It seemed the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA were going to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season. One author said “scary good.” Another said the Nets were “overloaded” with stars, paying almost double the salary cap. The idea was that trading for experienced all-stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to complement Deron Williams, one of the best point guards in the league, would help the team contend for the NBA Finals. Now, over a quarter through the season, the Nets are 8-15 and widely considered the biggest disappointment in the NBA this year. What went wrong?
We would take seriously only an explanation that does two things:
First, the explanation must consistently show how all of the relevant events contribute to the present circumstance, Anyone who follows the NBA will tell you that an adequate explanation of the Nets’ failure should at least address a number of factors. For example, (1) The roster is aging and looks older than expected. The teams’ stars are mostly in their late 30s. (2) Injuries have been a major factor. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have both gone down. (3) The ability of first-year head coach Jason Kidd is questionable. (4) Kidd is reportedly fighting with his lead assistant, Lawrence Frank.
Second, an adequate explanation must make a compelling case—or at least not conflict with a compelling case—as to why alternative explanations are wrong. Suppose someone tried to blame the Nets’ failures on Andray Blatche, the standout center, who has played especially well of late? If an explanation cannot take Blatche into account without contradicting the other propositions it takes to be true, then the explanation is wrong. One cannot blame the problems entirely on both Blatche and Frank, for example.
To sum up, a good explanation must (1) show how the relevant evidence fits together to explain what is going on, and (2) be able to show why competing explanations cannot be right. This is true about the Brooklyn Nets, and it is true about other things as well.
Consider how the second of these principles applies to a particular problem in the religious world. Religious leaders often have problems developing explanations that take all of the relevant data (i.e., what the Bible says, what our experience in the world tells us, etc.) into account. But perhaps more surprisingly, many religious leaders have totally abdicated the second part of the responsibility of explanations. For example, when presented with a competing, contradictory or contrary view about what God expects of man, the religious leader will respond not by acknowledging that it would be a legitimate problem if the competing view were true, but rather by supposing that both positions may be correct. As religionists have explained to me recently: “You have your interpretation, and I have mine, and both may be correct.” Actually either may be correct, or neither may be correct, but both cannot be correct.
We would not accept this kind of explanation for the failure of the Nets to this point, and we should not accept this kind of explanation for more pressing concerns. Ecumenism, as the movement to unify all people who claim Christianity but hold contrary and contradictory positions concerning how to practice Christianity, requires just such a failure. Although presented under the guise of “respecting other faith journeys,” it amounts to a lack of respect for the Bible, which presents a pattern for human behavior (Romans 6:17). Faith journeys must be routed in Scripture (Romans 10:17).
Given that we rationally prefer explanations that are complete, why would we be involved in organized religion that fails in this fundamental regard? And, why would we expect people to adopt Christianity if their experience with religion called Christianity is merely with ecumenical contradictions?