Some Comments on the Movie “Divided”

The National Center for Family Integrated Churches has produced a new film called Divided. I would encourage you to watch it:

Official Divided the Movie (HD Version) from NCFIC on Vimeo.

The third portion of this video sounds quite a bit like the Scott Brown/Todd Friel discussion that I have reviewed before. However, there are some new things in this video that did not come up in Scott Brown’s discussion with Todd Friel that I think would be worth pointing out and refuting, since the goal of the makers of this video is to get it into the hands of as many pastors as possible. My hope is that the material that I have already written responding to particular arguments will be of benefit in helping pastors recognize the problems with this position.

The first thing I would like to discuss is the historical issues associated with Plato, Dewey, and Rousseau. The problem is not so much the facts [although, those have been challenged], but the form of the argument itself. The fact that something is similar does not mean the one comes from the other. Using that same logic, you can prove that the Bible is pagan in origin. For example, In the Epic of Gilgamesh, there is a story about a man who built a boat to survive a flood. After the flood waters stopped, he sent out a raven and a dove in order to see if the waters had receded. Then, he offered up a sacrifice as a southing aroma to the gods. Also, in the Egyptian Memphite theology, there is one creator, Ptah, who rests after he had completed creation. Also, in the Ugaritic Baal epic, Baal fights and defeats a monster called Leviathan [c.f. Isaiah 27:1]. Now, if the people interviewed in this movie were consistent, they would have to say that the Bible is pagan in origin, since it has similarities to pagan texts.

Also, something that has bothered me for a long time is this ambiguous use of the phrase “the sufficiency of scripture.” It bothered me because, as many historians who have looked at this movement have pointed out, the understanding of this phrase that comes from someone like Scott Brown is not consistent with the way in which this teaching was formulated at the time of the reformation. However, I always wondered why the confusion existed, and in what sense their view of the sufficiency of scripture differs from that of the reformers.

Then, the other day, it hit me. The problem is with the ambiguity of the English language. I refer here, specifically to the term “meaning.” We think that the meaning of the word “meaning” is relatively straightforward. However, the following two sentences will illustrate that this is simply not the case:

1. The meaning of the word “dog” is, “A four legged animal that crawls on all fours, and barks.”

2. I got a new job and a new girlfriend, and now, my life has new meaning.

Notice how there is a different meaning for “meaning” in sentence #1 and sentence #2. In sentence 1, the meaning of meaning is in the sense of “semantics.” In sentence 2, we are referring meaning in the sense of “significance.” The second sentence does not mean that the phrase “my life” suddenly changed in its definition when you got a new job and girlfriend. Nor does the first sentence mean that the “significance” of the word “dog” is “A four legged animal that crawls on all fours, and barks.”

Because of this, I would say that we must make a distinction between the meaning [semantics] of a text, and the meaning [significance] of a text. Although they are certainly related, they are not the same thing. This, I believe, is crucial to understanding the problems associated with participants in the Divided video, and their use of scripture. The reason has to do with how we apply texts in the church. When we apply certain texts to our modern culture, we seek to find the significance of the text, and then seek to understand how that significance relates to our modern society. Sometimes the significance comes directly from the meaning [“Do not murder” is significant to our modern culture in that it forbids murder]. However, other times it is not so direct. When the Bible tells us to be good Samaritans, I don’t think that means that we get a horse, and go out on the Jericho road, and look for people to help, although the meaning of the text is to go and do likewise. The significance of this text is that we are to help people in ways that may have nothing to do with travel.

Now we can go back to Luther, and really understand the controversy of the reformation, and why it is that the people in this film have not made proper distinctions. Luther’s issue was largely related to the gospel, and the addition of merit and other things that were needed for salvation. It also dealt with the addition of certain beliefs which were added to the gospel which were not found in scripture. The point is that, when Luther spoke of the sufficiency of scripture, he was speaking of the sufficiency of scripture in relation to the doctrine of the church, and what must be believed in order to be a Christian. The issue had to do with what teaching could bind our continence as Christians. Traditional Roman Catholics to this day believe that the doctrines found in scripture are not sufficient to doctrinally define the faith. That was the issue that Luther was dealing with.

