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August 15, 2007

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bls

So how has belief in, say, the Trinity been harmful?

D. C. Toedt III

Belief in the proposition that God is a Trinity, of which Jesus is the Second Person (call this proposition "P1"), has been harmful because of the corollaries people have purported to draw from it. For example:

P1. God is a Trinity, of which Jesus is the Second Person;

P2. Therefore, the view of Scripture attributed to Jesus by some interpreters of the New Testament — that Scripture is supremely authoritative — is necessarily binding on us; [I know, I know, the premises here have gaping holes, but this is supposedly John Stott's logic]

P3. Therefore, Scripture's condemnation of (certain) same-sex sexual activity — which states no exceptions — necessarily applies to all such activity;

P4. Therefore, even loving, committed same-sex unions are sinful;

P5. Consequently, no right-thinking Christian may properly share communion with anyone who condones SSUs.

I don't really need to give other examples, do I?

bls

I don't really need to give other examples, do I?

I'd say you haven't given the first one yet. ;-)

It's not faith in Trinity that's at issue in your example, but interpretation of Scripture by individual human beings and by the Church. But interpretation does change over time, and will continue to change. And that those interpretations have been used in strange and illogical ways in the past. You haven't shown that faith in Trinity by itself has any harmful outcomes at all.

Further, I point out that people who believed in the Trinity have been indistinguishable from those who didn't on this particular issue, until about 15-20 years ago. How would you explain that fact? It certainly seems clear that faith in the Trinity is not uniquely causal for opposition to same-sex unions; it may, in fact, be completely irrelevant.

Patch those gaping holes, please. I won't be swayed via emotional and personal appeals.

;-)

bls

As a matter of fact, D.C., the Creeds are the very thing that will make it possible for gay people to win the argument about same-sex unions.

The Creeds have nothing at all to say about the issue - and they are the doctrine of the Church. People can indeed be both "orthodox" (in the true sense) and in favor of same-sex unions.

We belong, precisely because of the Creeds. If we replace them by a "Confession" - which is what would happen if we tried to replace them - there's every chance that would no longer be true. The Creeds are our lifeline and our best argument, in fact.

Randy Woodruff

I'm going to stay out of the discussion of creeds and Episcopal orthodoxy - since I know nothing of either.

However, I am intrigued by the discussion of "unsupported faith." I have been trying to work through a question in my mind as to the difference or similarity in the terms faith and belief.

It seems to me that we use the terms interchangeably much of the time, but perhaps there is benefit in distinguishing between the two. I've been round and round on this for awhile, but presently am distinguishing the two as follows:

Belief - an idea or conclusion based on fact or assumption

Faith - trust in an idea or conclusion based on a fact or assumption that leads to a way of living

And further, I'm trying to sort out the difference between conclusions or ideas that come from assumptions and those that come from logical conclusions of fact. I find your description of the Trinity to be helpful in that regard.

Hi D.C.

Just found your blog, and I like your pedigree. My background includes a beginning in engineering, a law degree and now an MDiv. Your question of evidence as justifying intellectual assent is interesting to me for a variety of reasons.

1) I wonder if intellectual assent is the real issue? That's not what faith is about - faith is about believing IN not believing THAT.

2) What rules of evidence apply in the case of God? Is the testimony of witnesses sufficient? Is hearsay ruled out?

3) What is the standard of proof? Preponderance of the evidence? Beyond a shadow of a doubt? or something else?

4) From an evidentiary standpoint, I think we have to begin, not with the Trinity or the divinity of Christ, but with the resurrection. As Paul said, "If there is no resurrection, then our faith is futile and we are of all people most to be pitied.

As to the resurrection (working backward) I find the evidence to be very convincing. Fraud is ruled out, and the transformation of the disciples' lives and the lives of many witnesses down through the ages, up to and including myself convince me that Christ is risen.

As to standard of proof, it's a factual matter for the jury. After listening to all the testimonial evidence, I find them more credible the more I listen.

All of the evidence that we have is hearsay, but we have the added benefit of being able to measure the effect of the testimony in our own lives of trusting and acting on the evidence that we've been given.

