Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mormon epistemology, part 4

This is my response to George when he asked me what I thought about James 1:5, and it's an explanation for why I don't think asking God for a subjective experience is the best way to determine whether somebody is a true prophet or not, or whether a book contains his revelation or not. Keep in mind that I'm not posting all of our emails. I'm editing some stuff out, and I'm doing a bit of formatting and italicizing. If I add anything, I'll put it in [brackets].

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I don't think that "knowledge" and "wisdom" are the same thing. Knowledge is, for the most part, accurate information. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge effectively, or you might say it's the ability to make good decisions. You have to have some knowledge already before you can apply wisdom. So I don't think James is telling us that if we want to know if something is true, we should ask God about it.

If simply praying to God to ask him for a bit of information was the best way to determine whether something was true, the majority of the scriptures would be superfluous. And even in our everyday lives, teaching, learning, investigating, and all the things we do on a daily basis to determine whether things are true or false would be superfluous.
George:
Nor does it say "if any of you lack wisdom, read the Bible, and you'll find the answers there (although I believe that can be the case sometimes).
It does say that when Paul took the gospel message to the Bereans that "these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Clearly, the author of Acts thought that examining the scriptures to determine whether somebody's message is true was a noble thing to do.

Mormons aren't unique in their epistemology. I see this sort of thing rampant among Evangelical Christians. The vast majority of them think they should pray to God to answer their questions, to determine God's will for their lives, and to make decisions. But the vast majority of them are Biblically illiterate, too. It has never made sense to me. Everybody wants to hear the voice of God, but few take an interest in what God has already revealed in the Scriptures. I think it's perfectly appropriate to pray for understanding when you're reading the Bible, but I think it's absurd to pray for God to reveal some truth to you that he has already revealed in the Scriptures when you won't even go to the effort of reading them. I don't imagine, for example, that you would pray to God to ask him whether you ought to steal or lie or something like that. You already know you shouldn't do those things.

In 2 Thessalonians 2, it talks about the coming of the "Man of Lawlessness," and how his coming will be "with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive a love of the truth so as to be saved" (v.9-10). You have to love the truth if you want to avoid being deceived. The passage goes on to say that "God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false..." If a person loves the truth, they will study the Bible as far as they are able to discover it. And in doing so, they are far less likely to fall for every wind of teaching floating around out there. I think Hosea 4:6 aptly applies to a lot of evangelicals today when it says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." [I'm indebted to Amy Hall from Stand to Reason for this point.]

We know different things in different ways. The Bible is specific about how we know whether a person is presenting a message from God or not. It doesn't say that we should pray about such things. It says, "Do not despise prophetic utterance, but examine everything carefully" (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). When it comes to prophecy, we are to examine it, not simply ask God if it's true. But how do we examine some new message if we have nothing to compare it to?

We have to know the scriptures if we are to effectively examine it. People fall for counterfeits when they don't know the genuine. That applies, not just to religious things, but to all things in life. For example, you couldn't recognize a counterfeit hundred dollar bill if you did not know what a real hundred dollar bill was like. Likewise, Paul said that "if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:9). So we have to know the true gospel before we can recognize that something is a false gospel or a distortion of the true gospel.

to be continued...

Part 5

2 Comments:

At 10/09/2008 11:33 AM , Blogger Mesa Mike said...

Hi Sam,

I followed you over here from the STR Blog.

You have a great series on Mormon epistemology here. I've enjoyed reading it all, and appreciate your reasoning. Keep up the good work.

 
At 10/10/2008 11:10 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Thanks!

 

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