Why I Still Change My Mind

John ArmstrongPersonal

Act_logo_web_highPerhaps the most controversial, and generally misunderstood, articles that I have ever written were under the series title: "How I Changed My Mind." This series, written for our Viewpoint news magazine, can be found in the Viewpoint archives under the resource tab at our Web site. (They are found in Volume 7:4 through Volume 8:5.)

I have been forced to think about these articles quite a lot since they have been quoted and used against me rather widely. I thought about them again when I wrote my blog for yesterday about rethinking the empirical method and why postmodernism presents a proper challenge to the modernistic way of thinking that many of us learned from our culture and educational background. I have signed articles of faith in my denominational ordination procedure and sign a statement of faith in order to teach at Wheaton College. But it matters not. These articles on changing my mind brought about some major reaction. I once wondered why this was but this question no longer puzzles me at all. The motives of my critics are not in question. They may, in reality, question me and how I think because they sincerely love Jesus more than I do and because they want to make sure that other Christians embrace the truth as they understand and believe it. But this is precisely the problem. Sincerity in one's motives is a non-issue really. What is at issue is how we think about what we believe, what we do and why we do it. What is an issue is empiricism. Let me be as clear as possible here. Empiricism is a noun which refers to:

The view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge. And practice that disregards scientific theory and relies solely on practical experience.

Most conservative evangelicals employ forms of empiricism, combined with heavy doses of rationalism, in their theological method. Rationalism is also a noun and means:

Reliance on reason as the best guide for belief and action. In philosophy, the theory that the exercise of reason, rather than experience, authority, or spiritual revelation, provides the primary basis for knowledge.

Evangelicals rely very heavily on their experience of conversion and Bible reading linked with some form(s) of rationalism, seen especially in their use of this method in apologetics. By this they seek to prove that there is a primary basis for knowledge and this basis can be found by putting a series of biblical texts together which form a doctrinal system that is true to the facts and fits with their evangelical experience. By this means they link what is often opposed, namely empiricism and rationalism, and form a fortress that they will defend to the death in some cases. I attacked this fortress, at the time rather unwittingly.

The result is that many conservative evangelicals can never admit that they are wrong. And if they are wrong they have a hard time changing their mind. Those who do change their mind admit they were wrong but then exchange one system of thought for another and retain the same approach in the process. Given the specific personality type that likes to have everything tidy and clear you then have a major problem. If someone like me, who has written as a Reformed evangelical for decades, comes along to say that you can and should think about changing your mind then the battle is on. Wars for truth will replace commitment to love. I am, ipso facto, a postmodern theologian. Why? I reject modernism, both its method and its conclusions about God and man. So to these conservatives I must be a liberal since this is the only term that they know to use for someone who changes his mind about theological methods and theological beliefs.

This whole debate would seem rather ridiculous if it didn't actually stir up anger, hostility and opposition among those who follow Christ. When this happens I am caught in the crossfire. I wish I could be elsewhere but then I would have to deny what I see in the gospel to not affirm what I quoted from Lesslie Newbigin in my blog of yesterday. Now you can see why I have openly affirmed that no one has more directly impacted my way of thinking about the faith than Lesslie Newbigin.