Monday, December 20, 2021

The Lex Talionis, the Just Nature of God, and the Death Penalty

The lex talionis is the foundation of biblical justice. It is laid down in the Pentateuch but it is everywhere assumed. It is not only assumed in God’s special revelation but also in natural revelation. Hence, it appears in many ancient Near Eastern law codes and forms the foundation for their laws as well.

Lex talionis means “law of reciprocation.” In other words, the act of the crime must be placed back upon the criminal. He must pay the amount he took. If he took out someone’s eye, he must have his eye taken out or pay compensation equal to an eye. If he took out someone’s tooth, he must have his own tooth taken out or pay compensation equal to a tooth. And if he took a life, he must pay for it with his life. Hence, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life” is God’s justice that reveals His character and divine responsibility to address crime in the world.

And this is important to note. The lex talionis is not some arbitrary law that God decided to use. It is God’s law of justice in accordance with His character, which means that He Himself will not transgress it. If He does, we must say that God is unjust according to His own revelation of what justice looks like. Not only this but if He orders His people to transgress it and take an eye for a toenail or a life for a tooth then He is not only unjust Himself according to His own rule but He will have commanded His people to be unjust in the law, reversing the very lex talionis He told them to observe in the law.

Since God is not contradictory of Himself, nor unjust, nor a tempter of evil who tells people to break His own laws, we must conclude that every punishment given is equal to its crime. It is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life.

This means that if a crime carries the death penalty, God must by virtue of His own nature consider the crime to be akin to murder in some way. If He does not consider it to be murder, and He orders that the death penalty via execution or exile be exacted upon the criminal, He will be guilty of going against His very nature as the God of justice and good.

Now, a common objection must be dealt with here. Some will argue that because man is fallen, he is under a death penalty anyway and so God killing anyone and everyone is just since all deserve to die anyway. Hence, God can take a life for an eye because it is always an eye and a life that was taken in both the Fall and the individual sin of the criminal.

However, there arises a couple major problems with this reasoning. 1. God never says that the punishments He gives out are for the crime of Adam but rather for specific crimes. If the above were true then God should actually say that everyone who transgresses laws of non-fatal injuries, like knocking out a tooth, should be put to death, since they are guilty of taking life through Adam and a tooth. Not only is this never argued but it would set the world into a bloody chaos of death, as there would be no need to even commit a crime since everyone already is guilty of Adam’s sin. One would be justified in killing any and every human being they meet. In fact, murder would be impossible, since everyone deserves death already. 2. Although one could say that only God gets to add Adam’s sin to the crime, seemingly arbitrarily, he actually commands His people to exact these punishments on criminals and so they become the instruments through which anyone can be killed at any time. All of this is contrary to God’s own statements, however, which limit executions only to those cases that in some way take away the life of another. God states that the lex talionis is to be applied by His people to all cases that are not even mentioned but fall into the categories mentioned. This means that one cannot take a life for a mere injury. If an item that can be replaced is stolen, the thief is allowed to pay it back plus the interest of what was lost due to the item’s removal.

This means we are back at the argument before. If God requires the death penalty in the law, it can only mean that it is because He considers the crime akin to murder in some way. This does not mean that it is literal murder but rather that it is associated with murder in some way. In some form, the crime committed takes away human life, and according to the lex talionis, the life of the one who committed the crime must be taken.

So, for instance, in Leviticus 20, two laws are given that require the death penalty.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, to make my sanctuary unclean and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, then I will set my face against that man and against his clan and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring after Molech.

“If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you. For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.

The first law can be understood as requiring the death penalty because it kills children. However, even here, the emphasis seems to be more along the lines of the idolatry committed. Either way, however, the second law, given the lex talionis, is baffling to the modern reader.

How can God require the death penalty for cursing one’s father or mother? There are two things that could be said here. The first is that when a person does not honor his father or mother, it detracts from the household in some way, threatening the household and its livelihood. A son, for instance, who refuses to work in the field, or take care of his parent’s financially when they are in need, etc. threatens their lives and works toward the destruction of parents and their household. Likewise, a daughter who ignores her parents and whores around, threatens not only the reputation, and therefore, financial stability of the household, but also marriage prospects that also threaten the finances of the household.

