Relationship of Propositions to Certainty
To proclaim every point of doctrine open to question weakens Christian conviction. This will cause great numbers of believers to waver in their faith, “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). For them, without a clear word from God, most beliefs will stay relative and tentative. God’s way to convey clarity and certainty is through the teaching of his Word.
Propositions Inaccessible from Self
God’s propositions seem inaccessible to the person who wants to start from self because to do that one requires total knowledge. The Christian omniscient God gives accurate knowledge from the universal perspective. Biblical faith rests on the premise that revelation comes from an infallible and infinite source. Bible truth is not contingent because the law of non-contradiction can test it.
We live in a day of relentless attacks on propositional truth and even propositional revelation. This arises from a hermeneutic of uncritical suspicion. Uncritical absorption of postmodern thought has led postconservatives into a self-defeating strategy. The biblical worldview is a word-based belief. The Word of God stands at the center of evangelicalism. Any rejection of God’s Word will lead to evangelicalism’s destruction. God gave his Word with a normal range of meaning for all to understand. Any attempt to deny this is an attempt to silence the voice of God. Silencing God is the nub behind postconservative deconstruction of the Bible. They attempt to kill off the author, and by doing this they minimize God’s message to man. Their message is similar to Satan’s message—“Did God say?” If Christianity is rooted in what God said, then minιmizing the propositions of what he said is to minimize Christianity itself. Treat- ing the Bible in a marginal sense is a seismic shift in understanding Christianity. It is also an assault on scriptural perspicuity. We understand God mainly by the words he speaks. Note what the Review and Expositor has to say in this regard:
Philosophers speak of several types of knowing, including 1) propositional knowledge (the cognitive awareness that something is); 2) non-propositional knowledge (the experiential awareness of something); and 3) functional knowledge (the analytical awareness of how to do something). Concerning the first two types, postmodernists reject the primacy of propositional knowing in favor of non-propositional. They argue that it is impossible to make definitively “knowledgeable” pronouncements because each person determines “truth” by how he or she perceives and expresses it. Truth, then, no longer necessarily corresponds to the world “out there.” Thus, propositions are not the exclusive, or even dominant, proof of our knowing; instead, they now have “second-order importance.”188
Christians can and should know God by what he revealed (Isaiah 14:24; Matthew 13:11; Mark 1:14, 15; John 7:17; 8:32; 14:17; 17:3, 7; 1 John 2:21). God presents his truth as firm. Luke wanted Theophilus to “have certainty (asphaleia) concerning the things” Luke taught him (Luke 1:4). In Acts, Theophilus needed to look at the “proofs” (tekmeria) through which Jesus showed himself alive after his death (Acts 1:3).
The evangelical church is moving away from doctrine, truth, and certainty. In the name of making Christianity “relevant,” evangelicals change the method of presenting the message by denuding the message itself. They change the message because the current generation does not like the message. Biblical doctrine must take a back seat to a newly concocted current communication so that it does not offend the listener.
Pastor Doug Pagitt of Solomon’s Porch church does not extract truth from the Bible to apply to lives, but “puts words around people’s experiences to allow them to find deeper connection in their lives. So our sermons are not lessons that precisely define belief so much as they are stories that welcome our hopes and ideas and participation.”189 He is more about dialogue than doctrine. His premise rests in the presupposition of self-authority rather than the transcendent Word of God.
Postconservatives negate understanding the Bible by propositions because they think there is no distinction between facts and assumption. One opinion is good as another, so it is not possible to know definitely what God says. They emphasize experience over propositional truth, the community over the individual, religious experience over logical propositions of Scripture, and the spiritual over application of principles of Scripture to experience. In other words, there is no ultimate authority. Authority rests in the faith community operating dialectically. This is pure relativity coming from a consensus view of authority. This dual authority combines the text of Scripture with culture in a way that results in no authority. It rejects truth as self-evidencing and indubitable. In this, post- conservatives’ highest value appears to be investigation and dialogue.
Rejection of Referential Theory of Language
Postconservatives reject the referential theory of language, that is, that language refers to something objectively real in the thinking of the communicator. A true view of language is that it has more than private meanings for each hearer, that it transmits meaning independent of the hearer. This is how the Bible uses language. The Word of God presumes that God’s message carries perspicuity. Perspicuity assumes clarity, contextualization, and capacity to defend its meaning:
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions……………………………………………………. O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge.” (1 Timothy 6:3, 4, 20)
Because postconservatives reject the perspicuity of Scripture, they want to “deconstruct” Scripture by “encounter” with the language of the text. They reject objective meaning in the Bible because it has little meaning beyond subjective experience. This will produce a generation of skeptics unsure of much in the Bible. The only truth they can find is the perspective within a specific community, but not truth that is true for all people, all cultures, and all time.
Postconservative skepticism succumbed to relativism because they think that no truth can be normative. Belief is true only “for them.” They disallow exclusive claims for truth because holding to exclusive claims is arrogant; they believe holding to universal truth is a power grab over other viewpoints. They are hostile to the idea that Christianity is true as over against other religions; they want a “new kind of Christian” who is uncertain about what to believe. This is a grave compromise of Christianity in order to suit prevailing viewpoints in culture. This attempt to remove categorical doctrinal truths from its base produces arbitrary uncertainty or opinion. It is lethal to biblical Christianity.
Doctrine as Rule of Discourse
Doctrines, to postconservatives, are nothing more than rules of discourse for the believing communities because doctrines are not intended to say anything true. From a conservative point of view, it is accurate that doctrines do not save us, but the reality to which they refer saves us (rule of discourse). The belief that Christ’s death satisfies a holy God saves us—that is the reference beyond the text. The doctrine does not save us per se, but the idea that lies within the doctrine does deliver us. If we worshiped the text, that would be bibliolatry. However, we cannot know truth behind doctrine without doctrine.
Stanley Grenz’s writings avoid crediting the Bible as proclaiming anything authoritative or true. The Bible is nothing more than a primary communication partner. D. A. Carson puts Grenz’s doctrine of Scripture outside evangelicalism:
Grenz’s reformulation of the doctrine of Scripture is so domesticated by postmodern relativism that it stands well and truly outside the evangeli- cal camp (whether “evangelical” is here understood theologically or socially/historically).190
Grenz wants sound doctrine to play a crucial role in the Christian life but to him “sound” does not mean “true”; rather, he is promoting the belief-mosaic of a particular Christian community because he sees any doctrine is interpreted. If all doctrine is interpreted doctrine, then why should he believe the Bible is the Word of God or that Jesus is the Son of God? Why should the discourse of the believing community assert any truth at all? Grenz cannot hold to truth if all human knowledge is nothing but a social construct. Paul preached nothing but “Christ crucified,” not the ramblings of a Christian church in community. In his books, Grenz opposes defining evangelicalism based on doctrine. He wants to “revision” evangelicalism into resting on experience rather than doctrine, which was the essential method of old liberalism. Christianity must be “sensed” rather than believed as a set of propositions or doctrinal formulation. Although he acknowledges that evangelical faith ties to the content of divine revelation objectively disclosed, he claims that there is something beyond revelation in a non-cognitive sense—the social or community dimension of theological discourse. The role of community in coming to doctrinal conclusion is important to him, for we get personal identity from social structure. Study of theology is not essentially study of biblical revelation but rather a “second-order” study of what the community already believes.
