Contradictions are Carnal

There was a time when people understood that holding to contradictory beliefs was a bad thing. And I don’t mean bad as in annoying or socially unacceptable only, but bad as in immoral. Philosophers and theologians alike strove to present logically consistent systems of thought devoid of any contradictions between their constitutive propositions. With postmodernism’s essentialist declarations concerning anthropology, language, morality, and epistemology (see here), however, contradiction has come to be viewed, ironically enough, as an essential part of human intellection. Systems of thought that purport to be contradiction-free, consequently, are judged to be either hopelessly philosophically naive or arrogant and dishonest. And this, of course, includes religious systems of thought.

Now, in the world, Christianity is thought to be naive and/or dishonest because it asserts that it and it alone is true. Within many professedly Christian churches, the same sentiment is directed against those who assert that certain doctrines are foundationally true, such that a denial of these doctrines indicates that one is lost. Whereas the world demands that Christians abandon our uniqueness and let religious bygones be bygones, many in professedly Christian churches demand that we abandon orthodoxy and let doctrinal bygones be bygones.

In both instances, what is being embraced is the postmodern idea that contradiction is inevitable, even in the pages of God’s Word. Additionally, what is implicitly embraced is the conviction that contradictions, in fact, are good, seeing as they push forward a progressively unfolding and expanding theological dialectic which will never resolve in this life. This open-ended dialectic is seen as the means whereby Christians may be epistemically humbled and led to soften their tone regarding the core doctrines of Christianity.

But Scripture doesn’t support this view of contradictions. In fact, consistently teaches that contradictions are evil, wicked. For instance, consider what Paul says in 2nd Cor 1:17 –

Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?

In this passage, Paul explains that saying yes and no at the same time, and in the same sense, is not morally neutral, it is according to the flesh, or carnal. It is to be, in essence, what James calls “double-minded” in James 1:5-8. He writes –

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Such self-contradictory thinking renders us unstable, unable to think and act in accordance with the truth. Self-contradiction is part and parcel of what is not knowledge at all. In 1st Tim 6:20 Paul writes –

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge…”

Contradictions, then, are neither profound, enlightening, good, spiritual, or godly. Rather, contradictions are carnal.

Who Cares?

Some may ask why it is important to point out that contradictions are carnal. There are many reasons I can give, but I think these three are among the greatest.

  1. False teachers are bitterly opposed to clear thinking. If a teacher trades in contradictory statements regarding his doctrine or his personal life (e.g. whether he is or is not involved in a given sinful relationship or behavior), then we may properly identify him as, at the very least, a threat to the stability of the church. At worst, he is an enemy of God and his church who must be publicly rebuked, renounced, and removed from the pulpit. In either case, he is unfit for the ministry of the Word and should be avoided.
  2. Understanding that contradictions are to be eliminated from our thinking will cause us to be more cautious in our doctrine and in our life. The goal of being without any contradictions in our thinking should lead us to strive toward that end, knowing that being consistent in our thinking is not an empty academic exercise but an exercise in godliness.
  3. Contradictions are false, and we are to be people of the Truth, who believe the truth, and who are led by the Spirit of Truth to walk in the way of truth.

In regeneration, we are given the mind of Christ. Let us be conformed by his Word to think as he does – without contradictions.

Soli Deo Gloria
-h.

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Rhetorical Tricks of the Enemies Trade Pt. 4a – Biblical Trinitarian

Over at BiblicalTrinitarian.com, I’ve recently published part 4a of my ongoing series looking at various maneuvers and tricks used by enemies of the faith in their argumentation (i.e. Rhetorical Tricks of the Enemies Trade). Here is an excerpt of the article, which you can read in its entirety here.

An Apologetical Reflection on Dialogical Rules of Engagement

Language use varies not only from one group to another, but also from context to context. Academicians, for instance, generally seek to constrain subjective, emotive language as much as possible in order to focus their readers’ attention on the content being argued either for or against. Outside of academic circles, generally most of us employ subjective, emotive language, interestingly, to the same end. Persuasive interpersonal communication, in fact, seems to rest largely on a speaker’s apparent subjectivity and empathy, whereas non-persuasive communication of this kind is deficient in apparent subjectivity and empathy. Within their respective contexts, granting that interlocutors are aware of the context’s rules of engagement (e.g. whether they are engaging in a specialized academic disputation or an informal conversational debate), these modes of communication are not problematic. However, if one is unaware of the rules of engagement, then he is bound to misunderstand the meaning of his interlocutor’s assertions.

For example, the word “all” can function in several different ways in any given informal context. Informal contexts often use the word all hyperbolically, as a means of emphasis. Contextually, assertions of the variety “All x are y!” typically are not quantitatively precise, but serve to emphasize a large quantity of some particular “y.” “All” would mean “most,” not each and every individual x. More precise informal contexts may involve the use of “all” in conjunction with a place, signifying not the entirety of that place’s population, but the entirety of the people representative of that place. The sentence “All New Yorkers are Yankees fans,” for instance, does not mean each and every New Yorker is a fan of the Yankees. Rather, it means that all native New York baseball fans are Yankees fans. The quanitative all here is precise, but it is limited to a subset of the absolute All in the tautologous assertion “All permanent New York residents are New Yorkers.” The precise use of the word all, in other words, is shown to be relative to a particular subset of the complete set of permanent New York residents.

Oftentimes, as has been mentioned already, a failure to properly interpret the informal use of, for instance, the universal quantifier all can lead to much confusion between interlocutors. Informal discourse must be interpreted according to the rules of engagement employed by interlocutors. As regards formal discourse, similarly, the rules of engagement must be understood if proper interpretation is to be achieved. What is key to achieving understanding between interlocutors, then, is both parties understanding the rules of engagement. Are they engaged in informal discourse? Then set-A rules apply. Are they engaged in formal discourse? Then set-B rules apply. The broader categories of formal and informal, moreover, can be further refined so as to ensure that formal scientific discourse, for instance, is not interpreted according to the rules of engagement in formal philosophical, or literary contexts.

To put the matter simply: The words we use typically have several meanings, and these meanings are native to particular contexts. The contexts here refer to (i.)a general dialogical context one is engaging in (e.g. Formal vs. Informal), (ii.)the sub-context of that general context (e.g. Formal-Philosophical vs. Informal-Philosophical), and (iii.)the narrow context between specific interlocutors (e.g. Formal-Philosophical-Ontological vs. Informal-Philosophical-Ontological). With this in mind, we may be able to better articulate our own arguments, as well as better understand which criticisms against our argumentation are legitimate and which are not.

The explicit purpose of this article is to better elucidate and, therefore, understand illegitimate criticisms of theologically sound argumentation, i.e. criticisms that ignore dialogical contexts.

Soli Deo Gloria
-h.