The second component to dishonoring or cursing parents, however, is far worse and more likely the cause for the death penalty. Many scholars have noted before that the command to honor one’s father and mother sits in the first five laws of the Ten Commandments. Whereas some may divide the law into four laws concerning the worship of God and six laws concerning one’s relationships between people, it may be instead divided between five and five. This would mean that one’s father and mother represent God and are a means by which a person worships God. Notice the contrast in consulting mediums for information vs. being under the guidance of one’s parents. To curse or dishonor or shun them in some way is to curse and dishonor or to shun God and to do so is to lead people to disregard the fear of God as their source of life. To cut off the source of life from the covenant community is to kill those influenced by such rebellion. It is to teach a different religion, and as such, is a type of murder (cf. Rom 3:10-18). Hence, the penalty is not a fine of some sort but death.

Similarly, in Leviticus 24, a curious episode is given to the reader as an example of this very thing.

10 Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, 11 and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed. Then they brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. 12 And they put him in custody, till the will of the Lord should be clear to them.

13 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 14 “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. 15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.

17 “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. 21 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. 22 You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.” 23 So Moses spoke to the people of Israel, and they brought out of the camp the one who had cursed and stoned him with stones. Thus the people of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses.

We often don’t think of blasphemy laws as being akin to murder. Instead, we simply understand that God is the king and should not be spoken against or treated poorly in any way. But we tend to fail to understand why one should get the death penalty for treating God this way. The text above does not merely give a circular reason for the death of this man. It does not say that he should be put to death because God is God and should not be cursed. Instead, God gives the lex talionis as the reason. 

17 “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death . . .  19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.

The strange thing about this text is that the reason given that the man is to be killed for cursing God is because the Israelites are to take a life for a life. But what life did the man take that he must now pay for it with his own life?

Instead, if we understand that treating God poorly undermines His appeal to His people to seek Him as the only life source, and therefore, to live, we understand that this man’s act worked toward murdering everyone who would be influenced by his degradation of God. Hence, he is paying with his life because such an act is akin to murder, even though he did not visibly murder anyone.

The same can be said of texts that demand the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath (Exod 31:14; Num 15:32-36). To observe the Sabbath was to communicate one’s allegiance to YHWH as the sovereign King of Israel, the Creator who gives life to all who are in Him, but to ignore it was to communicate the opposite of that, that YHWH was not the ultimate source of life and that Israel did not need to have to give their allegiance to Him. It is therefore a preaching of a false religion to not observe the Sabbath in the old covenant. Hence, it is akin to murdering those who are influenced by this evil testimony, and the individuals were, therefore, to be put to death.

What this all means, therefore, is that God is just, the lex talionis is justice, and if God demands a particular punishment upon a particular crime, it is because in some way it is akin to the unauthorized taking of human life. It is murder in God’s eyes whether it is murder in our own or not.

It may be extreme and crazy for some to think of false religion this way in our day of inclusivism where differing religions are merely various expressions of the one God manifested through cultural differences but that God considers the practice or preaching of false religion as a knife in one’s hand (or rather in one's mouth) with which he slays another man is made clear from these texts. God is just, the lex talionis is justice, and if God says that one must be put to death for practicing or preaching a false religion, it must be that He considers it akin to murder.

So when you read these penalties you must also understand the severity of the crime by the nature of those penalties.

The remedy of this, of course, is to confess one’s evil and the depth thereof, to turn away from being advocates of these deadly ideas, and to come to the cross where all of the heinous sins of God’s people have been punished by the execution of the Son of God who died in our place.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Sola Ecclesia in the New Testament Implies Sola Scriptura for Both Protestants and Catholics Alike

 One of the confusing things about the Roman Catholic/Protestant debate over sola Scriptura (i.e., Scripture is the ultimate source of authority relating what God has spoken) or sola Ecclesia (i.e., the church is the ultimate source of authority relating what God has spoken) is when both go to the Scripture and attempt to argue their cases from the time of the apostles. It seems very clear that the primary authority in the early church was that of the apostles. The apostles' word was the final word concerning the right interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and the new revelation of Jesus Christ. All would agree that they would never contradict the Hebrew Scripture, since they were speaking from the same God who gave it, but it seems very clear that they were the ultimate authority through which the Holy Spirit spoke. Hence, the Roman Catholics are right in that the ultimate source of authority in the early church would have been the apostles, and hence, sola Ecclesia.

