Wednesday, October 11, 2006

(Relentlessly) Linking Wednesday

1. Old-school McSweeney's: Ikea Product or Lord of the Rings Character? The author even included answers. I got them all right, because I'm a junkie for BOTH those things.

2. An article from Entertainment Weekly online entitled "Six Ways for Hollywood to Stop Alienating Women." Some good ideas in there. This point was interesting:

Keep counting after the opening weekend.
Women, unlike men, generally don't feel the need to be first in line on opening night. Quite the contrary, a lot of female filmgoers prefer to be coaxed into the multiplex by good reviews, an intriguing subject, and strong word of mouth; that's also true for all moviegoers over 40, another demographic group that the major studios bizarrely insist on treating as some sort of obscure minority even though they make up 43 percent of the total audience.

But that sort of foreplay isn't exactly Hollywood's forte these days — studio marketers are more slam-bam-sorry-that-was-over-so-fast types. However, shrugging off that audience by assuming they'll catch up with your movie on DVD is getting an entire generation of moviegoers out of the habit of going to movies — and that's bad business. . . . And by the way, it wouldn't hurt to make the kinds of movies that generate good word of mouth, which means less money spent on digital effects and more spent on script development and rehearsal time (yes, it actually helps).

3. I'm bad at keeping up with my friend's blogs sometimes. I freely admit I don't hit most of them everyday, but then again, most of you go quite a while before updating, so checking once or twice a week is just about right. I just found this post by neil about going back to Grove City two weeks ago, and it was a great post. The parts about feeling a disconnect from the alma mater really hit home. See, Hubster and I have guests this weekend, so Homecoming back at the Grove is right out for the second year in a row. I know I'll be missing lots of peeps, but I also know that going back is bittersweet in a way that surprises me. How can it be that hard when college itself was awful for large sections? I don't even think I feel that way about high school, but then again, my high school's building someone else's church, and I still see the people, so I guess that's different even if this sentence is a run-on. Whatever, his post was good and also adorable, and I wish him the best at sorting through it all.

4. This post by sbp is also quality. She also has some lovely poetry up right now. I miss having first crack at her drafts on our freshman hall. Sigh.

5. Another template site for ya. It's all in Italian and English, but his designs are nice, so wade through it and you might find a gem. Also, I haven't seen any of them before, so you won't have a unique site, but it'll be almost as rare a design.

6. I'm been giving ABC's episode player a workout lately. I arrive home from choir too late for the start of Grey's Anatomy, so I just watch the episodes when they go live on their free online player in the next couple of days. The screen size/streaming quality is quite decent if you're got fast broadband, and you only have four 30-second commercials to endure. Until Hubster gets the FauxVo(tm) up and running, this'll do quite nicely. NBC has a similar player(you'll never quess which show I'm watching on it) and Fox is supposed to have one soon on MySpace (ewwy), so hurray for networks getting with the program! And HURRAY FOR THE INTERWEB!

7. This is a wee bit antique by net standards, but here's TIME magazine's feature article entitled "Does God Want You To Be Rich?". It focuses on the Prosperity Theology folks, and it's fairly well done. Honestly, when I try to boil down my emotions on the subject, it's mostly just revulsion hanging out at the bottom of the pot. Mind you, that's revulsion at the leaders and the elites in those churches, not the common man who just wants to be free of hand-to-mouth living, but yeah, yuck. I wish I had something more enlightening to say, but you can add your brilliant analysis in the comments.

Okay, no more sharing. EAP OUT!

22 comments:

Don Quixote said...

The most annoying aspect of Prosperity Theology to me is that it results in a belief that Paul lacked faith. After not, not only was Paul not rich, he was not healthy. To the Prosperity Theology people, that means he lacked faith. God wanted him to be rich and healthy, put poor, misguided Paul did not have enough faith to really believe. Not only is that downright arrogant, it is nonsensical.

Mair said...

A good friend of mine studies Prosperity Theology among Latino immigrants. I'll have to pass this along to him (after I have time to read it myself, that is!) Thanks for always scouting the web!

Jackscolon said...

I read the article in the actual magazine (I'm such a luddite!), but it seemed to me like the article said, "These people believe this, and these people believe this, and they both think the other is wrong" and then it just ended. Take a side it didn't.

I'm of the opinion that Joel Osteen is an ass-clown, and being poor is something to be avoided if possible. By the way, I saw a couple of lesbians watching Joel Osteen's tv show in the gym the other morning... what does that mean?

Graceful Peaceful German Fischer said...

Desperation and utter sadness that we will not see you at Homecoming.

J. Morgan Caler said...

For the sake of efficiency, I am going to have to respond with corresponding numbers to your list:

2) I am not sure why this is alientating to “women.” It seems to me that the article could have just as easily been titled “Six Ways for Hollywood to Stop Alienating People Who Like Film,” kept the exact same content in the article, and then moved on. Why, precisely, is there a gender dynamic at play in any of the 6 specific claims?

3) It’s funny, because I can totally relate to the bittersweet feeling , but, for me, it’s because college was so wonderful. I can’t actually think of any long sections that were awful for me, so I have a hard time relating to the cognitive dissonance that so many others feel.

6) Very nice, thanks for the tip.

7) It’s funny, because, to me, Joel Osteen is the endgame of Evangelicalism, yet the harsh critic they bring in is Rick Warren. In fact, the whole argument, in Time’s account, is situated within Evangelicalism, completely without reference to Christianity outside of it. I just find that crushingly ironic. Evangelicalism’s completely flawed eschatology along with a complete disregard for the authority of the Church and Her traditions is what fosters Osteen, and there just aren’t any tools inside that tradition to counter him. If Evangelicals are right about the big questions, the Osteen is right about the application thereof.

Don Quixote said...

Prosperity theology is certainly NOT the endgame of Evangelicalism, as evidenced by the fact that it is a TINY, TINY minority within the Evangelical church.

I could just as easily say that the schism group at

http://www.truecatholic.org/

is the "endgame of Roman Catholicism." They reject Vatican II as heretical and have even elected their own pope (Pius XIII). I would not make such a statement, however, as I am not that ignorant of basic Roman Catholic doctrine.

It is the very fact that Evangelicals submit to the authority of the Holy Scriptures (something the Roman Catholic Church should try at some point in its history) that keeps most of them away from such heretical notions as the Prosperity Gospel.

Anonymous said...

HAHA...EAP out SLAYED me.

Bee said...

I'd like to thank jackscolon for using the term "ass-clown." It's incredibly under used and it makes me smile. Bravo!

