Tag Archives: Apologetics – to the intellectuals

Sex and America’s Political Conscience: Seared, Hardened, and “Woke” All at the Same Time (part I of II)

Martin Luther, free to be?: the conscience must be free from the Law, but the body must obey the Law (AE 9:136, Cf. AE 31:124)

You want to get to the sex stuff and political stuff?

Let’s start with something far more important: Christ’s Church, the Chosen Bride of the King (see what I did there?).

“You can’t take sex out of things.” – Jordan Peterson, here.

For me, as a traditional Christian, “politics is downstream from culture,” and culture, derived from the Latin cultus, means “care, cultivation, worship,” which relates to religious faith. This, in turn, brings me to the Church and its responsibility for educating and disciplining the people of God — keeping its own house in order. In other words, Christian truth — backed up with real consequences when ignored (not only what some call “natural consequences”) — must continually prevail over and against even more “liberal” notions.

This includes even liberal political notions like freedom, equality, fraternity, etc. – things admittedly made somewhat realizable for many only with the help of Christianity.

Steven, again failing to properly credit the real Father.

And this certainly is no small task for today’s church. Why? It is because everywhere, including within the Church, consciences have been and are being increasingly seared and hardened (more on these concepts below) daily….

And, looking out more broadly, in many cases, the world and the Church like how it conscience has been seared and hardened. As Woody Allen so memorably put it, “the heart wants what it wants”. Freedom! (vs. that terrible Christian repression, you know!).

“The Mike Pence Rule” — are this man’s issues setting women everywhere back?

At the same time, there is an annoying side-effect of all this. When these folks think about Christianity, it can ruin their day. Thinking about the faith’s views about sex and gender in particular, they get upset and then proceed to ask the faithful why we fixate on these issues.

Currently, Theresa Latini, newly elected President of United Lutheran Seminary in Pennsylvania, is finding out that a position she took in the past — that Christians should resist same-sex attraction — is enough to have her run out of an ELCA seminary today.

Have you now or ever been a member of OneByOne? (some “bound consciences” are more equal than others, you know).

Way back in 2009, when the Lutheran theologian Timothy Wengert provided the justification for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) acceptance of homosexual behavior by their clergy, many who both reject Christ and who claim Christ were doubtless gratified. On the other hand, the short paper Wengert wrote which did this, “Reflections on the Bound Conscience in Lutheran Theology,”[1] prompted my own pastor – a Lutheran who loves and adheres to the 1580 Book of Concord – to study the topic of conscience in the work of Martin Luther.

…or with Luther’s existentialist, pragmatic interpreters…

I highly recommend reading Pastor Paul Strawn’s paper, as you will learn about…:

  • Wengert’s “simply tragic” (I’d use a different word) failure to acknowledge existing scholarship that had been done on Martin Luther and the conscience by highly noted scholars (I add, this is a good way to kill your conscience about conscience).
  • How for Luther, “the burdening of the conscience with man-made laws or traditions, and the burdening of the conscience by the Law of God in view of sin, are two vastly different things.”
  • How this conscience burdened by God’s Law is an “evil conscience,” “plagued by guilt and despair in the face of the knowledge of God’s judgment upon a specific sin.”
  • How an evil conscience can become hardened: “man can and does fight against his conscience and eventually, may even be able to subdue it so that it goes into a type of dormancy.”
  • How Luther found these things not only in the Bible, but in the character of Orestes in Virgil’s Aeneid: the Erinyes, or Furies, of Alecto (“unceasing”), Megaera (“grudging”), and Tisiphone (“avenging murder,” hounding the guilty for their sin). If hell is not feared, future pain and suffering certainly is.