The problem is this. If the apostolic teaching is written down into a closed canon, and that closed canon now joins with the Hebrew Bible to complete Scripture, as most Christians believe that it does, then the only logical conclusion to make is that the sola Ecclesia of the early church demands sola Scriptura for the rest of the church from that point on, as it is the only place where the apostle's teaching is confirmed.

The mistake is in thinking that if Roman Catholics can somehow prove that the early church was rooted in sola Ecclesia, the rest of the church throughout history should be as well. This is also what many liberals try to argue. The problem is that the authority is in the apostles' teaching, and apostolic succession must be in agreement with it or it is wrong; and hence, if their teaching is sufficiently represented in the New Testament, then the entire church must bow down to it as the supreme authority because it is bowing down to their teaching that is the supreme authority. In other words, in order for Christians today to submit to what the early church did within the framework of sola Ecclesia, they must submit to it via sola Scriptura. 

Hence, Roman Catholics actually have to speculate and make up an additional apostolic teaching they supposedly know through tradition. Yet, this tradition is only supposed as apostolic and it must be confirmed by what is known to be apostolic, i.e., what is written in the New Testament, and if it contradicts what is written, proves itself false. This means that even Roman Catholics must believe in sola Scriptura if their claim that there is an apostolic tradition that is equally authoritative as the New Testament is true, since the one must verify the other and thus proves itself the superior authority. 

Inerrancy and the Incarnational Model in Both Gnostic and Orthodox Frameworks

Some errantists like to argue that the Bible is comparable to the incarnation. In that regard, the Bible takes on a true humanity while also being fully divine. I think most Christians would agree with this idea. However, errantists have assumed that in order to take upon an incarnational model, one must assume that true humanity means fallen humanity, the errors of humanity. This is actually not the orthodox view of the incarnation because it isn't the biblical view. Jesus was like us in all things, except without sin (Heb 4:15). He is the spotless/unblemished lamb. 

So I would submit to you that the incarnational model of errantists is actually Gnostic rather than orthodox and apostolic. It assumes that true humanity, humanity in its very ontology, is corrupt and in error. Jesus would have to be corrupt and in error as well. He could not be unblemished or without sin if He is fully human. In this regard, the divine only hovers above and around the humanity but never would join with it, as it is corrupt. It uses the humanity but never unifies with it.

Hence, this is more of the adoptionist model of incarnation applied to Scripture. Scripture is a corrupted book with human speculations, sinful and wicked ideas, and erroneous theology and ethics but God somehow comes around it, never agreeing with it or joining with that erroneous human element but using it in the way the divine presence/Christ used the corrupt man Jesus to save. 

Errantism in this sense, then, is actually a product of gnosticism applied to Scripture. The apostolic and orthodox view of incarnation applied would mean that the divine message is in full and complete unity and agreement with the human message. This does not imply that the human message must be omniscient, as even Jesus' humanity is not omniscient. Instead, it implies that the divine keeps the human from an erroneous message being communicated because of its lack of omniscience. 

This means that a human author can believe that the earth is not round, for instance, but that misinformation is not an obstacle to, and indeed even used as part of the language for the divine to communicate its inerrant message through, it.

This simply suggests that, since liberalism, the religion of the Enlightenment, is essentially gnostic, that errantism of this sort is liberalism, and liberalism, as gnostic, is itself heresy according to the apostles. Ergo, errantism of this sort is heresy according to the apostles. 

