Saturday, July 09, 2016

How we should read the writings of EFS proponents

Bruce Ware has posted an open letter to Liam Goligher, Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt, a letter which I find underwhelming. They have in turn responded, while the guys at Secundum Scripturas, Matt Emerson and Luke Stamps, have responded with some I think valid concerns.

There is a lot that can be said, but instead I would like to focus on this post by Goligher. Goligher thinks that Grudem is promoting blasphemy in the quote he lifted from his Systematic Theology. But is Goligher's interpretation and accusation true?

First, we must establish that Grudem and many EFS proponents are biblicists. And yes, biblicism is wrong. I myself am a confessionalist after all. But biblicism is not heresy. Therefore, while I can criticize a person for being a biblicist, I (and others) also must realize that the way they do theology is different from the way I do theology.

This difference in method also has implications for how we read and interpret theology. It functions in a certain sense as an interpretive grid through which we perceive and reflect upon issues. This interpretive grid binds us towards the usage of certain words and certain phrases in a certain way. It pushes us towards seeing certain questions which others may not see, to express what we perceive in Scripture in ways others may find strange. In other words, it is a PARADIGM in the fullest sense of the term.

A paradigm is a meta-pattern of thought. As Thomas S. Kuhn has explicited it in the history of science, those who are part of the previous paradigm are by and large totally unable to adapt to the new paradigm when it comes. The progress of science comes through "revolutions," whereby the new younger scientists replace the older ones who are stuck with the previous paradigm. The reason why they remain stuck is not because they are stupid or because they are in any way mentally deficient, but rather because the paradigm has in a sense become them. Without a fundamental shift in outlook, it is impossible for one to change from one paradigm to the other, and thus Kuhn in his later life uses the word "incommensurable" in an attempt to starkly contrast one paradigm from the other.

The reason for this excursus into one major theory in the history and philosophy of science, besides the fact that I hold to it in some form, is that the nature of "paradigms" show us very clearly what the problem is. Goligher, Trueman and other critics are wedded to the paradigm of classical theism. Ware, Grudem and other EFS proponents are wedded to the biblicist paradigm. They may make use of the same words, but communication seems to amount to near zero, because both sides refuse to realize the difference in paradigms between them. The critics interpret anything coming from EFS proponents according to the classical theist paradigm, and see heresy. The EFS proponents interpret anything coming from their critics according to the biblicist paradigm, and think they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Because both sides refuse to acknowledge that, both sides refuse to attempt to understand what the other side is saying according to the authorial intent, the paradigm the author is utilizing.

This brings me to the reason why I chose Goligher's post, because he chooses a text that has less problematic features, as opposed to some writings by Bruce Ware. Goligher's outrage shows just how badly he has misread Grudem, and I can say this even without knowing the context of the quote.

Before I go into interpreting Grudem, some may wonder why I can in a sense put myself above the fray. The reason why I can equally critique both sides on this is because I have been in the biblicist side before. I understand to some extent how they think, or at least I think I do. Because I have been in two sides when it comes to method, I see how the difference in method is not merely a matter of who is smarter, or even who is more biblical. NO, the Bible does not directly abjudicate on which method is better. Confessionalism is better not because the Bible directly states it, but because Confessionalism better connects all fields of theology and knowledge and church heritage into a more coherent whole.

Without further to do, let us finally look at the quote from Grudem cited by Goligher:

The husband's role is parallel to God the Father and the wife's role is parallel to that of God the Son. ... And, although it is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, the gift of children within marriage, coming from both the father and the mother, and subject to the authority of both father and mother is analogous to the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son in the Trinity. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 256-257; as cited by Liam Goligher)

If one were to read it with a biblicist framework, THEN translate it into a more confessional framework, this is what Grudem is actually saying:

Just as God the Father plays the role of the head in the economic Trinity, and as the Son submitted to the Father ad extra, so likewise husbands are to image the role of head in the family, emulating what God the Father has shown us through how He works. Wives are to image the submissive role of the Son to the Father. .... And though it is not mentioned in Scripture, the way the Spirit obeys and Father and the Son in the outworking of the divine plan seems to be the pattern for how children should obey their father and mother.

Now, I do not necessarily like how Grudem wants to bring the Spirit in through showing how children seem to image the Spirit's obedience, as it seems speculative, but neither should it be said that it is blasphemy, or that it creates a "mythological Godhead." After all, the Bible DOES link the submission of the Son to the Father in the economy of salvation to how wives should submit to their husbands. Will I advocate for saying the things Grudem says? NO. I am a confessionalist after all. But just because I think those words shouldn't be said in that way shouldn't mean that Grudem should be taken before the inquisition and tried for heresy. Are they blasphemous? You can say they could be, but according to authorial intent and paradigm, they are not. Infelicitous yes, heresy no.

I am not against criticism of any EFS proponent, but that has to be done on the problems they have, not the heresies their critics think exist. Denounce biblicism all you want, but do not ignore authorial intent and paradigm before rushing to judgment.

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