Luther: “I am speaking about true knowledge, in which the wrath of God against sin is perceived and a true taste of death is sensed….” (AE 26:148)

  • How Luther broke with the scholastic concept of the human conscience which said that it, in part, was a “native capacity to choose to do good,” and instead spoke about the matter in accordance with the Apostle Paul.
  • Luther: “[the conscience’s] purpose is not to do, but to pass judgment on what has been done and what should be done, and this judgment makes us stand accused or saved in God’s sight.”
  • How a natural conscience, which has a knowledge of God and His Law, can become a seared conscience, i.e. one that functions improperly, where it cannot “accurately judge the actions of the individual.”
  • In other words, it becomes “artificial, false, unreasonable, not natural, not true, causing a fear of God, that is worship, where God is not to be feared or worshiped.”
  • For a good conscience, “an unfortunate event (which would terrify the evil conscience, bringing to mind former sins, and bringing to light future judgment) is considered not to have happened by chance, ‘but in accord with the good will of God.’”
  • In sum “[h]ow Timothy Wengert applied the concept of ‘bound conscience’ to those who claim to be Christian but who would live in homosexual relationships is not to be found in the writings of Martin Luther” (to say the least!).

“And if my conscience tried to reproach me, saying, ‘You take a good deal of liberty with your interpretation, Sir Martin, but—but—’ etc., I would press until I became red in the face, and say, ‘Keep quiet, you traitor with your “but,” I don’t want the people to notice that I have such a bad conscience!’” More (see this also).

Now, perhaps, in referring to this nine year old event and showing how utterly bankrupt Wenger’s argument (and scholarship) is, I’ve already really upset some of my Christian brothers and sisters here. Even if it is true that men like Timothy Wengert did not do due diligence as a scholar here – so what? Why do you need to focus here, on this? Why put so much focus here on what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms and not on people who are poor, who are weak, who are oppressed?

Oh — I didn’t mean that.

Fortunately, I am feeling particularly inclined to engage concerns like this today. In that spirit, let me really try my best to reconnect with you, even as I seek to adjust your frame…:

  • I agree we should be talking about this more and acting here more. In general, we should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
  • It is true that to the idea that “I/you am/are not a victim” we need to respond: “We are all both victims and victimizers.” Some of us more so and some of us less so.
  • Liberal: “We should be more concerned about issues concerning women and race.” Conservative: “What about Saudi Arabia and China? Why don’t you care about them?” Well, shouldn’t we take the log out of our own eye first? Point to the Liberal.

No offense, but its true.

  • That said, if you don’t really don’t feel any real strong affection for your own countrymen who contribute to the problems, shouldn’t you just shut up? Point to the Conservative.
  • The left, with good points about greed and living wages. The right, with good points about the power and danger of sex and the rule of law. And never the two shall meet?
  • We should not fail to speak the truth about any issue, no matter where our culture or political party of choice stands on it.
  • Both the increasingly pagan right and the increasingly fake-Christian left (Fully secular? Please….) are loathe to recognize and deal with the fact that notions of progress come from the Bible, problematizing what is “natural” or “ideal” as the case may be.
  • Finally, even if you don’t like talking about sexual issues, people really are harmed by the misuse of God’s good gift of sex.

Yeah, you see how I used that final bullet point to get us back to sex, right? Still, it’s certainly justified: aren’t we all, after all, waking up to this now like never before? If the past few months, have taught us anything, it is that sex appears to be a big deal for most everybody involved…

Sex education literature, per Shalit, says that those who can separate sex from love are sophisticated… “those who still dream of love are immature…” – Per Pearcey, 123

And of course it is. For Christ is the husband and the Church is His bride – that’s meant to include you to. And marriage, as we know, is largely for sex even as sex is entirely for marriage. Sex shouldn’t be our religion – though given its significance it is understandable how this can occur – but is a critical component of marriage, which is one of the primary icons of the True Religion.

Is the practice of monogamous marriage simply communism applied to a “sexual marketplace”? Or is it an icon of our intended destiny?: Christ with His Bride, the Church

I’d go further and argue that the reason sex is such a big deal is because the dynamics often found there – strength, beauty, attraction, desire, seduction – are a microcosm of the dynamics that occur in the world on a larger scale.