J. Morgan Caler said...

Don Quixote:

The fact that prosperity theology only represents a “TINY, TINY minority within the Evangelical church” just indicates that Evangelicals aren’t very thoughtful about the implications of their beliefs. Curiously, rather than refuting my claim, you took an ad hominem (and slightly bizzare) anti-Catholic turn. Now, as someone who isn’t a Roman Catholic, I am not sure that I am qualified to address the issue you brought up, but I can venture a guess.

By introducing the True Catholic organization, you demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for conflating error with logical conclusion. The True Catholic organization is plain wrong; the theology that they claim to be defending precludes categorically the possibility that they could be right.

Prosperity gospel, on the other hand, is the fulfillment of Evangelical theology in contemporary America. By denying the authority of the Church and Her traditions, Christianity becomes necessarily a disembedded, culturally contingent set of beliefs. So, for instance, in contemporary America – a culture that is almost exclusively therapeutic and consumerist – Evangelicalism, if consistent with its own teachings, should probably look a lot like prosperity theology. To the extent that it doesn’t, Evangelicals either 1) haven’t followed through the logic of their beliefs or 2) are committed to Christian forms, values, and practices that the tenets of their beliefs cannot justify or support.

Now, you may object with a pithy line about “the authority of the Holy Scriptures” as a safeguard against such cultural relativism, but you would be wrong. The content of the Scriptures only transcends the culture in which it is read if the interpreter is not bound by that culture. You see, nobody disagrees that the Scriptures are authoritative; the objection that everyone has to Evangelicalism’s simplistic claim to submission to “the authority of the Holy Scriptures” is who should be interpreting what that authoritative content is/means and how does that interpretive work happen with any sort of reliability.

Roman Catholics (and the rest of the Christian world) don’t deny the authority of Scripture, Don Quixote: they deny the authority of an Evangelical’s interpretation. As authoritative as the Scriptures might be, your reading of them, when not bound by tradition, is culturally determined. As an Evangelical, you cannot read the Scriptures as anything but a 21st century American, because you cannot acknowledge the authority of the Tradition that birthed and cradled those Scriptures. The alternative to tradition is opinion, which by definition is culturally bound, infinitely plastic, and entirely contingent.

Which brings us full circle to prosperity theology: Evangelicalism – internal to itself – does not have any tools, other than individual preference and mores, to hold any position other than that of Joel Osteen.

Now, Don Quixote, if you wish to disagree with me, please refrain from ad hominem arguments and actually engage the one I set forth. Otherwise, we will consider this conversation finished and decided.

Don Quixote said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Don Quixote said...

First, J. Morgan Caler, you want others to refrain from ad hominem attacks, but you (of course) remain free to use them. You say, for example, that “Evangelicals aren’t very thoughtful.” If you want people to refrain from ad hominem attacks, you should have the courtesy to do so as well.

Second, my initial post contained no ad hominem attacks. The Roman Catholic church does not submit to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, as they clearly admit. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the traditions of the Church when it comes to dogma and morality to be EQUAL to Holy Scripture. In case you have forgotten the definition of submit, I will give it to you:

“To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another.”

Since the Roman Catholic Church considers its teachings EQUAL to Holy Scripture, it clearly does not submit to Holy Scripture.

Generally, when one accuses someone of using ad hominem attacks, it is an admission of the weakness of one’s position. I expect you realize how weak your argument is, so you must accuse me of being “mean” so that you don’t lose as much face. In addition, the fact that you gave an “out” for yourself (“Otherwise, we will consider this conversation finished and decided”) indicates that you know you cannot effectively argue your case, so you want a reason to stop the discussion.

With that out of the way, let me point out how you could not even follow the logic of my discussion. I agree that the folks at truecatholic.com are incorrect. That was my point! Anyone who knows even basic Roman Catholic doctrine would know this. That’s why I point out that I COULD say that they are the “endgame of Roman Catholicism,” but I am NOT that ignorant of Roman Catholic doctrine. The point, therefore, was that you are ignorant of basic Evangelical doctrine (as further demonstrated by your most recent point). To suggest that prosperity theology is the endgame of Evangelicalism is equivalent to the statement that the folks at truecatholic.com are the endgame of Roman Catholicism. I suggest that if you really want to carry on this discussion, you actually read what I write and think about it before embarrassing yourself.

As to your main point:

“By denying the authority of the Church and Her traditions, Christianity becomes necessarily a disembedded, culturally contingent set of beliefs”

you could not be more wrong. In fact, by following a fallible organization of men and women, you are necessarily making your beliefs MORE culturally contingent. Any organization’s main focus is to remain viable. Thus, an organization is much more likely to be swayed by cultural imperatives than is an individual, as those cultural imperatives can determine whether or not the organization itself will survive. The views of any church, then, can be demonstrated to change with the culture. Look, for example, at the origins issue. Most churches are more than willing to capitulate on evolution, as the culture as a whole accepts it. Thus, most churches think that they have to accept it as well, in order to remain viable. Individuals, however, do not respond to the culture as churches do, so the main organizations you see fighting against evolution are parachurch organizations started by individuals.

Evangelicals recognize this, and thus they look only to Holy Scripture as a guide. Certainly, our culture AFFECTS how we read Scripture, but that is easily rectified in many ways, all of which Evangelicals employ. Evangelicals use history, hermeneutics, the meanings of the original languages, the thoughts of past commentators, etc. to help them disentangle current culture from doctrine. Of course, since you have displayed your ignorance Evangelical beliefs, it is not surprising that you don’t understand this. Your lack of perception is exacerbated by the fact that you think most Evangelicals “aren’t very thoughtful,” so you would rather denigrate them than actually learn what they believe.

Of course, this is not the main argument against your absurd notion. The main argument is the fact that your reasoning is transparently circular. You claim that a person cannot know the Scriptures without relying on the authority of the “Church.” Okay, then, which “Church?” The Roman Catholics claim to be the one, true apostolic church. So does the Eastern Orthodox Church. For that matter, so do the folks at trucatholic.com as well as a handful of protestant churches. You must CHOOSE which is the true Church in order to submit to her authority. However, you claim that people CANNOT determine what is true without following their cultural imperatives. Thus, in your view, the choice that you use to determine which “Church” to submit to is culturally dependent. As a result, your views are still culturally dependent, even if you submit to the authority of a church. Circular reasoning is not the hallmark of a well-considered opinion…

Jackscolon said...

First- I'm not taking sides. I'm picking nits.

"To suggest that prosperity theology is the endgame of Evangelicalism is equivalent to the statement that the folks at truecatholic.com are the endgame of Roman Catholicism."

