Monday, May 14, 2012

Unrecognized Agreement and Unity

Last week Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis (AiG) posted an article explaining why he believes that Reasons to Believe (RTB) and Stand to Reason (STR) have compromised scripture. Last week I responded by pointing out areas of agreement between those ministries and Answers In Genesis. I also explained some simple errors that Ham had made and showed how more areas of agreement could exist when those errors are understood and corrected. I concluded the post by linking to a few other responses by other bloggers.

Ken Ham offered a general response to the critiques of his original post and a specific one regarding the idea of "reformation". Ham did not name any specific blogs or provide links to which ones we was specifically addressing, so it makes it quite difficult to provide feedback on the soundness of that part of his response.

Agreement on Biblical Authority and Inerrancy
However, in his response, I would like to make clear a few other areas of agreement among the RTB, STR, AiG, and the bloggers who critiqued Ham's original article. Ham makes it very clear in his discussion about what he means by "reformation" that AiG's focus is to defend the authority of scripture. He believes that the loss of this doctrine is one of the key reasons people are leaving the Church. He believes that naturalists have convinced young Christians that scripture and science are completely incompatible. This is another area where these ministries can shake hands.


They agree that there is a crisis in the Church regarding biblical authority. All these ministries hold God's Word in the highest regard, that none of it is false: they all hold to biblical inerrancy. They all defend biblical authority within the Church. Reasons to Believe is constantly demonstrating how new scientific discoveries are compatible with scripture and how others are even predicted by scripture (see Today's New Reason to Believe)- thus establishing its authority when its not first presumed. If Ham would understand and recognize the dedication to biblical authority on the part of the other ministries, AiG could unite with these other ministries in their pursuit of truth, instead of undermining the credibility of their brothers' work for Christ.


Agreement on Man's Fallibility
These ministries also agree that man is fallible. Man can and does interpret both nature and scripture incorrectly. However, Ham does not seem to place himself in the category of "fallible man" regarding interpretation of scripture. Ham states that young-earth creationism (YEC) follows necessarily from the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Based on that, it is safe to conclude that Ham believes his interpretation of scripture to be infallible. If he does not believe that his interpretation is infallible, then he needs to stop claiming that the YEC view follows necessarily from the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Now, he does not have to give up the fact that the YEC interpretation is compatible with biblical inerrancy; what he would have to give up is his claims that those who interpret scripture differently may also be compatible with biblical inerrancy, thus are not compromising scripture.

Agreement on Homosexuality (I know it has nothing to do with this, but please read on).

Towards the end of Ham's response, he then tosses in a claim about gay marriage being tied to those who discount biblical authority. Now, there are a few non-exclusive ways we can look at this:

Cheap Shot?
Those who are familiar with RTB and STR know that neither of them support homosexuality. In fact, Stand to Reason has an entire list of articles that defend the biblical view of marriage from a stance of biblical authority and from a naturalistic perspective. So, this connection that Ham attempts to make between who he has labeled as "compromisers" and the support for homosexuality is blatantly false. The fact that he does not clarify the positions of those he disagrees with is either poor communication or sloppy scholarship.

Intentionally Misleading Rhetoric?
I highly doubt that Ham intends to mislead his readers into believing something false about those he disagrees with.  But sloppy scholarship and poor communication do lead to it, no matter how unintentional. If Ham does his research and is more careful about how he communicates about those he disagrees with, this appearance of deception and the accompanying strawman will disappear.

Genuine Concern?
The third possibility is that Ham has an actually valid point. This can be easily recognized from a position of biblical authority. If someone believes that scripture is not true and not from an infallible source of truth, then its claims about homosexuality's wrongness come into question, which opens the door for support of gay marriage. Anyone who is authentically compromising the truth of scripture is legitimately in danger of going down this road. Ham (as other Christians) should be concerned that such a path will be taken by those who do compromise biblical authority.

But notice the qualifiers that I used: "authentically" and "legitimately". If our fear of a ministry or person going down this road is to be legitimate, the fact that they compromise scripture must be authentic. However, if Ham is to recognize that his interpretation of scripture is fallible (as he claims for everyone else's), then he must find definitive grounds to establish his claim that these other views authentically compromise scripture. Ham has a choice: he either needs to recognize his own fallibility or recognize that views other than his do not necessarily lead to the support for homosexuality.


