Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Root of Uncertainty: Not Can't, Not Don't, But Won't

A few years ago now, Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You, told me something that I've now quoted quite a few times, but here goes again:

Virtually everything is clear and certain in your mind. The pomos' pathological uncertainty is in part a reaction to the unwarranted hubris of the rigid fundamentalist perspective you represent.

I got to this quote again because uncertainty is blamed on certainty.  I have read this kind of analysis from Daniel Wallace.   He said in an interview:

When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core, then when belief in these doctrines start to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down.

Wallace made a very similar point by calling upon the idea of a pendulum swing from certainty to uncertainty, encouraging a level of uncertainty to stop men from pushing the eject button on all of Christianity.  To him, certainty would lead to uncertainty.

By the way, now Johnson agrees that the explanation for uncertainty is a new form of legalism in which legitimate Christ followers "by the current definition . . . . [are] environmentally conscious pacifists who think justice entails government-mandated redistribution of wealth."  To do this, they must "reinvent [their] understanding of atonement, redefine [their] attitude toward gender, and change or tone down all the classic biblical doctrines that don't fit well with postmodern political correctness."  That doesn't sound like a reaction to certainty, but, oh well, whatever happens to work, even if it is opposite of something else.

No, uncertainty doesn't come from certainty.  If it sounds like a joke (and you hear laughter), it should.  There is obviously zero in the Bible that would make that point.  Stick with me here.  This will be profound.  Uncertainty -- comes from opposition to certainty.  Not actually profound.  More like as obvious as it gets.  When someone looks at certainty and doesn't like it, because he likes the conveniences of uncertainty, certainty hasn't caused that.  He wants it his way.  That's all.  To say that uncertainty comes from certainty is itself rebellion, which brings me to the actual point of my post.

The root of uncertainty isn't that someone can't know.  He can know.  It isn't even that he doesn't know.  He knows.  It is that he won't know.   Churches today allow for doubt, and even teach doubt.  And they act like it is superior.  Well, that's a farce.  Maybe a satire.  It's treating Spam like it's a filet mignon, mainly because of an investment in Hormel Foods.

People foresee deniability in uncertainty.  They see a future where they can use uncertainty as an excuse.  They need uncertainty because it will allow them to take a loose position or stand that conforms to the world.  They won't have to suffer as much, because they'll fit in more.  They'll get bigger because of that, because people don't want to suffer.  They're looking for a convenient brand of Christianity that will kowtow to the culture.  Uncertainty is part of the recipe of a larger coalition that will write a bigger paycheck and bring greater popularity.  A system of celebrity in evangelicalism uses uncertainty.

Everything I've described above is the won't.  It knows the truth and suppresses it.   Evangelicals and fundamentalists embrace an uncertainty of the Words of God.  They won't believe God preserved them without error, even though God said He would.  They embrace the doubt engendered by the "science" of textual criticism.  I put science in quotes, because it isn't actual knowledge.  It's only a theory.  God's Word is truth.  God said it, but men won't believe it.   And since they won't be certain about His Words, who will be certain about what the Words mean?  And if they won't know what they mean, how will they know how they apply?

The root of certainty comes from men, including many, many professing Christians, who are unwilling, not unable, to be certain.


Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus said...

The obvious question for Daniel Wallace is, "If God's Word itself puts such emphasis on inerrancy and verbal inspiration (and preservation, for that matter), then what grounds are there to refer to these doctrines as 'peripheral,' even presuming one accepts the legitimacy of ranking of doctrines?"

Anonymous said...

Throwing out your conclusions about the Bible versions, your whole proceeding structure of thinking is absurd. I have to wonder what in you past could possibly lead you to the conclusion that uncertainty is rebellion. We for example, know very little about what is in the ocean. We have explored very little of it. So can we be certain? Of course not; we would agree that is absurd. But in Brandenburg theology, you can be certain about every Biblical application to life even when you don't know what you are talking about.

Again, the best word is absurd.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I included Anonymous comment, because I am uncertain about who anonymous is, and this proves that I am uncertain; therefore, the door of uncertainty is open. Drive through your Mack truck. Of course, I said uncertain about what the Words are, what the teachings are, what the applications are. God didn't give us a guess, but that's what evangelicals and now fundamentalists want us to have. It aids the numbers, the coalitions, the ridiculous, silly methods, and man-centered practice and worship.

Good argument anonymous.

Ken Lengel said...

"Hath God said?" What more proof could anyone need to prove uncertainty is rebellion?


Anonymous said...

Ken wins the reductionist argument of the year. Look, if you guys focused on what God said (what you call doctrine), you would have enough problems being certain since smarter men than the bunch of you have disagreed over doctrine for 2000 years. But to be certain on application? To be certain that a woman should not wear britches? Absurd...

Kent Brandenburg said...

Anonymous argument:

Major Premise: If smart men disagree over doctrine, the meaning of scripture is uncertain.
Minor Premise: Smart men have disagreed over doctrine.
Conclusion: Therefore, the meaning of scripture is uncertain.

Your major premise is false. Jesus said men would disagree over doctrine, because of false prophets and false teachers, so that is not evidence that meaning is uncertain. Your position is a faithless, humanistic position, but you'll get a lot of people agreeing with you, you've got a consensus, so you must be right. You'll know the truth by putting your finger in the air to tell you which way the wind is blowing. Enjoy that.

You're other argument is name-calling: absurd. The Bill Nye argument: troubling. Typical.

Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus said...

I find Anonymous' argument...troubling.

Anonymous said...

I thought his first argument was even more "troubling"...

Premise: We are not certain about stuff in the ocean.

Conclusion: We can't be certain about biblical application.

2nd Conclusion: Anyone who is certain about biblical application is absurd (especially is you can label it "[lastName] Theology".


Kent Brandenburg said...



It's a similar argument that I hear from primaries when they don't want to get in trouble. "I didn't know what you meant." They know, but they say, "I didn't know" and that should be enough to get them out of it.

I've had people who disagreed with teaching, and very common in all the years of pastoring, "so what is it that it does say?" "I don't know, but not what you said." "Well, could you study it out, so that I could hear what you think it says." A few months later, I ask again, and still not studied. Year later, still not. So I make up a self-study. Person doesn't do the self-study. Very typical.

When you believe in certainty, you've got to deal with it. If most or much is uncertain, that's the card you throw down you when you don't like it.

I'm basing "won't" on Romans 1, but I could go further with other arguments.

Anonymous said...


2 Peter 1:3 was (and still is) key for me as I came out of New Evangelicalism and then "neo-fundamentalism". It kinda slams the door shut on this stuff, because we are told that everything we need to know concerning "all things" pertaining to life in godliness is found in the Bible. If we really want to know we can search it out. That certainly doesn't mean that I know all these things, but it means that a conclusion should be the goal, not ambiguity.

I heard more than once with New Evangelical circles the phrase "the longer I am a Christian, the more ambiguous life becomes." I remember thinking, "Really? This is what the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Word of God" leads to?" It's exactly as you said, uncertainty is a handy card to play when you want either a bigger tent or a spiritual-sounding excuse.