Scripture as “Ultimate”

Excerpt of a debate between Ben Wallis and Jamin Hubner. 

WALLIS: In your opening statement, you said that Christianity gives us some kind of standard which is “the only self-authenticating and ultimate moral, rational standard.” This is from your opening statement tonight. Now, there’s a lot there. What I’m most concerned about is that word, “ultimate.” What do you mean by an ultimate standard, as opposed to a non-ultimate standard?

HUBNER: That’s pretty easy to answer. A standard, for example, put it this way, some standards for truth claims and morality, or whatever, can be disputed. They’re fallible, they’re changed, they’re updated. You look at different businesses and corporations, they have their own ethical codes and so forth, and those change over time. They’re fallible, they’re products of human reasoning. You can debate those. By “ultimate,” I mean you can’t argue with it because it’s what God says. It’s perfect, it’s inherently ultimate. There’s no higher authority by which it can be verified. That’s why it’s self-authenticating. And so “ultimate” entails a lot of different things, but basically it just means that it cannot be refuted, it’s the highest standard that there is.

WALLIS: You say that “ultimate” means, among other things, that “you can’t argue with it,” but here I am, arguing with it. How do you reconcile that? HUBNER: You’re arguing with it, but not successfully. You haven’t dis- mounted it as the ultimate standard. So anyone can make claims in ignorance of what presuppositions are behind those claims, and what preconditions are necessary for them. But I think it’s pretty clear what that means.

WALLIS: So you’re saying that I can’t successfully argue with it, and that’s what it means, or at least that’s part of what it means, for a standard to be ultimate. Is that correct?

HUBNER: Yes, it’s ultimate because it has its authority and origin in God. It is His self-revelation.

WALLIS: Well that sounds strikingly different from what you’ve been saying.

HUBNER: Well, “ultimate,” like you said, we can unpack these different words, and I’m not trying to trick you. It’s just, “ultimate” means, when push comes to shove, for any given truth claim, Scripture wins. It’s ultimate. It’s final.

WALLIS: So, let me see if I understand this correctly. It’s “ultimate” in the sense that it is ordained by God, and because you can’t successfully argue with it?

HUBNER: Well, to argue with Scripture would be to argue with God, be- cause Scripture is God’s Word.

WALLIS: So, again, I guess—try to help me out, here.

HUBNER: Okay, well, put it this way. When I go into the court room, why do I put my hand on the Bible? What is the point?

[discussion of order]

The point of using a Bible before swearing is saying, this is the highest standard there is. To lie against this would be to lie against the highest authority in truth and honesty, and so forth. But how does God do that? How does God ensure the truthfulness of what he’s saying? Well, he does that by swearing by himself, Hebrews says. Now, you say, that’s circular reasoning. Well of course it’s circular reasoning! It has to be, that’s the nature of an ultimate standard and an ultimate authority. There’s no higher authority by which it can be verified, and so it has to be verified by itself. And so everyone has a world view that has some kind of ultimate authority. For you it’s probably human autonomy. It’s the highest standard. If nothing meets that standard, it can’t be proven wrong. There isn’t really anything that would suffice to change your position. And for the Christian, though, the highest standard is God, who is perfect and Holy, the creator and sustainer of all things. And so He rightly deserves that position because He’s the only one qualified for the position. And so that’s the nature of the case for God’s Word, is that it’s a self-authenticating entity, because God Himself, that’s His revelation, that’s the nature of being God.

WALLIS: Great. Now, where I’m going with this is as follows: In trying to explain what it means for a standard to be “ultimate,” you’ve appealed to a number of concepts. For example, you’ve appealed to the concept of success when you say that you can’t successfully argue with it; you’ve appealed to the concept of higher beings, because you’ve said that there’s no being higher than God. You’ve appealed to the concept of perfection, of qualification; you say that God’s the only one qualified, here. But it seems to me that in order to make the judgments of what is successful, what is higher, what is perfect, what is qualified; in order to do all those things, you need to be appealing to standards—standards which tell you what makes something ‘successful’ or not, what makes something ‘higher.’

HUBNER: Exactly. And the standard I’m appealing to that I didn’t pro-

vide, which I can, is Scripture. Scripture talks about itself. It talks about God. It reveals the kind of standard that I’m talking about. First of all, it’s [unin- telligible, perhaps Koine Greek], it is God-breathed, and so Scripture is God’s Word. And so, then we look at, what is God like? The nature of the origin of something determines the nature of something that comes out of that person’s mouth. And so we have all these other statements in Scripture: God cannot lie, Scripture is pure, like gold being refined seven times in a fire, and so forth. And when I’m saying these different words, these are all concepts expressed in Scripture. I’m not saying them from any other authority. I would obviously not do that. And so you’re absolutely right, there has to be a standard for all these things, and that is God’s Word. That’s why it’s self-authenticating.

WALLIS: What leads you to believe that my standards are not similarly consistent with themselves?

HUBNER: Well, first of all, you’re not self-existent. You’re not always truth- ful.

[discussion of order]

You’re not self-existence. You depend on all kinds of different things to exist. If you don’t drink water for forty days, you’re probably going to die. God is not like that, He does not depend on anything outside of Himself. And furthermore, He is God, He is the creator, the sustainer, the owner, the sovereign ruler of creation, and so by nature He’s always truthful. He is always consistent with Himself. He has revealed himself, and so there’s a massive difference between God and His Word as a standard and you as your standard. You’re temporal, God is eternal. You’re fallible, God is infallible. We could go on and on, and on, and on.

WALLIS: Again, though, it sounds like you’re just saying that, when you say that your standard is “ultimate,” that is, that you’re essentially saying that your standard is consistent, it’s not internally problematic. And, again, I didn’t hear you answer my question before, why should we take my standards as inconsistent, or not self-consistent, as you might like to say?

HUBNER: Because they’re not consistent with Scripture.

WALLIS: But that’s not what it means to be inconsistent. I’m not asking for an external critique. I’m asking for an internal critique.

HUBNER: Why do I need to give you an internal critique? What’s wrong with an external critique? Why dismiss that from the outset? I don’t see the point of that. God has spoken, He has said what is true, and I would rather argue with you than with God on truth claims. I’m not going to question God and his authority. My responsibility as a creature is to honor His Word, and to carry out his truth.

WALLIS: If you don’t want to give an internal critique of my standards, and of my system of reasoning, if you like, that’s fine, but I had been under the impression—

HUBNER: Well I think I’ve already given an internal critique. I’ve asked at least eight, nine questions in the opening statement. I’m not sure any of those have been answered.

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