Kingdom Triangle Discussion

Monday, November 19, 2007

How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What can be Done about It

J.P. Moreland argues that sola scriptura involves a commitment to the final authority of the inerrant word of God in all matters, but not to the idea that it is the sole source of moral and theologically relevant knowledge. Just as an archeological dig could discover more information about an ancient city described in the Bible--though we would not accept alleged discoveries that contradicted scripture--so there are three areas where extra-biblical knowledge is available--knowledge of God and morality in the creation, knowledge of the soul and demons by interacting with and studying them, and knowledge of God's will though guidance in various ways.

Kingdom Triangle is relevant to this paper’s conclusion in three basic ways: First, it provides a commendable balance between a recovery of the Christian mind, renovation of the soul, and a restoration of the Spirit’s power so that an over-emphasis on an extra-biblical source of knowledge is discouraged. Second, it explains what knowledge is and what it is not. Moreover, it answers questions about how one would approach extra-biblical knowledge. Third, it gives more detail about the demonic and God’s guidance and speaking.

Read the entire paper here.


Hitchcock said...

It is my sincere hope that believers take up Moreland's challenge to stretch Christian epistemology beyond a simplistic front of sola scriptura. I shudder to think, however, that Protestants have failed to engage the world simply because of their unwillingness to adopt a robust natural theology.

Consider previous attempts in western history to do just what Moreland proposes. In continental Europe the attempt to bolster special revelation with general revelation led to the fruitful careers of Matthew Tindal and Francis Turretin, who, the former in a rationalist spirit, the latter in an apologetical one, claimed the ability to read off the face of history and science proofs for the existence of a reasonable creator God. Each viewpoint ultimately generated religious circles that fought rearguard action through the Enlightenment. They were finally supplanted not by atheists, but by the romanticism of Schleiermacher and Hegel, in whose shadows we live and worship today.

Or again, in British history, William Paley tried to keep Christianity in public dialogue through a hypertrophied natural theology. His influence waned quickly, but his most eloquent critic's, the poet-theologian Samuel Taylor Coleridge, did not. Through Westcott and Lightfoot, and later through far more liberal sources, Christianity lost its power precisely because of its addiction to metaphysical arguments.

America has had extra time to sort out its epistemology, and for that reason, has a distinct philosophical advantage. But what, in light of the historical precedent, makes Moreland think, in an age after Hume and Kant, that flirtation with natural law will somehow salvage the Evangelical place in the world? Hasn't the Roman Catholic Church (or indeed, the beautiful and tragic Episcopal Church USA, with their three-legged stool of reason, scripture, tradition!) taught us not to walk down that narrow, vanishing line?

Tim said...


Your sketch of the history of apologetics is inadequate and distorts the true relationships of things.

The great war against the deists was fought principally by the British apologists like Leslie, Chandler, Sherlock, Butler, Lardner, Leland, Adams, Campbell, and Douglas and was squarely grounded in the defense of scripture. Turretin's Puritan scholasticism had essentially no influence on these men: they were drawing instead on the tradition developed by thinkers like Chillingworth, Wilkins, Boyle and Tillotson.

In their great clash with the deists, the British apologists did not "fight a rearguard action": they won. That this is now forgotten is not due to any failure on their part but rather to a sort of historical amnesia on the part of American evangelicals. The influence of the British apologetic tradition has never died out, as you can see in the work of Gary Habermas, John Warwick Montgomery, William Lane Craig, and J.P. himself.

Paley's Natural Theology was preceded by a robust defense of the credentials of revelation in A View of the Evidences of Christianity and a detailed defense of the authenticity of the Pauline epistles in his Horae Paulinae. The Evidences were required reading at Cambridge well into the 20th century. The Horae Paulinae inspired much further work, including Blunt's Undesigned Coincidences, Birks's Horae Evangelicae and Horae Apostolicae, and Jenner's The Three Witnesses. In no sense did Paley's influence wane quickly.

The design argument, while limited in the scope of the conclusion one can draw on natural grounds alone, continued to be a signpost throughout the nineteenth century and is looking more interesting today than ever before.

In all these ways, it would be a better world if we would make some effort to recover the vision of the British apologists rather than spurning part -- or all -- of what they have to offer.

Jeremiah said...

My question regarding this issue is how we can know whether things that we learn from outside of scripture are reliable if scripture doesn't teach them. For example, Dr. Moreland spoke of two men who have worked for years in the area of exorcisms and have learned things about the demonic realm not mentioned in scripture. How can we know whether that is true without just taking their words for it? I should add that I think this example (the demonic) is slightly different from a scientific, historical, or philosophical example (which should be more easily verifiable) because so few people can verify if these two men are correct, since so few Christians have as extensive experience in this area. I don't mean to pick on these two men exclusively because many other examples could be given.


The Hitchcocks said...


Your post is a welcome response, and maybe not entirely incompatible with what I've said. Rational apologists certainly held their own against the lingering Enlightenment forces, especially in Great Britain. It might even be argued that they had victories against the deists, a hypothesis we might justify on account of the the waning influence of the latter. After all, when is the last time you ran across a deist?

What I'm arguing, however, is that Evangelicals have generally fought the wrong battles over the past century or two. Deistic theories were easy to address because they fought with the same rules of engagement (natural theology and historicism, each of which built atop an optimistic view of the mind to perceive the objective world). The problem was that these terms of debate changed utterly. Kantian epistemology changed the face of German (later British) theology considerably, so that traditional defenses of the faith sounded, well, primitive. Enlightenment-style rationalists also suffered on account of the new basis for doing (or not doing) metaphysics. That is to ask, did the apologists win over the deists, or did the deists simply shift camps into romantic Idealism?

To quote the wisdom of Weezer, "The world has turned and left us here." In such a way, Butler and Paley and company weren't abandoned because they were wrong so much as because they were deemed irrelevant. Is Moreland really fighting the right war by calling all Evangelical resources to the older metaphysical camp that sees revelation as something we can read off the face of history and the sciences? Even if Kingdom Triangle manages to breathe new life into natural theology, I fear the western world will greet it not with debate but with a quizzical look.

This is not to excise all apologetics, even traditional expressions, from our toolbelt. But it is to say that, if the world must be puzzled by our message, let it be over the proclamation that "this Jesus, whom you crucified, has been made Lord and Christ."

Joan said...

Lenny, thanks for posting the link to Moreland's paper. I found it very well-written and persuasive. Merry Christmas!

Joanie D.