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IntroductionWhen evaluating something as vast and with as many intricate connections as the topic of “What I Believe” it becomes apparent rather quickly that one cannot truly understand the beginning until one has an understanding of the ending. That is to say, the structures that form the thoughts, concepts, and reasons for any particular belief are not formed in isolation, and it becomes necessarily difficult to put them in any particular hierarchical format. Instead, a better metaphor is to think of an intricate web of beliefs that support each other.
Ultimately, of course, this means that there is a certain sense in which my beliefs will be circular. Yet is it clear from philosophy that not all circular arguments are viciously circular. That is, some circular arguments are necessary simply to get us off the ground in the first place. The beginnings of my belief structures can be hinted at in a way that is not, I hope, viciously circular.
To pick a fundamental starting point, I’d have to begin with a statement of what I hope to be true. Naturally, I believe it is actually true as well, but even if it were not true at least it gives us a ground point to begin the discussion. That starting point is: the Word of God is true.
But why this starting point and not something else? For instance, why not pick “Logic is valid” as the starting point. After all, it is equally true that I believe logic is valid as it is that I believe the Bible is infallible and inerrant. Furthermore, I am using my logic and reason in thinking about what the Bible says too. So I could lay claim to my starting foundation being both logic and Scripture.
But there is a reason that I say that “The Word of God is true” is my genuine starting point, and that is because if Scriptures come into conflict with my rationality, or what I logically deduce, then I want to be able to say that Scripture wins that debate. Of course, it’s not quite as straightforward as that due to the fact that what I understand Scripture to say—that is, my interpretation of passages—is my logic and reasoning working through the concepts, and so there is a very real sense in which it is impossible for me say “I believe the Bible over my reasoning.” But perhaps it can be better expressed if I say that if my intuitions about reality conflict with my reasoning over what Scripture says, then my reasoning about what Scripture says must trump my intuitions about reality.
I believe that I can find Scriptural support for this view too. For example, Jeremiah 17:9 states (all Scripture is in the ESV unless otherwise indicated): “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” If our hearts govern our intuitions, as is commonly understood, then we see in this passage already the fact that our intuitions are based in deceit and cannot be fully trusted. In distinction to that, we read of Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). This passage actually answers the question Jeremiah poses. Who can understand the heart? Answer: the word of God “discern[s] the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Thus, I maintain that I have Scriptural warrant to begin with the idea that Scripture trumps my intuitions. Therefore, if I intuit something must be true, must be moral, must be logical, and yet Scripture seems to state the opposite, my task will not be to “wish away” Scriptures’ claims. I must be able to either come to an understanding of the Scripture in such a way that does no violence to the meaning of the text and yet still harmonizes with my view, or I must jettison my view. In no case can I jettison the Scriptural passage. My view must harmonize with Scripture or I must change my view and accept what the Scripture says.
Again, I point out that I am not stating that I have done this. I believe that I have, and I hope that I have, but again I am assured by Scripture that my heart is deceitful and I could be in error. Therefore, I must not speak too dogmatically. I must ensure that I have Scriptural support for every position that I maintain is actually true, and I must be able to clearly distinguish between those points of view and speculation about those views. This area becomes a bit more difficult for the reason that much of Scripture is not as clear as we’d like it to be, and there is quite a bit of theology that is gained through implication rather than through direct statements. There is nothing wrong with following an argument that is implied, but it is obviously much more difficult to do so than it is to follow an explicitly stated argument.
This means that in a sense we can speak of three different levels of my beliefs. The level that corresponds to my strongest beliefs is where (I believe) I have explicit statements from the Scriptures to warrant accepting such beliefs. The next strongest beliefs are going to be those that (I believe) I have implicit arguments drawn from explicit facts of Scripture that warrant accepting those beliefs. My weaker beliefs are going to be those which are speculative. They will likewise consist of two parts: the strongest version being speculations consistent with explicit statements of Scripture; the weakest, those consistent with implicit statements of Scripture. The weakest beliefs that I will hold will be those beliefs for which there is no Scriptural warrant at all, yet which do not contradict anything of Scripture.
Incidentally, if properly done, even these weakest of beliefs can still be pretty strong. For example, I believe events happened in our nation’s history which are pretty accurately represented in the history books. Yet I have no basis in Scripture to believe that, say, the Civil War began in 1861. Yet the belief that the Civil War began in 1861 also does not contradict Scripture, and therefore there is no reason for me to reject the belief that the Civil War began in 1861 on a Biblical basis.
Given this example, I hope to make it clear that I do not believe that we can know no truth outside of Scripture. There is plenty of truth that we can understand and hold fast to that has no Biblical warrant. I am merely stating that truth does not contradict anything about the Scripture. When I say that these will be my weakest beliefs, it is only in reference to theology. I could easily build a hierarchy for such views (for example, views that are logically necessary and not contradictory to Scripture are above views which are merely possible and not contradictory to Scripture). However, this would move me beyond the scope of the present document.
In point of fact, for this present work, I do not want to dwell much on any of these weakest beliefs. Instead, I want to focus primarily on the strongest beliefs, with only a dash of the weaker beliefs for seasoning. It may be necessary to take a dip into one or two of the absolutely weakest beliefs along the way (i.e., bare facts of history). But since the further we stray from the certainty of Scripture, the more likely it is for error to creep in, then I am going to try to avoid that unless absolutely necessary. In short, therefore, this work will be dealing almost exclusively with A) explicit statements of Scripture and B) implicit arguments derived from those explicit statements. There will be very little of pure logic applied here divorced from Scripture.
If done correctly (and I understand that I bear the burden to demonstrate that I’ve done it correctly), when I am finished my patterns of thoughts ought to be fully traceable back to how they are derived from Scripture itself. Obviously, it is still possible that I may misinterpret a passage of Scripture. I will not claim that my views are without any error at all. But, in setting them this way, I am giving anyone who objects the ability to grab hold of my thoughts at the level by which you could convince me to alter my beliefs. Namely, if you can demonstrate where I have made a mistake in interpreting Scripture, then you will be able to convince me to change my views—up to the point at which my heart’s deception may render correction impossible.
It should also be noted that I expect the same of my readers. If you do not believe the Scriptures trump your intuitions, then it is quite likely that you will find this work of little benefit. I also do not intend to convince anyone that my views about the nature of Scripture are correct until much, much later. Either you already accept this view or you do not, but this is where we are starting. Later, we can circle back to check if this starting point is a good one or not. But it will be a journey to get there.
If you do believe that Scripture trumps your intuition, and you begin by rejecting my point of view, it is my prayer that my arguments will be sufficiently close to accurately representing the totality of Scripture that you will become convinced, not by my arguments but by the actual word of God, to agree with me. Conversely, if I err, I likewise pray that you can present a counter argument that is sufficiently close to accurately representing the totality of Scripture that I will become convinced, not by your arguments but by the actual word of God, to agree with you.