Exploring Our Matrix
The Blog of Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis
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Another quote from Fred Clark's blog Slacktivist, turned into a poster by the Facebook group Christians Against the Tea Party.
Certainty is the idolatry of human knowledge and contempt for the mystery of divine wisdom. My last sermon dealt with this concept using the metaphor of Jesus’ double-healing of the blind man in Mark 8:22-26 — http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/sight-as-a-metaphor-for-salvation-mark-822-26/
A book someone recommended to me a few years ago is: “Myth of Certainty” by Daniel Taylor. The description on Amazon reads:
“Do you feel equally uncomfortable with closed-minded skepticism and closed-minded Christianity? If so, then The Myth of Certainty is the book for you. Daniel Taylor suggests a path to committed faith that is both consistent with the tradition of Christian orthodoxy and sensitive to the pluralism, relativism and complexity of our time. Taylor makes the case for the reflective, questioning Christian with both incisive analysis and lively storytelling. His brief fictional interludes provide an alternative way to explore key issues of belief and vividly depict the real-life dilemmas Christians often face. Taylor affirms a call to throw off the paralysis of uncertainty and to risk commitment to God without forfeiting the God-given gift of an inquiring mind. Throughout he demonstrates clearly how much the world and the church need people–maybe people like you–who are willing to ask tough questions.”
I’ve read most of it, and it is an interesting read, though as a very liberal Christian myself, many of the issues he looks at aren’t really issues for me.
I don’t know Fred Clark, but I’d have to say he doesn’t know much about Paul if he thinks this quote means Paul was an uncertain man.
By the way, if the folks making the poster think so highly of uncertainty shouldn’t they rename themselves “Christians Uncertain About the Tea Party”?
(Why is it that the folks against certainty seem so certain of their position?)
I think you may be reading your own certainty into Paul’s confidence. He seems to allow that others may disagree with him without dismissing them as obviously wrong because he is right. He tempers his own conclusions at times, emphasizing that they are his conclusions, as one who has the Spirit of God. But he doesn’t seem to have had the confidence in his inerrancy that some today attribute to his writings.
I think inerrancy is a red herring in this discussion (though I can see why others might not think so).
I agree that Paul tempers his conclusions and does not act like those (whether Progressive Christians or inerrantists) who smugly disregard and even denigrate their antagonists as unworthy of respect.
I also think we could agree that Paul distinguished between subjects that befitted certainty (e.g. the identity of Israel’s messiah) and those more appropriate to circumspect humility (e.g. food and drink).
None of this, however, obscures the undeniable fact that Paul was a man of conviction. He did not go from city to city seeking to find out what was true or to extol the virtues of doubt; rather, he went from city to city declaring what was true, all while facing the most intense opposition from others, who either considered him flatly wrong or else simply certain about things he had no right to be certain about.
I think there is an important distinction, as you indicate, between conviction and certainty. Paul was a man of strong convictions, it would seem, both before and after becoming a Christian. One have conviction and yet still be open to correction. And one can hold one’s beliefs with varying degrees of confidence as seems appropriate.
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