Friday, December 3, 2021

The Church of 7-11

 I don't know about you but one of the highlights of my youth was walking with my friends up to 7-11 every weekend and getting beef jerky in some form or a slurpee. Later the slurpee turned into a Big Gulp and then a Super Big Gulp as my choices in life became so much healthier. The great thing about 7-11s is that they were on every street corner and you could be in and out within a few minutes. The problem is that what we were eating and drinking was probably killing us. Such is the nature of fast food. It's very tasty and convenient. It doesn't require much time or work to get it.

Many churches are like 7-11s. They're convenient for numerous reasons. 1. They're offerings are palatable to almost anyone. The type of Christianity that is offered isn't much different from what most people think Christianity is. It's tasty to most people, not just regenerate Christians. 2. It's served up quickly at your convenience. You don't need much of a time commitment to them. You can come and go as you please and it doesn't matter if you miss this or that lesson since it's all pretty much the same thing you already know anyway. 3. Along those same lines, there is little to no work required in thinking through hard biblical things that are taught to you because nothing hard from the Bible is taught unless it's already an aspect of what most people believe. 4. They're everywhere. You can find churches that will give you fast food Christianity on every street corner. They're a dime a dozen (or should I say they're 7 in a 11?). They're easy to reproduce everywhere because there isn't much that goes into them. 

In contrast to 7-11 churches are what I would call the church of the home-cooked meal. This church is not common and it isn't really open to just anyone, since it exists primarily for the committed Christian. It requires much of his time and energy to engage in the whole counsel of God, some of which is extremely hard to hear and digest. It takes the preparers of the Word much time and energy to bake and prepare that food. If you miss a study, you've missed an essential point in a longer argument that may cause you to misunderstand the entirety of the issue. It therefore requires a time and effort that 7-11 churches simply do not.

Many people say they would rather have a home-cooked meal, and yet, it is clear that although that is ideal in their minds, they are not willing to put in the time and effort to really get one. Fast food is just too convenient and is an easy fix for their cravings. They know what they're getting when they order it. Homemade food may not be what they like that night. They may eat something served up by the preparers that they don't find tasteful. It's easier to just grab that five-day old pizza under the heat lamp. You know what it tastes like already and there is no further commitment than just shoving it in your mouth. 

I think that's why fast food has replaced the home-cooked meal, not because anyone thinks it is better for you but because everyone thinks its a sufficient substitute. Fast forward thirty years later and we're all sick and dying early because it really wasn't. 

Extreme Makeover: Epistemology Edition

 Modern Evangelicals have a variety of terms they use to shut one another down. They may use the term “racist” themselves but they also have their own home-cooked brew of pejoratives. “Legalist!” “Pharisee!” “Arrogant!” “Extreme/Radical!” It’s this last concept I wish to explore here.

The idea that something is radical or extreme is an interesting one because it assumes a standard of normality that is often under scrutiny at the time one makes this claim. In other words, when one presents a view that the other thinks sounds extreme and is labeled as such, he is likely begging the question by doing so. This is the case because whatever is true should actually be the standard, not whatever one is used to.

Unfortunately, the standard of familiarity tends subjectively to assume that whatever a particular person is most used to is the standard and whatever he is least familiar with is extreme or radical.

Now, if one is making the claim because he is appealing to the revealed Word of God using the objective criteria of exegesis to mark the standard of normality then there is nothing arrogant about claiming that something is extreme or radical. However, this is often said before those arguments are put forth, precisely, because that is not usually the appeal. Rather the person assumes that whatever he is familiar with, whether from tradition, “soundslikegesis,” what he was taught previously by various teachers in the church, etc., is the norm and whatever goes too far beyond it is extreme/radical.

I cannot stress the amount of arrogance that this subjective criteria musters in order to make a claim that is not rooted in exegesis. It is likely the case that we have many blind spots and simply fail to realize in our desire to preserve our personal beliefs we tend to make appeals to things we should not.

Whatever the reason may be, the person doing this, ironically, may actually be the one holding a radical or extreme position that deviates too far from or even completely contradicts the true norm that only has the possibility of being found by employing all of the objective tools of exegesis.

If evangelicals are to get past their cult they must make a radical shift, an extreme makeover, in evaluating how they are actually arriving at their norms.

