Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Self-Centered Hypocrisy of Nuance

You want to hear from conservative intelligentsia about biblical Christianity?  Rod Dreher of The American Conservative in the conclusion to his article, "Why Fundamentalism Often Works," writes:

Fundamentalists don’t compromise. That is their strength. But it’s also their weakness. I went over a book the other day written by a theologically stout Evangelical (which is not the same thing as a fundamentalist). The book was about approaching culture. I found it hard to take, even though I found myself agreeing with the author on most general points. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was that irritated me so much about the book. What finally became clear to me was that it wasn’t so much the opinions the author held as it was the iron grip with which the author held them. It was as if nuance (emphasis mine), irony, and complexity were the enemies of clear thought and pure faith. . . .  But I tell you, if I had been raised as a fundamentalist or an Evangelical who was taught to see the world through a narrow and severe idea of truth, I wonder if I would be a Christian today.

I'm not saying he actually is a true Christian (he's Eastern Orthodox), but it does make you wonder if he has read classic conservatives.   Nonetheless, this is a good discussion point for all of us, because Dreher doesn't even see himself leaving his self open on this one.   He's read The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk, but he doesn't write or talk like he has.  He seems an impostor conservative, having infiltrated a conservative magazine or think tank.  No, this is where we're at today, that this is conservative writing.  Think about the title of the thing to start with:  Why Fundamentalism Often Works.  Should it be about whether something works or not, at least in the short term, or about whether it is true?  If it's true, it works.

The world that we live in, created by God, doesn't "work" like Dreher and is ilk speculate into their religion or worship.  In other words, his religion doesn't match up with the real world.  When you think about it, analyze it, people are not so much into nuance in the world, because it doesn't work that way in the real world, the world that God created, the world of God's worship as well.  Truth by nature is narrow, binary, and it is all around us.  Men start getting nuanced only about their own religion, because it is about them, about themselves.  They are self-centered hypocrites.  Hypocrites because they don't apply nuance anywhere that it benefits them to be narrow, only where they can get what they want.  They want their religion nuanced, because they want their religion to be about them, and not about God.  The universe isn't that way.  God isn't that way.

Let me illustrate with sports.  I don't have television to watch sports, but I was keeping up with the Stanford-Washington football game on Saturday night online at cbssports, while working on something else.  Both were undefeated and Stanford was 5th in the country, Washington, 15th.  Stanford led the whole game, but Washington could win the game with a final drive.  It came down to a long fourth down play, and the Washington quarterback scrambled around and threw a pass to his receiver.  It was called a catch on the field.  If that had counted as a reception, Washington would have been in business to win the game, but, instead, lost, because it was overturned by a video referee, who said the ball hit the ground first.  I saw the replay and here's a picture.  It hit the ground.  By the rules of football, narrow ones, he did not make the reception, so Stanford won and Washington lost.  Washington supporters said that the game should not turn on such a technicality, and Stanford, of course, said he didn't catch the ball, so the game was Stanford's.  What I'm saying is that one side wanted nuance and the other didn't.  We didn't get nuance and we're fine with that in sports, ya know, because sports are so important...really.

People don't like nuanced water or nuanced sewage or nuanced bridges or nuanced skyscrapers or nuanced surgeons or nuanced pilots or nuanced safety or nuanced math.  We expect the price advertised, not something nuanced.  Anyone would expect nuance where nuance is expected, and that isn't nuanced.  Paper or plastic does mean either/or.  You can have it both ways.  But the world generally operates in a non nuanced manner.  I understand, however, that people want nuance where people want it.  That is where it is self-centered and hypocritical.  You can't support nuance when you want it.  You've got to be all nuance all the time.  Everyone knows the world doesn't work that way.  God, Who gave us His book, the guidebook, that is not nuanced, doesn't do nuance just because we want it.  We may want it, but it still isn't happening.  To give people the impression that it will happen, to make it more popular to people who want nuance, when it isn't happening and it won't happen, is despicable.

Here is someone (Dreher), who likely claims a conservative mind, but would eject from Christianity if it lacked desired nuance.  It's a version of taking your toys and going home.  How about this?  What if it is true?  If something is true, having some parts of it be optional or adaptable for our own personal taste, doesn't help it.  God is One.  He is Indivisble.  Everything about Him is completely consistent.   Truth is the same way, since it comes from Him.  It doesn't contradict itself or deny itself.

This debate, really our debate, because God isn't debating it, reminded me of something Phil Johnson said about me a few years ago.

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.

