Looking at the Wall...

Implications--set Five: implications for 'apologetic method'

  1. What we have encountered so far pretty well kills the notion of 'persuasion' as a process, obviously. If the best I can do is to 'point' to evidence (and even mathematical "proofs" fall into this category--we have all had the experience in college math classes of 'not getting it' until some type of 'insight' occurs, and it's WORSE in the more advanced areas of math--scholars will 'suspend belief' or hold off on pronouncing a proof 'correct' if it 'seems odd'...finding the 'piece' that is either missing or wrong, can be VERY difficult in those fields), then persuasion has been 'reduced' to ostensive actions-- I can only 'point' someone to the data, evidence, patterns, proofs--and hope they 'see it'.

  2. Closely related to this ostensive character of 'persuasion' is the issue of precision--how macro/micro SHOULD I point? If the above explorations into the tradeoffs between metaphysical (and, in many cases, the younger sibling of metaphysics--the sciences) precision and 'stability' are basically correct, then a basic principle of persuasion emerges:
    The epistemic vividness of an encounter with a pattern in 'reality' is correlated with the closeness of the mediating language (of that encounter) to the level of precision/determinativeness of that 'reality'.
    In other words, the precision/ambiguity levels must 'match'--between the 'reality' and the language which purports to point to the patterns within that reality. We have to 'hit' the correct precision levels in our discussions, for the reality we are pointing at to 'become visible' to our audience.

  3. So, in our example about the printer test, to try to 'persuade' the skeptic that there WAS a picture of Mona Lisa in there, we would have to get the person to 'back away' from the picture, and in so doing 'back away' from the dots...across the room, perhaps, the 'dots' would blur into a continuous image (perceptually speaking) and our friend Mona might be the only thing visible at all. In this case, being too close to the minutia/phenomena might 'force' a context-switch (to dots ), and being farther from the data allow the context-switch 'back' to patterns.

  4. What this MIGHT MEAN in a specifically Christian apologetics context, would be that to 'point' someone at the character and acts of our Lord MIGHT REQUIRE us to show a 'pattern' of data--His character in some bible verses, His character in the events of our lives, His character in how we treat truth, the 'audience', precision, etc. (For those workers among you, you probably already recognize why 'relationship evangelism' is so effective--it forms a very powerful pattern witness to the beauty of the Lord--and His 'features' become more pronounced as the 'dots per inch' becomes more dense, approximating continuity.)

  5. Take a specific issue in apologetics--OT prophecy of the messiah. As I write, I am in the early stages of a project to respond to some 'skeptical' objections to most of the 'famous' messianic prophecies. The SK in this case, is taking the old 'stopping an avalanche, one rock at a time' approach. The intent of the document is to go through the more visible prophecies and show that EACH ONE doesn't/cannot refer to the messiah (and in some cases, they DO but are WRONG). The general tact is to cast doubt on the 'traditional' messianic interpretations, often by attempts at greater contextual/historical 'precision'--i.e. showing that the referent of some alleged messianic phrase ACTUALLY applied to some local personage.

  6. [Curiously enough, depending on the individual argument, I am having to deal with the objection at a GREATER LEVEL of contextual precision (e.g. generally the linguistic and historical context) in order to demonstrate a 'LOWER' LEVEL of semantic precision in the text. In other words, I have to dig deeper into specifics, to show that the references in the passage are perhaps LESS PRECISE than the objector has made them. BTW, this is NOT in any way, some kind of retreat into allegory, mystical interpretations, weird understandings of sensus plenior, but a historical probing of what would have been the native audience (and author's) response to the text at that point. Typology, for example, is NOT a hermeneutical issue--it is an HISTORICAL issue--how individuals in OT times VIEWED their day-to-day events.)

  7. Now, as I work through these prophetic passages, the Christian skeptic in me ALWAYS has to ask the question: am I really being honest with this text or am I 'extorting' a meaning out of it (in good torquemada style) for MY PURPOSES? The issue of honesty before my God about His book! And, I generally doubt myself first, and so have to investigate everything in pursuit of a clean conscience--a long and torturous process, I assure you.

  8. So, early on in this process I asked myself a simple question: "These texts were OBVIOUSLY messianic to me, when I first examined them decades ago at a more general, less 'scholarly' level--HOW did I come to believe them BACK THEN?"

  9. In other words, why did I believe that 'OT prophecy confirms that Jesus was the Messiah' and why would I 'use that' in apologetic discussions? It seems clear to me now that it was a pattern issue. In other words, as I read the OT passages--at a commonperson level of precision--I "see" a pattern of messianic prediction, and I 'see' (in the NT) a pattern of messianic fulfillment. The NT writers simply 'pointed to' the pattern with their various allusions and fulfillment formulae. Someone might argue me 'down' off a verse or two over the years (if not quoted in a fulfillment formula in the NT--such as Dan 9), but from 'across the room' the pattern of messianic expectation and fulfillment was clear to me then.

  10. When I look at it now, and I drill down on each of the passages, I am looking at the dots--but as long as I keep the pattern in mind (remember the example above) I have an additional semantic context with which to supplement the other contexts. It is NOT that I smuggle messianix INTO each verse, but rather that I incorporate a higher level semantic context to influence interpretive decisions.

  11. And frankly, in some cases it offers nothing. My recent studies in the nature of prophecy in the ANE and OT, and of typology specifically in Israel, are leading me to believe that ancient Israel (and to a lesser extent all of the ANE) saw ALL OF THEIR EVENTS and PERSONAGES as typological--with both a local referent that would someday be 'repeated' and 'expanded' in the future. And that this element of 'eschatological expectation' was present in the audience's minds IN ALL POST-MOSAIC experience of Israel. [What this means, hermeneutically, is that I have the opposite problem with messianix; if EVERY VERSE can be seen typologically, where do I drawn the line in 'seeing' the future in every verse? In some cases, it makes the interpretation MORE complex.]

  12. But back to our main subject--'persuasion' (and obliquely, apologetics) as 'pointing' to the macro-level of the pattern in reality under exploration. If we couple this with some 'ultimate' foundation of reality as being 'personal', then 'language' that uses 'personal' words will 'point to' the APPROPRIATE level of precision.

  13. This framework--a personal context for ALL experience--would allow MOST of the apologetic systems a starting point. For the strong-Reformed view (i.e. everyone has a conscious knowledge of God--Rom 1; Psalm 19) this 'tacit' awareness of God is stored in this personal context plus some conscience-based corrective (after the transcendental moral corrective facility in Rom 2). For the softer views (i.e. the category 'god' is meaningful and pre-loaded within everyone) OR (i.e. everyone has a subconscious knowledge of God--2Ptr 3.5--which can be brought to the conscious level by semantic 'triggers'), this personal context allows the speaker to use 'personal' language and be assured of adequate content-match with which to 'add on' attributes of God and His personal salvific actions. In other words, I can be assured that when I speak of God's love or His commitment to adequately protecting his word from evil scribes and religious mutants, these terms are meaningful--and consequently, I can get on with either defending these statements or building the argument upon them.


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