January 21, 2021

iMonk 101: The Humility Zone + Alex Arnold on Theological Skepticism

I’ve always liked this essay, and I don’t want to lose track of it.

The Humility Zone
is rarer and rarer among Christians these days. Defending the authority of scripture has come to mean asserting the impossibility of our own fallibility. Scripture is true, has authority and, of course, my interpretation of scripture just happens to be 100% accurate, even if I’m 23.

The Humility Zone was never so needed among Christians, and as Christians speak about their faith to the world.

This isn’t about postmodern epistemology. It’s about understanding what it means to be human as well as Christian.

READ: The Humility Zone.

The more philosophically inclined among you may find Alex Arnold’s post on theological skepticism interesting. Among other things, he says:

Third, I should probably say something about the scope of my theological skepticism. As I mean it, theological skepticism is not meant to encompass the things expressed by the Nicene Creed, those things which characterize “mere” Christianity. I’d contend that those things may very well constitute animal knowledge for most (if not all) Christians. (Thank you Alvin Plantinga and William Alston for this handy li’l move.) But other things: the doctrine of condign merit, the doctrine of justification by faith (alone?), transubstantiation, double asymmetric predestination, the government theory of atonement, the inerrancy of Scripture, papal infallibility, speaking in tongues, dispensational premillenialism—I could go on forever here—are theories. Mere theories. Like String Theory is a mere theory. Things like I have just listed are things accessible only at the edge of our cognitive abilities (and perhaps accessible only beyond them).


  1. Bob Sacamento says

    When I was young — back in the ’80’s — I would occasionally hear a preacher or a campus leader of a Christian group warn against the sin of “spiritual pride.” It occurred to me a while back that I haven’t heard about “spiritual pride” from an evangelical preacher in years. Things have changed. 🙁

  2. Bror Erickson says

    I haven’t ever heard of spiritual pride as being the same as confident in your beliefs. If spiritual pride is a holier than thou, attitude, I’m more sanctified than you attitude then yes it is wrong. But one should be confident in the Gospel in all its entirety.

  3. Humility in terms of a person’s character – even when debating different ideas is something that was probably just as lacking in the 80’s as it is today… It’s a rare trait – as well as being fruit of the spirit…

    But I think intellectual humility – agnosticism over one’s own ideas is a little more complicated… Because who decides that something is “obvious” and what should humbly be left undecided? The Nicene Creed was (and is, in some circles) hotly debated…and “mere” Christianity in the 1800’s meant trying to be a good person, living by the golden rule…which to me is not quite Christianity (although not bad in itself).

    So humility in character +1. But intellectual humility…maybe. Cheers!

  4. But Calvinism is exempt from that right?? I mean come on.. havent you read Potters Freedom by scholar-with-a-phd James White?

    Okay just kidding.

  5. Bror Erickson says

    Leo Kim,
    Exactly! Why should I assume I am wrong? I admit the possibility that I could be totally mistaken on a number of issues. But that doesn’t mean I am. The burden of proof is on the other person to prove I am wrong if they believe I am. Until then I have no reason to assume I am wrong.
    I find this “agnosticism towards ones thoughts” to be a fairly dishonest position to hold. When we are dealing with theological issues being wrong can have huge consequences. Last I checked the second commandment is still in play. One of the worst sins a person can commit is misusing God’s name. As far as I can tell Using God’s name to preach something contrary to his word would be a misuse of his name. You should at least be sincere in your beliefs if you are going to preach them as the word of God. Hot or Cold, God can use you, luke warm and he spits you out. This attitude that I may be wrong therefore it doesn’t matter seems to me dangerouse all the way around.

  6. Bror,

    I agree that it is important that you are sincere in your beliefs. But at the same time humility requires us to be respectful of others sincerely held beliefs. When you stated in a previous commnet that you considered my practice of the Lord’s table to be a “profanation” when I hadn’t even fully stated what my beliefs were concerning the eucharist, then your remarks show neither charity nor humilty.

    I would go so far to say that calling something profane that Christians are doing because of a command of Christ, is getting pretty close to blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

    I don’t usually write this impassioned, but I was quite upset when I saw the word “profanation”.