I call it Christian heresy: “Through sex, mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise” – Margaret Sanger (quoted in Pearcey, 132)

This will be explored much more in part II of this series, but for now we can simply say this: part of this is because even as more secularized persons in particular complain about the disenchantment of the world, sex continues to enchant – giving us a sense of the kinds of things that capture our adulation and praise. The philosopher Matthew Crawford smacks us in our politically correct faces:

“Stepping outside the intellectually serious circle of my teachers and friends at Chicago into the broader academic world, it struck me as an industry hostile to thinking. I once attended a conference entitled “After the Beautiful.” The premise was a variation on “the death of God,” the supposed disenchantment of the world, and so forth. Speaking up for my own sense of enchantment, I pointed out, from the audience, the existence of beautiful human bodies. Youthful ones, in particular. This must have touched a nerve, as it was greeted with incredulous howls of outrage from some of the more senior harpies.” (Shop Class as Soulcraft: an Inquiry into the Value of Work, pp. 104-105).

And Christianity’s connection with all of this?[i] Nancy Pearcy, in her fantastic new book Love Thy Body, has many important tidbits to share: (note the impressive review/interview here from, of all places, Religion News Service)

  • “We should never defend Christianity by saying it is traditional. From the beginning, it has stood against the traditions of its day” (70).
  • “Beginning in the fifth century, Christian leaders finally began to wield enough political influence to pass laws against sexual slavery…The most reliable index of how deeply Christianity had permeated a society was whether it outlawed sexual slavery” (72).
  • “[In ancient Greece and Rome] brothels specializing in sex slaves, including children, were a legal and thriving businesses… Jesus shocked his contemporaries by treating children not as contemptible but as valuable…” (104-105).

  • “Scripture offers a stunningly high view of physical union as a union of whole persons across all dimensions” (138).
  • “The communion of male and female is meant to mirror the communion of divine persons within the Trinity” (139).
  • “Some of the early martyrs were slaves who proclaimed their freedom in Christ by refusing to [sexually] service their masters – and were executed for it” (143).
  • “Christianity, we might say, invented consensual sex when it developed a sex ethic that assumed that God empowers individuals with freedom” (143).
  • “When we make sexual decisions, we are not just deciding whether to follow a few rules. We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” (156).

Marriage contra mundum: If sex becomes, for both men *and women*, simply akin to the rationalized exploitation we often see in unbridled capitalism, will marriage as a covenant – and not just another contract – begin to make sense to the West again?

“We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” not only as regards sexual decisions but about politics as well. After all, most political action — that is the governance of human beings in the world — happens organically with marriage, i.e. at the level of the family the one flesh union creates. It should therefore be no mystery why marriage is the ultimate icon of Christ and His Bride, who is the Church — the mother of the children of God who guides them to their Shepherd-King.

“…To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections….” — Edmund Burke

This is why, as Pearcey provocatively puts it, “The early church may have been ‘on the wrong side of history.’ But that’s why it changed history”(188).

The previous title of Professor Alvin Schmidt’s book “How Christianity Changed the World” says it all: “Under the Influence” – namely, of Christ and the Christian conscience!…

Wrong worship!: The internet exists for the proclamation of the word of God. The world thinks its there for pornography! — Pastor Will Weedon (listen)

I hope I’ll see you for part II on Monday. I promise the title of the post will reach its consummation then…




[1] [Footnote from Strawn’s paper:] Originally: Here as well:

[i] From an old post: “In the bible, both adoption and marriage – which always includes a physically intimate, or sexual, component – are the two great metaphors of the Bible: this is how God deals with His people. Further, marriage is arguably the stronger of the two metaphors – so perhaps in this sense at least, Christianity is mainly about “sexual issues” (see this interesting post by Rod Dreher that I initially wanted to rebel against**). Though we might find the imagery put forth in passages like Ezekiel 16 disturbing in many ways – the sexualized symbolism here is jarring to say the least – this uncomfortable parable has much to teach us about the nature of God’s relationship with those who trust in Him (I pondered this more here, offering a counterpoint to assertions made in Justification is for Preaching, ed. Virgil Thompson).”

