Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Missing the Point?

Somehow, I got on The Trinity Foundation's mailing list so every month or so I their newsletter. This most recent one dedicated eight pages to a White Horse Inn (WHI) program (led by Michael Horton) in which Anne Rice was interviewed.

First, let me say that my only time listening to the WHI was when Horton interviewed Mark Driscoll. There may have been one other program I listened to but it was apparently not very memorable. So do not read this as a defense of Horton (who I have met and had lunch with) or the WHI which I do not listen to.

John W. Robbins, who appears to be God's called man to polemicize against whatever it is that does not fit into his particular framework of apologetics (in the mold of Clark). [N.B. - I don't know enough about the differences of Clark and Van Til to know how that might fit into the conversation here, if at all. If you do understand the differences, and think those differences are relevant here, please comment. I would love to see them.]

The program in question was apparently an interview with Anne Rice, a Roman Catholic author. Robbins believed that WHI did not make enough of the differences between Catholicism and the Bible. He may well be right on that; I have no idea having not listened to it. I personally see no need to interview Anne Rice, but it's not my program and for some reason they failed to call me that day to check with me about their choices.

Anyway out of this eight page compilation of email exchanges (apparently), one particular part caught my attention, which is all I will focus on here.
Robbins: Finally Rosenthal [of WHI] makes his denial of the axiom of Christianity explicit. The Word of God, he says, is not a a first principle.

WHI: It [the Bible] has to be read with the eyes/listened to with the ears. Thus, it seems that belief in the bible [sic] rests on a prior first principle, namely that of the general reliability of sense perception, etc.

Robbins: Here he finally makes his empiricism explicit. He trusts the Bible only because he trusts his eyes first. Sensation is his first principle, not revelation. In fact, Rosenthal's theory of knowledge has no room for revelation at all - special or general. All alleged revelation must not only be judged by the "craft of history," but also mediated by the senses. There is no place in his theory of knowledge for a Word from God - no place for Christ's statement to Peter, "Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, buy my Father who is in Heaven. According to the White Horse Inn, it is only the sense that give us knowledge, either by looking at the heavens, or by reading a book. Nature has eaten up grace completely, and God cannot reveal his truth directly to men's minds. According to the White Horse Inn, flesh and blood has revealed everything to us.
Now, it is my perception (pun intended) that Robbins' perception (pun doubly intended) has completely missed the point. I have not read everything Horton has written, nor anyone else who hosts the WHI. But I think I have read enough to know that Robbins has missed the point.

As I read the statement about the general reliability of sense perception, Rosenthal is talking about the fact that God communicates to us through his word, which must be read with the eyes or heard with the ears, and we must trust what we read or hear. If you don't read the Word with your eyes, or hear it with your ears, you will not know what God has revealed.

Think of Robbins' own statement that for WHI there is no room for Christ's statement to Peter. How did Robbins know that Christ made that statement to Peter? Because he trusts the general reliability of his own sense perception of seeing the words on the page and interpreting them to mean something. God did not directly reveal that to Robbins. Robbins found it the same place everyone else does ... in Matthew 16.

So I think Robbins has undermined his own position by citing that.

It seems that Robbins' also reveals something about his own bibliology when he complains against WHI's belief that "God cannot reveal his truth directly to men's minds." Unless I miss my guess, Robbins believes in a closed canon and that revelation has ceased. Therefore, even for Robbins, God does not "reveal his truth directly to men's minds." He does it through Scripture. The Holy Spirit's regenerating and illuminating work (if you think those are different) are both required to understand the spiritual significance. But you still have to read with your eyes and hear with your ears.

Even Christ, during his earthly ministry and particularly in his letters to the churches in Revelation appealed to the general reliability of sense perception when he said, "Him who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Now, the truth is that there may be some real issues with how the Anne Rice interview was carried out, or that it is was carried out at all. But to me, it seems that Robbins has missed the point. He is simply jumping on the wrong thing.

Those at the WHI may indeed by empiricists (I doubt it), but it is certainly not because they believe you have to trust your eyes when read the Bible or trust your ears when you hear the Bible. I don't think that is really what empiricism is all about.

Or perhaps I have missed the point ... But this just strikes me as Robbins trying to find fault with something that may have been worded better perhaps but was not fundamentally misguided to begin with.

1 comment:

Sean Gerety said...

You wrote:
As I read the statement about the general reliability of sense perception, Rosenthal is talking about the fact that God communicates to us through his word, which must be read with the eyes or heard with the ears, and we must trust what we read or hear. If you don't read the Word with your eyes, or hear it with your ears, you will not know what God has revealed.

Biblically, seeing and hearing are metaphors for understanding and belief. There are many who DO read the Word with their eyes and hear it with their ears and still do not know what God has revealed. Is there a problem with their eyes and ears?

Consider Jesus’ words from Matthew 13:

13 "Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
14 "And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE;
16 "But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.
17 "For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Ironically, it seems the above discourse is a refutation of your claim to the “general reliability of sense perception” so perhaps your inference is incorrect.

I suspect you are confusing black marks on a page, mere arbitrary tokens, with propositions. A proposition is the **meaning** of a declarative sentences. Jesus wasn’t asserting above that he was talking to deaf and blind people. Their eyes and ears worked fine, but the truths of Scripture are not learned or mediated by light hitting a person’s corneas or sound waves on the ear drums. That would be empiricism. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 2:14, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

I’ve commented more on Dr. Robbins’ piece here if you’re interested; http://godshammer.wordpress.com/2007/09/24/the-two-book-theory-of-knowledge/