No, it isn't. To suggest that something is the endgame would require that there is some logical, unavoidable progression that causes the original movement to degenerate into the said movement.

J. Morgan places prosperity theology as the end game of evangelicism as a result of these factors:

1) Evangelicalism places the focus on individual interpretation of scripture, and ignores tradition.
2) Individuals are unable to situate themselves outside of culture without being able to appeal to tradition (i.e. things that predate and hence are formed outside of immediate culture)
3) Americans are situated inside a culture that is consumerist/materialist.

Therefore:

Evangelicals are bound to interpret scripture in a manner that is consumerist/materialist, since they have no outside source (tradition) to counter this. Hence- Joel Osteen and Prosperity Theology.

Without making judgements to the accuracy of his claims, I will state that J. Morgan's example would be an appropriate endgame unless the assumptions stated in his progression are wrong.

Introducing a random schismatic group and labeling them the "endgame" without any explanation as to why they would necessarily be the culmination of any movement doesn't fit the criteria. Furthermore, saying you "could" bring something up is the same as bringing it up. You're attempting to make the point without making it, I don't buy it.

Lastly, if you want to argue against J. Morgan (and I want you to, I want to see how this plays out) you're going to have to deal with the building blocks of his argument (which I attempted to number above) before you re-attack with statements like this:

"In fact, by following a fallible organization of men and women, you are necessarily making your beliefs MORE culturally contingent."

I think you're trying to make the point that appealing directly/individually to scripture is more viable/accurate than appealing to a combination of scripture/tradition, and I could buy this, PROVIDED you deal with and refute J. Morgan's assumption that we as individuals are situated within late-modernism/sweet comfortable consumerist America. You're going to have a difficult time proving to me that an organization historically at odds with mainstream science, and currently against the use of contraception, is overly concerned with "cultural viability".

You say, "Evangelicals use history, hermeneutics, the meanings of the original languages, the thoughts of past commentators, etc. to help them disentangle current culture from doctrine." Excuse my ignorance, but isn't that basically what the Catholic Church tries to do- only with the evaluation of "past commentators" on their terms, not modern ones?

That said- I'm fully against the Catholic Church and its ridiculousness, and against Joel Osteen and his...

Don Quixote said...

Hello Jackscolon,

Thanks for picking nits. It is always good to have someone point out where I have not expressed myself clearly. First, to suggest that prosperity theology is the endgame of Evangelicalism is, indeed, equivalent to the statement that the folks at truecatholic.org are the endgame of Roman Catholicism. Just read what the folks at truecatholic.org say about why they formed the “true church.” They think they have a very logical progression. For example, they say that original Roman Catholic dogma clearly states that one must be a Roman Catholic to be saved (Bonaface, Unam Sanctam). Vatican II rejects this, so Vatican II is heresy. Thus, the official Roman Catholic Church is in heresy, and they are the new keepers of the True Faith. To them, this is a logical progression. To someone ignorant of Roman Catholicism, it is a logical progression as well. However, it can be demonstrated false. In the same way, to someone ignorant of Evangelical doctrines, Prosperity Theology might LOOK like a logical progression from Evangelical theology, but it can be demonstrated to be false:

http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/qjesuspromise.html

http://www.believersweb.org/view.cfm?ID=695

etc., etc.

The problem with the argument as you have phrased it is #2. People certainly CAN situate themselves outside of their culture. In fact, it happens all of the time, especially in Evangelical circles. As I mentioned previously, consider the subject of origins. Almost the entire culture of the U.S. accepts evolution. Even most churches are willing to believe that “God created by evolution.” Evangelicals reject what their culture is saying and tend to hold to a much more strict form of creationism, sometimes to the detriment of their careers and the alienation of their friends. Why? Because rather than relying on culture, they rely on the things I mentioned previously (history, original languages, etc.) to make their decisions. If Evangelicals were bound to interpret Scripture according to their culture, it would not be so easy to tell them apart from their culture.

You make an interesting statement when you say, “You're going to have a difficult time proving to me that an organization historically at odds with mainstream science, and currently against the use of contraception, is overly concerned with ‘cultural viability.’” However, as I mentioned before, most churches are NOT at odds with mainstream science. The Pope thinks the theory of evolution is a great thing. Here is what he said:

“Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.”

Clearly, then, the Roman Catholic Church is not against mainstream science here. This kind of sentiment is common in most mainline Protestant churches as well. As I stated previously, this is evidence that churches ARE subject to cultural imperatives, much more so than individuals. That is why the loudest voices against evolution come from individuals, not churches.

Now it is true that the Roman Catholic Church has sometimes been at odds with the PROGRESS of science. The Galileo incident is a prime example of that. However, the Roman Catholic Church only remained a supporter of geocentrism while it was a common belief in the culture. Galileo was, in fact, a voice AGAINST his culture at the time, and the Roman Catholic Church simply bowed to cultural pressure when it tried to silence him. Once the heliocentric system became the commonly accepted view of the solar system, the Roman Catholic Church was quick to drop what the Advisors to the Holy See had called “Catholic Truth” (Le Opere di Galileo Galilei XIX, 322-323, Pagano, I documenti del processo di Galileo Galilei, 102-103) and go with what the culture had accepted.

In answer to your question, “Excuse my ignorance, but isn't that basically what the Catholic Church tries to do- only with the evaluation of "past commentators" on their terms, not modern ones?” The answer to that question is clearly “No.” The Roman Catholic Church adds one much more important component to the mix: Roman Catholic Tradition. If it appears in one of the authoritative documents of the Roman Catholic Church and deals with morals or doctrine, it is considered EQUAL to Holy Scripture. Thus, the Roman Catholic Church uses many notions that have no support in Scripture (purgatory, for example) as equal to Scripture when forming dogma. Evangelicals, of course, do not do this. In addition, if the Roman Catholic Church produces a new authoritative document (such as Vatican I or Vatican II), it is free to add new notions that are considered equal to Holy Scripture. As a result, the church is free to adapt to the culture whenever she deems it necessary. She can even contradict past authoritative documents, as she has when it comes to whether or not you can be saved outside the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, she can’t ADMIT to contradicting past authoritative documents. She must simply say that she has “clarified their teachings.”

Whether we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church or some other church, its main goal is to survive as an organization. Ideally, it would also increase its membership, but primarily, it must survive. As a result, truth takes a back seat, and anything that must be done to allow for the survival of the organization will be done. That is why it is so dangerous to follow an organization’s traditions in search of truth. This is most likely why God gave us Scripture. Scripture is the only source of truth that does not change, so it is the only reasonable basis for the doctrines of Christianity. Churches can aid the body of Christ in fellowship, missions, basic teaching, and the like, but to follow a church’s traditions in hopes of finding truth is much like trying to find gold in a dumpster.