Images: Jordan Peterson, Joseph McCarthy, Mike Pence, Milo Y, Margaret Sanger, and Edmund Burke all from Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0 or Public Domain)



Posted by on March 16, 2018 in Uncategorized


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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Public Enemy #1? And if So, Why?

Paul Gottfried, p. 15: “conservative critics…attack Hegelianism as a source of moral mischief, one that has spawned both personal utopias and crazed social prophecy.” Why?


He influenced not only philosophy, but theology, and a myriad of other academic disciplines. Oh, and he was most influential when if comes to Western culture and politics.

So was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel the 19th century German philosopher and one of the most fascinating persons in history, the perhaps unintentional enemy of Christendom and Western Civilization? And if so, why?

Fascinatingly, when it comes to his political views he was, in his time and since, claimed by both revolutionary and conservative political forces. In his 1986 book Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right (President Nixon’s favorite book of 1987), Paul Gottfried writes, regarding the interpretation of Hegel’s dictum: “What is real is rational,” that it is a common understanding that:

Whereas the Marxists and other radical Hegelians identified rationality with revolutionary change, the Hegelian Right defended the inherent rationality of their own society (4).

Peter Singer on Hegel: Up until him humanity had been pawns in the game… they weren’t really controlling the game…. (from here)

And yet, even this picture is woefully incomplete, as Karl Rosenkranz, writing in 1869, made clear:

“He [Hegel] opposed feudalism, which exalts a patriarchal constitution, by insisting on legality; he opposed abstract democracy, which flatters the masses, by promoting monarchy; he opposed artistocracy by calling for popular representation; the state bureaucracy by calling for freedom of the press, for jury trials, and for the independence of corporations. He offended the hierarchy of all confessions by calling for their submission as churches to the sovereignty of the state and for the emancipation of science from church authority. He antagonized the industrial state, which seeks to ensnare the people with the promise of riches and material prosperity, by stressing ethics as the state’s absolute purpose. He opposed enlightened despotism… by demanding a constitution; and he opposed cosmopolitan socialism by subordinating it to the state’s historical and national character.” (quoted in Gottfried, 11).

Hegel: “Political and cultural history contained an immanent design arising from a universal mind” – Gottfried on the views of “nonleftist Hegelians” (5)

So one can talk sensibly, Gottfried argues throughout his book, for a Hegelian left, center-left (in line with classical liberalism), and a Hegelian right – in spite of the “ritualistic anti-Hegelianism” found among some of these (i.e. they don’t realize the extent to which Hegel has influenced them) (104). “According to Karl Lowith, Hegel viewed his schematization of history as a defense of ‘Christian bourgeois society'” (133). Obviously, this man was a fascinating figure, appealing to many in politics like Augustine appeals to a variety of Christian traditions today.

For me Hegel in many ways cuts a sympathetic figure. The world that he knew was losing its traditions as exciting discoveries and societal gains, seemingly accomplished by Enlightenment thinking alone, were unraveling the old certainties. The Romantic counter-movement also caused a good deal of confusion and doubt when it came to the old ways. Hegel came on to the scene as a careful observer of the past and present and as one who could make some real sense of what was happening – and much that he says is no doubt insightful. He was, for the most part, the first philosopher to actually take history seriously (even if he does it the wrong way). Furthermore, I get the impression that for him, rationality when it comes to politics is something more like wisdom than it is “technocratic” solutions.

“The conservatives’ Hegelianism provided a historical perspective that united East and West, antiquity and the modern world, and paganism and Judeo-Christianity within an unfolding divine plan accessible to human understanding.” (p. 104)

What I find most interesting though are his philosophical views, and their impact on religion (and politics). Hands down, the most helpful thing that I have found for beginning to learn more about Hegel, his beliefs, and his influence is this excellent 1987 BBC production available on You Tube (Bryan Magee appears to have been something else!):


How does Hegel describe reality? In the video, Bryan Magee, sums up what Peter Singer says about Hegel, by saying that for him, “Reality is a process of historical change.” What does this mean? Well, Hegel is a historicist, and, as the literary scholar Hans Gumbrecht has said, with historicism, “there is no phenomenon in time that can resist change.”[i]