Grenz does not equate the Bible with revelation, for to him revelation is not the same as propositional truth. Revelation is an event in the community whereby the community can become a continual source of revelation. Truth that the community discovers does not directly correspond to truth but to a community understanding of it. Truth is a social construct, so what one community believes might be different from what another community believes. There are three sources of theology for Grenz: Scripture (the primary standard), tradition, and culture. According to him, we must move beyond a one-to-one correspondence between the words of the Bible and the very word of God.191 We cannot equate the Word of God with Scripture.192 Grenz rejects a propositional view of Scripture in lieu of a functional view that rests on experience rather than doctrine.
It is true that there is no authentic experience without experiencing the impact of God’s words on our lives; however, experience is the result, not the cause, of engaging God’s Word in our lives. Otherwise, experience would lead to relativism, and we would lose the unique distinctiveness of Christianity. All that is left in that case is emotion without content. If we make human experience the basis of Christianity, we revert to the liberalism of the early twentieth century. Fried- rich D. Schleiermacher was the most influential theologian of the nineteenth century and the father of liberal Protestant theology, and his theology of religious experience is a good example of experience over factual truth.
Instrumental View of Scripture
Brian McLaren’s view of Scripture comes from pursuit of mission.193 This is an instrumental view of Scripture. He claims that evangelicals use the Bible as a “weapon to threaten others, as a tool to intimidate others and prove them wrong.”194 This is exactly what the Bible does do; much of the Bible has to do with sorting error from truth. He makes the purpose of the Bible a panacea of instrumentalism: If it works, it is right. But one purpose of the Bible is to “correct” false doctrine because “there will be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine” and will turn away from the truth (2 Timothy 4:2–3, italics mine). This practical purpose of preserving sound doctrine is not the least among many purposes of Scripture.
McLaren’s postmodern friends view the Bible as a barbaric book.195 His answer to them is to use the Bible “as narrative.”196 This is consistent with his post- modernism. The Bible to him is a “story” that does not tell what should happen, does not make universals for all people of all time, but gives “what was necessary to survive in the world at that point….God has to work with [people] as they are in their individual and cultural moral development.”197 This is ethical pragmatism at its core. He assumes that God is non-violent, whereas Scripture clearly declares that God is justly violent. He wants to read the Bible as a “timely” document, not a “timeless document.”198 All through this discussion, McLaren’s paradigms are paradigms of the left politically (not all of which is anti-biblical). This viewpoint is a “whole new way of approaching the biblical,” which is a redefinition of orthodoxy.199
Postconservatives like to attack past Princeton theologians as building their case for Christianity on rationalism. Critics of these Princeton theologians try to portray them as cataloging a storehouse of facts. Yet the Princeton greats did not present their ideas this way, for they viewed Scripture as not accessible by natural reason. Their position was that we cannot discover the meaning of Scripture by natural or empirical investigation, for Scripture rests on what God wants it to be. In other words, they held that although humans possess finite, knowledge, yet it is nevertheless true knowledge. As empiricism is the foundation for empirical science, so revelation is the cognitive foundation for doctrine. Princeton theologians refused to bifurcate Scripture’s formal nature from its material content.200 There is a distinction between an absolute and an absolute understanding of the absolute.
The postconservative view subverts the Bible as “living and operative” in the life of the believer (Hebrews 4:12). By starting with human limitation, postmodern evangelicals confine Scripture to the realm of finite perspective, limiting the believer to approximations of the Bible. Each person wallows in personal strategies.
Truth Propositional, not Personal
Truth is a property consisting only of propositions, so truth is not personal. Those who hold truth as personal put personal relationship and commitment in the place of propositional belief and undercut the gospel in the process.
Postconservatives want us to believe that Christianity is essentially narrative-shaped experience rather than belief based on propositional revelation and objective truth. They view holding to conviction about truth as hubris and bigotry. They fear truth that stands in counterdistinction to falsehood. They dismiss certainty as Enlightenment thinking and accordingly pander to privatized perspectives, and they are reluctant to assert finality of truth. They have the same problem as their secular cousins—they try to make the claim that there are no truth claims but only perspectives on truth.
Some emergent church thinkers place propositions in antithesis to the person of Christ. They minimize the propositions of Scripture in lieu of focus on the personal aspects of Christianity. This is a false dichotomy. This should not be an either/or but a both/and issue. We learn of the person of Christ through the propositions of Scripture. Faith is more than the preference to believe in Christ, for faith in the New Testament requires an object of truth in which to believe. Faith always correlates to the veracity of what we believe. The appeal to narrative as the essence of what Christians believe greatly twists the perception of biblical content. McLaren himself cannot keep from making propositional claims of how we understand the Bible and he cannot dodge truth issues in spite of himself. 201 He cannot sustain his attempts to domesticate the gospel. Carson makes an indictment against McLaren when he says, “And quite frankly, on this issue, as on so many others, McLaren has given us very little evidence that he is fairly described as a ‘biblical’ Christian.”202
Stanley Grenz’s writings seek to “revision” evangelical theology from resting on the premise of the inspiration of Scripture to something else. First, he wants to move evangelicalism from primarily resting on a theological system to spirituality with an emphasis on the experience of the new birth. Second, he wants to change the hub of theology from doctrinal teaching to the beliefs of the Christian community. Third, he expands the sources of theology from the Bible to church tradition and culture.
Grenz does not hold that knowledge of God is objective. For him, no one can approach truth in a neutral manner because one needs the community to check belief. Knowledge is relative to the community. We form our identity through sharing our stories with our community. On the other hand, he does not want to move Christianity into the irrational, but he has no basis for not doing that.
Theology, for Grenz, must preserve its dimension of mystery and move beyond propositions because we constitute our beliefs socially and linguistically. Experience and interpretation jointly interrelate. Personal encounter is at the core of the Christian experience. Propositions both express and facilitate experience by narrating religious transformation. Truth is reality, but evangelical post-modernism is anti-realist. Postmoderns do not rest truth on what is there but on the community. John Franke and Stanley Grenz question a realistic knowledge of God in Scripture. They reject logical knowledge and assert that we can know no propositional truth about reality in itself. All that we can know is the phenomena that appear to the community. This is social convention, and social convention binds these postconservative, so-called evangelicals to a socially constructed reality. Their ideas are relative to the community and are true for them. Propositions, to them, are not essential and have no universal criteria for distinguishing truth from error. They cannot factually verify truth claims. They cannot even affirm that biblical propositions assert truth about reality. They are culture-bound to the community.