However, what I would point out is, what Luther was dealing with was something that was doctrinal in character. Therefore, it was an issue of meaning [in the sense of semantics], since understanding what the text teaches is part in partial of its meaning [semantics]. Now, certainly, doctrines will have an effect on how you live whether directly or indirectly [as stated above], but the controversy in the reformation was over whether scripture was sufficient to tell us all the propositional truth we need to believe to be a Christian, not whether scripture was sufficient to spell out the significance of that doctrine in every possible situation that could arise. Isn’t it interesting that, at their 2009 Sufficiency of Scripture Conference, some of the topics that were discussed are particular situations that arise in life: “family life,” “ministry to youth,” “women’s ministry,” “building faith and transforming character.” All of these things refer to how scripture is significant to everyday life, while others that were addressed are issues of doctrine and meaning [semantics]: “the gospel,” “the sabbath,” “Genesis and creation.” These are related to the meaning [semantics] of the text, not the significance of the text. However, if you go through the speaking schedule, you will find that the people who organized the conference confused these two things.

Hence the phrase “the sufficiency of scripture” is inherently ambiguous. We have to ask in what sense we mean “sufficient.” Do we mean “sufficient to give us all the doctrines we must believe in order to be a Christian,” or “sufficient to spell out the significance of every doctrine to every possible situation?” [family life, ministry to youth, women’s ministry, etc.]. If we mean the former, then that is the traditional teaching that goes back to the reformation. If the latter, then it is totally self-contradictory. Such would require a book of infinite length, as the number of possible worlds are infinite. Hence, a book giving the significance of its text to every single possible context would be impossible.

What I think has happened [as is evidenced by the topics at their 2009 Sufficiency of Scripture conference] is that they are confusing the meaning [semantics] with the meaning [significance]. They assume that the meaning [semantics] of the text is its meaning [significance]. No wonder I kept on thinking that this position ends up leading to syncretism! When the significance of the text is exactly the same as the semantics, you can never get beyond the situation described in the text! Thus, you make it impossible to apply the Bible in modern culture, and thus, you must implement Ancient Near Eastern culture in order to be consistent. Thus, unless you wanted to be in sin, you would have to speak in the pronunciation of ancient Hebrew, wear robes of animal skin, make houses of fired brick, eat only foods that you would find in the Bible, etc. The scriptures are sufficient, right? Apparently, if you cannot deal with every possible situation, you just simply limit the possibilities by calling all possibilities not spelled out in the text sinful. That is syncretism, pure and simple.

Finally, I would like to deal with a comment that seems to keep on coming up wherever I see this topic discussed. A common objection you will get when you talk about youth groups with these people is:

Parents are supposed to teach their kids.

The problem is that, just like the phrase “the sufficiency of scripture,” this sentence as well is wrought with ambiguities. There are two possibilities for understanding this statement:

1. It is necessary that parents teach their kids.

2. It is sufficient that parents teach their kids.

The difficulty is in the fact that this is in the context of an objection. Hence, if you are going to rule out Sunday schools and youth ministries on the basis of the idea that parents are supposed to teach their kids, it would seem to imply #2. However, #2 is specifically denied by the NCFIC, who produced this video:

The NCFIC believes that that the church can only relate to family members through the father.
False. We do not believe that the church must always work through or communicate through a father. We believe that the church has authority to discipline and instruct every individual believer in the family not just the head of the family, or through the head of the family.

The only other way I can think of to interpret this statement is that it is necessary that parents teach their kids. However, that is something that is not in dispute between the makers of this film and its critics. Hence, I don’t understand exactly what this objection even means.

I guess it could mean that, if parents taught their kids, there would be no need for youth group, but, if we understand youth group as part of the teaching function of the church, then that would entail that the church does not need to teach its young people, and I know no one who believes that!