“My studies…against the essentialist metaphysics of the Western tradition. I would not be completely alone…There was Hegel to.”- Gadamer

Mark that. Of course reality, is not, fundamentally, “a process of historical change.” For the Christian, it would be more accurate to say something like this: Fundamentally, reality is an ontology of harmony for eternity. The cosmos we know, because of the Triune God, is at bottom relational and stable. This is not to ignore the change that can and does occur in the world, but to acknowledge the True Creator, Preserver, and Driver of history.

Martin Noland, on historicism: “all classical notions of ‘substance’ and ‘essence’ become obsolete” and “even the notion of ‘truth’ becomes subject to change.”

In light of this viewpoint then, I am going to simultaneously quote and critique the section of Gottfried’s book where he talks about Hegel’s debt to historicism and defends the same (all from p. xi):

“….what we should be seeking is a dispassionate understanding of historicism, and certainly incorporates sources other than Marxist-Hegelians. By historicism is meant an ethical and epistemological perspective that makes the awareness, and ultimately, the validity, of values dependent upon historical experience.”

A couple comments here. First of all, in what sense are “values” then, “dependent upon historical experience”? In the sense that human beings must experience values in history in order to be able to discuss them and their meaning? Who can deny this then and who is not a historicist? Just what is meant here by “depend”? As I noted in this post on the 19th century “conservative Lutheran” Hegelian-influenced theologian Johann Von Hofmann, just because human beings have different perspectives and cannot stop interpreting world events[ii], this does not mean that all things which human beings come to know – and which make their presence known to them – are subject to change in time. For a “dispassionate understanding of historicism,” I recommend Dr. Martin Noland’s PhD thesis, summarized here.

“Selfie theologian” Johann Von Hofmann, leader of a Hegelian-influenced school of theology that sees Scripture as merely a “form of the word of God” (think Plato)

“The historicist, by this definition, does not deny the ontological status of values that are unrelated to historical practice but simply treats them as irrelevant, like the unnoticed leaf I the forest over whose existence, or nonexistence, philosophers once disputed.”

This, along with his comment about “honoring of forms without reference to historical contexts (p. 33),” seems to be a dig at Platonism (and with him, the political conservative giant Leo Strauss, who he is very critical of in the book), which would make sense. I contend that in view of Hegelianism, any form of Platonism which might hope to exercise cultural and political influence is helpless. As I will argue in more detail in an upcoming post on my Reliable Source blog:

“Knowledge certainly does have a very dynamic aspect – for Plato, for example, it is always “solid” in the Heavenly Forms but, significantly, here on earth our ideas can be quite off, as we struggle with the Shadows. This, of course, is taken to new levels with Hegel (where there cannot be a statement made by human beings that is true by itself and that endures throughout time). The core idea here is that Laws, Forms, or the Ideal to which we are grasping might not change, but our interpretations of them — as elites get both more educated and smarter — does. For example, our past representations of some forms (e.g. marriage, father, mother, male, female, etc.), it is reasoned, were evidently off as we, under less reasonable influences, misinterpreted the Appearances.

Is a “good, true, and beautiful” that is always changing still “good, true, and beautiful”? Or if it is stable in heaven, but not on earth?

But now, we are being enlightened, pulled along by Something, helping us get on “the right side of history.” Even postmodernists find themselves talking this way because they to have teleological impulses that sync with stable (for the moment!) notions of right and wrong that should be expected from all. They must, because they are human beings. Even if one is uncertain about their views, traditional notions of law — based on Christian ideas — must be updated and/or replaced. In other words, they might not be certain about Right and Wrong, but they are confident enough about what they don’t respect and appreciate to act. And it seems to me that any conservatives looking to Plato who want to say there is some permanence in the world — and not just in the heavens — are absolutely helpless in light of this. For permanence is the illusion of the Appearances, and Hegel, bolstered of course by Galileo, Darwin, etc. rules the day.”