J. Morgan Caler said...

To begin, Don Quixote, I never claimed that Evangelicals are not very thoughtful; I said, “Evangelicals aren’t very thoughtful about the implications of their beliefs.” That is a substantially different claim, and it seems worth noting.

Secondly, you continue to be confused about the nature of the term “endgame.” It is not that the end of a logical progression makes sense to the claim maker (or, as you said, “They think they have a very logical progression.”), it is that the end of a logical progression makes sense objectively and follows necessarily from the premises, that is, it is unavoidably. It is demonstrably false that the True Catholic organization is correct, therefore, despite what they think, their beliefs are not the endgame of Roman Catholicism. My claim was that Evangelicalism, necessarily and unavoidably ends in Prosperity Theology if logically followed. And that is why I have been claiming apples and oranges.

Now, your argument hinges on this belief that, “People certainly CAN situate themselves outside of their culture. In fact, it happens all of the time, especially in Evangelical circles.” As an example of how individuals can transcend culture while institutions are bound by it, you give the somewhat puzzling example of biological evolution.

Reading between the lines a bit, you seem to think that one’s views on biological evolution is a big, perhaps the biggest, indicator of whether one is culturally bound. I notice, for instance, that you didn’t address jackscolon’s claim concerning contraception at all. So because an institution – the Roman Catholic Church – accepts biological evolution as an account of creation that complements the biblical record (never mind that they oppose contraception, don’t let their all male clergy to marry, refuse the mass to non-Catholics, don’t allow divorce, and have basically stuck to the same liturgy for 1600 years), they are unambiguous capitulators to the sway of culture? That could not be less convincing, dear Quixote.

Regardless, we aren’t debating evolution nor are we debating Roman Catholicism: we are debating Evangelicalism. So, in the future, let’s try to keep our claims tightly pertinent to that issue.

Now, let’s also be clear about culture. I am using the term to denote the basic, constitutive assumptions of existence (basic ontological and epistemological assumptions, how language functions, the meaning of words, notions of the good life, notions of the self, etc.). I am not using culture to denote ethos: political views, fashion, opinions, ideals, etc. I am concerned with the unquestioned/unquestionable assumptions that constitute human interactions.

By definition, then, individuals – whose “career” can only last about 100 years - are fairly limited. Everything they know, believe, or can know and believe, is mediated through the culture in which they exist. It is determinate; they are bound to and by it without exception by their own finitude. While individuals have access to history, their interpretive capacity is mediated by their culture. Their understanding of history is both radically contingent and un-universal.

Institutions – whose “career” can last thousands of years, are fairly stable. Institutions represent the knowledge and beliefs of several cultures; the older they are, the more textured their knowledge and belief becomes. As such, they are less affected by any one culture in which they exist. Institutions have access to history in an entirely different way; not least of which is that they are literally enacting the implications of history simply by existing. As such, they have some authoritative claim on the interpretation of history; they are far less contingent and far more universal.

As an example, I would point to the Unite States Constitution. We have a fairly stable government because we have a document that provides for institutional governance and clear rules for the perpetuation of that governing body. This was by design; a cult of personality (like Bonaparte’s France) was always an option, but, for the sake of stability and consistency, our founding fathers rightly opted for an institutional rather than individual government.

But, you don’t seem to agree with that. In opposition to institutional authority, you propose Scripture. You say, “Scripture is the only source of truth that does not change, so it is the only reasonable basis for the doctrines of Christianity.”

I want to contest this on two points.

First, when you are proposing Scripture as an alternative to the Church, you are really proposing an individual reading of Scripture to the Church’s reading of Scripture. Let’s be clear and honest about that. See, books don’t say or mean anything on their own; language is an intersubjective activity where meaning is created between no fewer than two language users. So, the words of Scripture are, on their own, meaningless and free of content. It is only when they are read and interpreted that meaning and content is created. The nature of that meaning and content is contingent both on the speaker (in this case, the text) and the hearer (in this case the reader); the reader brings as much meaning to the text and the text brings to the reader. That is why context is vitally important. That is why, as I have said above, individuals are far less equipped to read Scripture, because they lack most of the tools necessary to do so in any way other than the way conditioned by their cultural context.

Second, and related, Scripture does change. While the words on the page do not and the intent of the authors and the God to which those Scriptures attest do not, the reader does. As such, they meaning – which is presumably what we are talking about in the first place – changes. Remember: language is an intersubjective act. The best case study I can think of is the word “faith.” It means nothing like what we think it means in the 1st century Levant, it means nothing like what we think it means during the Reformation, etc. The literal meaning of the word changes with the culture in which it is read and interpreted. That is why, early, I referred to “Evangelicalism’s simplistic claim to submission to ‘the authority of the Holy Scriptures.’” Evangelicalism does not take into account the nature of language when making claims about the centrality of the Scriptures. They don’t see any need for an authoritative interpreter because they don’t acknowledge that the Scriptures need interpretation.

So, Evangelicalism resides wholly in the realm of contingent, culturally bound opinion. Hence, Joel Osteen. Q.E.D.

J. Morgan Caler said...

I realized that there are quite a few typos in my previous post. If anyone is unclear on anything I was getting at, let me now: jmcaler@gmail.com.

Don Quixote said...

J. Morgan Caler,

First, please do not deny your insults to Evangelicals. Since an Evangelical’s belief system is of paramount importance to him or her, your claim that, “Evangelicals aren’t very thoughtful about the implications of their beliefs” clearly states that they are not very thoughtful about the most important aspect of their lives. As a result, they are not thoughtful about anything. Thus, it is an insult, pure and simple. Being willing to hurl insults and then denying them when you are called on it is not a hallmark of civil discussion.

Second, you seem to still be confused on my main point regarding truecatholic.org. The only reason you consider Prosperity Theology to be the endgame of Evangelicalism is that you are ignorant of Evangelical doctrine. Thus, just as is the case with the people at truecatholic.org, you THINK you have a logical progression, but you do not. As the links I gave previously clearly show, Prosperity Theology can be demonstrated to be false. Thus, it is not the endgame of Evangelical theology.

Third, you still seem to be unwilling to actually read what I wrote and think about it. Instead, you try to “read between the lines,” which causes you to conclude something that is once again, demonstrably false. I did not imply (nor do I think) that a person’s views on biological evolution are the biggest indicator of whether or not one is culturally bound. As I clearly stated, that subject is just an example. I gave another example as well – geocentrism. As is typical of any organization, the Roman Catholic Church gave up on geocentrism when the culture decided against it. This does not imply that I think a person’s views on geocentrism are of paramount importance, either. As stated, it is yet another example – that is all.

