Sunday, May 8, 2005

The Myth of Objectivity

As I surf around various blogging sites, covering a wide range of viewpoints, I can't help but notice a strange blind spot that many people seem to have developed.

You hear people quoting Augustine, Luther, and Calvin as if everything they wrote or did was completely un-touched by their own personalities, hangups, personal histories, prevailing societal thought and culture, etc.

It's as if everyone thinks that Augustine's works were not affected by his association with the heretical Manicheans before his salvation, or to admit the possibility that his work on predestination might have been influenced by the fatalistic determinism of his pre-Christian days.

There was also his taking verses completely out of context to refute Pelagius (who needed refuting, but not by twisting Scripture), and his development of "Limbus Infantum" (Baby Limbo) as a pleasant form of purgatory for un-baptized infants (Augustine previously taught that all un-baptized infants went straight to hell).

Martin Luther's pendulum swung so far towards justification by faith that he called the book of James "an epistle of straw" which would be burned up also with wood, hay and stubble, and wanted to remove James from the Canon of Scripture. His treatise "Against the Murderous Peasants" gave the German aristocracy the "blessing" to go ahead and slaughter thousands of peasants who were protesting injustice.

John Calvin, flying in the face of 15 centuries of Christian history and theology, thought that the book of Revelation was bogus, and if you read Calvin's commentaries on the Bible (which are worth reading generally), you may notice that there isn't one for Revelation. Like Luther, Calvin wanted to get rid of a book of the Canon.

Of course, there was also that nasty business in Geneva, where there were -- what? 58 or more? -- executions by Calvin & Co. of people who sinned or questioned Calvin's Institutes.

And, of course, we should remember that these three gentlemen developed most of their signature doctrines out of reaction against others -- this isn't usually a good idea if objectivity and fairness is valued.

I'm not trying to suggest that any of these three be rejected or held in suspicion. There is a great deal that can be learned from their writings. I DO run the gamut between being amused and alarmed at how people point to Calvin, Luther, and Augustine as if each of the three had been parachuted in from heaven, completely untouched by anything, and wrote completely objective, doctrinally and theologically pure treatises.

Let's face reality: the idea that anyone writes from a completely objective viewpoint is a myth. We're all interpreting data and concepts through a grid that we've developed over the years. We all "see through a glass darkly" (1st Corinthians 13:12, KJV), and that includes Augustine, Calvin, and Luther. They aren't super-human, nor are their written works on a par with Scripture. While we can learn from them, we must cultivate the "Berean" approach: searching the Scriptures for ourselves, and exercising discernment.

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