The Dangers of Deductive Theological Reasoning

Deductive reasoning can be dangerous in theological studies. An example of deductive reasoning in theology goes like this: “if the Bible teaches A, then the Bible must also teach B that follows from A.”

Where’s the error? The Bible does itself not teach B. It teaches A, and it is we who believe that B must necessarily follow. Soon it easily becomes that B is as necessary as A. B might be true, but the key word is “might.” Even if we think the reasoning is airtight, we should readily admit that it is an inference.

Here’s an example, limited atonement. Most who have studied this will readily admit that this is not directly taught in the Bible, and that those passages which could be teaching it are susceptible of other interpretations. In Calvinist circles not only is limited atonement taught, limited atonement becomes the actual turning point of their soteriology. On the face of it, this is strange. What is initially a deduction is transformed into the center of salvation itself.

Here is another example. God is sovereign. Therefore everything that happens is decreed by God, or otherwise he would not be sovereign. Soon meticulous providence becomes more important than sovereignty itself. The Bible clearly teaches the sovereignty of God. For some this necessarily means that all things that happen are directed by God’s positive will for sovereignty cannot be sovereignty is this is not so. But the Bible teaches that God is sovereign, and it also teaches that some things happen even though God does not will for them to happen. This is the data of Scripture. If we explicitly change what the Bible seems to directly teach because rationally it cannot be teaching that because another passage of Scripture says this, that or the other, then soon we are off into a rationalism that can take us far away from the Bible.

In other words, what begins as only an inference becomes the center. This is a process that takes us to places where we shouldn’t go. I listen to a lot of NeoCalvinistic sermons and read their blogs and articles. I am often impressed how often limited atonement comes up no matter the initial topic. In their mind, the inference becomes so central that if the inference is wrong, the whole system of doctrine is wrong. Therefore, the less clear becomes the way we teach the more clear.

While deduction has its place and cannot be wholly avoided, we must be careful to keep it in its place. By and large, our theology should be built on the explicit teaching of Holy Scripture, on biblical data. This keeps us in the safe zone and serves as a check on narrow theological systems that fragment the unity of the Body of Christ.

I understand that some will protest that this provides too strict a limit on the project of theology. I don’t agree. What it does is make a clear distinction in reasoning, and our theological systems should recognize it.

Brandeis decides to withdraw degree from Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Another black woman takes a hit from the academy

Brandeis University just decided to withdraw an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. 85 of about 350 faculty signed a letter in support of withdrawal and students have mobilized to support the same. Of course, the university knew all about Ali but is now pleading ignorance of her critiques of Islam. They simply caved. Sounds similar to what is happening to Condoleeza Rice at Rutgers. Strong black women who do not tow the line are kept at the back of the line.

Ali is one of the most courageous people of our time. She was raised in a strict Muslim family in Somali, but after surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage, she renounced the faith in her 30s. She sought and obtained political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, under circumstances that later became the centre of a political controversy. In 2003 she was elected a member of the House of Representatives. A political crisis surrounding the potential stripping of her Dutch citizenship led to her resignation. While in the Netherlands she wrote the screenplay for Theo van Gogh’s movie Submission, after which she and the director both received death threats, and the director was assassinated. She is a founder of the women’s rights organization the AHA Foundation.

The AHA (Ayaan Hirsi Ali) Foundation is a nonprofit organization for the defense of women’s rights. It was founded by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2007 and is based in New York, New York, United States. Originally formed to support Muslim dissidents who had suffered for their religious or political beliefs, the organization’s scope was broadened September 2008 to focus on women’s rights. The goal of the AHA Foundation is to combat crimes against women and girls such as forced marriages, female genital mutilation and honor killings. Its key activities include education, outreach and legislative advocacy.

I use videos of her speeches in my World Religions classes. She is seriously critical of Islam, but is soft-spoken and intellectually sophisticated. She is no firebrand rabble rouser. She is not just a critic of Islam, which she is, but also is an equal opportunity critic as an atheist of religion in general. You would think Brandeis would love her! She fits their profile – a woman, black, anti-religious. But her critique of religion and Islam in particular runs smack up against the other primary value in the academy – speak no evil of Islam. Islam’s opposition to Christianity is a value in the academy. This fits into the academy’s  multiculturalism, as well. Buddhists and Hindus do not speak against Christianity. Muslims do. Therefore, Muslims have a special place at the university table. Of course, there is the fear element. People who do speak out against Islam or support those who do will find their safety compromised. Certainly, Ali has found this to be so. But this fear also extends to the serious inconvenience of Muslim lobby groups. They are super aggressive and do not share the Western spirit of tolerance of competing religions. Islam continues to dream theocratic dreams – the unity of church and state, or mosque and state, if you will.

She is the author of Infidel, Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations, and The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam. She is also a Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.