Sometimes, thinking “inside the box” can be all-important.

cat, cat owner, and litterbox

Other times, not . . . .

Marketeers use the phrase “… in a box” to sell products that claim to provide everything needed to achieve a desired result.

band in a box
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A casual search turns up many “in a box” products, all claiming to fully equip users for particular purposes.

business in a box
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“Party in a box” features napkins, banner, noise makers, cups, and plastic ware– everything you need to celebrate. “Network in a box” includes interface card, cables, and software– everything you need to “get wired.” “Oil change in a box” disappeared because of environmental concerns, but you get the picture. It had everything you need to….

blog in a box
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Some “in a box” products come close to being what they claim, but many fall far short of their promises.

Some people treat scripture as if it were “God in a box.”


They do that by reducing the Bible to a system of propositions that can be mixed and matched in syllogistic ways to produce conclusions having mathematical certainty.

Syllogism Example
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The problem with that approach though is that the system only works “inside the box.” It can’t be brought to bear on the external world because doing so introduces the very uncertainty the whole system is designed to avoid. One ploy is to make applications anyway but disguise the associated uncertainties by retaining syllogistic forms while denying hidden assumptions that are invariably buried in the major and minor premises.

The honest alternative is a different way of thinking and communicating that recognizes absolute certainty belongs, not to creatures, but to the Creator, with one important implication being that human beings don’t have to have absolute certainty before claiming some degree of access to truth and knowledge.

two boys bragging jesus loves me

In practice, the preceding translates into a whole different way of reading the Bible. Propositional and syllogistic preoccupations give way to a reading of Scripture that focuses on knowing God, with one result being that the Bible can then be brought to bear on the issues of life by making claims whose ultimate warrant is grounded in that knowledge. This approach yields less-than-certain results, but …

  • Certainty is not a prominent feature of human life;
  • There are no honest alternatives;
  • This is what we do to establish truth and knowledge in other areas; and
  • This is what we will do in religion whether we admit it or not.

Reading in community will be critical to avoid problems of subjectivity. The key safeguard against incorrect applications will be a standing question for the believing community, “have we understood God aright?”

The alternative is a narrow hermeneutic that is inherently unworkable “out of the box.”


historeo.comhistoreo 2


Why the obsession with certainty?

During the early modern era, rhetoric was bifurcated, with …

(1) its artsy parts (style, memory and delivery) going to literature and oratory and …

(2) its logical remainder (invention and arrangement) going to philosophy.

In the latter case, the skepticism of Enlightenment philosophy (remember Descartes “I think therefore I am”) denied claims of truth and knowledge to anything that was less than absolutely certain. But the absurdities of that conflation eventually shifted the science of argumentation away from a deductive approach (producing certainty but no new knowledge) and toward an inductive approach (producing new knowledge but with varying degrees of uncertainty.) (“New knowledge” in the preceding sentence refers to knowledge that expands the existing base. It is the kind of knowledge that results from the application of the existing propositional system to new circumstances.)

The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement (SCRM) emerged at a time when Baconian induction dominated the pursuit of truth and knowledge. Its application to Scripture perfected a “Christian system” that, in the eyes of many, could be used to deduce “all truth.” The recent move toward an inductive approach focused on the external world (vice Scripture) has been a healthy one, but many SCRM adherents still refect the attitudes of earlier times.

The History of Argumentation and the Problem of Certainty
history of argumentation
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