Gottfried goes on:

A historicist outlook similar to the one presented previously influenced my subjects [in this book]. They arrived at this outlook, at least partly, through their exposure to Hegel, who expressed it emphatically in almost all of his writings. For the historicist, man is knowable and definable through his historical situation and cultural upbringing, but never as the object of purely abstract predicates. The charge raised by [neo-Thomist David] Levy, however, does not go way completely, even if we present historicism in its most favorable light. Historicists, and among them Hegel, have sometimes treated moral and intellectual truths as being relative to particular epochs and cultures and thus fated to vanish in a changing world. Yet, this exaggerated emphasis on historical change does not represent the whole of historicist thinking. Many historicists, including Hegel, have stressed historical continuity more than change. They have also presented history as a vehicle for teaching and testing values without ascribing the origin of morality to a changing historical process.[iii]

Nevertheless, change is stressed. And not just change, but radical change. We are not just wrestling with Kant’s antinomies anymore, perhaps doing something like what E.F. Schumacher does here in this statement:

Justice is a denial of mercy, and mercy is a denial of justice.  Only a higher force can reconcile these opposites: wisdom. The problem cannot be solved, but wisdom can transcend it. Similarly, societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation, public interest and private interest, planning and laissez-faire, order and freedom, growth and decay….

No. It is no longer responsible for us to conclude that a proposition is true, even if we do not necessarily understand the full depth (and therefore full meaning) of what is being said. We now are insisting that no statement can stand on its own. We are now talking the next step, synthesizing and more with wild confidence en route to our goal of some kind of fuzzy, perpetual progress that pulls us along. But as Schumacher goes on to say:

“ Everywhere society’s health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims. The adoption of a final solution means a kind of death sentence for man’s humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, generally both… Divergent problems offend the logical mind. — Schumacher, E. F. A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Harper & Row, 1977, 127.

Persons of a more “progressive” mindset, influenced by Hegelian philosophy (whether they know it or not), see the matter of seeking justice very differently from, for example, those influenced by more classical notions of Christianity. In his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton wrote, “[progress] should mean that we are slow and sure in bringing justice and mercy among men: it does not mean that we are very swift in doubting the desirability of justice and mercy… [Today,] we are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is much easier” (1909, p. 195).

This is most certainly true.

David Brooks, not acting very conservative: “…creativity can be described as the ability to grasp the essence of one thing, and then the essence of some very different thing, and smash them together to create some entirely new thing.”

As was his custom, the perspicacious 20th century Lutheran theologian Kurt Marquart nailed it. The religion of Hegelianism would attempt to appropriate even the Bible for in its cause….:

“To suggest that the orthodox [Christian] concept of authoritative propositional truth, dogma, is ‘Greek,’ while the pietistically sugar-coated agnosticism of the modern, tentative sore of ‘theology’ is ‘Biblical,’ is to turn the facts topsy-turvy and to betray a total lack of perspective. Exactly the opposite is the case! It is precisely Biblical religion which insists on the absolute and universal significance of historically-anchored particularities.”

Missing delightful, brilliant and holy Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart, very much…. (listen to him here)

Recently, in our local paper, a person responded to a piece by the conservative columnist John Kass, and wrote:

As a lifelong Christian, I join many others in the understanding that Kass’ claim[, that “[t]he basic tenet of Christianity is the belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God and that, without that belief, salvation is impossible],” is false and that the basic tenet of Christianity is, instead, the basic teaching of Jesus: Love God above all, and love your neighbor as yourself. The exclusivist claim cited by Kass, and probably held by most fundamentalist Christians, is based on an interpretation of scripture with which many Christians disagree.

Hegel would have also likely disagreed, and many of his followers certainly do. But the historically-anchored particularity of the God-Man Jesus Christ — with His perfect life and innocent death for us — is indeed said to be, by the historically-anchored witness of His disciples, the only “name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

In sum, reality is an ontology of harmony for eternity revealed in human flesh.




