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The Palatability of a Doctrine Does not Determine its Veracity

I don’t think that there is a more valuable phrase that I have learned than this. “The palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity.” I believe this is true. There are two key words here: “palatability” and “determine.”

Palatability refers to appeal, tastefulness, and emotional response to something. “Determine” according to the dictionary means, “to settle or decide (a dispute, question, etc.) by an authoritative or conclusive decision.” This does not mean that palatability has no say whatsoever, but it is not determinative by any means. I will explain more later.

Doctrine, truth, the way we understand who God is and what He has done, cannot be determined by how much we like it or how much it appeals to our present disposition toward things. I know that there are often times when people decide what they will believe in the same way they go through a smörgåsbord and decide what they will eat. “These potatoes look good, I will have some of them. Raw carrots? Yuk. I will pass. But that German chocolate cake will do, as will this crescent roll. I will pass on the rye bread though-leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.” Put to theology, “God’s love? Oh yes, give me two helpings of that. No, pass on God’s wrath, not enough room and it does not sound good. God’s grace will be great, but I will have to skip the atonement-too bloody and odd. Predestination? Sovereign election? No way! That tastes terrible. Never!”

Obviously, when pictured at Lubbies, this is funny, but the reality is that many of us (did I say us?) decide upon doctrine this way. This is not good. While the reverse of this principle is true, “The inpalitability of a doctrine does not determine that it is true,” we must understand that our authority does not lie in what we would like to be true. Doctrine is not influenced by how you would do things if you were God. In fact, it does not even ask you for your opinion on its tastiness. When there is clear revelation from God’s word, we must submit to it as the final authority, no matter how bad, bitter, spicy, or bland it might taste. 

On the other hand, palatability may have a say when things are not clear. In other words, when doctrine is not clear within Scripture, such is the case with the destiny of the mentally unable and children who die in the womb or at an early age, then we look toward our emotional reaction for guidance, even if this guidance is fallible. If the Scriptures did say that infants who die before they are born go to hell, you and I would be repulsed by such an idea. This would not be palatable by any means. We would seek every recourse to find an alternative interpretation. Why? Because it is so repugnant to our thoughts of justice and innocence. As I said, it is inpalatable. But if the Scriptures were clear concerning this, we would eventually have to submit to God’s final authority to do as He wills with his creation. However, since the Scriptures do not speak to the matter with any clarity, and other doctrines do not give us a definitive answer, we look to our thoughts on the matter and are justified in believing that our emotions give us a justifiable reason to believe that God will save the unborn. Why? Because we believe that we are created in the image of God. Theologians call this the imago dei. Being in the image of God creates what we call an analogia entis (analogy of being). The analogia entis is the correspondence that we have to God in our being and includes emotions and desires. The simple statement “God loves” only has meaning to us because we believe that our understanding of what it means to love corresponds to God’s. This creates an analogy of language that makes communication possible. I could go on with this for some time explaining the rich history behind it all, but this is a simple blog. All of this to say that our understanding of God and truth is aided by our palatability, though not determined by it.

Therefore, the statement “the palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity” must not only be understood profoundly, but held to deeply. For the most part, I find the Christianity very palatable. Grace, love, righteousness, our future hope, the restoration of all things, etc. are all doctrines that I would gladly take from a smörgåsbord. But when it comes to things that are not quite so palatable and lovely, I must take them too as my final authority is not that which is reasonable to my taste buds, but that which God has revealed in His word.

12 Responses to “The Palatability of a Doctrine Does not Determine its Veracity”

  1. Michael, I agree completely with you on this. We can never take our own wants and impose them to create right doctrine. I think we

  2. Thanks Ed. You are right. We do this all the time. It is really easy to do when you have the numbers behind you. Makes it more comfortable.

  3. Great comments Michael!

    I appreciate the comprehensiveness of thought and tone.

  4. I shared in the IT-10 blog that this is an area that I need to address as I study. Michael you mentioned that sometimes you are “angry with God.” For me, I don’t know if it’s anger as much as it is disappointment. But whatever the sentiment, we know that it’s really our understanding that needs to change.

    One of my biggest struggles is determining what the Bible teaches about women. Whether it be women in the ministry or women in marriage, it certainly seems to teach that women have some sort of subordinate role. I don’t say this to anger any of your female readers who may disagree with that – I say it because it simply bothers me if it is true.

    When I study the many passages that treat these subjects, I invariably approach it with a pre-determined mindset of trying to find ways to make it say something different than it apparently says. in my mind, it just can’t be true, so the NT writers must have been writing to a different culture in a different time. And while this could be true, either to some extent on the whole – I still need to approach it more honestly if I am to truly gain a Biblical understanding.

    Thanks, great post.

  5. I sympathize, no empathize with you a great deal about the women in ministry issue. That is a very difficult one as there are cultural issues that effect the palatability of it.

    You say, “When I study the many passages that treat these subjects, I invariably approach it with a pre-determined mindset of trying to find ways to make it say something different than it apparently says.” You know what? We all do this. But the simple fact that you admit it, tells me a whole lot about you. It is those who don’t admit it that scare me.

    Great comments.

  6. Thanks Michael.

    I think this underscores the importance of all believers learning to “do” theology. Without the underlying understanding, particularly in many an understanding of ourselves and the many factors that effect the way we think – we really risk a very sloppy eisegesis… even if it is unintentional.

    I’ve got to get off this palatability subject – I’m thinking Arby’s…

  7. Great point Michael! I think about this all the time because it is so easy to “over study” the parts of the Bible and the doctrines I “don’t like” and not examine enough the ones that fit in nicely with my sensibilities.

    I agree completely with Ed’s comment as well.

  8. Swallowing doctines that are unpalatable … means you have no sense of taste. And taste is a valuable, God-given sense. If it offends you, spit it out.

    Strictly speaking, you might have a point. But … consider that in following a religioin, why would we follow the one that seems most bitter?

    Keeping in mind that that the things that seem bitter at first … later turn out to be in fact, poisonous?

    And so regarding the Christian implication that God blames us for the sin of Adam, our ancestory? Or worse, He made us with a capacity that would make many of us chose evil?

    GOd gave us a loaded gun … and blamed us when our childish finger shot the trigger?

  9. And some things taste sweet, and turned out poisonous. Like remember a long time ago, way back in the 1970s when people put razor blades in candy they were passing out on halloween, and ever since then you must take the candy to be x-rayed?

    Just because it’s candy don’t make it safe either.

  10. God never gave me a loaded gun…whatchoo talkin’ ’bout G? First He said….dooooooonnnnnn’t do it……emphasis on don’t.

  11. Before we had “knowledge”?

  12. Michael, Dr. G and Friends,

    Are we talking past “analogia entis” and moving on to “analogia fidei”. In the first we speak of the basic and essential characteristics of being human and its effects on our view of the world; and in the second we bring our presuppositional view of our faith to our interpretation. The first we look to our understanding of ourselves (no matter how immature or in many cases contradictory and contrary to our behavior) and then seek proof that God is like that.
    In the second, we assume our feelings verify the faith that we have accepted without examination or at best is a description of the orientation which we will demand of Scripture. So for Luther, Christ is the anology of Faith. For Clavin, it is the Spirit.

    Now let me say this. I have read so much I am not sure what the answer is. I can say that I was uncomfortable with what I read in response to what Michael said. I then reached for an answer and typed what I got. LOL, If I am correct blame it on the Spirit and If I am wrong blame it on the devil and I am sure grace and one of you will correct me…

    Love
    Jay S

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