Discerning Charges of Arrogance in Biblical Interpretation

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man isn’t king, he’s an arrogant jerk. That’s because if no one sees what he sees then to boldly make a truth claim concerning the nature of reality is to be arrogant in the opinion of the masses if that truth claim should be contrary to what everyone else might believe.

Unfortunately, we are all the products of Enlightenment inclusivism whether we like it or not. What that means is that anyone claiming to know a truth that excludes the opinions of others will be seen as an arrogant tyrant who lifts himself up over others. This is especially true of religious knowledge.

This is because, in the Enlightenment, it was argued that religion cannot be known in any sort of objective manner. Hence, one could only subjectively take hold of what was religiously true based on his or her experience. Since no one could really know what was religiously true, anyone claiming to know it was arrogant, thinking that their subjective experience is better than someone else’s because they must be assuming that they are smarter, more spiritual, more righteous, or more important in some way.

In the Post-Enlightenment Era in which we find ourselves today, this assumption is deeply rooted in our ideas concerning religious truth claims and our concept of arrogance. Religious relativism is the religion of the humble. Exclusive dogma is the religion of the arrogant.

To make any sort of truth claim about religion that excludes and rejects the validity of the religious truth claims of others is to lift oneself up as superior. Hence, what is really important is how one speaks, not the content of what one says. One must speak in a manner that concedes to the validity of other religious truth claims that contradict one’s own. This is what the humble man does because, as said before, only the arrogant man would think that his subjective experience is better than another’s. He must never claim that he knows what is true if that truth should claim that others, especially the majority, are wrong.

Hence, to claim, for instance, that Christ is the only way of salvation will be met with accusations of arrogance toward the one who makes that claim. These accusations run something to this effect: “Who are you that you think you’re so special as opposed to all of these other people, the majority, who don’t believe what you do? You must think you’re better than they are. How could so many others be wrong? Most people in the world don’t believe that. You’re holding a minority view. If you personally believe that, that’s fine; but say it in a way that acknowledges that the ideas of others that contradict yours are just as valid.”

The same conversation can be repeated for virtually any religious belief, since all beliefs automatically infer an exclusion of any truth claims that contradict them.

Evangelicals, although willing to be labeled arrogant for what they consider essential, have largely adopted this stance toward any religious truth claim that falls outside of what they personally think is not only clearly true but in their minds universally held. Hence, to make the claim that one knows the right interpretation of a particular biblical text that falls outside what is considered essential is to be arrogant. The same types of arguments are made but within the framework of Christian essentials. “Who are you to say such and such is true. So and so has a different opinion and so do many others. You must think you’re better than them, smarter than them, godlier than them, but they are really smart and godly too. You must be arrogant for saying that you know what is true and that they are wrong.”

Now, let me say that it is possible that the accusation of arrogance toward such a person is true. However, it is often assumed to be true when, in fact, it is not. What must decide the matter for us are two essentials pieces of knowledge that must be considered first. These are (1) Is the person’s claim to know the religious truth claim that rejects the opinions of others as false based on subjective or objective criteria? And (2) Does the Bible condemn as arrogant exclusive truth claims made upon the basis of objective or only subjective criteria?

Let’s deal with the first question first. There is a stark difference in biblical interpretation when someone practices exegesis as opposed to what I would call “soundslikegesis.”

 Exegesis is when one looks at the objective evidence of lexicography, grammar, syntax, literary context, genre, audience background, and the objective reasoning of logical and linguistic principles in order to interpret a passage. There is no appeal to the self. The interpreter is not saying that he thinks this text says such and such because he is better in some way, smarter, godlier, more important, superior, etc. He is concluding what can and cannot be the correct interpretation of the passage based upon objective evidence and many times that objective evidence excludes other interpretations that have not taken into consideration everything above and have therefore concluded falsely.

Conversely, “soundslikegesis” is where someone believes that his or her interpretation of a passage is just as valid as someone who has used all of the objective tools above to discover the correct interpretation without him or herself using any of those objective tools above to do the same. In other words, this individual is merely looking at the passage and thinking that it sounds like it is saying something to him, and since he is who he is, his interpretation is just as valid as those of anyone else, learned or otherwise.