I suppose it could mean that parents are supposed to be the primary educators of their children, but even this wouldn’t make any sense since there is nothing in scripture that says anything about parents being the primary educators, and thus, according to their own standards, this premise would be contradictory to their “sufficiency of scripture” argument. Worse than that, even if you have one hour of Sunday school, and one hour of youth group, that would hardly even compare to the hours that parents are able to spend with their children! Hence, they still would be the “primary” educators of their children.

Do parents have the authority to teach kids? Yes. Do churches have the authority to teach kids? Yes. Where is the contradiction, and what is the objection? I don’t know, and I am finding that, the more I listen to these guys speak, the more I am impressed with their ability to say very ambiguous statements with a ton of conviction and passion. That is, honestly, not helpful.

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12 Responses to “Some Comments on the Movie “Divided””

  1. Shawn Mathis Says:

    “I am finding that, the more I listen to these guys speak, the more I am impressed with their ability to say very ambiguous statements with a ton of conviction and passion. That is, honestly, not helpful.”

    Well said!

    I am going to link this article from my Christian Nurture blog.

  2. Richard Says:

    I think you mean binding the “conscience” when you refer to Luther, not “continence.” Loved the article!

  3. otrmin Says:

    Shawn,

    Thank you for linking to my article! I hope it helps people who are wrestling with this issue.

    Richard,

    Oooops! Yup, that’s a typo. I have dealt with the gift of continence in the past as well as the binding of the conscience in Sola Scriptura. Guess I just confused the spelling of the two.

    Thanks for the compliment!

    God Bless,
    Adam

  4. matt Says:

    “The fact that something is similar does not mean the one comes from the other”
    You missed the point here. They are not just similar, one did come from the other. Ideas were passed down from these men and used to form alot of our culture

  5. matt Says:

    And the story in The Epic of Gilgamesh was based upon the story of Noah. So if one came before the other than the latter one is based upon the first, therefore if we take wicked ideas from John Dewy and practice them that means our practice is based upon Dewy’s thinking.

  6. otrmin Says:

    Matt,

    No one has every proven that Dewey and Rousseau had anything to do with it. The movie asserted it, but never proved it. I agree with you about the Gilgamesh epic; the problem is the form of logic. You see similarities between to things, it does not mean they came from the same place.

    Also, Shawn Mathis, who is a church historian, has completely refuted the notion that these ideas came from Dewey and Rousseau:

    http://christiannurture.blogspot.com/2008/01/very-short-history-of-christian.html

    He has pointed out, in this series of articles, that so called “age-segregation” actually goes clear back to the time of the reformation. I saw him speaking to the PCA historian over on the Puritanboard, and they were talking about the possibility that it may even go back into the middle ages.

    Again, if someone wants to make an argument that one came from the other, then do it. The similarities do not mean one came from the other; that is the genetic fallacy, and is horrible logic.

    God Bless,
    Adam

  7. Ellen Says:

    I think you mean “part and parcel” not “part in partial” – no?

  8. Shawn Mathis Says:

    Matt: in fact, again missing from the movie, Rousseau was in favor of homeschooling:

    http://christiannurture.blogspot.com/2009/04/revival-of-rouseau.html

    The FIC movement has many good things to say. But if they persist in logical and historic revision they will lose more than they will gain.

  9. Facteenoid Says:

    I am fifteen and an “insider” as far as this movement goes. Don’t take what I am about to say as critical or bigoted, that is not how I’m trying to say it. What I pretty much got from the above article is that you are trying to interpret the Bible however you want; and I must admit that it sounds very convincing and commend you for your wit. But I have to ask, are you one of us teens who has been angry and hating the world? I was quickly developing into one of those when we switched to a FIC. The segragation of age groups left me with few pleasant thoughts, only a feeling of repulsion towards anyone in authority, including my parents. But when we started being together, worshipping together, it brings a closeness that separation never can. You speak out of logic and do so very well. I speak from experience and don’t do nearly as good of a job at it, but I know what it’s like.

