have argued that this question is ridiculous but you have given no reason for thinking that it is.

    James: This neatly makes my point for me. YOU interpret the text in one way, others in another way. It is PRECISELY because you CAN say “that’s just your interpretation” that my point is valid. There is no way to adjudicate between certain interpretations to find the “final” one. Therefore, my point about the dangers of scripture-based morality is proven. QED.

    Reply: Actually, no. This in fact gets us to a postmodern view of looking at the text. We can’t say “All interpretations are of equal value.” We have to study the text and do our best to find out what the author is wishing to convey.

    James: Sadly this is clearly not the case. Have you ever been misinterpreted by a reader or someone you’re speaking to, and had to say “that’s not what I meant!” It happens all the time, and demonstrates that even when you try to convey yourself clearly people can interpret your meaning in ways you didn’t intend. This problem is exacerbated in complex multi-authored texts like the bible.

    Reply: Actually, it is entirely the case. Note that I did not say “Paul has only one meaning and we know it.” I said the text only has one meaning. Paul means something when he writes it and our inability to sometimes get to that meaning does not change the meaning.

    James: I was not arguing with Natural Law theory in this post. I was arguing against scripture based morality. Therefore the point is irrelevant.

    Reply: If you wish to say that Christians should not use Scripture alone for morality, I agree. So does the Bible. I just point this out because this is a common straw man I find in atheistic writings.

    James: Not so – one of my smart readers presents that dilemma, which is still extremely powerful. Your “answer” is simply to fall into tautology.

    Reply: An assertion. I gave the definition of Aristotle and told you what sources to read for a Christian understanding. For an Aristotlean look at goodness, see the Nicomachean Ethics.

    James: Hopefully that’s enough “interaction” with your positions. Your main error is to misread my argument. I did not claim in the post that there are no ways which Christians can get morals. I merely make the more limited claim that looking to scripture is a very bad idea. Most of what you’ve said here supports that analysis, ironically, and nothing refutes it.

    Reply: And I still consider this a straw man with a postmodern view of looking at the text, but TheologyWeb is open for debate.

  5. James Croft Says:

    You have a very odd way of responding to things I haven’t written, and contradicting things you’ve previously written. For example you claim here twice that you never questioned whether the role of women in church leadership was a moral issue. But in your original response you said “is it really so much a moral issue?” Clearly you had some doubts, or you wouldn’t have asked (would you?).

    You’ve also consistently misconstrued my argument once again – you don’t seem to be reading me carefully. For example, you say “This in fact gets us to a postmodern view of looking at the text. We can’t say “All interpretations are of equal value.”” But this is a position I don’t hold – I never said that “all interpretations are of equal value”. In fact I said (if only you’d read it) “since complex texts have multiple valid interpretations secure moral guidance shouldn’t be sought in texts.” This does NOT commit me to the position that every interpretation is equally valid. You really must read others’ arguments carefully if you want to engage in discussion like this.

    Nonetheless, there are a couple of points worth me responding to because if you can understand these you’ll get the central thrust of my post.

    You say:

    “If you wish to say that Christians should not use Scripture alone for morality, I agree.”

    I do argue that, and I’m glad you agree. But I go further and say that to use scripture as the primary basis for our morality (even if we also consider other things), or to consider scripture as a moral guide over and above the facts of the situation, is to lead us astray morally.

    Once again, nothing you’ve posted here responds to this central argument, and so I’m confident in it.

    As for the question of a “straw man”, I am responding directly to the way in which the participants in three ‘Unbelievable?’ programs actually used scripture to reason. If you bother to listen to those podcasts you will hear them reasoning in precisely the way I suggest is unwise. So my critique is not of a straw man, but of the process of ethical reasoning that can be observed by anyone who wishes to listen to the podcasts.

  6. apologianick Says:

    James: You have a very odd way of responding to things I haven’t written, and contradicting things you’ve previously written. For example you claim here twice that you never questioned whether the role of women in church leadership was a moral issue. But in your original response you said “is it really so much a moral issue?” Clearly you had some doubts, or you wouldn’t have asked (would you?).

    Reply: No. It’s designed to get the reader to think about the issue.

    You: You’ve also consistently misconstrued my argument once again – you don’t seem to be reading me carefully. For example, you say “This in fact gets us to a postmodern view of looking at the text. We can’t say “All interpretations are of equal value.”” But this is a position I don’t hold – I never said that “all interpretations are of equal value”. In fact I said (if only you’d read it) “since complex texts have multiple valid interpretations secure moral guidance shouldn’t be sought in texts.” This does NOT commit me to the position that every interpretation is equally valid. You really must read others’ arguments carefully if you want to engage in discussion like this.

    Reply: And this is the problem I stated earlier. Multiple valid interpretations? Now some texts are obviously closer to what is meant than others, but the point I wish to make is the text does mean something even if we don’t know what it means and your argument is of a position of “Let’s go on and surrender because we’ll never know.” How is that known?

    You: I do argue that, and I’m glad you agree. But I go further and say that to use scripture as the primary basis for our morality (even if we also consider other things), or to consider scripture as a moral guide over and above the facts of the situation, is to lead us astray morally.

    Reply: I consider Scripture a moral guide, but not the only one and accept it as a valid authority based on the belief that God exists and has raised Jesus from the dead. Of course, that means I take seriously how to interpret it properly for moral situations.

    James: Once again, nothing you’ve posted here responds to this central argument, and so I’m confident in it.

    Reply: This central argument I consider to be a misunderstanding of the classical Christian position. Again, I recommend Aristotle and Aquinas.

    James: As for the question of a “straw man”, I am responding directly to the way in which the participants in three ‘Unbelievable?’ programs actually used scripture to reason. If you bother to listen to those podcasts you will hear them reasoning in precisely the way I suggest is unwise. So my critique is not of a straw man, but of the process of ethical reasoning that can be observed by anyone who wishes to listen to the podcasts.

    Reply: Actually, I have listened to the first two. Note that in each case, these are people who do believe Scripture is authoritative but are not necessarily saying “Scripture is the primary source of moral guidance” or “Scripture is the only source.” If you are a Christian, you do take the text seriously and will argue with another Christian from there. For reasoning in the public square to convince someone of another worldview, it is best to use what they view as authoritative, be that reason or a sacred text or both.

  7. James Croft Says:

    Again you misconstrue me – there’s not much point in discussing if you fail to grasp the simplest point. I do NOT say ““Let’s go on and surrender because we’ll never know.” I say “let’s use texts as tools for moral guidance if they are helpful, but let’s not make them the BASIS of our moral considerations.” This is quite different.

    “I have listened to the first two. Note that in each case, these are people who do believe Scripture is authoritative but are not necessarily saying “Scripture is the primary source of moral guidance” or “Scripture is the only source.””

    In fact they DO say “scripture is the primary source of moral guidance”. As I quoted in my original post, both the discussants in the women in church leadership said repeatedly “We have to start with Scripture” or words to that effect. And their arguments were almost ENTIRELY based on interpretation of scriptural passages. This was precisely why I chose to write the post. The same is true of the other two episodes. To claim otherwise is simply to misrepresent those podcasts. Anyone can listen to them and see that I’m right.

    It seems that you are arguing from a different position to those in the podcast – fine. I don’t necessarily disagree with YOUR position. I disagree with the process of moral reasoning evidenced in the podcasts and I have stated why.

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