Confusion of thought is a far more serious enemy of truth than any plain and clear error can ever be. If we say, "Two plus two makes five," we are stating something which is obviously erroneous. If we say, "For all we know to the contrary, there may exist a universe in which the ordinary laws of thought do not apply and in which two plus two do not make four but some other number such as five," we are not actually adding anything significant to what was said at first, but merely confusing the issue by endeavouring to inject into it other ideas which are not only irrelevant but actually inconceivable. The proceeding is somewhat similar to what happens when a conjuror produces a rabbit out of an empty hat. By diverting the attention of his audience at the critical moment, he produces the illusion that he has performed an act which in fact is impossible. So, by the use of patter about imaginary universes fundamentally different from ours, the attention is drawn away from the point at issue.
The most tragic feature of our modern predicament is the disconcerting way those who are hostile to the idea of the Sacred Scriptures as in the fullest sense Divine Revelation perform this conjuring trick and almost invariably escape detection of their evasion of the real issue.
Many of those who do this are, I am convinced, honest at heart. They are in the distressing position of a man who has ventured into a large moorland area on which a thick fog has descended. They cannot escape from their confusion, not because they do not desire to, but because they cannot see clearly enough to trace a path out. Study over many years has convinced me, too, that others are dishonest and have deliberately added smoke to the fog or lit false beacons to lead their fellows astray. Some of those quoted in the previous paper certainly are of their number, though not all. However, my present purpose is to examine a challenge from one writer who from the evidence of his book appears to be a man of good will and integrity, and to show how and why he has fallen short of the truth in this matter.
The book is "Fundamentalism and the Church of God" by the Rev. Gabriel Hebert, D.D., published by the S.C.M. Press, London. We must begin by examining Dr. Hebert's attitude to the problem of knowledge itself. He writes (p. 72):
Nevertheless, there is a loophole in the above-quoted statement. The study only "appears" to have its dogmas laid down in advance.
To anyone unaccustomed to that sort of thing, it would be incredible that any serious writer could make such an assertion without even attempting to explain whether this peculiarity only "appears" to exist, and if so, why; or whether it actually does exist. It is difficult to see how Dr. Hebert can in reality mean anything but the latter; for if its existence were only apparent, the scientific worker would soon be induced, by the very nature of his own mental make-up, to investigate whether the appearance is a reality or an illusion, and if an illusion, how it comes about. It is not as if Dr. Hebert had described Theology as a "stumbling-block" to the scientific worker, for then he might rightly ignore it and turn away; but he calls it a "puzzle," and no true scientific worker could bring himself to ignore a puzzle. The essence of the scientific mind is that for it a puzzle is both an attraction and a challenge.
Plainly Dr. Hebert is himself in a state of utter confusion regarding the true nature of Theology. Is it, or is it not, a science; that is to say, something which can be investigated (at any rate to some extent) by the methods whereby scientific investigation is carried out? The measure of Dr. Hebert's inadequacy is the circumstance that he does not even ask this question. He complains of the hostility of some theologians t6 natural science and then turns away to some irrelevancies which seem to imply a negative answer.
Here is the crux; and also the actual source of Dr. Hebert's confusion and inadequacy in this respect; for it is evident that for him the conclusions of theological research are dictated beforehand—in other words, that there is actually no scope at all for research in the precise sense of the word, since the most those who think like him can do is to discover; another way to reach their pre-selected conclusions.
It is not easy to suggest what reply he might give to this, or even how far he would admit it; but as the cover-note of his book indicates that he belongs to an Anglo-Catholic society it must be largely true. The so-called Anglo-Catholic is at one with the Roman Catholic in being committed to a whole system of theological dogmas which is claimed to be fixed and unchangeable. The conclusions of any theological research they may attempt are, to a large extent and in all matters of importance, dictated beforehand. The only difference between them and others who label themselves "Catholics" is in the set of conclusions which is for them fixed. The important thing for us to appreciate is that with these people Theology is not a true science at all, but a system of thought. Whether or no it is a true system can be determined only by a scientific investigation of it.