I did not mention contraception for the simple reason of trying to save some writing time. Jackscolon is quite wrong about the Roman Catholic Church’s views on contraception. They are not against contraception – they are against SPECIFIC KINDS of contraception. Devout Roman Catholics are schooled quite diligently on contraception – it is called “natural family planning.” I recall a devout Roman Catholic friend of mine who had a 100+ page training manual on the subject, produced by an organization within the Roman Catholic Church. The fact that devout Roman Catholics are willing to use this form of contraception rather than the one our culture prefers is yet another example of how people can, indeed, separate themselves from their culture.

I understand that you want to limit the conversation (“Regardless, we aren’t debating evolution nor are we debating Roman Catholicism: we are debating Evangelicalism. So, in the future, let’s try to keep our claims tightly pertinent to that issue.”), because you know how weak your argument is. Thus, you want to avoid as much as possible that relates to this discussion. However, YOU are the one who brought up the notion that allegiance to a church’s traditions somehow insulates you from the culture. I have provided examples of how that is not the case. Providing counter-examples is a necessary part of argumentation, so I will continue to do so as needed.

I agree with you that an institution has much different access to history than does an individual. That is, in fact, why individuals are better at separating themselves from culture than are institutions. What an individual believes about history does not affect whether or not the individual survives. However, an institution’s survival depends on its view of history. An institution must always consider any move it makes in the context of all of the previous mistakes it made. If the right move would highlight (or exacerbate) a previous mistake, the institution cannot make the move, because it would threaten the institution’s survival. Specifically BECAUSE an individual has no personal stake in history, the individual is a much more objective observer of history, which once again makes the individual better able to separate himself or herself from his or her culture.

You claim that the United States has a stable form of government because of the Constitution. I agree that the BASIC FORM of government is CURRENTLY stable, but just compare the beliefs of our founding fathers to the practices of our current government. In a mere 200 years, the U.S. government has changed into something that would be abhorrent to most of the founding fathers. This is yet another illustration of how an institution changes with the culture. (By the way, I could tell you that we are not debating the U.S. government and to keep your comments pertinent to Evangelicalism. However, I actually read and think about what you write, so I understand why you added this to the discussion.)

Now as to your postmodern views on Scripture, you could not be more wrong. To say that “the words of Scripture are, on their own, meaningless and free of content” is patently absurd. In fact, you don’t even believe it. You admit that “While the words on the page do not [change] and the intent of the authors and the God to which those Scriptures attest do not [change].” To refer to the intent of the authors admits that there are both meaning and content in the words of Scripture – the meaning and content given to them by the authors. The goal of the Christian, then, is to FIND that meaning and content. As I have already demonstrated, an individual is better equipped to do this than is an institution.

I think the main source of your error is that you confuse “meaning” and “interpretation.” You claim that since the reader of Scripture changes, the meaning does as well. This is, of course, quite false. Since you admit that God does not change, it would be illogical for the MEANING of the SOURCEBOOK that tells us about God to change. The writers of Scripture (inspired by God) desired to communicate specific content to the readers. As a result, it is incumbent on us to learn precisely what content the writers wanted to communicate. If we do that, the MEANING of Scripture does not change, just as God Himself does not change. Once again, as I have already shown, the individual is much better at doing this than is the institution, as the individual can have a much more objective view of context.

I think the main fallacy of your postmodern thinking is best pointed out by Stanley Fish, an avid postmodernist. Like you, he claims that texts have no meaning. Instead, he thinks that meaning is given to texts by readers. However, when people misread his on works on John Milton and misrepresent his views, he protests that they have not understood what he meant. However, how can he say this? He doesn’t think his texts mean ANYTHING until the reader ASSIGNS meaning to them.

If anyone reading these posts had doubt about your ignorance of Evangelical theology, that doubt was whisked away by your statement, “Evangelicalism does not take into account the nature of language when making claims about the centrality of the Scriptures. They don’t see any need for an authoritative interpreter because they don’t acknowledge that the Scriptures need interpretation.” This is, of course, 100% false.

First, Evangelicals do, indeed, take into account the nature of language. In fact, if you had read almost ANY theological discussions among Evangelicals, you would know this. Read nearly any work on the first chapter of Genesis by an Evangelical, for example, and you will learn all of the possible definitions of the Hebrew word for “day,” how it is used throughout the Bible, and how it is used in other Hebrew literature. Here are just two examples (from two different sides of Evangelical thought on the issue):

http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v4/i1/linguistics.asp

http://www.reasons.org/resources/faf/95q3faf/95q3reas.shtml

Second, Evangelicals do, indeed, acknowledge the need for an interpreter. This is why Evangelical theologians constantly refer to original languages, historical context, previous Christian thought on theology. etc. They understand that Scripture needs interpretation. What Evangelicals realize, however, is that an institution is not an authoritative interpreter, as truth takes a back seat to institutional survival. Thus, they rely on the individual, who is much better at objective interpretation than is an institution.

However, all of this discussion turns out to be irrelevant. Following your postmodern lead, I will now claim that I interpret your writing as indicating that I have convinced you of my position. Of course, you might write some reply in which the words appear to disagree with this assertion, but as long as I read it as meaning that you are capitulating, you have no say in the matter, since texts are “meaningless and free of content.” I have enjoyed our discussion and am glad that you now agree with me!

Don Quixote said...

Please note that the first website in the above post should end in ".asp" and the second one in ".shtml." They seem to have been cut off.

CharlesPeirce said...

Wow, killer discussion.

I just wanted to make the point that I submitted a couple of lists that I thought were freaking hilarious to McSweeney's, but they politely refused them (even sending me a personal e-mail.) My best list was Dashboard Confessional songs that could double as mocking John Kerry campaign slogans. (Like, "Rapid Hope Loss.")

eap, you ever submitted a list?

J. Morgan Caler said...

Don Quixote,

If I am understanding you correctly, there are (at least) five problems with my argument:

1) I don’t have much (or any) knowledge of Evangelical theology,
2) I refuse to acknowledge that institutions “change with culture,”
3) I am confusing “meaning” with “interpretation,”
4) I am not giving Evangelicals their due with regard to their consideration of language,
5) and, I am a postmodernist.

I would like to take a minute to address each of those points in hopes that we can move our conversation forward a bit.

