Posted on Feb 24, 2013 by Tom Gilson
What Can We Learn From the Future?
Christians in the past have believed and practiced things that embarrass us today. Keith has brought that up repeatedly in the thread on a “Gay Rights” assault on freedom of conscience. In context it seemed he wanted us to back off on our beliefs regarding gay “marriage.” He didn’t say that ought right, though, I asked him to follow his premise to a conclusion: given that Christians can make mistakes like that, and in view of the probability that our descendants will disagree with some of our decisions, today, so what? How should that affect our decisions and our practices today?
He declined to answer, saying, “I’m sorry, Tom, but I can’t see a way to deeply answer your question without sounding patronizing, offensive or both (a blogging twofer!).”
So I offered this as my conclusion:
We Are Indeed Fallible, So …
We ought to be very careful to learn from the past. It is possible for Christians to be mistaken in our interpretation and application of Scripture. To mishandle sacred revelation is a very serious offense on many levels, and we ought to be very cautious in that respect.
But there is nothing in past or present knowledge that suggests we ought to give up reliance on the Scriptures for moral knowledge. The vast majority of effective moral reform following Scriptural error has come by way of Scriptural correction. A large plurality (if not a majority) of moral progress in world history has also come by way of following the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. We have very strong reason to believe the Bible was inspired by God and is intended for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousnesss” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Therefore we recognize that the Scriptures, properly understood, are morally trustworthy and authoritative on matters of which they speak. We acknowledge our responsibility to understand properly what the Scriptures affirm concerning moral issues. We know that although the Scriptures are infallible, our interpretations are not.
Given centuries of testing and experience, however, we believe we may be confident in the great majority of the conclusions we have derived concerning the Scriptures’ moral teaching, which means we now accept the obligation to follow that teaching as best we understand it.
We know we might not be right in our understanding of some portion of Scriptural interpretation; it has happened in the past, so it could well be happening now. We do not, however, have the future’s information to tell us where we are wrong today. We have good reasons for confidence that the vast majority of our beliefs concerning Scriptural moral knowledge is reliable and trustworthy.
Thus it would be manifestly foolish to treat all of it as unreliable just because there is a reasonable chance that some small and unidentified portion of our interpretations might be.
So we shall continue to search the Scriptures and learn from experience, and in the meantime we shall follow what we believe we have good reason to follow.
From Reasons for God: Does the Future Have Moral Authority?