So we come down with a jolt to the root of the matter: the hard brute fact that if we want to know, we have got to find out: the way scientists find out. They observe, compare and classify. Then they formulate a theory which appears to cover the facts that they have examined, and then they subject their theory to the test of experiment: that is, they use it to gather further facts. If it stands this test, they provisionally accept it as an approximation to truth. The word "provisionally" is the key here, for the acceptance of a theory must never be more than provisional. Only observed facts can ever have a higher status. than provisional—apart from necessary truths, which are not the subject of this discussion. (Necessary truths are those which are so by definition or by the nature of things, such as the truths of Mathematics or statements the denial of which would be a contradiction in terms, such as that "a thing cannot both be and not be.")
How, then, are we to investigate the teaching of some particular branch of "the Catholic Church," to find out to what extent it is true?
However partisanship may try to disguise the issue, there is ultimately only one way: by investigating the truth and authority of the Sacred Scriptures; whether they are actually the revelation of God and of His will for humanity, and whether any particular system of teaching is in agreement with them. And however much those. who think along the same lines as Dr. Hebert may dislike the fact, the conclusions of this investigation are not dictated beforehand.
For if they are, who has dictated them? If "the Church" what authority has it? The Sacred Scriptures? But our need is to investigate their authority by scientifically studying their contents, so we are not in a position to take it for granted God Himself? But where outside the Scriptures are His rulings to be found? The consensus of the religious experience of the saints, living and dead? Even if it existed, we would still have to ascertain it. Even if we ascertained it, we would still have to find out whether it is unanimous and, if not why not. Even if it were unanimous we would still have to discover a standard against which to test it.
If it be retorted that "Fundamentalists" are in precisely the same position in that they too have their conclusions dictated to them beforehand, and even less certain conclusions at that, for instead of the consensus of Catholic antiquity they are the private judgment of a few individuals; we must admit that the retort is just—for some "Fundamentalists," but not for all, certainly not for those who really are attempting to submit these matters to scientific research. That some, perhaps most, fail to live up to these standards of integrity which alone give meaning and validity to their whole position, does not mean that these standards are defective, but that they themselves are.
The attitude of the true scientific worker in his proper work is essentially rational because the scientific method is itself rational: it is an approach to its problems made in accord with pure reason. It is solely concerned with ideas, concepts and objects as they are, not as one hopes they may be, or would like them to be. Galileo looked at the sun and planets through his telescope. He encountered opposition, not because his telescope was faulty or insufficiently powerful, but simply because what he found did not commend itself to his contemporaries as it did not conform to their ideas of what ought to be. They were irrationalists. All their dogmas had been laid down in advance, so anything that conflicted with these dogmas had to be trampled down somehow. This attitude is by no means dead, even in scientific circles. 'It is found widely among the hangers-on of the outer fringes of Science, and, regrettably, among scientific workers when they concern themselves with matters outside their own speciality.' Some most rational researchers in the physical sciences become alarmingly irrational when they come to the other sciences or to studies like Theology and Philosophy.
Those concerned with theological studies, who through ignorance, or prejudice, or carelessness, or obscurantism, have proclaimed that all true theological dogmas have been laid down in advance, are the persons who are chiefly to blame for such scientists' misunderstanding of Theology; even though the scientists themselves are not guiltless; for, being scientists and therefore knowing better, they have no excuse for blindly accepting a position inherently irrational.