  10. otrmin Says:

    Facteenoid,

    What I pretty much got from the above article is that you are trying to interpret the Bible however you want; and I must admit that it sounds very convincing and commend you for your wit.

    I don’t really understand what you mean by this comment [no, I don’t take it to be critical or bigoted :-)]. It is not a matter of interpreting the Bible however I want, but a matter of being consistent in how I interpret the texts commanding the church to teach, and any other text. What I have written about speech act theory is something that you will find in any textbook on pragmatics; it is something that is a part of human language. As I pointed out, we interpret the command to protect human life in this way, we interpret the command to honor our father and mother in this way, and I would argue that we interpret any text in this way. Why do we make an exception for the command that the scripture gives the church to teach?

    Secondly, I have not been a teen for many years. I am a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School finishing up my masters in Old Testament and Semitic Languages, and looking to do my doctorate in the same topic. Am I fed up with the way in which some youth groups are ran? Absolutely. Am I fed up with the fact that churches seek to feed people’s lusts rather than teaching the scriptures? Yes. Am I fed up with the fact that parents are not taught to train their children or even how to do so? Yes. Do I believe that the solution is to return to the scriptures? Yes. However, before we can do this, we have to discuss how we are going to handle those scriptures. A discussion of hermeneutics must logically precede a discussion of what the text says.

    Finally, I don’t deny that getting rid of constant age segregation, such as churches where parents and children never see one another, is, indeed, one solution to the problem. I just think that you create an additional problem when you say that *any* age specific programs such as sunday school are inherently wrong, and then have to be arbitrary in your hermeneutics in order to prove it. There needs to be a balance.

    God Bless,
    Adam

  11. Facteenoid Says:

    Thank you for explaining, it just seems like you’re saying what I hear the feminists say all the time: “we have to interpret scripture according to the times” when what they mean is “we have the right to overlook stuff because things are different now”. Now I can see what you mean. So, let me tell you how my church works, we all sit together and listen to the same message, it’s true. So our socialization which is the main thing about youth groups is after the sermon. Have you done an article about what you believe is beneficial about some sunday school settings? I don’t want to put you through extra work or anything. I just cannot think of any situations – barring abuse – in which segregating the age groups is helpful. By the way, after reading my previous comment I realized that it did sound kind of bitter and harsh and I want to sincerely apologize for that.

  12. otrmin Says:

    Facteenoid,

    I can actually think of several examples where separating by age would be beneficial. For example, I am currently teaching a class in hermeneutics, and I taught a class last week about Chomskian syntax. I used terms like constituency, x-bar theory, D-structure, s-structure, c-command, and the like. Now, if I am teaching hermeneutics to a five year old, I am probably not going to use those terms. I am going to have to bring things down to a level that they will understand.

    Also, if I am teaching through the Song of Songs, I am probably not going to say the same thing to a five year old that I am to a thirty-five year old married couple.

    Indeed, the life applications of certain things are going to be different between children and adults. Consider the application of “thou shall not steal” to the context of not breaking someone else’s toys, or returning toys when you borrow them. The world of a child is different, although not totally distinct from, the world of an adult. Hence, in the area of application of the text, it is helpful to have age specific ministries, so that the teaching of application can more specific.

    Also, I think the reason you think that what I am saying sounds like the feminists is because of the confusion between the meaning [significance] and the meaning [semantics]. Feminist interpreters are actually considered part of deconstruction, which basically says that no text has any meaning [semantics]. What we call the semantics of a text is only what we bring to it. However, as an evangelical, I would say that the text has a set meaning [semantics], but the significance of the text will vary based upon the context of the reader. For example, an adult whose friends have no fire engine toys will hardly have the significance of “don’t break someone else’s fire engine” or “return the fire engine when you are done borrowing it.”

    Also, I know that this issue drags up the emotions. I sincerely believe that the you and others involved in the NCFIC have a heart for what is right, and when you see something that is so wrong such as many modern youth ministries, it is very easy to say things that are bitter and harsh. Hence, apology accepted :-).

    God Bless,
    Adam

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