Phil's a Calvinist, and this isn't very Calvinist.  If someone is converted by the grace of God, isn't he sure to persevere to the end?  I believe that.  A genuinely saved person won't ever turn to uncertainty.  Phil's comment, however, sounds just like Rod Dreher's.  This is a common tack of evangelicals that I've read from Daniel Wallace too.  Wallace tries to protect evangelicals from apostasy by relegating inerrancy to a "peripheral doctrine."  He writes:

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. . . . The irony is that those who frontload their critical investigation of the text of the Bible with bibliological presuppositions often speak of a ‘slippery slope’ on which all theological convictions are tied to inerrancy. Their view is that if inerrancy goes, everything else begins to erode. I would say that if inerrancy is elevated to the status of a prime doctrine, that’s when one gets on a slippery slope.

This is a new refrain.  They say certainty is the cause of apostasy.  Nuance is the preventative.  Wallace says that a belief in inerrancy is a slippery slope.  Of course, he means that if you believe in inerrancy, like a Bart Ehrman, for instance, and then you find errors, you'll be forced to give it all up.  Phil Johnson is making the same point.

What Johnson and Wallace are saying, that mirrors Dreher's statement, is true in a sense.  Here's how. Postmoderns either want their own way or they want for their friends the liberty of their own way, and so they'll reject whatever version of Christianity (there's only one) that won't allow for one of those two.  Uncertainty is a gateway to doing what you want.  You can't tell someone they're wrong when you're not sure, so it's imperative that you're not sure, ironically.  Of course, it nibbles around the edges of truth like a school of piranhas.  And it's a cop-out.  There's nothing in the Bible that blames assurance for apostasy.  Nothing.  It's a false theory, a man's opinion, that is "above that which is written" (1 Cor 4:6).


Jonathan Speer said...

Great article!

My interaction with a calvinist last year who constantly appealed to uncertainty led to my asking him this question: "If there is so much about salvation that we 'can't know', why are you insisting that our church change to your soteriology?"

Seriously: if there is so much nuance, from their perspective, shouldn't the differing opinions of fundamentalists on a matter only bolster their claims of nuance? Instead, there is constant pressure to conform to the winds of doctrine that sweep through occasionally.

In the end, it seems that most men love "nuance" because it gives cover for artificial unity and and artificial fellowship whereby there is a potential for great personal gain. In that light, most nuance is artificial as well and can be exposed as mere pragmatism.


PS- Speaking of Daniel Wallace, you may want to check out some of this recent back-and-forth between Christ Pinto and Wallace and James White concerning the Simonides affair. Very interesting stuff!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Jonathan,

I agree with you completely without nuance. Thanks for the heads-up about the debate. I knew about it somewhat, because I had read someone's expose of Pinto, but am always up for a suggestion like yours I didn't know about.

Jonathan Speer said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

I don't want to keep this thread off-topic, but if you have a link or something you wouldn't mind sharing regarding any expose of Chris Pinto, I'd be glad to read it.

I pretty much just know of him through some of the historical research he has provided regarding Codex Sinaiticus.


Kent Brandenburg said...


The expose was from someone I didn't trust, and it is where I heard about the issue, but I wouldn't send anyone that way, or want to even promote it, because he would lie in order to defend Sinaiticus. I'll send anything that is credible though.

Joshua said...

Thank you for this article. It perfectly sums it up.

Just to add to the idea of nuance and no-nuance, something I have discovered working in an evangelical organisation is that among the more conservative Christians, there are what I call "evo +3" folks.

These people generally follow the evangelical line of holding tightly to the "5 fundamentals", and Gospel-Centred line, and they leave most other doctrinal matters up for grabs as things on which Christian's must agree to disagree, and are non essentials that don't subtract from the gospel etc etc. Basically, nuance all over the shop.

However, there is +3. There will be around three doctrinal or practical matters on which they will throw out all nuance, disregard the fact that good people disagree, disregard the fact that they don't have a dozen clear proof texts to show, and cling on to this being an important doctrine for all Christians to learn, teach and apply. Which three they pick never ceases to surprise me. You might find a bold stance against alcohol, tongues and movies. Or it might be a passionate belief against all manner of witchcraft in entertainment coupled with a stand on modesty and cooperation with Roman Catholicism.

They won't buy the typical claims of "but it doesn't affect the Gospel" or "can't we all just agree to disagree" on those issues. They are convinced it is taught in the Bible, and they've either seen the fruit or been convinced by something they have read and heard that this matters to God and should matter to everyone.

I don't dislike the plus three. It is usually on these plus three issues that they and I find we have the most in agreement. I love it when folks have some fire in the belly for some teaching of the Scripture despite it's unpopularity.

However, outside those couple of hobby horses, it lapses into nuance again. As you rightly pointed out, usually very convenient nuance!

I was going to waffle on about the emasculating effect this has also, but I think I'll leave it here. Thanks again for the article.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Joshua,

I think you could have taken emasculation and run with it, but it does relate, I agree, with the loss of manhood. All is interrelated.