Let us face the facts; and let us test the "Catholic" position in its central stronghold, the Athanasian Creed. Here is a theological dogma, "laid down in advance" which all members of the churches calling themselves "Catholic" are supposed to be bound to believe. Two assertions can be made about this creed: it is impossible to support all of it by direct statements of the Scriptures in the original tongues; it is impossible even to understand it. Some have declared that we are not expected to understand it, but to believe it. Yet how can anyone really believe something which he cannot understand? It cannot even be set out in plain language, let alone in the simple straightforward style of the Apostle Paul's Epistle to the Romans. To claim to believe something, even to talk about something, which is inherently meaningless to us, is essentially irrational. If an item of this creed is in accord with Scripture, it must be possible to show what portion of Scripture it is in accord with. Moreover, if we are to believe it solely on the authority of "the Church," and if the teachings of "the Church" are wholly based on Scripture, why can we not short-circuit the whole process by going straight to Scripture itself?
Some have retorted by declaring that Scripture is too difficult to understand. Perhaps: for them. But how anybody mentally so handicapped can be expected nevertheless to understand the Athanasian Creed is indeed a mystery. Actually, there is absolutely nothing, anywhere, in the Scriptures to compare with this creed for obscurity of language and difficulty of thought. It says of God:
If people could be persuaded to start by reading the Bible as they read any other book, they might discover that it is not like any other book, but vaster, deeper, higher. They would perceive difficulties and apparent contradictions; and then they might investigate them and discover that most of them are the mistranslations and misunderstandings of scholars, or the result of deliberate distortions of the text by human tradition. Few who have not carried out such investigations realize at all how serious these sources of error are.
In discussing Dr. Hebert's case we can accept as common ground the ultimate authority of Scripture; for the idea that theological dogmas are laid down in advance and are Divine Truth implies that the original investigation which produced them assumed the full authority of Scripture and was itself sound, adequate and complete. The correctness of this implication can be tested in two ways. If so; first, it will be devoid of elements outside the scope of Scripture, second, it will stand unshaken against the fullest comparison with the Scriptures in the original tongues. Yet, as a matter of fact~ it is easy to show, and will presently be shown in Dr. Hebert's teaching, that every form of so-called "orthodoxy" contains many extra doctrines and practises of which Scripture knows nothing, and that many of its doctrines claiming to be from Scripture only are yet devoid of Scriptural support. An example of the former is the practise of reverencing and even worshipping Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, as the "Mother of God"; and an example of the latter is the doctrine of her sinlessness and perpetual virginity. The former is purely pagan in origin and can be paralleled in Babylonian and Egyptian religions and Mithraism; the latter cannot be found in Scripture except by tampering with it.
But even if we were to confine our attention to Scripture alone, are not the conclusions of our research still laid down for us in advance in its pages?
The short answer to this is "No, no more than are the conclusions of research in Natural Science laid down for scientists in the universe around them." If it be objected that in a sense they are laid down in advance, in that the properties of things have all along existed as they now are, ever since they came to be, it follows that there is nothing new and therefore no scope for research anywhere. Such an argument leads to a conclusion which is evidently ridiculous. As a matter of unquestionable fact, what we know is to what we do not know as a grain of sand to a vast ocean shore. There is scope for all possible scientific activities for all future time, if such were possible. The conclusions of research are there, so to speak, but we have to work hard to gather them; and similarly those who engage in theological research know full well how hard and arduous also is the task facing them. For such research is hardly yet even in its infancy, in spite of what the men who now dominate the churches may declare. At times one is tempted to discouragement, even to near panic, in contemplating the littleness of what has been achieved after intense struggle by comparison with what remains to be done. And it is not panic due to contemplation of what is high and vast, but a dreadful realization of one's own inadequacy.
Here is the real weakness of the truly "Fundamentalist" position: not the weakness or inadequacy of the position itself, for being utterly rational and logical it is unassailable, but of those who claim to expound it. The bitter fact is that the majority of them, lack the necessary qualifications for the task they have presumed to undertake. There is no surer way of prejudicing a case than getting a general hearing of.it and then presenting it inadequately. There is no excuse for following the mistaken zeal of Uzzah in endeavouring to steady the Ark. This form of spiritual pride—for that is what it amounts to—is the special failing of the spiritually immature. Not until a definite and unmistakeable call comes to us ought we to make any move towards active service of God. If a period of silent waiting and preparation in Arabia was necessary for the Apostle Paul, a similar wait ought not to be burdensome for us, even in the face of the disapproval of the many who judge only by visible immediate results, and despise those who cannot produce them to order because they are waiting for a real call.