The first person is using an objective criteria that is outside of himself. The second person is using a subjective criteria that assumes that he has all that he needs to interpret the passage correctly since he is who he is. Whether this is because he is a Christian and he believes all Christians have some special spiritual insight into Scripture, or because his life experiences or traditions put him on par with the scholar using objective criteria, this person thinks that he should be included in the list of those with valid interpretations.

Now let’s answer the second question. What does the Bible consider arrogant? All of the above? None of the above? I would argue that it considers the last man arrogant and not the first. In order to claim this, let me briefly describe what the Bible considers arrogant.

One can be arrogant in one of two ways in the Bible.

The first way that one can be arrogant is that he can think that his opinions are linked to God directly and therefore the Bible is more of a suggestion book than a divine instruction that is absolute. In this regard, this person either ignores a biblical teaching because although he or she does believe it is right, he does not think it is necessary to hold, or he blatantly rejects a biblical teaching as wrong. This is to lift oneself up over God's Word in some way. This man is contrasted with the humble man who trembles at God’s Word (e.g., Isa 66:1-2).

The second way a mere human can be arrogant is by thinking that he is better than other people. He is superior in some way in that he is more important than another Christian (e.g., Phil 2). In this regard, I would say that the man using subjective rather than objective criteria is arrogant for thinking that his opinions and interpretations of Scripture are valid just because he holds them. Since he is just as good as anyone else and maybe even better, his opinions are just as good as anyone else's.

The one using objective criteria isn’t making a claim based on his equality or superiority in some way. It isn’t based on who he is. It is based on the objective criteria of exegesis. The objective criteria functions as an eye in the land of the blind, not some personal trait or quality that he inherently has.

Ironically, it is often the one practicing “soundslikegesis” who is calling the scholar using objective criteria “arrogant” because he is making a religious truth claim that excludes the views of others who may be just as godly, smart, or important. The mistake is in thinking that our biblical interpretations should be rooted in any of these subjective criteria in the first place. One might even say it is arrogant to assume that they are. But there I go again, arrogant jerk that I am, using that one eye of mine to describe reality.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Tragedy of Evangelicalism for Those Who Enter Reformed Churches from Their Ranks

 The true tragedy of Evangelicalism and its lack of teaching a full worldview to those who grow up within it is not necessarily that people grow up in it unaware of how much of their lives had been wrecked by not knowing all sorts of biblical things they needed to know. The real tragedy instead is that coupled with the lack of having been taught a full worldview, evangelicals often assume they already have the standards they need to discern what is Christian and what is not, what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. 

In other words, the real tragedy is the assumption of understanding the whole of Christianity when only a part of it has been taught. This is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It is the tendency for all humans to assume that when they have been given some knowledge of an area of study, when they do not realize the vastness and complexity of the field, they tend to assume that they have a sufficient understanding of that field enough to make all sorts of judgments based upon that now assumed expertise. We see this in college courses where students may take something like Philosophy 101 and suddenly think that they are experts in the field of philosophy, or when seminary students take Greek 101, all of a sudden, they are biblical scholars (which is why you will often hear the statement that a first-year Greek class has enough Greek to be dangerous now).

Even though this can be true of any field (think about how we're all doctors in our own minds because we have so much medical information available to us) it is most true of religion due to arguments given by certain philosophers in the Enlightenment arguing that religion cannot be evaluated empirically but only experientially. We have an assumption that religious opinions can neither be confirmed nor contradicted. Postmodernity has assumed this argument in its general feeling that religion is personal and cannot be judged by anyone outside of oneself. To do so is arrogant because it lifts one's experience over another's. 

What this means for evangelicals is that the little knowledge that has been given to them is assumed to be sufficient to judge any other teaching that comes their way. The problem is that Evangelicalism does not teach a full worldview and what this ultimately means is that where it does not teach a Christian worldview, the culture's worldview remains intact and even syncretized with Evangelicalism. What this further entails is that evangelicals are believing and practicing things that the wicked world practices because they were never taught that these things are not consistent with a Christian worldview.

