Loophole Theology: The Curious Case of Apollos

[Foreword: I’ll get to the Bible in one second, but first some words on the unnamed theologian you may or may not have encountered ;)]

Jacques Derrida was a French literary critic and philosopher who created a method of reading and analyzing texts which came to be known as “deconstruction.” Without getting into too many details here, I’ll reduce deconstruction to what it truly is:

Deconstruction is a method of interpretation that one with a political agenda can use to overturn the blatantly obvious meaning of any written document in order to raise doubts about the text’s obvious meaning, to the end that one’s political agenda seems more acceptable, if not outright supported by and/or called for by the text in question.

That is to say: It’s pure sophistry driven by a socio-political agenda.

For Derrida, as for most others belonging to this subversive academic tradition (e.g. Michel Foucault), this methodology was particularly favorable to those who belonged to the “marginalized” groups of society. Derrida’s book Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles, for instance, attempts to do this with the writings of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “deconstructing” the meaning of Nietzsche’s writings on women to show that they were maybe (?) more favorable to women (whereas they had previously not been thought as such).

Deconstruction, therefore, is a loophole methodology of interpretation. One comes to the text in question, looking for what one thinks is an aporia, that is to say a “philosophical puzzle or a seemingly insoluble impasse in an inquiry, often arising as a result of equally plausible yet inconsistent premises” (see, here and here for more info), and then interprets the text on the basis of what one does with that tiny piece of text.

And while this is fun, it is unfortunate that it seems to have become the main hermeneutic of postmodern theologians, who misuse Scripture in order to support socio-political agendas. A hermeneutic that was once (rightly) relegated to the realm of shoddy scholarship (and cultic-heretical proof-texting, this is what Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, do when they claim “the Bible teaches there are many [legitimately called] ‘gods'”) has for some reason become acceptable among professing believers.

Case in point: The Curious Case of Apollos

In the hyper-melting-pot that is America, where the exclusivity of anything, let alone doctrines without which one cannot be saved (and in particular, the Gospel of Jesus Christ), is considered socio-politico-cultural heresy – well, it would make sense that theologians would seek to “deconstruct” the Bible whenever it seems appropriate for them to so do (one only need think of how pro-homosexual interpreters have flat out denied the plain meaning of Romans 1:26-27 to see what I mean). In the last few weeks, the case of Apollos has come up as a proof text for retaining judgment of an individual with a public ministry who holds to glaringly inconsistent and even heretical doctrines. First I’ll give the text, then I’ll give the argument.

24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.

-Acts 18:24-28

The argument goes:

Apollos was preaching, and he was a believer, and yet he had to be corrected by Aquila and Priscilla. Isn’t this proof that one can be saved and yet be in error? I mean, we’re all learning right? None of us has arrived.

This is, whether or not it is consciously performed as such, an example of a deconstructive reading. The interpreter, on the basis of the “supposed” ambiguity of the passage, sees an example of a man who holds to doctrinal error and is yet a true believer who has a heart for Jesus and public ministry. But is that what the text presents us with?

Let’s establish what we can about Apollos:

1. He was a Jew.

2. He was instructed in the way of the Lord, but only knew of the Baptism of John.

3. He “spoke and taught accurately.”

Can we infer that Apollos was in error from this testimony about him? Not at all. Apollos was not spreading heresy, he was Orthodox, though his Orthodoxy was limited to what he knew from the Scriptures available to him and what he knew from John. Therefore, when he was taught “more accurately” by Aquila and Priscilla can we properly infer that Apollos just didn’t know what he was talking about, so they lovingly told him that he was spreading heretical error? Um, no.

Apollos was further instructed by Aquila and Priscilla. That’s all.

Was Apollos a believer? It would seem most definitely so. Did he teach heresy? LOL No. Was he in serious doctrinal error? It doesn’t appear to be the case. What we can reasonably infer from the text is that Apollos was operating in faith, on the basis of the message preached by John the Baptist and bequeathed to him. When Priscilla and Aquila came, he got the full story. And, after that, rather than teaching John’s message of Baptism, etc, he became an apologist. Hence, we read:

“…When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.”

-Acts 18:26b-28

Apollos, therefore, is not a worthy candidate for a proof text, or Scriptural analogy, for these reasons:

1. He had only half the message, present day false teachers have the whole Bible.

2. He did not move from heterodoxy to orthodoxy; he moved from incomplete orthodox revelation to complete orthodox revelation.

3. His prior ministry (i.e. teaching the things of the Lord and the baptism of John) and his latter ministry (i.e. arguing apologetically against the Jews) do not contradict one another, but complement one another.

What appears at first to be an aporetic text, is really quite clear.

Drawing Out the Logical Implications

We all do make errors in doctrine, but there are some doctrines that are essential to the faith. If we can say that, for instance, Roman Catholics, who believe a veritable slew of heresies (including, but not limited to: justification by faith and works (which alone disqualifies them (cf. Galatians 1:8-9), as well as the Redemptive and Mediatorial work of Mary among other blasphemies) can find comfort in Apollos’ example, then why not extend that to Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims?

By denying the Scriptural basis for judging whether or not one believes the biblical Gospel, and is thereby saved, we make a ruin of the uniqueness of Christ, of the work of the Holy Spirit in using the preached Gospel to bring sinners to repentance, and we disregard clear judgments about those who don’t believe the biblical Gospel: they aren’t saved, even if they’re good people doing nice things (as Catholics are). Rather than considering their good deeds to be good fruit, would it not be more like Christ to test the spirits, to understand that their actions are performed on the assumption of the truthfulness of their doctrines, and are, therefore, not fruit, but attempts to save themselves (as in the case of Mormons, Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even some “protestant” denominations)? I mean, isn’t this what the Lord Himself says that He will do to false professors of the faith in Matthew 7:-23? Christ says:

22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

Christ was no deconstructionist.

Neither should we be.

-h.

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9 thoughts on “Loophole Theology: The Curious Case of Apollos

  1. altonwoods says:

    “to understand that their actions are performed on the assumption of the truthfulness of their doctrines, and are, therefore, not fruit, but attempts to save themselves (as in the case of Mormons, Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even some “protestant” denominations)?”

    Place them all gently into a sack and then shake nicely, when you remove them,and cook them and set them side by side they’re all “religions” quite tasty,but little more than self idolatry and crispy oven fried dogma.

    Hope I didn’t miss the point…enjoyed your work

    Like

  2. Joseph Torres says:

    H. Have you read James K. A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, Peter Leithart’s Solomon Among the Postmoderns, or Bruce Ellis Benson’s Graven Ideologies? I think you would appreciate their approach to Derrida and Pomo.

    Like

    • Hiram says:

      Unfortunately, no, no, and no :( I’m trying to get more settled in Reformed Theology, so I’m just reading theology for the time being (although I may switch things up a little bit).

      But…I’ll read any book you send me ;)

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  3. Eric says:

    I second Joseph’s suggestions. Smith and Leithart’s books are great … I haven’t read Benson’s. I’d also like to point out that while the definition of deconstruction is accurate for many “deconstructionists,” it isn’t what Derrida meant by deconstruction.

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    • Hiram says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Eric.

      I didn’t want to get enmeshed in the details surrounding Derrida’s work, so I tried to reduce the portion of the blog that deals with him down to what deconstructionists have taken from his work (without getting into all the details of how they got there – e.g. Derrida’s criticism of the “metaphysics of presence,” logocentricity, etc etc etc).

      I’m really being critical of those who would seek to “deconstruct” or “overturn” very plain passages of the Bible in an attempt to justify a political end that otherwise is not biblically justifiable.

      -h.

      Like

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