  7. Bob Sacamento says

    Funny, I usually wind up in the “right wing” of these discussions, but my comment seems to have put me in the “left wing” this time. Maybe I can explain what I mean by spiritual pride a little better by responding to Bror’s comment:

    Why should I assume I am wrong? I admit the possibility that I could be totally mistaken on a number of issues. But that doesn’t mean I am. The burden of proof is on the other person to prove I am wrong if they believe I am. Until then I have no reason to assume I am wrong.

    I think we are largely in agreement here. But what I find annoying, and what I think Michael was talking about was the attitude not of, “If you think I’m wrong, show me why,” but rather, “I am not wrong and if you are attempting to prove that I am, I have no reason to listen to you in the first place.”

    An example of this might be the person who has some pet doctrine that he supports with some obscure verse of uncertain translation from Leviticus somewhere. And the conversation goes something like,

    “Well, OK that’s what it says in Leviticus, but over in Hosea it says –”
    “Whoa whoa whoa! Is the Word of God going to contradict itself?”
    “Well, I guess not, but over here in Hosea -”
    “Well, if there aren’t going to be any contradictions in the Word of God, then there isn’t going to be anything that contradicts this passage is there?”
    “Well, no, in the sense that –”
    “Well there you go!”
    “Well it’s not that simple because –”
    “Never mind.”

  8. bror erickson says

    I didn’t know I was responding to you when I said the
    bit about the “profanation of the Lord’s Supper.” However, i’m not sure it would make a difference. It would be helpful, maybe, to know what you believe personally, but i would have to assume going to a baptist church that the congregation in mind would believe it to be symbolic, and not the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ I am eating and drinking for the forgiveness of sins. This to me would be a profanation of it. Which I realize sounds harsh. But when you make it into something less then sacred, you profane it. That is what to profane means, that is to make it common. From my stand point to make it nothing more than symbolic would be to make it common. It is in fact not symbolic.

  9. BROR:

    It may be a profanation to you, but millions of Christians taking the Lord’s Supper in non-Lutheran/non-Catholic churches are coming to Christ in grateful faith and affirming his gift of salvation. Please don’t say they are “profaning” the supper. If you judge all other Christians by their relation to Lutheranism I’m not quite sure what your point is. This starts to sound like “I thank thee that I am not like other men.”

    I will say this to you one last time: Find a way to participate here without turning every discussion into a debate about the superiority of Lutheranism.

  10. Bror Erickson says

    Woah, brother. The original context of the profanation remarks was in a discussion you opened up on the Lord’s Supper. I was explaining both why I do not let non-lutherans to the altar in my church, and why I would not care to commune at another’s altar. You brought it up here, where I was not arguing for the supuriorty of Lutheranism at all. (BTW. I would not give the Catholics a pass on this either, but for other reasons). Of course, I being Lutheran have no other standpoint from which to critique (judge)all other Christian positions. It does not mean that I critique them all the same.
    But here I was merely arguing for intellectual integrity and haveing confidence and sincerity in what you preach teach, and believe, before you brought up the profanation remark.

  11. Michael Spencer and Bror Erickson,

    I am the guilty party here. It was I who brought up the profanation remark because I felt it illustrated the lack of humility which is necessary for a respectful dialogue.

    Again, my apologies for sidetracking the post.

  12. To get us back on track a little bit here. Bror made an interesting comment about “intellectual integrity and having confidence and sincerity in what you preach.”

    I think it is intellectual integrity that gives me confidence in my beliefs. If I find something in scripture that doesn’t fit with what I believe, then I feel the need to (as much as it is possible) understand the new learning so that it meshes with my beliefs, or change my beliefs so that it fits with the new learning. This may take very quickly or over a period of some years. Generally it involves a considerable amount of dialogue with others on the topic.

    As a result, I have changed a number of my beliefs over the years, generally this has been all on what I would consider to be secondary or tertiary issues.

    On primary issues, my study has confirmed rather than changed my beliefs. For example now you would have a very difficult time convincing me that Jesus is not God, as I have spent so much time studying the issue.

    I am sure that there are other primary issues out there that psychologically I am afraid to touch because they are so intertwined with my identity as a person. Like Pandora’s box, certain issues if opened will make it difficult to find closure.

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