Thinking About Adiaphora – 2

No discernment is required for obeying explicit commands and prohibitions. However, more skill is needed to correctly interpret and apply Scriptural principles.

A Scriptural principle is one that states a timeless truth. Its axiomatic nature means it is generally true. However, its general nature is just the problem for those seeking to implement the Word of God in specific, practical ways. Generalised, timeless, and axiomatic principles do not translate well into specific, concrete applications, except through some applied thinking.

For example, Paul’s desire that believers be able to approve the things that are excellent suggests (at least implicitly) that God desires believers to approve excellence and disapprove of the opposite. How does that general principle find its way into my everyday life? Does it have applications in the realm of aesthetics? Of music? Art?

For a general principle to find a specific application, we need some kind of ‘bridge’. We need a justification – a warrant – to connect a principle of Scripture to something never mentioned in Scripture, but which nevertheless occurs in our lives.

To get from what is stated in a non-specific way to a valid and conscience-binding application of it, something needs to be supplied which Scripture does not supply. Scripture gives you the principle, but it does not (frequently) give you an application of it. It is this lack that causes many of the legalists mentioned in the previous post to dismiss the force of principles. In other words, such legalists want the principle, the bridge that connects it to the specific situation, as well as the application in concrete terms. And to this kind of thinking, it must be asked, Why would God bother with principles at all, if such are needed to make principles morally binding? If a biblical principle alone is an inert piece of information, relevant for no one in particular, and unable to be applied to anyone (since such application requires a non-Scriptural bridge), what possible reason could God have had for giving it?

In truth, many such legalists are being disingenuous, using their supposed devotion to explicit Scripture as a means of excising from a Christian’s obligations just about every Scriptural principle or matter considered to be adiaphora.

However, it is quite clear that God expects man to supply such a bridge between the principle and its application. Jesus clearly expected the Pharisees to have correctly applied the principle that God loves mercy to several specific situations.

It is up to the devout Christian then, to find clear grounds for connecting a principle to a specific circumstance. Further, the Christian should have a clear understanding of how to find such grounds for applying principles to the numerous and variegated circumstances he will face.

First, he must recognise that the grounds for applying Scripture will emerge from outside Scripture. The extra piece of information that is needed to make a valid application must of necessity be extra-biblical, otherwise the principle would not be a principle but a clear precept. It is no violation of sola Scriptura to look for information outside of the Bible to enable us to apply the Bible.

Second, he must have good grounds for his selection of sources. Not all information is equally valid or useful. A Christian must be able to sort through ‘secular’ sources of information.

Third, he must evaluate such information using right thinking. We’ll examine these three in turn.

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