Now, that is not yet the tragedy. Anyone can recover from being taught falsely. The problem is that many have come to believe that they do not need to be retaught and instead use their culture's beliefs, which they believe are consistent with Christianity, to judge everything that now comes down to them from the pulpit of Reformed churches that are teaching a full Christian worldview. in other words, they have standardized many of their previous beliefs and practices and have made them the measure of anything they hear from now on.

Because they have already come to believe that what they know and practice is Christianity itself, everything else will be pulled through the grid of that insufficient, and often syncretized, worldview. What often happens then is a conflict takes place between the evangelicals and the Reformed churches into which they enter because what they are now being taught is contrary to what they had already thought to be good and true. Some will realize they had not been taught the full counsel of God and avoid this trap. Many others, however, will either cause dust ups in the church or just leave quietly. Either way, these latter two groups will not tolerate the fuller worldview that contradicts their previous one.

The tragedy, therefore, is that Evangelicalism, by teaching people that what they're hearing is Christianity, causes people to believe that they know what Christianity does and should teach, and by doing so, closes them off from being open to a fuller Christian worldview.

The worldview of Christianity that they were taught is normative to them. The worldview of Christianity that they were not taught, and runs counter to things they have already adopted as good or true, sounds crazy to them. It's extreme. It's radical. It sounds like a cult. No one wants to be a part of a crazy cult. They want the normal Christianity with which they are familiar or imagined as ideal based on their present understanding that makes them feel safe. They assume that there is a safety in numbers, so if most evangelicals do or do not believe something, it must be safe to assume that they've landed on the right position. Likewise, many of our reformed churches even are recovering evangelical churches and have themselves not come fully to a Christian worldview. It is thought that there is safety in those numbers as well. 

Instead, I would suggest that evangelicals start with the assumption that they do not understand Christianity rather than with the assumption that they basically have gotten it. This will help with learning new things that may sound crazy if one already assumes the absoluteness of its opposite. In fact, I would suggest that we all do this regardless of how much you think you already know. We are all under God's Word. It is God who grants understanding of it and He does so through the teachers of the church; but those teachers themselves must approach it with fear and trembling. It is no plaything with which he feed our egos. If it says, "Jump," we should say, How high?" not, "I've never heard it tell me to jump before so I think that's nuts and won't do it." 

We are all recovering from a worldview that runs contrary to God's Word and are often unaware of it. The worst thing one can do is dig his heels in before honestly and openly hearing out Christian teachers who are also seeking to believe and present a fuller biblical worldview in their ministries. 

In this regard, even though we often view Evangelicalism as a steppingstone to further growth, it is often a stumbling block instead, and this is the tragedy of those who are brought up in it. It prevents people from being teachable, and tragically, they are often unaware that the previous evangelicalism that had trapped them in false beliefs is still doing so even when the movement has been left behind.

I've often argued that this is really the only way to be a heretic. Most of us believe heretical ideas in our early Christian life simply because we weren't corrected until later concerning them. The heretic, however, is not merely one who believes heresy but rather one who refuses to be corrected in his heresy. In fact, church discipline is only done upon those who are unteachable. They refuse to acknowledge and repent of their sin but if they had been open to the church's teaching about that sin there would be no church discipline needed. We might then say that being unteachable is the only unpardonable sin, as if the Pharisees had been teachable to the Spirit of God they would not have blasphemed Christ. To be unteachable to God's Word through God's church is, therefore, the one sin that Christians should fear the most. It hardened Pharaoh's heart, caused Judas to betray Christ, and has brought about the damnation of Popes. 

So this is a lament, I guess, for the evangelicals caught in the trap of the Evangelicalism that did not provide the needed worldview to create Christian standards of discernment but rather only the illusion that no further or contrary standards are necessary. May God turn all of our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh and open the eyes of the blind that we might truly see the light of His glory in all things. And may He do away with the stumbling block of partial-Christianity and replace it with the fullness of His whole counsel.