In the second part of the “how to think” section I explore the unique status ithat Christians grant to a 4th source of human knowledge: the Scriptures.
The purpose of this course is to look at the difference that the fourth source of knowledge, i.e. the Scripture, has on our ethics. We will look in detail at this source in future weeks but for now we will speak generally about the Scriptures as a concept. Christians place the Scriptures in a special category because they believe it to be the word of God. It is understood to be an inspired and authoritative revelation to human beings of God’s character. Now to be fair we may argue that God’s character can be known through the other 3 sources of experience, tradition, and reason just as well as it can be known through Scripture. And indeed, I believe that people can obtain at least some knowledge of God through these other sources; however we must understand the knowledge from these sources in the right way. Insights about God that comes from experience, reason, or tradition must be examined in light of what we know about God through in the Scriptures. If the insights are congruent with Scripture they may be understood to have a degree of validity if they are incongruent or contradictory in comparison with the picture of God in the Scriptures than believers must defer to the Bible and reexamine/rethink their insights.
Part of the reason why Christians defer to Scripture can be observed through lessons learned from our history. For example I belong to a denomination that traces its origins back to Menno Simons. Menno Simons was a part of a larger movement called Anabaptism and in his day there was an extremist minority within Anabaptism that justified all kinds of heinous behaviour and doctrine (including polygamy, a complete disregard of personal property, and the belief that they were God’s soldiers sent to purify the world of evil through violence) because they believed they had experienced God telling them that this was the case. Menno Simons’ main contribution to the Anabaptist movement was to say that the reason why these extremist Anabaptists ran amok in their belief and behaviour was because they did not properly understand how to interpret their experience. He said that our experiences of God come from the same Spirit that inspired the Scriptures and it is therefore impossible for that Spirit to communicate something that directly contradicts the Scripture. For that reason Menno said that the inner word (i.e. experience) must be interpreted under the authority of the outer word (i.e. Scripture). I think that Menno is right on the money here. In my observation, understandings of God that privilege experience, reason, or tradition above the Scriptures tend to fall short. They look far more like products of the human imagination rather than the dynamic, surprising, and loving God of Scripture who always does the unexpected and departs so significantly from anything that human beings could dream up.