Grenz and Franke cannot establish a one-to-one correspondence between revelation and the Bible. The Bible, according to them, reflects an ongoing conversation with the Hebrews and the early church. The Bible is not revelation but what the Holy Spirit is currently doing through the community. They, in fact, displace the original intention of the authors of Scripture with the pragmatic involvement of the current community.
Anti-reason is prevalent in Eastern religion, Roman and Orthodox Catholicism, liberal Christianity, and now in evangelicalism. To these people, somehow the heart takes precedence over the head. This idea, the prattle of much evangelical conversation today, is foreign to Scripture. This is a deviation toward an ecstatic viewpoint. What is important to these people is unity above truth. A nebulous view of love takes precedence over biblical love. It is not a unity of truth but a unity of emotion or subjectivism. A proposition to them is simply “opinion.” All language is metaphorical. However, the Bible never teaches that truth is anything other than verbal declaration, or propositions received by comprehension. It never says that truth is an encounter, emotion, or experience. There are truths about persons, but those truths are always propositional. It is something that one person can relate to another and can be understood by others. This is the point of John 20:30–31 (esv): “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Doctrine to them is “second-order assertions” within a community. In their view, these second-order doctrines regulate how a community thinks about itself and God; doctrines do not make actual assertions about God. All they have left is antithesis and not thesis. Is God’s Word revelation or is it communal thinking?
Grenz and Franke set up a false distinction between propositional and personal revelation. However, we can know nothing about the person of Christ without written revelation of Christ. God is more than talk about a community. What is important to these men is not the text of Scripture but the Spirit’s use of Scripture for the contemporary church. This puts the Spirit’s present speaking outside the text of the canon and converts the Bible into something other than its original purpose. True authority does not reside in the readers of Scripture but in what the Holy Spirit revealed to the original writers. Scripture’s use of Scripture is very different from how Grenz and Franke use it. By their acceptance of the postmodern approach to truth, they divert from evangelicalism and deny that one must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing one might receive life in his name.
John wanted his hearers to “believe” three propositions that result in eternal life. The object of belief is always a proposition. It is impossible to believe something that is not propositional. Only propositions can be true or false. We can communicate meaning only by propositions. This is consistent with figurative uses of the word “true.” “True worshipers” are true worshipers properly and literally.
Those who reject the correspondent view of truth rely on the correspondent view of truth to reject it. If a person says, “I cannot say anything in English,” using English to do so is stating a contradiction.
Jesus made the statement, “I am the truth” (John 14:6), but Jesus is not a proposition. Jesus used the term “truth” figuratively, and all figures have a literal idea behind them. The literal idea is that he is the essence of truth, not the source of truth. We find God’s very thoughts in him. “Truth” in this passage is a figurative use of the idea of truth understood only by a propositional use of the word. To believe in Jesus is to believe his words: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46, 47).
The idea that the Bible transcends language is a fallacy of a mystical approach to the Bible. To people who make this claim, God is not verbal; encounter with God is all-important to them. In other words, experience is at the heart of this belief system.
It is true that the Bible genre is more than propositions but, on the other hand, it consists of numerous propositions. The word “believe” has as its object propositional truth. We cannot believe until we know what to believe objectively. The object of belief is the Word of God revealed in Scripture that Jesus came from eternally existing as the Son of God to die in his humanity for the sin of mankind (2 Timothy 1:12). The Greek word “to believe” requires an object. Biblically speaking, there is no value in belief itself, but only in the object of belief.
Brian McLaren wants to leave the “prose” of didactic writing and adopt a “mystical/poetic” approach to theology, saying, “Reduced speech leads to reduced lives.”203 He gives his definition of “prose” through theologian Walter Brueggemann: “By prose I refer to a world that is organized in settled formulae, so that even pastoral prayers and love letters sound like memos.”204 McLaren sets forth here another of his numerous false dichotomies by stating that wonder, awe, and worship cannot be attained by prose, as if prose and experience are polar opposites. According to him, writing needs to go beyond mere rationality by imagination and vision.205 Does this mean that we need to go beyond rationality to irrationality?
McLaren says mysticism and poetry remind us of the limitations of language when talking about God. This, according to him, is a “rebuke to arrogant intellectualizing” for modern Christians; systematic theologies are “conceptual cathedrals of proposition and argument.”206 McLaren explains the purpose of systematic theology thus: “At the heart of the theological project in the late modern world was the assumption that one could and should reduce all revealed truth into propositions and organize those propositions into an outline that exhaustively contains and serves as the best vehicle for truth.”207 He quotes philosophically existential, dialectical, and neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth in support of this thinking. However, no evangelical theologian that I know believes that evangelical theology “exhaustively contains . . . truth.” This is another of McLaren’s many straw men. All that is in the Bible is true as to its written factuality, but not all truth is in the Bible. No evangelical theologian believes that terms such as “omnipresent” or “omniscient” convey all there is to know about the expansiveness of God. These words are anthropathic and anthropomorphic delimiting vocabulary terms of humanity. Evangelicals have never put God in a box confined to their delimited understanding.
Importance of Doctrine
Doctrine is the way God builds the edification structure of the believer. It gives perspicacity about God’s method of building the believer (2 Timothy 3:15). The more we inculcate divine viewpoint, the more we adopt God’s attitudes about life. How can we love God without something to love about God? We need content for that. We cannot apply what we do not know. Doctrine gives direction for “every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Doctrine also provides discernment about issues of life and allows us to distinguish truth from error (John 7:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4). We cannot know the true from the false gospel without it. Sound doctrine convicts those who contradict truth (Titus 1:9). It sends a code blue alarm about the direction of certain leaders in evangelicalism today.
Faith is a conviction of truth found in a proposition. When a person says, “I believe this statement,” that is affirmation of conviction about the statement’s truth. If any doubt remains, then the person cannot claim to believe the statement. There is a close connection between faith and doctrine.
Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Faith comes “by hearing” a report. In the preceding verse Paul quoted a verse from Isaiah 53:1: “Who has believed our report?” There were definite statements of fact that Isaiah wanted his hearers to believe, which make up the gospel. He wanted them to believe these statements as true. This acceptance is faith of conviction. Conviction is not the entire dimension of faith, but it is a critical dimension of it.
Trust in a person without propositions to believe about that person is credulity. Admiration or reverence of a person can rest on emotion; if it does, then that trust is vacuous. Credulity is different from trust in that credulity lacks the thing trusted about the person; therefore, we cannot identify credulity with trust, for it is shallow and without content. There can be no true love, admiration, or reverence of a person without content. If these elements exist, then there is factual reason for them to be there.
