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  • Director’s Dicta: January 2024, week 5/February, Week 1
  • Director’s Dicta: January 2024, week 5/February, Week 1

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    January 30, 2024

    “Did God Say??!!” The Hermeneutic of Suspicion versus the TxC Hermeneutic

    By Dr. Jeffery J. Ventrella

    The term “worldview” populates a lot of evangelical conversations and there exist many fine ministries that engage the culture apologetically at various levels.  Hardly any of them, however, pull back the veil of confusion at the foundational level like TxC does.  The TxC hermeneutic functions as a set of glasses that brings clarity and connection to what’s really at root in the culture.  This clarity provides the pre-conditions for effectively executing the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission.  Let’s get to the gist.

    First, what IS a worldview?  A worldview is a “network of presuppositions through which one interprets all human experience.”[1]  As the TxC hermeneutic teaches, this means that, contrary to the popular slogan, “the facts DON’T speak for themselves.”  Why?  Because fallen man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, not ignorance.  Man’s fundamental problem is not a data deficit; it’s an ethical rebellion.  Accordingly, “brute facts” really do not exist.[2]  Rather, as Thomas Sowell explains:

    Evidence is fact that discriminates between one theory and anotherFacts do not “speak for themselves.” They speak for or against competing theories.[3]

    TxC sets forth a cosmology of reality instead of firing factoids at folks:  3 arguments for the reliability of the New Testament; 6 arguments for the truth of the resurrection; 4 arguments for reconciling supposed biblical contradictions, et al.  While these sorts of moves do have a place, the bottom line is that we should start with the bottom line: the narrative that reflects truth and thereby explains and delimits everything, that is, the operative worldview that sets forth real reality.

    As Oxford’s Larry Sidentop explains, worldviews set the agenda for what comprises “proof” and the reasoning process itself:

     

    Every set of beliefs introduces its own logic and its own constraints. This was certainly true of Christianity. We can see this if we ask about the impact of Christian beliefs on law and government in the two or three centuries after the end of the Western empire in 476.[4]

     

    It’s therefore imperative that we utilize the right worldview.  Otherwise, as theologian Tom Wright observes, we will be working at cross purposes with ourselves:

    My point is this: if you’re trying to have a discussion about God’s involvement in the world in one area – creation, science, whatever – while living and breathing a system in which God has been disinvolved with the world by definition and by act of congress,there is an opposition set up, deep within the structure of how people think, that is going to make it very difficult.  . . .  They are desperately insisting on the truth of something that, at a structural and presuppositional level, has been ruled out of court, declared unconstitutional.[5]

    When we engage the culture and the unbeliever, what’s occurring at a foundational level is a “war of worldviews.”  And accordingly, to honor and love the Lord in our thinking[6] and to speak the truth in love[7], we need to recognize this reality and develop strategies in terms of it.  Merely blathering judgmental moral-McNuggets, pious platitudes, and tone-deaf tidbits cannot suffice and worse, fail to operate within the cosmology the Lord has created and revealed to us—the cosmology that makes sense of all of reality.

    Second, we should become familiar with what the exchange of the truth for the lie fosters.  At the outset, notice this tactic of the serpent:  he inaugurates his conversations with the Image Deiwith skepticism: “Did God actually say . . . ?[8]  By this seemingly simple question, the serpent injected a hermeneutic of suspicion, to borrow Paul Ricoeur’s term, into the created order[9].  Thereby he then attacks God’s character, His command, and His consequence.  Instead of God’s Image thinking God’s thoughts after Him, that Image by taking the serpent’s counsel, now subjects God and His Word to evaluation and judgement.  Man’s gift of reason becomes a judge instead of a tool – he now places God in the dock, as C.S. Lewis put it.

    This ploy, a pagan one, continues to operate today.  Pressure and propaganda are used to attack normative boundaries:  natural design and moral limits of sexuality for example.  In addition, authorities that contain, temper, or question the Self’s supposedly independent authority likewise are attacked:  God, religion, tradition, duty, faith, families, children, and of course, truth itself.[10]

    And, not satisfied with suspicion directed at boundaries and authority, the past itself is attacked, all designed to promote the absolute autonomy of the Self and its choices – precisely what Paul describes as a consequence of worshipping the creation, instead of the Creator and thereby divinizing mankind just as the serpent tempted: “You shall be like God”.[11]  Thus, we see a rejection of any norms outside of the autonomous[12] Self:  God[13], biology[14], parents[15], customs, peers or society[16], commitments[17], etc. We become “lovers of self.”[18]