Images: Peter Singer from the Star ; Hegel from Wikipedia ; Gadamer from ; Noland from himself ; Von Hoffman, Plato, and David Brooks from Wikipedia, Marquart from:

[i] from The Shulman Lectures, “All that Matters is Invisible: How Latency Dominates our Present”. Regarding a definition of historicism, Martin Noland writes in his PhD thesis: “In summary, historicism was both a worldview and a method. As a worldview, it was identified with anti-naturalist and post-speculative realist perspectives, emphasizing the themes of the malleability of human nature and individuality. As a method, it operated with the principles of criticism, analogy, correlation, development, and the historical idea.” (p. 83) It also “looks at the world from the standpoint of intellectual, spiritual, and psychological entities and processes, even to the extreme point of explaining all natural phenomena as a cultural growth. Unlike the model of Newtonian science, which posited the fixed nature of entities and the mathematical description of processes, historicism recognizes that entities change and develop over the course of time. Such change of an entity, requiring a historical account of its origin and growth, is thus the root issue dividing naturalism and historicism. (p. 47)”

[ii] Since Kant especially, the focus of human knowledge has been the human subject. As Jordan Cooper notes regarding the 19th century theologian Albrect Ritschl: “what Mannermaa rightly points out is that Luther has been misunderstood due to Ritschl’s adoption of Kantian ideas, especially as explained by Herman Lotze. In particular, the problem lies in the nature of what Kant refers to as the noumenal realm which is inaccessible to the human person. Instead, a thing is only known through its impact upon the human subject. When Ritschl applies this distinction to theology (albeit with several modifications), this means that God is explained only through one’s experience of him. This is not a subjective personal experience, as Ritschl is highly critical of individualistic pietism, but the experience of the Christian community” (italics mine).

[iii] Gottfried goes on to write in the next paragraph: “It must, of course, be stated that all historicists have not been Hegelians. Edmund Burke, who had a keen sense of the historical and evolutionary aspects of human society, preceded Hegel by almost two generations….” This seems to be a hotly debated topic (see here and here) and is certainly one I am eager to learn more about. the first paragraph of this article would seem to set the stage well.



Posted by on June 29, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Richard Dawkins’ Comments Comparing Christianity and Islam Show Knowledge, Not Wisdom

Image from here.

Image from here.

Very interesting five-year-old comments made by the famous atheist Richard Dawkins re-surfaced on the internet last week. Now some reading the title of the post might think I am going in a political direction here in response to Dawkins, but I’m not – at least not directly. My goal is actually to “hook you” and lure you into philosophical depths you might otherwise shy away from.

I enjoyed this engaging and inspiring (for this Christian!) 5-minute video from Lutheran pastor Jonathan Fisk, which explores Dawkins’ comments in some depth. At the same time, if I were to actually try and start a conversation with Richard Dawkins, I’d go in another direction (as would the good pastor, I am guessing).

Fisk points out that Richard Dawkins, given his professed atheism, has no way to talk about why something is “worse” or “better” in “a world without meaning”. True enough in one sense, for Dawkin’s has admitted that he does not believe that good and evil really exist. Point to Fisk.

But from the perspective of the matter of survival – or simply “continuing to live” (see here for more on this) – doesn’t Dawkins have a good point, regardless of the deeper issues of morality at play here? Point Dawkins, it seems!

That said, most persons don’t want to give the impression that the only thing that matters is what human beings think is practical to survive and flourish! Simply put, personal responsibility and consequences for actions have to be more than a purely pragmatic matter, right? And Christians in particular certainly don’t want to give the impression that atheists only know that the only thing that matters is being practical. Many – perhaps even Dawkins – would insist that as human beings they have deep feelings and convictions about matters of good and evil, right and wrong (even as persons like Dawkins don’t think it really exists “out there” for us in any sense).

We cannot escape the notion of “the good life” (but see footnote 1)

We cannot escape the notion of “the good life” (but see footnote 1)

And of course they do! – even if the content of their convictions regarding these things is godless and hence off to this or that degree. And even if their naturalistic philosophy, culminating in a ruthless modern scientific and technological mindset, in fact undermines all stable rational ground for those convictions.[i] It is just that for them, ultimately, man (that is certain men, by definition the “reasonable” ones) does indeed end up being the “measure of all things”.