To believe is to have a strong conviction about the truthfulness of a proposition. This is far more than to suppose or presume, as in the English word. Belief is the opposite of doubt. Trust is different from either knowing or credulity. It is not enough to know, for we must believe in what we know. The emotional element in believing is derivative from the essence of trust in a proposition, “for with the heart one believes” (Romans 10:10). If faith represents acceptance of statements from the Bible as true, then a conviction of the truth of propositions of the Bible and an attitude of trust reposing in a statement will carry an emotional element. Therefore, faith is not simply a matter of intellectual or mental assent. We can distinguish this attitudinal dimension from both knowledge and credulity. Knowledge sees, but faith trusts what it sees. Trust then is the distinctive mark of faith. In the case of the benefit of the cross, the believer wholeheartedly accepts the promise of forgiveness. Grace always rejoices the heart.
The word “faith” can designate something other than personal faith—something objective. The Bible refers to this in the Greek as “the faith” rather than simply “faith.” “The faith” is the content of divine revelation as a unit (Ephesians 4:5; 1 Timothy 4:1, 6; 6:20–21; Titus 1:13; 2:2). Paul instructed Titus to rebuke the Cretans “sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” This passage warns against false teachers (vv. 10–12, 14). Sound faith refers to doctrinal soundness in antithesis to falsity.
Relation of Propositions to Truth
The Bible sets forth universal truth. It is plain to anyone anywhere (Romans 1:19–20). Morality is not relative to each community or perspective. This view does not claim omniscience but simply that some knowledge is real.
The propositional view of truth holds that statements of Scripture must correspond to both verification and falsification. We can show a statement to be false if it does not correspond to objective reality. Subjectivism of necessity is shallow, for truth is more than personal and cultural values, a function of individual preferences. Objective truth does not depend on culture but transcends culture. Truth always corresponds to reality.
Hundreds of passages clearly assign truth to propositions within a correspondent view of truth (Isaiah 45:19). As well, hundreds of Scriptures differentiate explicit biblical propositions from falsehoods. The Bible warns against false teachers and prophets who do not hold to biblical propositions. Scripture clearly presents itself as objective reality that exists independent of subjective belief.
The Bible uses “truth” in two ways: (1) a quality of propositions that confirm affirmations in Scripture by coherence to data (false propositions contradict the data), and (2) a quality of persons who faithfully appropriate what they believe to experience. Jesus is an example of the latter.
All propositions in the Bible are inerrant in the original writings. These propositions are true to reality, and we can trust them for our lives. Assertions contrary to propositions in Scripture are false. Belief in the propositions of Scripture as real makes these propositions active in the life of the believer. This is far more than doctrinal assent. Far from obstructing the spiritual life, they are the basis of modus vivendi for Christian daily dynamics.
Truth is embedded in propositions only. We can call nothing true without the attribution of a predicate to a subject. This does not preclude speaking figuratively of a person being a true athlete. This is simply a derivative use. To say the Bible is true literally is not the same as saying that the Bible is true figuratively. Figures of speech in the Bible are not true literally. Jesus is not a door hanging on hinges! However, the literal idea behind Jesus as a door is that he is the access to heaven, so there is a literal idea behind the figurative. The Bible nowhere declares that there are inexpressible truths. No doubt, there are truths that God has not revealed and are in that sense inexplicable. Yet, if God chooses to reveal truth in logical, grammatical form, then it is not equivocal. We cannot apply the term “truth” to something unreasonable. God is capable of expressing the truth he asserts; hence he revealed biblical information in grammatical, propositional, and logical form.
The burden of proof rests on those who deny propositional structure of truth. Where is the evidence for “non-propositional truth?” Diminishing propositions detracts from the inherent authority of the Bible and makes it subjective. If we make the Word of God conditional on the ratification of human beings, then it becomes a conditional authority. It would be like saying that a traffic law is conditional upon a person’s response to it. Obscuring the objective relevance of the Word of God distorts its final authority to the believer and equivocates content of Scripture.
Truth is a character of propositions that correctly corresponds to a state of affairs. These propositions are one coherent, interlocking system that comes from God. Truth is an infinite whole because God is an infinite whole. There is no truth outside God; consequently, all his truth is self-authenticating. The objective truth that Abraham Lincoln lived in history is equivalent to the truth that pedophilia is sin from a revelation viewpoint. We cannot divorce one from the other in a scheme of truth that covers all reality for all time. The error of pedophilia would have no meaning without this consistent interlocking system of truth.
All that is in the Bible is true as to its record, but not all truth is in the Bible. Two plus two is four; that is truth, but it is not in the Bible. The Bible does give us an understanding of a universal, unified system of absolute truth. The presupposition of an inerrant Bible is that we cannot reason from the viewpoint of autonomous humanity because humans are finite and cannot come to universal truth. All facts ultimately relate to God and take on meaning because of their relation to God. All reality is theistic reality. Rolland D. McCune, professor of systematic theology at Detroit Baptist Seminary, makes this argument in a poignant manner:
The new evangelical thinking, on the other hand, posits Christ and His revelation as facts among other facts, a truth-option among other options, although perhaps the best option and the facts with the fewest difficulties. The Scriptures present Him as the truth and the only option if man would ever know truth. In order to avoid the charge of circular reasoning, the new evangelical methodology speaks of a body of facts as if it were something independent, free-from-God, and objective to both God and man, and objective to all mankind with one another. This is unbiblical, as we have seen, as well as self-destructive. The new evangelical apologist knows that no fact or truth is free-from-God, he knows that God planned, made, upholds, and directs the movement of the entire universe; in other words, he knows from theology who God is and His all-pervasive relations with the universe. He should also know that in apologetics when he appeals to a stockpile of supposedly generic facts, he is actually appealing to God-created facts to prove or verify the existence of God and His revelation-claims; i.e., he too is reasoning in a circle. This methodology is confusing, self-defeating, and utterly futile.208
Postevangelicals want to deny or minimize propositional truth, yet the Bible views truth as propositional and only propositional. Truth is an attribute only of propositions. This stands in stark contrast to the idea that truth is an encounter, an event, or an experience. Postevangelicals try to replace propositions with “commitment” to a person, and they want to substitute “personal relationship” for “belief.” This flies in the face of the fact that the Bible uses “belief” and its cognates hundreds of times for belief in propositions of the Word (scores of times in the gospel of John alone). By substituting commitment to a person, postevangelicals abandon norm for belief. What is this nebulous entity entitled a “person” about? Belief in a person without propositions about the person is mysticism. We have no person without propositions about the person. This same prattle tries to make a distinction between head and heart belief—not that head belief is without heart; we cannot have heart belief without head belief.
