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.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]