Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Philosophical Legalism

Philosophical Legalism

          Biblical philosophy… God honoring, God glorifying philosophy, is a good thing. We do well to train ourselves to develop this type of philosophy. Even so, it is limited. It is restricted by the constraints of our brains and our minds. In the Christian worldview two things contribute to this: the clouding of judgment done by sin and the physiological defects brought about from the curse of the fall. There is no instruction, however, in the New Testament on how we are to perform biblical philosophy. Basically, all we know is that we should be both wise and righteous in our thinking.
            Contrary to this is the idea of biblical interpretation. By that I mean a good and righteous interpreting technique. Today a common and valuable way of reading scripture is that of hermeneutical exegesis. This would be, in essence, the opposite of taking one verse and implanting your preconceptions into it. It is, actually, to read a passage in many relevant contexts including, for example, authorship, history, testament usage, and genre.
            Most everybody is familiar with legalism, whether they were the victim or were (or are) legalists themselves. The common outworking of legalism usually shows itself when someone interprets scripture and then forces that interpretation into a law to be followed (do this or don’t do that) by themselves or by someone else and attributes a holy or righteous standard to it. I think most people are conscious of this epidemic and it does not need further attention here. However, there is a type of legalism, which I have been aware of for some time now and could never quite put my finger on. I call this philosophical legalism.
            Let me explain what I mean by philosophical legalism. A practical definition could be summed up as follows: Anytime you attribute a holiness, righteousness, or other godly character to an ideal and force that ideal, at least mentally, on yourself or others as a requirement to be right, when that ideal is not based solely on a personal interpretation of certain scriptures, but on your logical conclusions drawn from your interpretations. You see, your interpretations may be correct or incorrect, but that is not the problem. The problem is what you do with those interpretations.
            There is a problem in philosophy (man’s logic or human wisdom) with which hermeneutical exegesis does not struggle. That problem is authority. If you are basing your position on purely philosophical reasoning, then your position has no authority. Scripture has authority in itself implanted by God; and, to a large degree, the hermeneutical exegesis of that God breathed scripture has authority, as well. Once we pass the point of scriptural interpretation, however, authority is now purely rooted in ones logical abilities. Since, one cannot test their own reasoning beyond what they are mentally capable and since this is limited and ever changing, the authority then seems to be quite relative. Hermeneutical exegetical interpretation however, is much more objective. That is, it has a learnable ‘scientific’ methodology, which is firmly grounded and is far less susceptible to change over time.

          Therefore, we must take caution. When you take the interpretation of scripture outside of what the Bible is capable of doing, in and of itself, you go into the realm of theories; you end up floating up around possibilities, never having a strong tie to the ground. This is what may be in Paul’s view when he mentions the ‘doubtful issues’. {(Rom 14:1- Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don't argue about doubtful issues.(hcsb) without quarreling over disputable matters.(niv) not to quarrel over opinions.(esv))} Therefore, I think we can see that forcing our extra biblical philosophical ideals, having little or no (and sometimes relative) scriptural authority, on our lives or the lives of others is dangerous and downright unbiblical.

         Legalism, forcing your beliefs as God’s law is, quite simply, wrong. Let me just state, it is between you and God as to how far you should press your beliefs on others, weighing things such as, how assured you are, how important the matter is, the benefits, and so on. Let me make one suggestion to consider in this area, however. Unity in the body is better than disunity; and searching for common ground between believers is more important than converting opposing opinions.

Let the main things be the plain things; and let the plain things be the main things.

--With great knowledge comes great legalism. With great understanding of that knowledge, and godly wisdom, comes great grace.--