As the years pass, it becomes more and more evident that, so far, in the eyes of the world we have lost our case. This is largely due to impatient building without first laying sound foundations. That sin has beset almost all who have written on theological matters for many years past, and certainly has not been confined to ourselves; but it has injured us far more than others because they have not, in actual fact, aimed so high. The effect of their failure has been to dethrone Theology from its place as a science; and by so doing they have enormously increased our difficulties in developing our essential aim, to show that it actually is a true science.
Dr. Hebert has written with great ability; but he shows no sign of understanding the concept of Theology as a true science.
He writes (p. 73)
To the superficial this may seem very harsh; yet a moment's reflection should show anyone that if God has determined to give us liberty of choice, that is what we must get. To expect at the same time to escape the consequences of such liberty, to have it and yet have no choice, is wholly unreasonable.
Hence it is not surprising to find that much of the difficulty Dr. Hebert dislikes in "Fundamentalism" springs from human ignorance. We cannot fairly blame King Harold for failing to use telephones and tanks in 1066. The greatest blame rests on those through whose carelessness and ignorance we are ignorant.
To begin with; it is the height of rashness to find difficulty in the Old Testament. The uncertainty of its text and the lack of any concordant translation of the best available Hebrew text or of the LXX are insuperable obstacles to beginning a sound scientific study of it. The plain truth is that it belongs to Israel. Although it also belongs to us for our learning, such ownership is necessarily secondary; what in it is not needed for our learning we may expect to find beyond our reach. That in it "there is more than meets the eye" is evident from the Apostle Paul's use of it in his epistles; and not the least of the lessons we need to learn is that we are on no account to attempt to follow suit. We lack the equipment.
When we come to the New Testament Dr. Hebert's mistakes become both more evident and more dangerous. In the last full paragraph of his Page 50 he sets out quite well the truth about Israel's future:
Negative heresy, the omission of part of the truth, soon leads to positive heresy, the addition of a whole untruth. This always happens because, in Theology, the old maxim of Physicists, "Nature abhors a vacuum," is profoundly true. (Even now it is not really obsolete in Physics, for we are told that some atoms exist even in the emptiest spaces). When ever we neglect some fact of Scripture we soon have to replace it with a guess. And so it is here:
Gentiles have never yet been admitted to a share in Israel's privileges except as they were before our Lord came—as proselytes, which we are not.
Becoming children of Abraham is not a privilege of Israel as such. Abraham's faith was counted for righteousness while he was yet a Gentile, before he had received circumcision as a sign. Nowhere does Scripture say that righteousness out of faith is one of Israel's priyileges.
Israel still is one nation, as she has always been. In fact, she is the most distinct and most enduring nation of all. This is more evident now than it has been for centuries, since she got back part Of her Land. And she is still the target of the Gentiles' hatred, as we all know too well.
Israel is not "enlarged to include all nations." Her people are in every nation: she is of none of them. Even the Anglo-Israelite heresy does not go so far as to say that Israel "is now enlarged to include all nations." So audacious a denial of facts which are evident to all and of the plain state ments of Romans 11 is so nearly incredible that were it not so readily verifiable one would hesitate to reproduce it for fear of being dismissed off-hand as a liar. The Law and the Prophets are not yet fulfilled. Many unfulfilled prophecies remain, and most by their very nature cannot be fulfilled yet.