1) I must confess, I am guilty as charged. If you could, give me a few Evangelical theologians that I might have read (or at least heard of) that would help orient me. Evangelicalism is a slippery term, so I just want to be clear that we are talking about the same thing. Evangelicalism, in my mind, is, a relational soteriology, a democratized aesthetic, a fairly low view of the authority of history, and a disposition towards text that privileges the individual.

2) I fully acknowledge that institutions and the ideology that they represent change over time, usually in response to changes in culture. Now whether we think that change is good or not should be bracketed because that is contingent on whether we believe the changer has the authority to do so. What I am denying is that this change has anything to do with what I am talking about. Culture, in the way I am using it, is not denotative of “sensibilities,” but of grounding assumptions, what Charles Taylor calls “strong evaluations.” Changes in sensibilities (the sort of cultural change that you have been talking about and that we all are accustomed to thinking about) are fairly insignificant and don’t actually tell us much about the subject in question; changes in strong evaluations are more significant and extremely unlikely to happen (maybe even impossible). The implication is significant: Institutions, like individuals, cannot escape the strong evaluations into which they are born. Institutions, then, aren’t bound by the culture in which they are presently located precisely because their strong evaluations were formed outside of that culture. Individuals are different: their strong evaluations are formulated within the culture that they spend the entirety of their lives; their sensibilities may shift and transcend their present (as you have amply pointed out), but their constitutive assumptions about being, knowing, and, most importantly, themselves cannot change. It is those constitutive assumptions that mediate everything else. That is the nature of my argument, just so we are clear. Where we stand on issues or our self-conscious beliefs are not in the purview of my claim, and so your endless examples thereof just confuse the issue.

3) I think you are conflating “text” with “author/subject.” I am not denying that St. Paul had a particular intent and meaning that he put into the text and that the subject, the Triune God, is objectively one way or another. I am also not denying that it should be our goal to “uncover” authorial intent and the true nature of the subject. I am, however, denying that the text has some 1-to-1 correspondence with the author or subject. The text is not bound to the author or the subject. That is the issue. The text stands free from those who create it and those who read it because it is conveyed in language, which is a medium not controlled by the author or reader. It exists, to a great degree, sui generis. Hence my claims about meaning being created between the players – author, reader, and text; subject and context are also players. So I think the biblical authors did have a clear intent, I just deny that anyone can get “behind” interpretation to get at that intent. Any account of that intent is just that; a constructed account by an interpretively limited third party who creates meaning from texts and contexts. So, if you deny that there is space between authorial intent and text, then I am guilty as charged of confusing interpretation with meaning. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge that space, then you are guilty of confusing text with author.

4) With regard to language, I do not deny that Evangelicals are amazingly attuned to the internal function of language (your two examples are perfect illustrators of that fact). In terms of contextualizing writings, faithfully rendering Hebrew and Greek into English, etc., Evangelicals are far out in front of many of their liberal Protestant and Catholic peers. My claim, however, was not related to the internal function of language but the nature of language as such. It was more of a meta-claim. I don’t think that is something to which Evangelicals typically attend (and your examples that were meant to serve as a rebuttal seem to bear that out), but I am willing to be proved wrong. My sense is that Evangelicals don’t account for the nature of language in the way that I have above, only the mechanics of it.

5) I wouldn’t even know where to begin. If, by postmodern, you mean something akin to your closing paragraph of your last lengthy post, then I strongly deny your claim:

“However, all of this discussion turns out to be irrelevant. Following your postmodern lead, I will now claim that I interpret your writing as indicating that I have convinced you of my position. Of course, you might write some reply in which the words appear to disagree with this assertion, but as long as I read it as meaning that you are capitulating, you have no say in the matter, since texts are ‘meaningless and free of content.’ I have enjoyed our discussion and am glad that you now agree with me!”

If, on the other hand, you mean postmodern in that I am skeptical that things are as simple as they seem, then yes, I am.

Well, there you have it. Kindly respond to each of my above contentions, rebut what you think is wrongly argued, and point out other pivotal disagreements I may have overlooked.

Don Quixote said...

J. Morgan Caler,

In response to your points:

1) A simple search on the phrase “Evangelical Theologians” (quotes included) on Google results in nearly 28,000 websites. Thus, people who have looked into it have no problem identifying who the Evangelical Theologians are. In fact, if you do such a search, you will find at least one book that chronicles the greatest Evangelical theologians starting from roughly the turn of the 19th century. In my view, the best is Clark Pinnock. However, others include Gordon Clark, Millard Erickson, Louis Berkhof, John R.W. Stott, and Carl Henry.
If you end up reading ANY of these authors, you will see that your characterization of Evangelicalism as “a relational soteriology, a democratized aesthetic, a fairly low view of the authority of history, and a disposition towards text that privileges the individual” is 100% false. Even a cursory look at the phenomenon will indicate that many scholars have spent a lot of time trying to define evangelicalism, and none of them have come close to what you suggest.

I think the best “definition” of evangelicalism comes from historian David Bebbington. He says there are four specific hallmarks of evangelicalism: Conversionism (spreading the gospel), Activism (in the sense of expressing the gospel with actions – both charitable and political), Biblicism (seeing the Bible as the ultimate authority), and Crucicentrism (emphasizing Christ’s sacrifice).

I might note that it seems odd that someone who admits he has little knowledge of Evangelicalism can confidently say what its “endgame” is. (I do hope that is not construed as an insult. It is simply an observation based on your own "guilty as charged" admission.)

2) I certainly agree that there are many separate levels to culture, and among them are “strong evaluations” and “sensibilities.” However, identifying the “strong evaluations” of culture can be quite difficult. Indeed, if you read historians who attempt to do so, they inevitably disagree with one another. However, the “sensibilities” of a culture are quite easy to identify and thus are the easiest way to determine whether or not an individual (or organization) is entangled in his (its) culture. I have shown time and time again that organizations change their cultural sensibilities right along with the culture. Thus, using the easy-to-identify sensibilities, I have shown that organizations are subject to the whims of culture. You claim that “Changes in sensibilities…are fairly insignificant and don’t actually tell us much about the subject in question” without any supporting evidence. The idea seems untenable at best. In any event, the burden of proof is on you. Please explain exactly HOW changes in sensibilities are not indicative of changes in strong evaluations.

In the same way, you simply state that individuals’ “strong evaluations are formulated within the culture that they spend the entirety of their lives; their sensibilities may shift and transcend their present (as you have amply pointed out), but their constitutive assumptions about being, knowing, and, most importantly, themselves cannot change.” Once again, you have no evidence to support this, and it seems untenable at best. Since your sensibilities DEPEND on your strong evaluations, how can it be that sensibilities change without strong evaluations changing as well?