Truth is conformity to fact. We know the Bible has a correspondent view of truth because the Word of God represents itself as true to fact or reality; it corresponds to assertions or promises.
A proposition is what a declarative sentence asserts, or means. A proposition is a bearer of truth. Although the Bible does not explicitly set forth a technical view of truth, it consistently matches the correspondent view of truth in usage. Non-Christians can assess its truthfulness because it functions within the realm of measurable truth. If the Bible were eccentric or unique in its approach to truth, no one could measure its truthfulness. Any truth claim could establish its own view of truth and make itself excused from evaluation.
Both Hebrew and Greek words for truth carry the idea of conformity to fact. God is a God who is true to truth (Psalm 31:5). His Word is truth (John 17:17). Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:17) and was truth itself (John 14:6).
The Bible uses “believe” or “belief” as the method for embracing propositions of Scripture. Even when the New Testament uses “believe” with a person as its object, it means belief in the word spoken by or about the person. The New Testament does not use the word “commitment” very often, but when it does, it rarely refers to salvation, if at all.
Relationship of Propositional Truth to Belief
There is clear relationship between propositions and belief. The object of belief is always a proposition. Christ is not a proposition, but we can know him only propositionally. When he says, “I am the truth” (John 14:6), that means he is the basis of truth. That is a figurative idea. However, he is not beyond truth, otherwise that would be mysticism. Belief in Jesus involves believing his words: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 4:46, 47).
Belief in Moses is belief in his spoken propositions and not belief as an encounter, for God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4, italics mine).
A belief does not depend on our mind believing it, for the truth of a proposition is independent from the mind. The statement “Henry Ford was one of the first mass manufactures of automobiles” is true whether I believe it or not. It does not depend on the quality of my belief. Statements need facts to be true, not the reverse.
Logical principles depend on their correspondence to facts as much as statements about empirical facts do. Principles must match truth outside their statements of truth. The logic of the law of non-contradiction is always true in any condition or circumstance. To be true, scientific fact cannot contradict itself. God’s Word cannot contradict itself, if it is true. God cannot logically contradict himself; otherwise, he would be inconsistent with what he claims to be—an absolute and perfect God.
Propositional truth is the object of faith and stands in conflict with existential perspectives on truth. A. Duane Litfin, former president of Wheaton Colleges, makes this point well:
Such a view of objective propositional truth is in serious conflict with modern existential views of truth. Hence it is not surprising that critics seek to dissociate it from Paul and attribute it to second-century followers. Yet to do so requires an unwarranted a priori assumption about the apostle’s view of truth. A more objective assessment is that there is nothing in the theology of the Pastorals which requires a late date or which cannot be explained by the fact that these epistles represent Paul’s last instructions to his two faithful representatives, Timothy and Titus.209
Postevangelicals convolute the Word by maintaining that we cannot establish truth by anything outside the mind. Language, mind, culture, and community (not objective factuality) shape belief, according to them. Truth is contingent upon language and culture and does not correspond to reality. We cannot know anything outside our language because language is self-enclosed and self-referential. Their implication that language cannot point objectively to propositions outside itself is their fundamental fallacy. This fallacy confuses the relativity of terms with the ability of language to represent objective truth. It is like saying we have different names for the earth, so we cannot identify the objective reality of the earth.
Another fallacy of postevangelicals is that they hold to the coherent view of truth. This view does not rest on correspondence of facts but on logical consistency. Truth simply coheres to various statements. This view would allow for two philosophies that cohere logically within themselves to both be true. Yet, one or both of these belief systems might not correspond to reality. The correspondent view of truth includes coherence of truth but demands objectivity and factuality as well.
To postmoderns, belief is a manifestation of sociology and psychology. This sociology of belief does not make judgments, because there are no overarching norms that judge other systems of belief.
Christianity Not Transcendent over Propositions
Propositions are not “opinions” to be transcended by “love” or “unity.” Many postconservatives want to present Christianity as indefinable, or something that transcends propositions. This is not the same point that we cannot put God in a box or that there are great dimensions that we do not know about God. That is obvious, but we can know some things about God expressed by propositions in his Word. This trend of presenting the idea that something can transcend propositions is more in keeping with Eastern orthodoxy or Eastern religions than with the propositions of the New Testament.
Jesus and writers of the New Testament spoke in the language of absolute authoritative certainty. “Thus says the Lord” appears over four hundred times in the Old Testament. Jesus used Scripture to rebuke Satan four times in the temptation. He used the Word to rebuke the Pharisees (Matthew 15:3–4). He claimed that the smallest letter of the Bible would not pass away until its fulfillment (5:17–20). I guess Jesus was closed-minded, arrogant, and mean-spirited, according to postconservatives! The Bible never leaves the believer with uncertainty about truth.
The upshot of the assertion that Christianity is without propositional truth creates an authority that is essentially relative and perilously unstable. It rests authority in the subjective experience of the individual, making the individual the authority. A consensus of a faith community that rests on dialectical assumption is untrustworthy. This quest for non-foundational authority (a binary authority that tries to combine the text of Scripture with the context of culture) is an oxymoron because it attempts to rest its case on the non-dubitable dubitable! Postconservatives do admit that there is no such thing as secured knowledge. All they have in the final analysis is pure subjectivism. They cannot define truth as a correct state of affairs or what corresponds to the mind of God.
Dialectical thought has made inroads into the so-called evangelical camp. According to them, personal encounters with God are possible, but the Bible is not God’s Word; it is simply the early church’s fallible testimony. The postconservative view is that the Bible is an irresolvable dialectic of irresolvable paradoxes and contradictions. They want to separate God’s revelation from the propositions of God’s Word; the Bible is not revelation but the channel of revelation.
Those who believe in dialectical thesis assert that those who propose correspondent truth presuppose their own assertions. They believe this to be a vicious cycle proving its own premises. However, they have to rely on the correspondent view of truth to make this case!
Christianity Known Primarily by Propositions
What we know of Christianity comes primarily from propositional truth revealed by God in the sixty-six books we name the Bible. Propositional revelation is the starting point or axiom of Christianity. All viewpoints begin some- where, whether feeling, culture, science, philosophy, or even postmodernism. Non-Christians choose non-Christian axioms. Science or philosophy cannot prove God because those fields of study cannot sense God by human faculty or inferences from sensation. Both the axiom and method are wrong in human systems because they rest on induction. Christianity rests on deduction. Unlike the secular view that human beings discover truth by human faculty, the discovery of truth rests on God’s prior revelation of his truth to mankind. Science is the solipsism of sensation and rests on the fallacy of coming to the prime mover by induction. To argue from the particular to the general is a fallacy because we can never examine all of reality. Who is to say that all swans are white? This is the formal logical fallacy of asserting the consequence. Because the principle of induction is insoluble, science attempts to rest its case not on induction but on a system of conjectures and refutations. This abandons any claim to knowledge.
