I’m revising and re-running this in (dis)honor of the commenter who trotted out the straw man about the “supposed certainties of conservative-traditional Christianity.” Eek!
It seems I have have acquired a little Internet “fan club” that likes to dismiss me for being so certain about things. I can’t miss the irony of them being certain that I am certain about some things, and them being certain that it is bad to be certain. And their comments and posts reveal a high degree of confidence in their positions.
It reminds me of a NY Times guy who said, “Certainty is the enemy of decency.” He seemed most certain of this, so I appreciate him confessing to being indecent.
It also reminds me of a lady at my church who chided me for wearing jeans to service once (I had a nice shirt on, but wore jeans because our Sunday School class was cooking gumbo after church for a fundraiser). I was in a class with this lady a couple years ago and she had no issues with people spouting heresies about Jesus not being God, the Bible having lots of errors and there being many paths to Heaven besides Jesus. But there is apparently at least one thing she is certain about: You shouldn’t wear jeans to church! But she was pro-choice — especially when the unborn might be poor or unwanted — so I suppose she had her priorities in order, eh? (I gave her a gracious way out by pointing out the gumbo situation. And I chuckled when a visitor sat next to me and was wearing jeans. Hopefully my fashion faux pas made him feel more comfortable amidst the suits and Dockers).
But the truth is, there are plenty of things I’m not certain about, and I’ve changed my views on plenty of topics.
Oh, I am quite sure about the essentials of Christianity: Jesus is God, He is the only way to salvation, the Bible is authoritative and reliable, etc. I have studied these exhaustively and am quite sure of my positions. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t be wrong, but it does mean I have a reason for my confidence.
But there are plenty of issues where I freely admit to being uncertain, or at least not completely certain (the particulars of predestination, for example) and there are plenty of issues where I have opinions but don’t care enough to divide over them (the particulars of baptism and communion, worship styles, etc.). I’m actually pretty liberal as those things go.
And while I go to a Methodist Church the Podcasts I listen to are almost all in different theological camps (Reformed or Bible Church/Baptist). I’m sort of a Bad Methodist in that respect. I have a lot of respect for Reformed theology and and am probably 60/40 Calvinist / Arminian. But just mention Calvinism to most theological liberals and see how open minded and tolerant they are.
So I focus on the fundamentals and am undecided or ambivalent on most non-essentials. If they want to gig me for that, that’s fine. But they should at least be accurate.
There are all sorts of verses in the Bible pointing out how we can know things and are meant to know them. Not all things, but many things. One theological liberal once quoted the first part of this verse to emphasize how fuzzy things supposedly are:
1 Corinthians 13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
To his credit, he seemed to concede the point when I pointed out the rest of the verse:
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Or how about this one?
John 8:31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I could go on and on. Search for “know” in some Bible software and see how many passages point out this truth (there I go being certain again!).
People who resort to attacks like this aren’t well suited for dialogue. One even thought the piece I did on Who can understand the Bible? was fundy red meat — presumably because the passage I used showed how it was possible to understand the Bible. I sincerely prayed that they would come to know the Truth and be set free.
So the whole certainty straw man isn’t about dogma at all. It is just another cheap trick to dismiss opposing views instead of debating them on their merits.
P.S. To state the obvious, when I write about something it is usually because I think I know something about it or have formed an opinion about it. I don’t write pieces to tell you what I don’t know. Does that seem so odd?