3) I do, indeed, agree that there is a space between author and text, but that is a FAR CRY from claiming that the text is “meaningless and free of content,” which is exactly what you claimed. I am glad, therefore, that you have clarified your view so that you now agree there is meaning in the text and it is our goal to find that meaning. The question, then, is who is better equipped to discover the meaning of the text. As I have already demonstrated, it is the individual, not the organization.

4) You are quite wrong when you say that, “Evangelicals don’t account for the nature of language in the way that I have above, only the mechanics of it.” In fact, simply reading the two examples I gave in my previous post demonstrates that you are incorrect. In the second of the two, we read:

“Consider for a moment how different from ours was the culture (including worldview) of the Old Testament writers. The differences are still evident in the Middle East today. Let's focus specifically on the creation narrative. To question what "day" means would not even occur to an ancient (or modern) Middle Easterner. The passage's poetry, spiritual meaning, and overall message would be accepted and appreciated without microscopic analysis of the words or sentence structure.”

This part of the work is not discussing the MECHANICS of the language. It is specifically discussing the USAGE of the language in the CULTURE. Once again, even a cursory reading of Evangelical theologians will show that this is commonplace.

5) How else am I to interpret someone who claims “books don’t say or mean anything on their own” and “the words of Scripture are, on their own, meaningless and free of content”? Those statements are textbook postmodernism. Now, your follow-up post indicates you don’t really believe what you wrote. You now admit that there is a meaning to Scripture and that you think it is important to find that meaning. I am glad that this is the case, as discussing things with a postmodernist is futile. So once again, the question is simply, “Who (or what) is best at finding the meaning in the Scriptures.” As I have demonstrated already, it is the individual, not the institution.

Please note that you still have not addressed my main concern with your entire argument. As I stated in a previous post:

“You claim that a person cannot know the Scriptures without relying on the authority of the “Church.” Okay, then, which “Church?” The Roman Catholics claim to be the one, true apostolic church. So does the Eastern Orthodox Church. For that matter, so do the folks at trucatholic.org as well as a handful of protestant churches. You must CHOOSE which is the true Church in order to submit to her authority. However, you claim that people CANNOT determine what is true without following their cultural imperatives. Thus, in your view, the choice that you use to determine which “Church” to submit to is culturally dependent. As a result, your views are still culturally dependent, even if you submit to the authority of a church.”

Please explain to me how the choice of which “Church” to follow is less culturally-dependent than the process of determining the meaning of the scriptures as an individual.

J. Morgan Caler said...

1) As I suspected, Evangelicalism as a concept lies behind much of our disagreement. It is worth noting that there is a distinction between Evangelical as an adjective and Evangelical as a noun. The former refers to Protestants and Catholics who basically meet Bebbington’s definition; they emphasize certain ASPECTS OF PRE-EXISTING TRADITIONS to a greater degree than others in their tradition. The latter refers to a loosely-defined group of non-Protestant, non-Catholic Christians who basically meet my definition; they emphasize certain doctrines AGAINST PRE-EXISTING TRADITIONS to create this nebulous third way. Now, hopefully parsing contests will go the way of pissing contests, but I think it is worth clarifying (I hate solving disagreements by defining away any objections, so hopefully that isn’t what I have managed to do here). Certainly, the Time Magazine article was dealing with Evangelical as a noun, which is where my comments were directed. The point, though, is that Evangelical Protestants and Catholics operate within some tradition that has some authority over them whereas Evangelicalism operates outside of (recognized) tradition. So, your submissions of Evangelicals are a bit of red herring. Henry is a great and obvious choice. I submit that all of my criticisms apply directly to his work (although I admire him a great deal). Stott is also an obvious choice in that Evangelicals think of him very highly and he very openly accepts the title Evangelical. Yet, he is an Anglican, so that complicates things a bit. Gordon Clark was a Reformed Presbyterian and Berkhof was about as Reformed as you can get, so I think they are out. I confess, I have never heard of Millard Erickson, so I have no opinion on him. As for Pinnock, I wouldn’t even know what to say. While I think he is an Evangelical, he is incredibly controversial and is not representative of the views held by Evangelicals in the least. He is perhaps the classic red herring on any number of levels, don’t you think?

2) So you have asked me to explain how changes in sensibilities don’t necessarily reflect changes in strong evaluations. All I would say is that, given different cultural conditions, similar or identical sets of constitutive commitments can create very different expressions. Again, the United States come to mind: given a commitment to a set of clearly-defined “hyper-goods” (that is, the Constitution), cultural conditions create very different understandings of the implications and forms of expression of those commitments. So, the American government in 2006 enacts a very different understanding of the good than the American government in 1956 or in 1906 or in 1826, but, in each case, it was deeply committed to the same “hyper-goods.” It would be a mistake to think that changes in the expression and understanding of those goods meant a change in those goods themselves or a change in the commitment to them. The shift in expression is significant and important, but it does not constitute a shift in strong evaluation. Individuals function very much the same way, although the sources of their strong evaluations are almost inevitably within their contemporary culture, making their situation much more limited: namely, that their views largely or only represent their historical present, not some long tradition. Without reference to and operation out of a tradition, the only access they have to the past is actually only an access to their present.

3) You have misquoted me. I said that “the words of Scripture are, ON THEIR OWN, meaningless and free of content” (emphasis added) not that “the text is ‘meaningless and free of content.’” I deny entirely that I have said anything divergent from my initial claim that texts “are, on their own, meaningless and free of content.” Apart from their situation among language users – both author and reader - texts are meaningless and free of content. The point is that the situation of text TOGETHER WITH THE TEXT creates meaning; when the situation shifts, the meaning shifts.

4) To clarify, “the USAGE of the language in the CULTURE” falls under what I was calling “mechanics.” That was perhaps the wrong word choice. I wasn’t making a claim about the function of language but about the nature of language. Evangelicals, in mind, aren’t in the habit of asking “What is language?”. Unless you understand what language is (particular in relation to and distinct from language-users), then you are likely to oversimplify the operation of language.

5) I disagree in the strongest terms that anything I may have said indicates that I “don’t really believe what [I] wrote.” Texts DO have meaning when situated, but not on their own. The meaning of Scripture (which I am intent on finding) is not found internal to the text ON ITS OWN. I am not saying that we need to reference commentaries and history “to get it right,” I am saying that there is literally no meaning internal to text by itself. Meaning is actually created when the text “interacts” with the author and the reader. Now, if you think that this is a position that renders my argument hopelessly postmodern and futile, then you are free to do so. I cannot think of a single self-described postmodernist who would deny that text has no meaning, so it might benefit you to read a bit more closely and be a bit more charitable in doing so.