Perhaps even more amazing is the remark that follows:
Nor is this all. Dr. Hebert's position is candidly stated quite early, in his description of "modern Biblical Theology." Of the Old Testament he says:
As regards pseudonymity (the publication of a writing under the name of some well-known personage when it was not in fact his) some very strange views have become fashionable, and Dr. Hebert, regrettably, seems to share them. It is said that such writing was an accepted literary form in the ancient world. Perhaps—in poetry and fiction—but the idea that anyone, however well-meaning, acted so irreverently, even blasphemously, towards God's Apostles and managed to deceive the whole body of Christians, is nearly incredible. Only if the clearest proof of such an act were produced could any reasonable person believe such a thing. Some may "feel sure" of it; but most men of good will would prefer proof to feelings which, however smoothed over verbally, can only derogate from our reverence for God's Word. Van Meegeren's forgeries of Vermeer were roundly condemned on all hands; though the harm they did was negligible, except to the reputation of a few art critics; yet apparently forging an epistle by Paul or Peter to gain a hearing for one's message is to be condoned! If adequate proof of this deed exists, then, we ought to have it. The fact that 2. Peter "is regarded as non-authentic by all modern scholars" except the Fundamentalists is quite unimportant except as an indication of their queer state of mind. We want facts, not what they "regard" as true or untrue. And the fact that the Hebrews Epistle is anonymous does not mean that it is pseudonymous.
Dr. Hebert agrees (p. 61) that "if Scripture is inspired at
all, it must be its words that are inspired,"
but suggests this question:
Then, like the critics, Dr. Hebert goes on to disparage
None of us have escaped altogether the infection of
heresy; and one of the surest indications of its presence is unprecise language. Dr. Hebert offends in this way when he speaks of "a materialistic notion of what Truth is" (p. 96),
and goes on to say:
That something is wrong with his thinking is shown by
We are blamed for declining fellowship with those who think in this manner; Yet to prefer truth, however hard and uncompromising it may be, to success bought at the price of surrendering it is not to manifest party spirit, as he suggests. We do not claim to possess all the truth, but to seek it; and that inevitably involves rejecting everything else. We carry our faith in God's Word to its logical conclusion, believing it without any admixture of tradition or man's opinions. Where opinion has to come in because the Word at some point does not answer some question of ours, we frankly accept it as opinion; but where the Word speaks we listen and do not interrupt. For this we are regarded as schismatics and party men. Yet we do not claim to possess alrthe truth, except in so far as we possess the Sacred Scriptures, which are all the truth, in spiritual matters, that God has chosen to reveal. Rightly, Dr. Hebert complains of those who choose "the Gospel plus something else chosen by men" ; yet his "plus" is "Catholic" tradition or his strange ideas about "the Israel of God." He says that our plus is "the Inerrancy of the Bible." But the absolute accuracy and reliability of God's Word as originally written is not a "plus," it is the essential condition for its being God's Word at all. To declare that something is the truth is not to add anything to it, though to deny its truth is to subtract from it. An outstanding example is his treatment of Psalm 110., "The Critics" have decided that it was not written by David, so our Lord's assertion in Mark 12:35-37 has to be set aside. Even if it were merely a matter of human opinion, one might suppose that a then unchallenged statement made 1900 years nearer David's time would have a very high evidential value. But no: the critics have spoken and for the modem mind the case is closed and the authority of one of the most important prophecies destroyed.
Ultimately Dr. Hebert's thesis leads to what is, in fact, the central error of all who call themselves "Catholics," what he calls "the biblical doctrine of the Visible Church."
He supports it thus (p. 129):
The whole "Catholic" position is basically wrong on this point and is made no more attractive by the efforts of well-meaning men like Dr. Hebert to come to terms with rationalistic criticism of the Scriptures.
The outward evil of our times is no more than the manifestation of their inward evil, of the cancer which is eating away our society. So far has it all gone that there is nothing left for us to do but to protest as best we can. If there does exist any "danger of an idolatry of the Bible," it is as nothing compared to the almost universal idolatry of the critic.
R. B. WITHERS. Last updated 16.10.2005