Over at his blog, Let Us Reason, Gil Yoder has begun a review of Todd Leaver’s book, challenging its arguments. Gil has changed his blog software (looks good!), but I can’t get the comment feature to work. It just won’t let me post anything.
And so, here’s my comment to Gil’s latest post. Hopefully, he’ll see the trackback or I can find an email address for him.
I see from your links that you’re an applications analyst. I majored in math, many long years ago, so I think we share some common background. So I’m going to speak in math jargon.
Suppose that I suggest the premise that there are no prime numbers between 30 and 40. To prove my case I write a 135-page “proof.” Suppose you disagree.
There are two ways to attack my argument. First, you can very carefully go through each argument I made and look for the flaw. You would, of course, be successful. But in so doing, you’d have proved nothing but my incompetence. We still wouldn’t know whether there is a prime number between 30 and 40.
Alternatively, you could say “31” or “37,” and you’d not only have disproved my 135-page “proof,” you’d have answered the underlying question. Yes, there is at least one prime number between 30 and 40. You see, a counter-example disproves any “proof” — and anyone can understand it.
This is your blog and you may take any approach you prefer. I have no call on you. But the most convincing disproof of Todd’s premise would be to state the principle by which we distinguish damning error from error that’s covered by grace — and the scriptural basis for it. If you do that, then Todd’s argument collapses.
If not, then the most you can possibly demonstrate is that Todd hasn’t proved his point — leaving the real question unanswered: can the conservative Churches of Christ state a coherent, scriptural rule for when doctrinal error damns and when it doesn’t?
Now, in fairness to you, I should say that I’ve tried my hand at doing exactly this, albeit from the progressive perspective. You see, I’ve had the same complaint with the progressives: it’s easy to criticize but can you state what you believe and support it from the Bible? You’ll find my response to my own question at /books-by-jay-guin/the-holy-spirit-and-revolutionary-grace/, which has been published but which I now make available for free on the internet. You see, I don’t think I can fairly ask you to do something I’m not willing to do myself.
In fact, I became persuaded to reject traditional, conservative Church of Christ teaching by my own pursuit of the answer to this very question. No one could give me a straight answer as to why we tolerate some error and damn over others. And so, I did my own Bible study and found that the Biblical answer is radically different from what I grew up with.
And this is why I say that Todd’s book is the most important Church of Christ book in decades — more important than my own — the most important since Rubel Shelly’s I Just Want to be Christian, actually.
It’s the most important, first, because it deals with the most important issue in the Churches of Christ today — the division over the scope of grace. I’m sure we agree on this point.
But lots of books have dealt with this issue. Todd’s book, however, places a petition at the feet of those who advocate the conservative position, saying in effect: “please be kind enough to just tell us what your position is” so the position can be tested by the scriptures.
It’s exactly the right question to start a conversation between the two sides in hopes that, with God’s help, the division will be healed. You see, this is the beginning of the solution to the dispute. If the conservatives will actually state their position, then it stands or it falls according to the scriptures. (The same is true of the progressives, of course.)
I’m tired of the two sides talking past each other. It’s time to put our cards on the table, say what we believe, and see if the Bible supports us.
If the conservatives can state what they believe the scriptures teach and demonstrate that the Bible supports it, Todd’s book will be swept into the dustbin of history — and Todd’s book will still be the most important book among the Churches of Christ in decades, because it will have led to the defeat of the progressive position.
Your brother in Christ,