A Red Herring?
Of course, the truly cynical person who disagrees with Ham's YEC view could always taint Ham's genuine concern regarding homosexuality with the fact that it is actually a red herring regarding the debate. But they need to remember that it is a possible and likely implication of compromising biblical authority. It is a red herring only because it is premature in the discussion. Only once compromise of biblical authority (specifically on all scriptures pertaining to the topic) by a ministry has been established should view of homosexuality come into question. So, I don't disagree that it is a red herring, but I understand Ham's concern and believe that it would be legitimate if he had taken the time and effort to establish the prior condition of compromise.

Switching Gears
Now, I want everyone to know that what I have communicated here is not something that I say from a distance in an ivory tower. I once held to this hard line that Ken Ham is holding to; much of my passion was because of Answers In Genesis and Ken Ham. I held to his over-arching view of "evolution" and the necessary, biblical compromise of millions of years. I believed that Hugh Ross and RTB were false teachers who were leading the Church away from the authority of God's Word. But I was confronted with pretty much exactly what I have written here and in my previous article.

I can tell you from experience that this was a hard pill to swallow- not that OEC was true, but that I needed to honestly investigate it. Why? I didn't have a reputation to protect. I didn't have a large organization that might lose funding if I shifted my view. I didn't have any illegitimate reason (that Ham may possess that I didn't) to reject the truth except one: my pride (what I see in many of us who engage in this debate, including myself and Ham). Because of the fact that I stood on biblical authority, inerrency, and applicability to me, I had to recognize my own fallibility and realize that that might just bleed over to my interpretation of scripture too. I had to understand that I might just be wrong...and worse, the ones I had pegged as enemies of the Church might be right. In the absence of the other reasons to maintain any view, that last part is enough to keep our pride in control of our hearts and minds and refuse to even entertain the possibility that we might be wrong.

I took it a step at a time. I listened to the arguments that Dr. Ross had and considered them only as defeaters for the idea that YEC was the exclusive view taught by Scripture. As of today, I am convinced that both views are completely compatible with scripture. However, I believe that that tie must be broken elsewhere. Nature is the creation of God, and His words will never contradict his actions. The task for both sides is to show how the raw data from nature (not the science that is the interpretation) is compatible with their interpretation of scripture. They need to be honest in the limits which a certain piece of raw data supports a particular view. Please don't claim that a piece of evidence supports only your view when the other side has an explanation of the evidence that fits consistently in their view. Please don't claim that your view is compatible with a piece of evidence unless you can explain how (don't be afraid to adjust your view if you need to). In the event that we are found bearing false witness about the other ministries' views (strawmen arguments- fallacies) let's not waste time trying to protect our fragile egos; let's recognize the mistake and make a deliberate effort to prevent the same in the future.

Conclusion
Above all, let's remember that we are all in the fight for the Kingdom at the same time that we are searching for the truth; let's not undercut each other's efforts to build the Kingdom. Let's support them; let's encourage them; let's work with them. Let's recognize when those we disagree with are trying to support us; let's recognize when those we disagree with are trying to encourage us; let's recognize when those we disagree with want to work with us. Let's be humble enough to die to ourselves and let Christ and his cross be the focus of our ministries as members of the Body of Christ.

Finally, I don't want to give the impression that I think that I have conquered my pride. My first reaction when I saw both of Ham's articles was not pretty. I had to step back and remind myself of AiG's goals and that we share those goals. I had to realize that I couldn't just jump in and start saying that Ham's intended ends were nefarious because his means were questionable. We all have the final end of bringing more into the Kingdom of God, but that doesn't mean that all our means will be perfect. There is nothing wrong with critiquing, being critiqued, and accepting critique on our means to that end. So, I ask that anyone who disagrees with my means here, to provide their critique with the correct understanding of my view and with the humble spirit of one fallible brother/sister in Christ to another; and I ask that the same courtesy be extended to Ken Ham and AiG.

For a more in-depth response to Ken Ham's response, please see J.W. Wartick's post Ken Ham, Honesty, and AiG's Reformation- A Lesson in Careful Reading and Hermeneutics 

Other article I've written that pertain to this discussion:
Zombies of Christianity
Man's Fallible Ideas vs. God's Infallible Word
Reasons in and Out of a Worldview 
Should Christians Accept Secular Critique?
The Importance of Defining Terms
Are Nature and Scripture Compatible?

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