Passion for truth now appears narrow-minded to the present culture of evangelicals because many postmodern evangelicals blur the line between subjective interpretation and objective interpretation of Scripture. Their bogeyman is doctrine.
We now turn to evidence that countervails the plague of anti-doctrine and anti-rationalism among evangelicals. No amount of pietism or ecstatic experiential- ism can daunt the following truths.
The use of “faith” and “believe” in the Bible is not subjective but objective. Belief is not something that arises out of the heart or that flies in the face of reason. Faith always believes something objective, a promise, or extant Scripture. It is a matter of conviction produced by evidence. Faith in the Bible is never irrational faith, but always faith grounded in reason. Biblical faith is not credulity or blind faith.
Faith bridges the gap between evidence or probability and apodictic certainty. Faith is assent to the veracity of knowledge found in the Word of God. Chris- tians believe in the factuality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We accept and receive this as fact, and then we appropriate it as true to our lives. It is from the object of our faith that we derive faith’s value. Faith does not save us, but faith in the object of salvation does—the finished work of Christ for our sins. Don N. Howell, Jr., associate professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, in Bibliotheca Sacra, shows how faith relates to propositions:
Faith (πιστις) suggests both an intellectual affirmation of the propositional truths of the gospel, in addition to an internalization of those truths that is manifested most especially in a life of trust in Christ. James and Paul used πιστις in two different senses that are germane to this discussion. Normally πιστις expresses a living and vibrant faith, in which an external profession of assent is coupled with an internal acceptance of and commitment to the professed faith as truth, and this dramatically affects one’s comprehensive worldview and subsequent actions.
Πιστις is also used in a more restricted sense to connote an intellectual assent to theological truth, but without the confluence of that assent with an internal confiding trust in and love of those truths. It suggests a notitia and perhaps even an external assensus to the gospel, without an internal fiducia in the gospel message.
The difference between the two uses may be expressed as the difference between a mere profession of faith and a dynamic possession of faith. Paul used “faith” in Romans, inherently assuming a true living faith.210
We cannot autonomously come to faith in Christ. We need the convincing work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of the truthfulness of Christianity (1 Corinthians 2:13, 14) because Satan supernaturally blinds our minds to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4; Ephesians 4:18). The Holy Spirit uses knowledge and reason from the Word of God to convict us (1 Corinthians 2:15, 16). God uses providential means to engage us.
God revealed himself in propositions by words inspired by the Holy Spirit to convey spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:13). No one can come to the truth of the gospel apart from the convincing work of the Holy Spirit. As well, no one can accept a gospel that one does not know or understand. Faith and reason inextricably relate to one another. No one can come to Christ apart from the Holy Spirit and no one can come to Christ by reason alone. Nowhere does the Bible present Christianity as an irrational faith.
A truth claim is a proposition, a logical arrangement of truth. A proposition is what a declarative sentence means, affirms, or asserts. A sentence about facts does not assert a proposition. A proposition describes a reality or state of affairs, in other words, a proposition is a truth claim. The statement “The Son of God is God” is a proposition. Denial that the Son is God is a falsity because it rejects objective reality found in Scripture.
There are large portions of Scripture where the idea of a God that acts in history in narrative form does not fit. Note Millard J. Erickson’s quantification of the use of narrative versus propositional truth:
Indeed, if one does a comparative analysis of the content of the Bible, the New Testament books that seem to deal most explicitly with narrative constitute only 56 to 62 percent of the content, depending on whether one treats Revelation as narrative. In the Old Testament, the narrative books (Genesis–Job) constitute 57 percent of the material.211
At minimum, a narrative approach that excludes or precludes propositional truth is out of balance and, at worst, outright distortion of Scripture. Stanley Grenz’s careless depiction of “card-carrying evangelicals” who cling to propositional truth because they define evangelicalism as mere doctrine is a rash distortion of the movement. Most evangelical leaders take great care to apply truth to experience. However, biblically oriented evangelicals make sure that truth governs experience and not the reverse (unlike postevangelicals). The postevangelical presupposition of pragmatism is neither acknowledged nor addressed. Where do they obtain a functional view of truth? It appears that they are deeply indebted to Kierkegaard’s subjective view of truth (existentialism). The idea of existentialism- ism is that there are no absolutes, which is also dialectical.
God says that the believer is to guard the “good deposit of doctrine.” It is the responsibility of every pastor to maintain the faith (1 Timothy 6:12). All doctrinal formation should rest on the content of Scripture. Christianity is more than relationships or mysteries that no one can understand. God reveals himself through propositions in Scripture, using “spiritual words” (words inspired by the Holy Spirit) to express spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:13).
O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:20, 21)
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. (2 Timothy 1:12–14)
Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision. (Titus 1:9, 10)
But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)
The Greek word “to teach” means to provide instruction either in a formal or informal setting. The basic idea is “to cause to learn” or “know.” This word occurs about ninety-five times in the New Testament. The word for “doctrine,” or “teaching,” means “to provide instruction or content of doctrine”—in other words, the content of what the Bible teaches. The New Testament uses this word thirty times. There is also a Greek word for “heretical doctrine” (ἑτεροδι- δασκαλέω); this word means “to teach something different” from what should be taught (1 Timothy 1:3). It is possible to utter a lie or falsehood (1 John 2:21), thus implying it is possible to know what is truth.
Many postconservatives do not believe that the Bible is itself revelation but only a means to revelation. To them, the Bible is a product of the community of faith. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the revelation of God and the Bible, they believe, and the Bible does not reflect information but an ongoing dialogue. The Bible, to these people, is not propositions of what God said but the pragmatic interaction of a community of believers. To them, what is important is not propositions but what the Holy Spirit seeks to do with statements of Scripture. It is true that the Bible is more than propositions, but it is also true that the Bible contains many propositions.
God’s truth corresponds to fact. The two key terms for “truth” in the Bible (emet in the Old Testament and alethia in the New Testament) mean conformity to fact. The Bible warns of false doctrine everywhere.
The Bible is true because it corresponds to reality. A proposition is the content of a sentence. Facts make a proposition true. A fact is a real state of affairs, the way the world actually is. Thus, evidence allows us to determine whether a proposition is true or false. A statement always corresponds to the facts. This is a basis for certainty.
Propositional Approach of New Testament
We may differentiate between the two uses as the difference between a mere profession of faith and a dynamic possession of faith. Paul used “faith” in Romans, inherently assuming an object of belief.
The Bible clearly presumes that we can know truth and propositions about truth. Christians can witness to objective truth. False teachers bear false witness. Christians can speak to issues of truth as Scripture speaks to truth.
