In the last post we discussed why it is important to think in such a way that gives priority to Scripture. In this post I outline, in bullet form, 4 reasons why our thinking must still value the other sources of knowledge (Tradition, Reason, Experience. For a review of those 3 sources, click here)
1) Because The Scriptures don’t tell us everything we need to know: The Scriptures are perfect in regards to what they are communicating but we must also recognize that they don’t address every situation we find ourselves in. The Scriptures may help provide the basic principles for thinking about a modern topic, like say for developing an ethic of social media. However in order to really hash out an ethic like this we will also need to use our rational faculties and draw on knowledge gained from our experience.
2) Because The Scriptures cannot be accessed apart from the other resources: As much as we are to preference Scripture, we must always recognize that we cannot consult Scripture in isolation from the other sources of knowledge. Our experience, reason, and tradition will inevitably shape how we read Scripture, even as our view of Scripture will shape how we view our experience, tradition, and reason. They key is to have these four sources in the proper order and in proper conversation with each other.
3) Because Reason, Experience, and Tradition can teach us some good things: There are many insights that the other 3 resources can teach us: for instance our tradition may tell us that being faithful in a marriage is important, our reason may tell us that things like stealing and lying are wrong, and our experience may tell us, particularly while we are growing up, that things are much more likely to go well for us if we honour our parents.
You may have noticed that the examples mentioned all refer to a few of the 10 Commandments. I chose these examples intentionally to show that some of the morality of Scripture can also be gained through the use of our other faculties. My conviction is that the types of morality that we can gain from our other faculties are those things that can be found in the moral “lists” or “laws” (for more on laws see my post here). This type of morality may be referred to as the “common morality” or “basic morality”. It refers to the things that people can agree on regardless of their religious conviction. From a Christian point of view, the “common morality” is good but is not the greatest good. To discover what is at the heart of morality in Christianity, you need Scripture.
Part of the reason why I share this insight is because as Christians we find ourselves living in a nation that does not give primary importance to Scripture; in fact as a society Scripture does not even exist as a unique category. This means that as believers we must temper our expectations in regards to what type of morality we will find in our society. It’s unrealistic and in fact unfair to expect our society to be organized around the morality of Scripture. We must instead be willing to accept from our society a lowest common denominator of morality, something that is OK but not perfect.
4) Because If Christians want to impact society we must be knowledgeable enough to converse using the language of reason, tradition, and experience: It’s perfectly fair to be motivated by Scripture but it does no good to quote something as authoritative to people who do not see it that way. The way broader society hears our Scripture quotations is similar to the way we hear quotations from the Koran or other religion’s scriptures. They may be interesting, they may in fact communicate something that makes good sense; however their claims will not be held as valuable because they belong to the category of Scripture but will rather only be held as valuable if they make sense according to our reason, experience, or tradition. For that reason, if we want to make an impact and change on our society we must speak the language of our time and place.