September 23, 2020

Glenn Lucke on TRs/The “Humility Zone”

gl_head.jpgChief blogger at Common Grounds Online Glenn Lucke responds to my discussion of “TRs”, and adds his two cents on epistemological humility, a term I call the “humility zone,” and which TRs hate more than Mark Driscoll teaching ESL. Glenn “gets it” when it comes to the irony of believing in total depravity but finding humility about your own perception of revealed truth to be some form of unbelief.

No one is saying we can’t perceive the truth, but is that perception protected from our depravity to the extent that we can accuse those who disagree with us of being devoid of the Holy Spirit?

…a closing word about epistemological humility. It’s painful for me to see the term disparaged by some in the broader Reformed community as a proxy for liberal views or as a proxy for relativism. Yes, I recognize that some who extol epistemological humility also embrace liberal theology and relativism. However, a proper appropriation of epistemological humility is the stance of staunch Reformed conservatives. Why? Because staunch Reformed people believe that there is a Creator-creature distinction, that all humans are limited by our finitude, and that the Fall further impaired our whole being, including our cognitive capacity. Historically the Reformed call this the noetic effects of sin, and any serious appropriation of the noetic effects of sin results in….epistemological humility.

The Reformed thinkers that embrace epistemological humility believe that God is and knows truth because He is not impaired by finitude or fallenness. He’s the Creator and the Lord, we are neither. Because of His gracious revelation we can adequately apprehend truth. However, because of our finitude and fallenenss, we cannot totally comprehend God and His revelation. While we submit ourselves unreservedly to Sola Scriptura, we recognize that our theological formulations are not in themselves Sola Scriptura.

Glenn’s post reminds me of the IM Essay: The Humility Zone. Here’s what I said back then:

The problem, of course, is that uncertainty of any kind is sin to many Bible-believing Christians, and an insult to lots of the smart ones. They see the recognition that scripture may sometimes be less-than-perfectly clear as a surrender on inspiration and authority. Of course, the Apostle Peter himself said that Paul’s writings contained some things that were hard to understand. While we are often reminded that the church councils worked to remove all disagreement, we sometimes imagine that the Christian movement read the scriptures and agreed on everything, with disagreement and diversity coming along later, when modern Bible translations.

Did the early church agree completely on modes of baptism? On the presence of women in worship? On the the standards for communion? On the process of discipline and restoration? On the use of “non-canonical” material? On the form of church government? On detailed theories of the atonement? On the role of art? On eating meat offered to idols? On the appropriateness of marriage between believers and unbelievers? On the support of the poor? On who had apostolic authority?

Listening to some full-time Christian defenders of orthodoxy, you would think the “humilty zone” was a concept so Satanic, so diabolical, that it should be opposed at every point. Instead, it ought to be encouraged, modeled and developed.


  1. I just recently gave a copy of an essay I wrote a while back called “Benefit of the Doubt” to a friend of mine, dealing, at least in part, with exactly what you’re talking about here. Whenever I talk with someone about translational issues or even about interpretational issues, I bring up what I call heavenly ambiguity. There are passages that quite simply allow for more than one reading. And yet it is still ‘literally’ true, whether read one way or the other. John 3’s passage about being born from above or again illustrates the issue perfectly. Which way is the ‘right’ way to translate that passage? In the Greek (always a dangerous thing to say!) there’s enough nuance (another dangerous word) to allow for both meanings. It’s not always an either/or, but can and should be sometimes a both/and situation. We can of course go hog wild on both/and to the exclusion of any either/or’s. And our fuzzy relativist friends certainly lean in that direction. But just because someone goes beyond an appropriate bound doesn’t mean we should get rid of the whole enchilada. IOW’s, there’s adultery, so let’s get rid of all sex! That’ll solve the problem! HA! Maybe in the clearing mists of the eschaton we will finally rest in the fulness of heavenly ambiguity. That’s my hope.