    Another tension also flows from this exchange:  The Lie seeks to both (1) Join what God has separated; and (2) Separate what God has joined.  We see both in culture.  This appears in same-sex “marriage” as well as in political efforts to join mercy and the State, such as the programs of Johnson’s Great Society and Roosevelt’s New Deal.[19]  We also see this outside of the State in mundane cultural fashion trends trumpeting “gender neutral baby clothes[20], pushing toward androgyny, the pagan sexual ideal.[21]

    And, simultaneously, we see efforts to separate what God has joined: “No fault” aka “any reason or no reason” divorce.  This severs what God has joined, irrespective of the prior commitment the divorcing spouse had made and irrespective of the consent[22] of the non-divorcing spouse.  Likewise, we see the separation of sex and “gender” as well as the obvious example:  babies separated from their mother’s womb via abortion.[23]

    All these comprise ongoing echoes from the fundamental exchange of the Truth for the Lie[24] – The gist is this:  This exchange is neither passive nor static.  Rather, the pagan worldview is aggressive just as the serpent was.  It attacks hierarchies as well as seeks to obliterate creational distinctions and norms.  Your church may not want the culture war, but the culture war wants your church.[25]  How can a faithful Christian respond and remain faithful?  One way is to read, listen, and stay informed by following TxC, including hosting TxC speakers at your church.

    Another way is to join us in training the next generation of Christians to be motivated and informed to not simply make a living, but also to make a difference for the Kingdom.  The Irenaeus Institute will be doing so via the TxC Fellowship program and its other programs.  If you know a college or grad student who would benefit from intense deep theological training – a boot camp – with world class pious scholars instead of Drill Instructors, please let us know.  Until then, be certain you answer the serpent’s cynical question with a resounding, “Yes, He did!”

    [1] Derived from Greg L. Bahnsen’s preaching, teaching, and writings.

    [2] See generally, Corneilius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (1955)

    [3] Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggle (2007), 6

    [4] Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014), 126

    [5] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (2014), 15-16

    [6] Matt 22:37

    [7] Eph. 4:15

    [8] Gen. 3:1

    [9] Ricoeur, a Christian philosopher, conceptualized this terminology when analyzing the impact of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche upon culture.

    [10] Pilate is a typical scoffer: “What is truth”?  Jn. 18:38

    [11] Gen. 3:5

    [12] “Autonomy” contains two root concepts: “auto – self” and “nomos – law”.  In other words, no authority other than one’s Self.

    [13] God, if “it” exists, is remade in man’s own image.

    [14] Gender ideology contends that biology is at best neutral and at worst, bigoted.

    [15] Radical groups today seek to engineer children without the permission, let alone input, from their actual parents, contending that “the village elites” should supplant parental authority.  See e.g., the innocuously named Community Schools effort https://www.communityschools.org/ and the Center for Children’s Law & Policy, https://www.cclp.org/  – both work to undermine parental input and authority.

    [16] The historically untenable 1619 Project seeking to impose a Marxist narrative on America’s founding reflects this as does the activist career of Marxist revisionist historian Howard Zinn, not uncoincidentally referenced in the film Good Will Hunting.  Profanity alert:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mt_L8gDfM98

    [17] “No fault” divorce schemes empower the State to undermine legal commitments at the mere request of a dissatisfied spouse.

    [18] 2 Tim. 3:2

    [19] According to Romans 13, the State is a minister of justice, not mercy.

    [20] Here’s the retailer Target advancing this agenda:  https://www.target.com/c/gender-neutral-baby-clothing/lgbt-pride/-/N-4y6lbZt4bgn

    [21] Peter Jones, https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/43/43-3/43-3-pp443-469_JETS.pdf

    [22] Evidently, “consent” is the only conjugal ethic – until it’s not.

    [23] Saying, as the current Administration is doing, that providing abortion is simply another form of health care just like labor and delivery, is like saying a fireplace and arson are simply different ways of heating a house.

    [24] Most English versions inexplicably mistranslate Romans 1:25 as “a lie” but the Greek uses the definite article:  ho pseudos:  the lie, which parallels “the truth,” as Peter Jones has noted.

    [25] The seven churches referenced in Revelation (chapters 2 and 3) demonstrate how pagan worldviews infiltrate, impact, and undermine congregations.