Thursday, December 20, 2007

Has JP Moreland Fallen Off His Rocker?

I'm a recovering JP Moreland lackey. I still love him, bless his heart, but I no longer see eye-to-eye with him on a number of issues. (You know, you can get away with saying just about anything about someone as long as you add "Bless his heart." JP often did this in class.) I should say that I owe him a tremendous debt, however, and still consider him a mentor or sorts. So, I was intrigued by the recent bomb he dropped at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting. I was at the conference, but passed on hearing JP, figuring it would be all-too-familiar. (I took six courses with him at Talbot.

Then the bomb exploded.

Christianity Today did a piece on his talk at ETS. Other bloggers picked it up. Talk-radio personality Frank Pastore did a show on it. Whispers and complaints rippled among Christian scholars far and wide.

So what do I think about it? Has JP lost his (Thomistic-substance-dualist) mind? Absolutely not.

If you've dodged all the links I've thrown at you so far, here's the gist of Moreland's paper: Because evangelicals have unwittingly adopted the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge for faith and practice, they are missing out on three things: (1) robust cultural engagement; (2) practical knowledge of the spiritual realm; and (3) the ability to receive certain forms of divine guidance. Moreland is very careful to distinguish between the Bible's being the sole source of knowledge and the Bible's being the ultimate source. He affirms the latter wholeheartedly, and throws in a cheer for inerrancy to boot. In saying that the Bible is the ultimate source, Moreland affirms extra-biblical knowledge as long as it does not contravene Scripture. So the Bible remains the standard by which all other knowldge-claims are judged.

So what is wrong with this? Not much. Most of the hub-bub, in my opinion, has been completely groundless or misplaced. The paper just wasn't that big of a deal. If you focus in on the essence of his manifesto and set aside your personal views on the practice of "sign gifts," then I think it is hard to disagree with him. (Unless you're a hyper-Calvinist who has an unyielding aversion to natural theology/revelation -- then I can see the problem.) Granted, it is hard to stay honed in on the main thesis of his paper when he tosses in references to Pope John Paul II, the demonic realm, and "words of knowledge." Moreover, he has an extensive section in the middle concerning historical-social developments that could have been omitted, honestly. Those things aside, I think Moreland is absolutely right about our ignorance of and relcutance to explore extra-biblical sources of knowledge. All truth is God's truth, I have always said. If a claim is true, whether it be in geometry, biology, mathematics, philosophy or psychology, then it can be embraced and employed by the Christian.

To sum up, I think Moreland's diagnosis is basically correct. But are we missing out on all that he claims we are? We certainly are lacking in sound cultural engagement. But I'm not so sure about (2) and (3). I think he's correct in principle that we would be missing out on those things if they are legitimate experiences. I also think there is theological space in the Bible to affirm these phenomena, but I haven't had the personal experience with them that Moreland has, nor have I done the research.

But at the end of the day, JP's still on his rocker, bless his heart.

For more, read JP's paper here. Here is JP's response to the CT piece.

[Post edited 12/21/07]


Blogger Sam said...

Chris, I think you've summed up Moreland's paper accurately. And I agree with Moreland too. But I think it is a "big deal." Not to Talbot grads, because we could see this coming, but to the average evangelical. Remember, BIOLA has a giant mural of Jesus holding up the Bible. In a sense, Morelands challenging this picture.

What I find intriguing and unexpected however, knowing the anti-intellectualism in the Pentecostal tradition first hand, is that he's making a round-about defense of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. I think he's also challenging the idea that God speaks only through the Bible. This is disturbing to many who might grant him his large point. I'd like to hear a more focused defense of this.

2:26 AM  
Blogger Brent said...

Chris, thanks for keeping us abreast of theological happenings in evangelicalism.

After following some of the links, I'd have to say that Moreland sounds like he is firmly seated in his rocking chair. As someone who leans in the Reformed direction (though certainly not TR) it is really disappointing to see Reformed individuals parroting the party line rather than engaging in good, scholarly thinking - something they traditionally known for.

I can understand Luther's aversion to anything outside the Bible in light of the situation he was living in. But after 500 years of break from the Catholic church, I think maybe we could reexamine that stance. I hope you are well. Miss you all. Oh, and thanks for including me in the anagrams. :)

1:56 PM  
Blogger chris said...

You know, Brent, I completely forgot about the section where Moreland points the finger at theologians like Schaeffer, Hodge, Kuyper, et al. So, he does talk about the (bad) influence of reformed thinkers.

I may have been a little harsh on the reformed view, but I hope no one takes it personally.

We miss you guys, too!! Sorry your anagram was so easy.

6:22 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Sam, Have you read Kingdom Triangle yet? I haven't. The manifestations of the spirit are now a crucial part of JP's spirituality, which helps me understand why he's defending these things together.

I suppose you may be right that this is a big deal. Maybe I'm just used to the ideas.

6:59 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

That's a lot of deep reading for a lay person. I will say that I am impressed with JP's support of distributing birth control in the schools. It is a needed step toward eliminating unwanted/unintended pregnancies. Too bad Jamie Lynn Spears' school did not participate in that program.