This does not presume that Christians know all things exhaustively. Lack of exhaustive knowledge does not preclude true knowledge. Propositional truth allows us to come to truth truly so that we are not condemned to intellectual futility. The propositional Bible is the locus of authority and its claim is exclusive. If it is not exclusive, of what value is it? Who wants to hold to unsubstantiated hope? Dilution of truth destroys objective revelation of truth. Objective truth stands independent from value-laden perspectives on truth. It can stand independent of cultural conditioning.
The repudiation of objective, external, transcendent authority of Scripture destroys the power of revelation. Relativism prevails. These people cannot escape nihilism. Although postconservatives believe in truths, they cannot come to truth. By deconstruction, postconservatives constantly reformulate truth in a progressive way. This never allows them to come to truth; truth is always elusive (dialectical). There is only relative truth, according to the perspective viewpoint.
Luke tells us in Acts that Paul spent three years “reasoning and persuading” in the synagogue about the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 19:9, 10, 20, 31). The idea that propositional truth is not as important as practicing truth is a false dichotomy. It is not a matter of either/or but of both/and.
Note that the role of a pastor is to teach, in the New Testament. The word “teach” means didactics (didache, or didactic propositions in the Greek). This is the key word in the pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). Ephesians calls the pastor a “pastor-teacher” in 4:11. Note the Berean view of examined propositional truth:
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:10, 11 esv).
The Bereans clearly operated in a proper mode, for even though they had the apostle Paul himself teaching them, they relied upon Scripture to verify his teaching. Now, it would seem that the Bereans set a precedent regarding verification of the claims of a pastor-teacher and the proper order of relationship between the pastor-teacher and the hearer. After the pastor-teacher has initiated the giving of information, the hearer can respond with verification. The person in the pew has capacity to verify the claims of a pastor-teacher. If verification of a doctrinal teaching from a pastor is not possible, then the hearers would be without recourse to protect themselves against false doctrine, which will inevitably come their way, for no pastor is one hundred percent free from error. Other Scriptures weigh in on this same point:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:12–16 esv)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 esv)
In the pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus), the pastor-teacher presents truth didactically (propositionally—the key word in pastorals) from the Word of God. This is very different from the church community coming up with truth by consensus of groupthink. These portions of Scripture do not present the pastor-teacher as absolute authority because the Berean-like believer is to evaluate the formal presentation by the pastor. The Holy Spirit uses the teaching of the pastor-teacher to present God’s Word and enables the listener to respond to this teaching.
Doctrine as Biblical Content
The Greek word for “doctrine” or “teaching” refers to content, propositions, or precepts (διδασκαλ�α). The idea is to provide instructive content. God wrote Scripture for our “instruction” (Romans 15:4). Christians are to be on guard against winds of doctrine or teaching (Ephesians 4:14). This term “instruction” occurs twenty-one times in the New Testament, and fifteen of those occurrences surface in the pastorals. Note the emphasis on doctrine in the New Testament:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 esv)
. . . so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:14 esv)
. . . the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine . . . (1 Timothy 1:10 esv)
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. (1 Timothy 4:6 esv)
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13 esv)
Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. (1 Timothy 6:1 esv)
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness . . . (1 Timothy 6:3 esv)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness . . . (2 Timothy 3:16 esv)
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4 esv)
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9 esv)
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1 esv).
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity . . . (Titus 2:7 esv)
. . . not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:10 esv)
The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make the child of God like the Son of God. The Spirit of God and the Word of God work together to regenerate (Titus 3:5) and to sanctify (2 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God is “effective” (1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12) because it permanently pairs with the power of the Spirit. Receptivity in the heart of human beings toward this coupling of the Word and the Spirit is a key issue in having mental acuity in the understanding of God’s Word. There is no meaning apart from the common understanding of Scripture grasped by the laws of hermeneutics (biblical interpretation).
Although unregenerate people might understand God’s Word on a cognitive level, they reject its authority over them. The reason is that they are mere mind, emotion, and will (soulish) with no spiritual capacity (1 Corinthians 2:14). Their problem is that they believe a different system for coming to truth, for “the world through wisdom did not know God” (1 Corinthians 1:21). The gospel is “foolishness” to them (1:18). They have the ability to understand the gospel but not the will to accept it or welcome it. This is an issue of the will. By contrast, the Bereans “welcomed,” or “received,” the message with great keenness (Acts 17:11), and the Thessalonians did the same (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
The Old Testament has twelve Hebrew words to depict teaching or doctrine. In the Old Testament, “doctrine” occurs chiefly as a translation of leqaḥ (לֶ קַ ח), meaning “what is received” (Deuteronomy 32:2; Job 11:4; Proverbs 4:2; Isaiah 29:24). This word occurs in over eighty verses in the Old Testament. It carries the idea of “mandate” or “teaching” as a noun. It means a body of truth. The Hebrew also expresses the body of revealed teaching by tôrâ, occurring 216 times and rendered as “law.”
Moses says that he “taught” (lammed) divine truth in the form of “statutes and judgments.” First, Deuteronomy 4:1 says truth is to be appropriated (sham), “to be heard consensually.” God proposed his truth so that we would appropriate it without negotiation or compromise. Second, Deuteronomy 4:6 affirms that understanding can result from believing and appropriating God’s Word. Third, God’s Word has lucidity (4:10). It is a clearly written book intelligible to the average person. Finally, God does not obscure his Word (4:14). Once postconservatives abandon doctrine, they abandon God’s truth. No amount of subjective sincerity can carry this violation of doctrinal teaching (lamad).
Greek Words for Doctrine
The New Testament uses three primary words for “doctrine.” Didaskalia (twenty-one occurrences) means both the act and the content of teaching, related to a standard of orthodoxy (Acts 2:42). Didachē (thirty occurrences) also can mean either the act or the content of teaching. It occurs in the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 7:28) and where he claimed to be God (John 7:16–17). 3) The final word is didasko (“to teach,” used to translate the Hebrew lamad); the Father “taught” Jesus (John 8:28) a body of truth.
The Greek word “doctrine” or “teaching” (διδαχή) refers to instruction as a fact, an established and formulated doctrine (Hebrews 6:2). The Greek verb “to teach” (διδάσκω) carries the idea of holding discourse with others in order to instruct them, delivering didactic discourses, instilling doctrine, imparting instruction, and explaining or expounding a thing. Jesus taught in the synagogues, temple, and elsewhere (Matthew 5:1, 2). The disciples of Jesus taught (Mark 6:30), and this was part of their commission (Matthew 28:20). The apostles taught in Acts 4. They presented teaching in such a way that people must either accept or reject Scripture. Paul spent a year and a half teaching at Corinth (Acts 18:11). Paul instructed with the purpose of edification: “Him we preach, warn- ing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). Paul told Timothy to “command and teach” (1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2; 2 Timothy 2:2). Doctrine began to be formally systematized after the church began (Acts 2:42). God appointed special teachers to give doctrinal instruction (1 Corinthians 12:28, 29; Galatians 6:6).
