When the Bible does not tell us so

I was reading John Stott‘s classic little book Basic Christianity the other day. Stott begins with a move similar to the one CS Lewis makes in Mere Christianity. He examines the things Jesus says about himself and concludes that Jesus either is who he said he is or he is not to be trusted at all.

Stott sets out the case well and his passion is clear.

With some of the recent reading and thinking I’ve been doing in the work of William J. Abraham, though, I wonder if Stott’s approach is compatible with Abraham’s warning that we not turn the Bible into a foundation for truth claims. Stott, it seems to me, is doing exactly that.

Abraham wants us to begin with the claim of the church — Jesus Christ was divine. He does not try to prove this by appeal to scripture. Indeed, he argues that making our confidence in Christ’s divinity depend on scripture opens up all kinds of problems for Christianity.

I am, frankly, not well versed enough in philosophy or epistemology to appraise Abraham’s argument to any extent. Its similar to when the air conditioner repair man says I need a new coil. How do I know?

But I am trying to figure out what Abraham’s argument means for what have been effective apologetic and evangelistic arguments in the past. What does it mean if Stott and Lewis and Wesley have defended their claims about Christ on what amounts to a “for the Bible tells me so” argument?

And what does Abraham offer us in place of such resources? I suspect not a lot of my readers are Abraham experts, but if you have some thoughts on the subject, I’d love to read them.

13 thoughts on “When the Bible does not tell us so

  1. “Abraham wants us to begin with the claim of the church — Jesus Christ was divine. He does not try to prove this by appeal to scripture. Indeed, he argues that making our confidence in Christ’s divinity depend on scripture opens up all kinds of problems for Christianity.”
    I don’t have to be an expert on Abraham to see his advice to “not depend on scripture” is rediculous.
    I would have to assume all of the great apologists of the Christianity were wrong in doing so and what they accomplished was less than Abraham accomplished.

    1. I did not quote, d. I was summarizing my reading of him. I was not saying he said “throw away the scriptures.” He was arguing that the church has turned the Bible into a ultimate authority for settling epistemological questions, and that is not what it was ever written to be.

      His argument is that the Bible is a means of grace given to us by the Holy Spirit to “make us wise unto salvation.”

      I’m still trying to full grasp his argument, so I am not good at explaining the distinctions here, but what he has observed is that the church tactic of making the Bible the trump card you pull out to settle arguments has not, in fact, settled anything. The Bible was not actually written for that purpose. It is not a paper pope to which we can submit disputes and have it issue rulings to clear up all the mess.

      Some argue that is because the people who disagree with us are wrong or vicious or blind. Abraham is saying that it is because we are all using the Bible to do something it was not given to the church to do.

      That does not say he wants to toss it out. Far from it. He defends the doctrine of special revelation and inspiration.

      As I say, I am not confident I fully understand his argument. I’m not well versed in philosophy, which informs a lot of his critique. He says too many of us are trying to use the Bible in philosophical arguments that are sloppy and abuse the Bible.

  2. I believe that the argument of the Rev Dr. Abraham is Biblicism vs Christian Orthodoxy. Conservatve Christians could fall into either camp. As a Methodist layperson, I choose the former. I am an admirer of Billy Abraham despite the side I have chosen.

  3. John, I think Abraham’s historical reasoning is most helpful… And that you have a good grip on what he is saying, in my opinion. I think Abraham offers that that which is canonical is what supplants our erroneous emphasis on scripture alone. Scripture retains a place of prestige, but the witness of the church throughout the ages becomes an important tool as well, as found in the sacraments, word, theology, liturgy of the Church. The big problem I see with Abraham’s approach is that it is subjective, and occasionally messy. It is not quite as cleanly cut as Oden’s consensual theism. It certainly robs anyone of the ability to make a “knock-out” punch in theological debate (which may not be a bad thing).

    1. Philosophy is concerned with “being” in some form.
      Philosophy asks What? Who? When” Why” and Where? in general.
      Philosophy is concerned with “being” in some form.
      Philosophy asks What? Who? When” Why” and Where? in general.
      To form a “new philosophy” there must be a rejection of something in an established or known philosophy.

      Related to your post ( my 1st response was directed at the posted comment by Abraham)
      I look back at what Paul did when he was dismayed and saddened at what he saw as he walked the streets of Athens.
      Athens was the heart of philosophy and it’s greatest thinkers.
      If what Abraham said were true Paul would have used the wrong tools and method to introduce, evangelize, prove and teach the brightest and best .
      Paul was not privy to the resurrection. Paul did not eye witness the many miracles and teachings of Christ other apostles had seen so what where Paul’s tool for the apology he presented ?
      Acts 17:16-34

      There is no fear of God in their eyes found in the book of Romans, Where does that come form but the OT?
      The term “it is written “is found about 72 times in the NT.
      So what is “it is written” referencing and what was the purpose of use?
      Christ and the Apostles used the bible to support, confirm and teach which is why I say the statement is ridiculous.

      1. I think I hear your critique, d, but Abraham is not arguing that we should dispense with scripture, just that we should view it as one of a number of gifts of the Holy Spirit given by God to form, guide, and lead the church. Paul himself is one of those gifts.

    2. Thank you, Glenn. Is the subjective aspect the roster of canons that Abraham nominates or the way this melange of canons means you actually don’t have any way to resolve doctrinal disputes other than appeal to power?

      I also sense when reading Abraham that there is a gravitational pull toward Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism (if the pope could just be dealt with).

      1. Well, in the historical argument, he does point to Roman Catholics as a positive example. When the Anglican’s encountered criticisms of the Trinity, for example, reason and scripture were insufficient to hold off the Unitarian challenge fully, Roman Catholics were completely insulated from Unitarian challenges in the 18th and 19th centuries because they appealed to the whole canon of Revelation and not just to Scripture and reason.

  4. But… The church, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives us the canon of Scripture, the bible…. Yes we use and appeal to Scripture, but not Scripture alone, but to the Church, empowered by the Spirit across the centuries.

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