Objective Indicia and the Posture of Our Hearts

This post seems to articulate the basis for something I have long felt about our lives together as Christians and Presbyterians, but I have never had a basis for feeling – one of those intuition things that are usually trustworthy, but I am justifiably reluctant to trust. You should read the whole post, but here is the heart of it for my purposes:

. . . Faithful expressions of the Christian Faith have to have an objective component that is knowable as objective. Faithful expressions of Christian Faith cannot be merely private feelings which are justifiable only to oneself. Although the Christian faith also has a real subjective element (i.e., personal regeneration), the old hymn “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart” doesn’t cut it in terms of Scripture’s own presentation of the grounds of faith. Recall that although Christ told doubting Thomas “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:26-31), at the same time Christ confirmed the Apostle’s faith in the resurrection “by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). Throughout the book of Acts, the preaching of the Apostles is continually objectively confirmed (by signs and wonders), or, failing these, objectively argued from the Scriptures and / or from knowledge already possessed by the hearers (Acts 17). Romans 1, that sweeping indictment of fallen man, proclaims the objectivity of the truths of God, which every man knows from the things which have been made.

It seems clear to me, at least, that a proper expression of the Christian Faith cannot be merely, and perhaps not even primarily, grounded on subjective testimony, whether testimony of wonderful works God has done in one’s life (the typical Evangelical “born again” experience) or even the Holy Spirit testifying to one’s heart of the truth. Such things do have a legitimate place in one’s personal expression of faith, but they are not themselves the grounds of the Faith. A big part of the problem with contemporary Protestantism is precisely that it is subjectivistic – meaning not just that it has a subjective element but that it exaggerates the subjective element to the point where the objective is collapsed into it – that is, the subjective element is construed as itself being the objective. . . .

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The result of this profound failure first to recognize the public, objective Faith, and second, to keep it firmly welded to the private, subjective faith of the individual Christian is merely a subjective claim to have “Truth” in a mode which no one else can access unless they meet purely subjective criteria set down by the subjectivists. Some of these purely subjective criteria which I have seen in operation on the Internet are: (1) somehow proving to the subjectivists’ satisfaction that one is really regenerate, (2) somehow proving to the subjectivists’ satisfaction that one really believes “the Gospel,” and (3) jumping through intellectual hoops such as dissociating from this or that position which the subjectivists have deigned to label “error.” Despite the fact that all of these tests are routinely defended by the subjectivists with numerous biblical prooftexts and torturous theological syllogisms, all of these tests are, in fact, purely subjective. For all of them rely on the completely self-referential view of the subjectivists that they themselves are regenerate, are true believers in the true Gospel, and are untinged by the things they call “error.” For people who think and act this way, subjectivity is objectivity.

This is powerfully related to what it means to hold one’s theological convictions humbly. In any given theological controversy in our pond, combatants’ discussion postures that reveal an inability to conceive they might be wrong (e.g., there is plenty of this to go around on both sides of the Federal Vision debate) often exhibit (or mask) an underlying serious “subjectivity is objectivity” error.

Tim Enloe goes on to apply these observations to the Scriptures as one of the primary objective indicia of the Faith and contrast the Catholic view, especially with respect to the views’ ability to account for ecclesial “messiness” that is a consistent feature of humanity’s experience of God through Christ and His Church.

Other indicia of the Faith of include the Sacraments (for Protestants, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). As part of his application and defense of the Protestant view of Scripture with the Westminster Confession and Scripture itself, he notes that:

. . . the objective must always be joined with the subjective if the “full” authenticity of a thing is to be had. Absent the subjective internal testimony of the Spirit to the inspiration of the Scriptures, a person’s faith in the Scriptures may not have the quality of “full” persuasion, but this does not mean it has “no” persuasion or that the persuasion which it does have is to be sneered at by subjectivists who place more confidence in pious feelings and private sectarian back-slapping sessions about their own “love of Truth” than in rational thought and public accountability for truth claims.

As noted by a commenter to the linked post, this “subjective is objective error” often indicates that a person’s faith is in reason rather than the person of Christ. I commend the entire post to you, additionally as a persuasive apologetic in favor of Scriputre’s placement in the realm of the objective indicia of the Faith (in contrast to Catholicism’s list of subjective/objective indicia) that accounts well for the “messiness” of every-day Christian experience.

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