Reflections on Biblical and
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What Is Alvin Plantinga’s Category of the Lord’s Teaching That Is Not “Truth?”

 

I don’t intend for a moment to suggest that teaching us truths is all that the Lord intends in Scripture: there is also raising affection, teaching us how to praise, how to pray, how to see the depth of our own sin, how marvelous the gift of salvation is, and a thousand other things. (Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, page 380fn)

 

This footnoted comment by Plantinga is telling of his distortion of language.  He “suggests” that the Lord teaches something other than “truths.”  The only category other than “truths” is “falsehoods.”  Now, I do not mean to suggest that Plantinga believes that his list of “affection,” “praise,” etc. are falsehoods.  But for a philosopher of his standing to “suggest” that his entire list of items does not fall under the category of truth is misleading at best, and derogatory of Scripture and its Writer at worst.

 

Over and over, Jesus identified Himself with “truth.”  For example, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  All Scripture is “truth” (John 17:17).  The items that Plantinga has named are truth.  “Raising affection” (at least as far as the fruit of the Spirit is concerned, Galatians 5:22-23) is truth.  “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 48:1) is truth.  “How to pray,” for example, The Lord’s Prayer, is truth.  The “marvelous gift of salvation” is truth.  If all that he means in “a thousand other things” is Scriptural, then they are also truth.

 

“Ed, you are nitpicking!  Plantinga was merely saying that all Scripture is not about doctrine.  It speaks to our emotions, praise, and the other items that he names.”  I beg to differ—strongly.  Again, Plantinga is a renowned philosopher.  He knows what he is saying, and he means what he says.  “But let us assume that what you have said is what he meant—all Scripture is not about doctrine.”  Oh?  That statement is curious.  What in Scripture is not about doctrine?  Most of the Bible is history.  About one-half of The Apostle’s Creed, the first doctrinal statement of the Church, is history.  Is history doctrine?  Of course!  Other Scripture is classified as Wisdom books, for example, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  Surely, these books are doctrinal.  Then, there are 150 songs or Psalms.  These are surely part of Plantinga’s “praise.”  These are doctrinal as well.   Everything that the Bible says is true and doctrinal!

 

Now, Plantinga has only voiced what evangelicals in general have come to believe: that somehow the Bible has categorical statements that are non-doctrinal and apparently something other that “truths.”  For example, many of the Apostle Paul’s books have a first portion on “doctrine” and a latter portion that is “practical.”  But, dear brothers and sisters, is Paul’s “practical” portion any less doctrinal or true?  Surely not!  Again, everything that the Bible says is true and doctrinal!

 

For almost 200 years, American Christianity has been moving off of its doctrinal base.  While we rail at the Neo-orthodox and liberal Christians for their non-belief of Scripture, evangelicals have their own language to minimize Scripture.  “The Lord told me ____” (to do such and such).  “The Lord led me to _____” (something to say or act).  “I feel that ______ (I should say or do a particular thing).  God speaks to both the “head” and the “heart.”  And, for our purposes here and as Plantinga says, the Bible teaches us something other than “truths.”  These words and phrases are evidence for “non-doctrinal” truths.

 

What Plantinga should mean, to remain orthodox, is that the Bible teaches us truths for different areas: “affections,” “praise,” “prayer,” “sin,” and “salvation.”  With that statement I would agree.  “OK, Ed, he made a slight misstatement.  So what?”  With everything else that Plantinga says in all his other writings, I don’t believe that this statement is said in error.  I will discuss his use of language in other areas at other times, but I find this statement typical.  Plantinga uses language skillfully to discuss his complex arguments with great precision.  I am only analyzing what he has said here.

 

Plantinga and others have distanced themselves from traditional philosophical problems, such as truth, belief, reason, etc., developing their own terminology (“Reformed epistemology,” “warrant,” “defeaters,” etc.).  They have made complex, what was once more simple.  This simple statement in his footnote is typical of what I call “obfuscation.”  The Bible, for the most part, has a simple and clear message.  Philosophers, theologians, and others have a way of making it more complex that God intended.  Plantinga is not helping with this simplicity—in fact, he is teaching the opposite.  While perhaps not intended, he is championing that Scripture is teaching us something other than “truths.”  


 

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