Finally, I have ignored your overarching argument because I consider it ancillary to my main claim. My argument has nothing to do with which church is the Church, it just has to do with the inability of an individual operating outside of tradition to transcend cultural conditions. I would wholly admit that our choice to be such and such a Christian is culturally mediated and contingent, but that isn’t what I was arguing. I was simply arguing that traditions (and, more precisely, the institutions behind those traditions) aren’t as culturally contingent because of their particular character, never mind those who inhabit those traditions. Of course that makes the traditions susceptible to the sway of culture, but, from generation to generation, not as much as non-institutional actors. That is because history has authority over institutions in a way that it does not for individuals and multi-personality is a stabilizing force in institutions in a way that it cannot be for individuals.

Don Quixote said...

J. Morgan Caler,

In response to your points:

1) I am not going to allow you to parse your way out of this one. You are wrong, plain and simple. There is no difference between “Evangelical” as a noun and as an adjective, except for the obvious grammar issues. An evangelical might associate with a particular denomination, but as an evangelical, he or she specifically puts Scripture well above the traditions of the denomination and does not use those traditions for guidance when it comes to understanding Scripture. For example, all you have to do is read the works of Stott to realize that he disagrees with many of the traditions of the Anglican Church. Consider homosexual unions. They have been officially blessed by the Church of England since the 1970s, and they are officially sanctioned in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada. However, Stott opposes them vigorously (Stott, John R. W., "Homosexual marriage: why same sex partnerships are not an option" Christianity Today 29 No 17 p21-28 November 22 1985). If you read the referenced article, you will see just how disappointed Stott is with the Anglican Church, and how he specifically thinks they have strayed from the Scriptures. Clearly, then, the traditions of the church do not overtly influence the way he reads Scripture, as should be the case for anyone seeking truth. This is precisely why Stott accepts the term "Evangelical" as more descriptive of his theology than "Anglican."

The Time Magazine article was clearly dealing EXACTLY with Evangelicals like Stott. How do we know? Because it brought in Rick Warren as the opposition to Prosperity Theology. Warren considers Stott to be one of his greatest teachers. On the back cover of the paperback version of Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, Warren says, “"There are...few landmark books that everyone in the world should read. This is one of the rare few.” Clearly, then, people like Stott and those who have learned from him are EXACTLY the Evangelicals that the Time Magazine article discussed.

I can’t imagine how you can say that your criticisms apply to Henry. Henry was one of the key players in formulating the “Chicago Statements,” which outlined exactly how Evangelicals address Scripture. Here is a passage from one of the statements:

“We affirm that canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production. In inspiration, God utilized the culture and conventions of his penman's milieu, a milieu that God controls in His sovereign providence; it is misinterpretation to imagine otherwise. So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: Since, for instance, nonchronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.” (The Chicago Statement On Inerrancy, IIIC)

It is clear, then, that your characterization of Evangelicals does NOT apply to Carl Henry. In fact, I don’t know a SINGLE Evangelical to which it does apply.

Clark Pinnock is not a red herring on any level. He is clearly a major player in Evangelical circles. While some of his views are controversial, he still holds the support of the Evangelical Theological Society, even though some members actually asked for a vote to remove him. That vote failed. I am wondering exactly how an affirmed member of the Evangelical Theological Society could be considered a red herring when it comes to a list of Evangelical theologians.

2) You have not addressed the issue here at all. In fact, the one example you gave is evidence for my position, not yours. In the U.S. today, we are committed to a completely different set of “hyper-goods” than were the founding fathers. That is precisely why the sensibilities of our culture have changed. The “hyper-goods” that the founding fathers were committed to were primarily private property and limited government. They would never have considered a welfare system, for example, as it would be a violation of limited government. The U.S. today favors an activist government, because the “hyper-goods” of our current culture are economic justice and wealth redistribution.

The fact that the “hyper-goods” to which the U.S. is committed has changed can be easily demonstrated by the debate about how to read the Constitution itself. Some jurists are “Strict Constructionists,” which means they think our government should conform to what the authors of the Constitution wanted the Constitution to say. Other jurists view the Constitution as a “living document” that changes with the times. Clearly, then, the fact that the U.S. is committed to the Constitution does not mean it is committed to the same “hyper-goods” as the founding fathers. The fact that strict constructionists are rare in the judicial system today tells us that the “hyper-goods” to which the U.S. is committed have changed, right along with the sensibilities. This is the logical progression of things, which is precisely what I have pointed out.

3) I have NOT misquoted you. I have quoted EXACTLY what you have said. To say that a text on its own is meaningless is directly contradictory to the notion that the author had a meaning in mind when he wrote it. The text would NOT EXIST without the author. Thus, on its own, a text does have meaning. It has the meaning that the author desired it to have. It is our job to find that meaning, which the individual (not an organization) is best equipped to do.

4) So, it is not enough that I have shown you (contrary to your claims) that Evangelicals do, indeed, use both language and its use in culture in order to guide their Biblical interpretation. Instead, I have to show you that Evangelicals actually ask the question, “What is language?” Fine. The formulation of the Chicago Statements referenced above was the result of the International Conference on Biblical Inerrancy. This conference was formed specifically to develop an Evangelical consensus on Biblical inerrancy. One of the MAJOR talks given was by James I. Packer, and it was entitled, “The Adequacy of Human Language.” It dealt purely with language, its nature, and what exactly it can convey. Thus, the question, “What is language?” was explored in detail. So one of the MAJOR talks that led to one of the MOST IMPORTANT documents in Evangelical theology was focused specifically on the question of language.

5) The very fact that the text exists means that it was produced by an author. You claim to believe that the author had a meaning in mind when he or she wrote the text. Thus, it is illogical to then claim that the text is, on its own, meaningless. The meaning is there, given by the author. We must find that meaning. It is simply impossible to reconcile that a text on its own is meaningless with the idea that the author had a meaning in mind when he or she wrote it.

My overarching argument was not WHICH Church to choose. It was how is choosing which church to follow less culturally contingent than determining the meaning of Scripture as an individual? After all, you claim that it is impossible to have a Christian life that is not polluted by culture without following the traditions of a fallible organization (which I have already shown are more polluted by culture). At the same time, however, you view people as wholly incompetent when it comes to making decisions outside of the culture in which they are trapped. Thus, the very act of choosing a church to follow is culturally-dependent, which means your Christianity is still culturally-dependent, even if you follow a fallible organization. The question I have been trying to get you to address is: How is this better than determining the meaning of Scripture as an individual? I will continue to ask this question until you answer it.