On a separate note, I am interested in the relevance to this discussion, if any, to salvation. Is this the type of discussion theologians have because it is a fun academic exercise, or does it have implications for one's relationship with God beyond earth. For example, if you and I both strive to live by the example set by Christ, yet differ in our agreement to JP's argument here, can we still hang out together in Heaven?

10:11 AM  
Blogger chris said...

Joel -- Hmmm. Relevance to salvation? Well, if you mean by salvation "justification," then it probably isn't terribly relevant. But if you mean "sanctification," then it is crucial. The scriptures use salvation in both senses.
Now, an ultra-reformed or fundamentalist thinker might say that if we accept any authority outside the Bible, then we are no longer staying true to "sola scritpura" and salvation (justification) is likely to become obfuscated, perhaps leading us back to a "works" mentality and certain damnation. Those who are friendly to JP's view, like myself, would say that one's stance on sola scriptura entails nothing about one's salvation (unless, or course, one denies that the Bible says anything true).

So, my view would be that one's salvation (justification) does not hinge on whether one accepts "sola scriptura" (in the very narrow sense) or JP's "ultima scriptura."

But regarding salvation qua sanctification, I think JP's point is crucial. Just take psychology -- I think the discipline of psychology has greatly enhanced our ability to help human beings thrive and become mature, whole adults, whether Christian or not. But I don't think that the things we have learned from psychological research could have been discovered in the Bible. I could go on and on about this. So other disciplines can give us truth, even truth about the spiritual realm.

Did I answer your question? So, my view is that you can reject sola scriptura and inerrancy, and yet still be justified before God and heaven-bound.

Where did you read the bit about birth control? I think I missed something.


2:59 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response. I need to digest it more, but I believe you ultiamtely answered my question, which had nothting to do with content and was more about application.

Read the following from JP's Response to CT blog:
My paper was read at an academic conference for an audience of professors. Thus, precision was a premium. It was not intended for a lay audience because lay folk have a tendency---and this is not meant to be harsh—of running with ideas beyond the context in which they were originally given. A professorial friend of mine preached at a church I used to attend and argued that, while he was totally against condom distribution in the public schools, nevertheless, a widely used argument by Evangelicals was a bad argument, and he showed why. After the service, I personally heard several parishioners criticize him for promoting condom distribution in the schools!

My comment was an attempt at tongue-and-cheek humor. I am a lay person and ran with an idea beyond the context in which it was presented.

10:43 AM  
Blogger chris said...

Got it.

Regarding JP's comment, Christian philosophers do get themselves in trouble this way sometimes. We say, for instance, "that argument against (insert controversial issue that evangelicals are against here) is fallacious." And people hear "I support (controversial issue)."

3:07 PM  
Blogger The Bearded said...

Obviously, I'm catching up on past posts today. Although I missed the conversation on this topic, I think it was well thought out.

I do agree with your overall assessment, but I would suggest adding 'geography' to your list of extra-Biblical sources of knowledge. Can't help myself.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous CH said...

Not all of the knowledge I possess comes from the Bible. For example, my knowledge of computer programming and how to cook certain foods does not come from the Bible.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Ace Man said...

@CH. It is true that not all of the knowledge you possess comes from the bible, however, the nature of "how" you know anything can only come from the principles taught in the bible concerning epistemology, metaphysics, and ethical philosophical commitments and the nature of mankind post fall.

All men benefit from the knowledge they gain through the light of nature, however, that knowledge is only complete once the natural man through a new birth receives the special revelation of God's word in the scriptures. Until that time man's knowledge is incomplete. Adam before his rebellion had both natural and special revelation.

"If then even man in paradise could read nature aright only in connection with and in the light of supernatural positive revelation, how much the more is this true of man after the fall. In paradise the supernatural revelation of God to man told him that if he would eat of the forbidden tree he would surely die. Having eaten of this fruit he could therefore expect nothing but eternal separation from God as his final destiny. Of God’s intention to save a people for his own precious possession he could learn nothing from nature. Nor was this involved in the pre-redemptive supernatural revelation that had been vouchsafed to him in paradise. It had to come by way of post-lapsarian supernatural revelation. Covenant-breakers could expect nothing but covenant wrath. That God meant to bring covenant-breakers back into covenant communion with himself through the covenant of grace could in no wise be discovered other than by supernatural redemptive revelation. … Thus the Bible, as the infallibly inspired revelation of God to sinful man, stands before us as that light in terms of which all the facts of the created universe must be interpreted. All of finite existence, natural and redemptive, functions in relation to one all-inclusive plan that is in the mind of God. Whatever insight man is to have into this pattern of the activity of God he must attain by looking at all his objects of research in the light of Scripture. 'If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture.’ … The proper attitude of reason to the authority of Scripture, then, is but typical of the proper attitude of reason to the whole of the revelation of God. The objects man must seek to know are always of such a nature as God asserts they are. God’s revelation is always authoritarian. This is true of his revelation in nature no less than of his revelation in Scripture. The truly scientific method, the method which alone can expect to make true progress in learning, is therefore such a method as seeks simply to think God’s thoughts after him.

Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2003), 137-140.

2:12 PM  

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