The Greek word “teach” can refer to the act of teaching or to what is taught. Jesus taught the disciples on the Emmaus road by “explaining” (diermeneuw) and “opening up” (dianoigw) the Word of God (Luke 24:27, 32). The early church regularly taught its congregation (Acts 2:42). Paul charged Timothy to “teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2) and to stick true to the Word of God (Titus 1:9). He was to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradicted the Word (Titus 1:9). Paul warned him to pay close attention to his teaching (doctrine) in 1 Timothy 4:16.
Paul set the standard for leaders in the local church to Titus: “For a bishop must . . . [hold] fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:7, 9). A bishop or pastor is to hold firmly to the faithful Word as he has been taught. This is the basis of the doctrinal task. Doctrine is the foundation for proclaim- ing the faithful Word. The message is trustworthy, or faithful, precisely because it is in harmony with or conformity to Scripture. The Greek word “as” means “according to the standard of” what he has been taught (by the apostles). “Taught” has the same root as the word “doctrine.” This word, when used with the definite article, means that God expects the bishop (that is, the teacher) to be faithful to teaching that is formulated into propositions. By this, the teacher can do two things: (1) exhort by sound doctrine and (2) refute those who contradict sound doctrine. Leaders in the local church must meet these standards of Scripture to lead properly. These passages fly in the face of the narrative and anti- propositional approach.
Doctrine Demands Clarity and Certainty
God’s Word identifies Christianity with the cognitive element but does not preclude the attitudinal or emotional dimensions, as we saw previously.
Doctrine is the first-order dimension. This is far more than “straight thinking” or “right opinion” as Brian McLaren claims in A Generous Orthodoxy. Accord- ing to Paul, some things are clear, but McLaren says that clarity is sometimes overrated. He believes that shock and obscurity communicate better than clarity. He, in effect, denies the truth proclaimed in Titus that we should “guard the faithful word.” Truth is not that clear to McLaren. It is difficult to discover orthodoxy in his Generous Orthodoxy. He claims to have found a generous third way between conservatism and liberalism, a postmodern modification of Christianity, but he does not attempt to prove this viewpoint.
This search for a “generous orthodoxy” with a huge, accommodating center is impervious to distinctions that differ. Robert Webber, the late professor of ministry and founder of the Institute for Worship Studies, as well seeks to accommodate evangelicalism to postmodern thought. He wants to construct out of tradition a theology that is relevant to present-day culture. All that is important to him is the framework of faith. Religious assertions are true because they are the perspective that is consistent with a particular tradition. In this, he abandons reference to objective revelation.
Jesus warned that false teachers teach “as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Truth is not pliable according to preference, but this is exactly how postmodern evangelicals attempt to view it.
1 Timothy refers to “sound doctrine.” This is a phrase peculiar to 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (the books written to pastors). These words occur eight times, six times with “teaching” or “doctrine” and twice with “the faith.” It was crucial that pastors continue steadfastly in “sound doctrine”; note the following verses (as well as 1 Timothy 6:3, 2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 1:9, and Titus 2:1 above):
. . . the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine . . . (1 Timothy 1:10 esv)
Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:13 esv)
This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith . . . (Titus 1:13 esv).
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:2 esv).
Sound doctrine is truth balanced and ordered throughout; figuratively, the Greek uses “sound” of doctrinal teaching that is correct, sound, and accurate. Pastors are to be careful with truth; they are to have a sound, or accurate, approach to Scripture. This takes careful study of the text and doctrines that arise out of the text.
Because a proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence, those who do not believe in propositions declare that God transcends language; so God is not verbal, but they find God in an indefinable experience. This thinking presumes that there is no adequate knowledge of God in propositional form. Though it is true that God is ineffable, this does not mean that we cannot know him propositionally. The assumption that truth is only personal and not propositional runs counter to John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The “word” (logos) means “doctrine, proposition, and logic.” John says the Word is God; he does not say that the Word transcends language. God’s Word is more than symbols about God; it comprises declarative statements about Him. An ecstatic approach to language denies affirmations and takes them beyond clarity of proposition, making them into something merely metaphorical. In John 5:31, 32, Jesus says that his words are “not true” if he is the only witness to his Messiahship. The word “true” describes spoken statements or propositions about Jesus. The Bible itself never claims that truth is an encounter, an emotion, or experience. Truth is always propositional and intellectual and received by understanding alone. There is no personal truth as distinguished from propositional truth. John was an eyewitness of the crucifixion (John 19:35).
Illumination of the Spirit
The work of illumination about what the Bible means and its truthfulness is the work of God the Holy Spirit. It is his job to enable the believer to understand and apply the Word of God to experience. We cannot apply what we do not understand. God conditions appropriation of truth on understanding. This is far more than intellectual understanding of the Bible. Not just scholars but any believer can come to this perception on Scriptures. It is true that God specially gifts pastors to understand and teach Scripture, but this does not preclude the individual from studying Scriptures as did the Berean believers.
Illumination by the Spirit does not equate to intuitive insights, although God might give subjective light on the subject. The normal process is careful study followed by subjective reflection. Understanding of Scripture should be verifiable. Study always precedes experience; experience does not precede study. Thus, the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit enables both understanding and application of it.
Not all of the Word is equally clear. There are difficult passages. Peter declared some of Paul’s epistles “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Nor does illumination mean that a believer can reach total and complete understanding of all Scriptures. We know only “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12) as long as we are finite—and we will always be finite, even in heaven.
Propositions are revelations from inspired Scripture. This is the first principle or axiom of Christianity. It is the epistemological starting point. To start with self or sensation is to leave the foundational axiom of Christianity. If someone starts with self or sensation, then that is one’s ultimate presupposition for coming to truth and ultimate basis of belief.
Propositional truth does not reduce God to a proposition. No knowledge of God is possible without propositions that are non-contradictory and logically consistent. Logic does not intrude as a foreign system into propositions about God, but logical propositions are the only way to understand what God says in the Bible.
This is not rationalism but consistent logical process. We cannot present Christianity as true without core propositions inherent in our presentations. We cannot believe in God without believing about God. To reject the law of noncontradiction is to wipe out the notion of truth. The idea of propositions from God presented in sixty-six books is what distinguishes Christianity from all its opponents. If we divorce propositions from Scripture, all we have left is mysticism, and that is where postconservatives end up. Mysticism ends with something not clearly Christian or genuine belief. The close correlation between mysticism and dialectical thinking produces belief in a person without belief in propositions about the person.
Propositional truth is one of the foundations for certainty about truth.