“Imperious Ignorance” and Biblical Authority


AN EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN ISN’T ANYTHING if not someone who believes that the Bible has authority to tell him or her what to believe and how to live. In every evangelical statement of faith you will find a statement to that effect right at the top. But Don Carson warns that even among Evangelicals there is a subtle drift from living as if this conviction is true. Undermining the authority of Scripture is so subtle we might not even catch it.

One of the ways we undermine the authority of Scripture is by what Carson calls “imperious ignorance”. It looks like this: In a situation of debate someone will conclude, “All this debate shows that the evidence is not clear. And since it is not clear we can’t know the mind of God on these disputed matters. We have to acknowledge ignorance and lack of certainty.” Now, sometimes that is a valid stance. For example, 1 Corinthians 15 talks about “baptisms for the dead.” There may be as many as 50 interpretations of this statement among scholars and those scholars generally admit that we don’t really know what God is saying here.

But that is different from some of the topics on which ignorance is claimed. The uncertainty about baptisms for the dead is because it is referred to one time, in passing, in the Bible. But when a topic comes up again in the Bible we have to ask ourselves “What is the pattern we see?” For example, some “scholars” (I’m not sure they are) will give reasons why the five or six passages that seem to forbid homosexual behaviour are debateable. But we have to ask, “What pattern of sexual behaviour do we see commended in Scripture?” The answer is that not even one time is homosexual practice commended or used as a positive example in the Bible. But you do see heterosexual marriage commended and used as a positive image all the time. Those who want to claim that the texts that seem to forbid homosexual behaviour are unclear go further. They impose ignorance imperiously – they claim a superior humility and demand others take the same position that “we just don’t know.” When ignorance is imposed it becomes wrong for others to say that we do know what God is saying about our sexuality. And by doing that we silence the authority of the Bible. It stops true propositions from being affirmed and in the end allows people to adopt any position they like. Before we impose ignorance “imperiously” let’s be sure the claim to ignorance is valid.

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