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A while ago I was reading through Geisler and Feinberg’s ‘Introduction to Philosophy’.
At a certain point in the book they deal with the legitimacy inductive reasoning (viz., reasoning from the part to the whole, from the the particulars to the general). I began to think about the way that this relates to the study of Scripture.
Something that is vital in regards to the epistemology (theory of the way that we might arrive at truth /knowledge) of inductive argument is the following: an inductively reasoned conclusion can only be as sure as the percentage of particulars that have been examined in the reasoning process.
E.g., If only 90% of the facts of an investigation have been examined, then while the conclusion might indeed be 90% probable, it can in no way be seen as absolutely certain. Even further, if there are an unknown amount of particulars (as is often the case in many different investigations) this will obviously weaken the general conclusion even further.
As human beings we have severe limits to our knowledge. For this reason, not many things can be determined with absolute certainty. That said, inductive reasoning yet remains an incredibly helpful tool. This so, precisely due to the sense of accurate probability it can yield. Indeed, for this reason, inductively argued probabilities form the major part of most modern scientific reasoning. [Side note: contrary to popular belief, scientific conclusions are not absolute, unless ALL the particulars can be / have been examined].
Now, with that in mind, consider the wonder of God’s plan in revealing Himself (the infinite God / a God of infinite particulars) in and through the Logos (Jesus Christ – a finite man) definitively spoken of and pointed to in the logos (Scripture). Of course, the implications of this are profound in many different ways. One point, however, is the way that this relates to the study of Scripture itself.
Think about it: when we talk about an inductive method of Bible study, we are really talking about knowing the otherwise unknowable! That is to say, we can come to dogmatic absolutes about the truth of God, because God Himself has divinely and perfectly revealed everything that we need to know, in order for us to truly know Him!
In many ways, this makes the Bible one of the principle objects of pure scientific study. The canon is closed. In a sense, then, all the particulars can be found. This is why we have ‘dogmatics’ in theology. Systematic theology is essentially the process of coming to an understanding of the major doctrines of the Bible through the means of inductive reasoning. Also, because of the analogy of Scripture (i.e., the bible’s unified inspiration and non-contradictory nature) any sound exegetical conclusion one part is authoritative at every part. I.e., An inductive study of any a single book, chapter, or verse essentially reveals a total truth; a truth that can stand in light of the whole.
Amazing, right? What a worthy academic discipline to give our lives to!
Every now and again I speak to believers who don’t enjoy the notion of Christian theology one little bit. Their faith, you see, is a simple faith. Theology? Well that just confuses people! “Forget all the boring and complex doctrine”, they say, “I just want to love Jesus…that’s all”.
But, one only has to ask, which Jesus is it that they ‘just want to love’? And of course, to answer a question like that, one needs very complex and and precise doctrine. And while being able to properly identify the Jesus whom we love does absolutely nothing to take away from the simplicity of our faith (viz., our complete and utter trust in the person of Christ), the same cannot be said for those who do not know their theology. Not only do they end up in great danger of heresy, but their faith becomes simplistic – not simple.
The following story (from Mark Dever’s “Message of the Old Testament”) serves to illustrate well that this is something which cannot be commended;
“George Buttrick… was [from 1927 to 1954] pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. One week he had been off on a speaking engagement and was flying back to New York City. On the plane he had a pad and a pencil and he was making some notes for next Sunday’s sermon. The man seated next to him was eyeing him with curiosity. Finally, the curiosity got the best of him, and so he said to Buttrick, ‘I hate to disturb you—you’re obviously working hard on something—but what in the world are you working on?’
“‘Oh, I’m a Presbyterian minister,’ said Buttrick. ‘I’m working on my sermon for Sunday.’
“‘Oh, religion,’ said the man. ‘I don’t like to get all caught up in the in’s and out’s and complexities of religion. I like to keep it simple. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule, that’s my religion.’
“‘I see,’ said Buttrick. ‘And what do you do?’
“‘I’m an astronomer. I teach at the university.’
“‘Oh, yes,’ said Buttrick. ‘Astronomy—I don’t like to get all caught up in the in’s and out’s and complexities of astronomy. Twinkle, twinkle little star, that’s my astronomy.’”