The evidence that comes from God is personal knowledge. It is God's self revelation, and must be judged on that basis. If your wife says she loves you, how do you know that she really loves you? You have to trust her for a while, but over the years she consistently tells you that she loves you and does things that support her statements, and what began as simple trust becomes a deep certainty.

Continual skepticism (or a hermeneutics of suspicion) will most certainly have a corrosive effect on her ability to communicate her love and your ability to receive it.

All of that applies with equal force to my relationship with the church. There is no perfect church. It's easy to find reasons to leave the church, but I remain in the church because I believe that Christ remains in the church, continually calling it to faithfulness, and I want to see how that works out in my lifetime.

As an engineer working with scientific parameters, I found proof to be fairly cut and dried. You could tell when you had it. As a law student, proof got a little more nebulous. Finally, as a divinity student, I find it almost impossible to eliminate doubt with respect to any religious proposition.

Maybe this resonates with your experience, and maybe not, but it's where I am at the moment.

Best,
Bunker

D. C. Toedt

Bunker, thanks for visiting; it's nice to hear from someone with a background similar to mine.

----------

Bunker writes:

2) What rules of evidence apply in the case of God? Is the testimony of witnesses sufficient? Is hearsay ruled out?

3) What is the standard of proof? Preponderance of the evidence? Beyond a shadow of a doubt? or something else?

The answer to either question depends on the action to be predicated on the assertion. As has been said, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.

Here's an example from law enforcement:

• If a police officer thinks a passer-by committed a crime and wants to stop and question him, the standard of proof required for him to take that action is pretty low (reasonable suspicion, if memory serves).

• If the officer wants to arrest the passer-by, the standard is higher (probable cause) — and the officer must get a second opinion from a neutral magistrate (unless he witnessed the crime).

• If the officer wants to imprison the passer-by, the standard of proof is higher still (beyond a reasonable doubt) — and the officer's belief in guilt must be confirmed by an impartial judge and jury.

Here's another example, this one from the medical world:

• If my doctor wants to freeze a growth off my leg, because he thinks it might turn cancerous someday, the standard of proof I will require for his to take that action is pretty low.

• If my doctor wants to amputate my leg immediately because he thinks the growth is a life-threatening cancer, I'm going to need a bit more convincing, and almost certainly a second opinion, before I let him take such a consequential action.

How does all this relate to God? I can't think of a more consequential action than to assert, for example, that Y'shua of Nazareth was the Creator of the Universe, made flesh, and to entirely organize one's life around that assertion. Before taking such a drastic step, I'm going to want to see the extraordinary proof that such an extraordinary claim demands. (So far, I haven't, for reasons summarized in the postings linked in the right-hand column.)

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Bunker writes:

The evidence that comes from God is personal knowledge.

Personal knowledge can be wrong, not least because it can arise from wishful thinking, which can mutate into self-delusion. That's one reason the church is rightly suspicious of theological claims based entirely on personal experience. (This doesn't mean that the church's tradition is necessarily accurate either.)

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Bunker writes:

If your wife says she loves you, how do you know that she really loves you? You have to trust her for a while, but over the years she consistently tells you that she loves you and does things that support her statements, and what began as simple trust becomes a deep certainty.

Sure — if you accumulate enough consistent data points, of course your confidence level goes up.

Nearly 24 years ago, on my first date with my wife, I had to resist the urge to propose right there on the spot. I "knew" that this was the woman with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. But resist I did, because I knew that this first impression might be mistaken, and that I needed more data points. (Three months later, I concluded I had enough data and took the plunge.)

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Bunker writes:

. . . as a divinity student, I find it almost impossible to eliminate doubt with respect to any religious proposition.

Agreed — we have to make our bets as best we can.

Personally, I've made my bet that following Jesus is the way I want to try to live my life. It's not because I think Jesus was God Incarnate (I don't). It's because of his emphasis on the Summary of the Law (which I think represents two of the fundamental laws of the universe) and his self-sacrifice in the pursuit of his duty as he saw it.

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