What Is Alvin Plantinga’s Category of the Lord’s Teaching That Is Not
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.
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
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
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.”
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?
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
dear brothers and sisters, is Paul’s “practical” portion any
less doctrinal or true?
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”
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.
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.”