Monday, November 07, 2011

Does Uncertainty Come from Certainty?

In an exchange a few years ago, Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You, told me this:

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, and vice versa.

Of course, an irony that should not be lost is Phil's regular certainty that he is right.  And in this case, he is certain again...about uncertainty.  I'm actually happy that Phil can be so certain.  I would be very happy if his certainty did come from scriptural arguments, but in my forays into Phil's world, that hasn't always been necessary for him.

I found myself again thinking about this observation.  Does the uncertainty of today, especially as represented in postmodernism, actually stem in some considerable way, from certainty?

The answer to that question is where I say that I wish Phil's certainty here could have come from something from the Bible.  I can't think of one verse or example in the Bible that says that unbelief or uncertainty comes from certainty.  I can't even think of one place in the Bible where uncertainty is exalted or admired.

Phil also used Peter's comments about Paul's eschatalogical writings at the end of 2 Peter 3 (verse 16):

As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

The verse does not say that we are uncertain about what Paul wrote.  It says something just the opposite actually.  Peter found some of what Paul wrote "hard to be understood."  Come on, we've got to be honest about this kind of thing.  It doesn't say Paul's writings can't be understood---just hard to be understood.  And the last part of the verse assumes or implies that one could be certain about what Paul wrote.  The "unlearned and unstable" wrest those scriptures.  How could anyone know if they had "wrested" Paul's writings unless someone could be certain about what Paul wrote?  And what is ironic here (again) is that Phil Johnson is wresting Peter's writings here to support his erring view of certainty.

Scripture does say that we can't know everything with absolute certainty.  A few passages come immediately to mind.  First, 1 Corinthians 13:2.  Paul uses hyperbole to say that we can't understand all mysteries and all knowledge.  Second, Job 9:10.  God has ways that are past finding out.  But none of those verses are promoting uncertainty.  We can be certain about what we can be certain about, but certainty itself is never said to be the cause of uncertainty.

What does cause uncertainty, according to the Bible, is uncertainty.  And we see this right at the beginning of the Bible.  Eve was certain she would die if she ate of the tree.  Satan planted uncertainty.  And, voila, Eve became uncertain herself.  That's how it actually works.  Doubt begets doubt.  Faithlessness begets faithlessness.

I'm reminded of the doubt of the ten spies who came back from the land and discouraged the entire nation from obeying God.  Later in Numbers 32, Moses was concerned about a replay event, in which the Reubenites would bring their spirit of non-participation to the rest of Israel.  And that sin of non-participation was the sin that Moses said would for sure be found out.  Another irony.  Be sure, be certain, your sin will find you out.  The certainty of Moses could spread to the Reubenites and cause certainty, not uncertainty.  It was the uncertainty of the Reubenites that would cause uncertainty.

Evangelicals in the fellowship of Phil Johnson cause the uncertain-esqueness of the postmoderns.  The postmoderns are encouraged in their uncertainty even as the evangelicals are not sure.  They've just taken it to a further, probably more consistent level.  If you can't be sure what the Words of Scripture are, which Phil Johnson isn't, then how can you be sure about the interpretation and application of the Bible?  The Words are the greater to the lesser of the interpretation and application.  And that's just an example, a big one, but one of the examples.

Evangelicalism is wrought with uncertainty about Bible application.  Phil Johnson is concerned about the uncertainty of the postmodern emergents with their confusion about what foul language is.  Phil knows.  He also knows that gambling is wrong.  They don't know though.  Phil's chagrined.  But there are many areas where Christians were certain in the past, where they are now uncertain, and this was encouraged by evangelicalism and then taken to an all new low with postmodernism.

The uncertainty of evangelicals is the Mack Truck that opened up the path for postmodernism.  Uncertainty is what causes uncertainty.  I'm certain of it.


Joshua said...

Could not agree more with this one.

I think Johnson is saying what he is because of the standard evangelical/pomo justification for their equivocation:

"Look at Preacher xxxxxxx who is dead certain about something completely crazy! That's why I'm not certain. His certainty shows the danger in being certain! It's turning people off certainty!"

That's the excuse. And my my does that approach make many things ever so much easier for getting along with people. There is absolutely no Biblical support for it, as you pointed out. All they have are examples of certain people they think are crazy. The man looks at men for his justification regarding his behavior, and it is not wise.

When Paul was converted from a convinced Pharisee to a Christian, he didn't start soft pedalling because "well, I was sure before, and I was sure wrong!"

The Gospel delivers you from deceit. The more certain you were that the deceit was true, the greater the glory that goes to God for having delivered you from it. The correct response to finding out you were dramatically wrong is to completely embrace the truth that has delivered you from the deceit.

It brings glory to the One who made you free. And He is truth. Other men's certainty in error should only make you love the truth more.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Well put, Joshua, again. I suggest more nuance though, because someone might think you're crazy, and you know what that'll do.

Gary Webb said...

All throughout my time as a pastor I have been uncertain about ideas, doctrines, & practices that I have encountered. That is the reason I study the Bible - so that I can find out what God says, & then be certain that something is either right or wrong. Plenty of times people have asked me about something, & I had to say, "I don't know. Let me search that out." One of the great joys of preaching through books of the Bible is seeing each passage in its context, & therefore becoming certain about what it teaches. Those things that are "hard to be understood" take more time to search out ... therefore I might be uncertain a little longer. But I am confident that the reason God gave us a written revelation was NOT to keep us in uncertainty, but to make us certain.

Anonymous said...

While I can be certain that the Word is true in every way, I understand the uncertainty or confusion of unbelievers or seekers who hear two opposites in the religious world.

Person A says, "I am a Christian, and C is truth and D is false.

Person B says, "I am a Christian and C is false and D is truth."

Of course, the unbeliever or seeker has not dived into the Word for truth, but rather is just hearing people make statements. Until the unbeliever hits the foundation of Word truth, he or she will have uncertainty and confusion.

Always, always, take them back to the Word. Always. I am certain about that!!!

Steve Rogers said...

Greetings Kent, brethren,

I have been reading, just not had time to comment much. The articles are good keep them coming.

To continue Bro Webb's line of thinking, 2 verses come to mind that tell us that God's Revelation is given so that we can live in certainty...

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29 KJV)

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:9-13 KJV)

God holds us accountable to obey revelation because it comes from God, with whom there is no variableness (uncertainty)! If God revealed it, we can go to His certainty and base our certainty on His character. If God did not reveal it, in principle or precept, we should be cautious.


To quote the great theologion Curly Howard, "Certainly!" :)

Good article, brother.