The believer believes that real rights and wrongs derive from God, but the unbeliever will state they believe in these things for different reasons. Nevertheless, we can insist that everyone knows – even if this, like knowledge of God, is suppressed deeply within their hearts – that we must speak not only of something we call wisdom, but goodness and righteousness as well.

Let’s explore this in some more detail. First, what is wisdom? Is there, perhaps, even wisdom in Dawkin’s remarks? I would not go that far. I would say there is knowledge – and publicly accessible knowledge[ii] – in Dawkin’s remarks. And scholars like Dawkins often have a lot of knowledge they can share because they indeed are devoted to the practice of scholarship. So why, more exactly, is scholarship distinct from wisdom?

We might say that scholarship at its best is about “discovering the unknown or rediscovering the forgotten” (desire from curiosity and to solve problems both are involved here). And here, it must be said, that scholarship is distinct from the search for wisdom, which, as far as the world (not the church) goes, we can associate with pre-Enlightenment philosophy (generally not post-Enlightenment philosophy). Here Socrates said “the ignorant [do not] seek after wisdom; for herein is the evil of ignorance, that he who is neither good not wise is nevertheless satisfied with himself.” At the same time though, in another sense, no one can avoid being a philosopher!

For all real philosophy – even today – is simply about what it means to be a human being. This means it is about how we are to live, and all persons also believe that not just any way or “form of life” will do – some, in fact, must be discouraged or even actively suppressed. This is why many in the modern West have fought against religious practices like sentencing heretics to death, sati (widow-burning), and female circumcision, for example. And as is becoming increasingly clear today, even some of our most “enlightened” people want to take this even further (where, for example, even certain conscience-driven practices that do not cause physical harm must nevertheless be made unthinkable). And in this regard, all human beings – even the most “postmodern” among us – are constantly trying to organize, define, and state what is true – particularly regarding who we are and how we are to live – our purpose (here, the element of “story”, or narrative, is inevitable as well).[iii]

“The [scientific] purification [of philosophy] made it no longer sensible to speak of nature, including human nature, in terms of purposes and functions.”

“The [scientific] purification [of philosophy] made it no longer sensible to speak of nature, including human nature, in terms of purposes and functions.” (see here)

The key point here? “Teleology”, according to Wikipedia, “is a reason or explanation for something in function of its end, purpose, or goal.” And granted what I have said above, we are all philosophers and philosophy is, at bottom, teleology and morality.[iv] And it also follows that the matter of truth – even if we are just talking about small truths (not “big T” truth) – must to some degree be tied up with this.

One major reason for this is because if we grow disposed to ignore truth, our neighbor will not let us do so entirely. He will “communicate” this to us in one way or another, through a respectful conversation or not. It is also for this reason that all cannot but speak of relatively “wise” and “righteous” persons – these are those who understand they must live in the world in accordance with what ultimately is (not what “is” contingently among human beings), sensing at some level that what is cannot be separated from notions of teleology.[v] And I would argue that those who say “we don’t ‘know’ this” actually do know this at some level – as their attitudes and actions towards certain undesirable “forms of life” ultimately show.

To say the very least, can most of us not agree that a good person…. a righteous person… a true person… lives well by recognizing seemingly permanent limits in the cosmos – and their own limitations?[vi] This, of course, would include recognizing the things in life as being more than mere mindless and purposeless matter – or even more than mindful and purposeful matter! (see Thomas Nagel) – to be fashioned or even overcome by sheer wit, intelligence and will – and even the human spirit.[vii] And all of this, I submit, can also be evaluated primarily on the basis of external behaviors.[viii]

To begin to say more, we can, for example, puzzle over the mystery of justice and gratitude – these things, though often fuzzily understood, are, as well. As the Christian philosopher Thomas Reid pointed out many years ago, “gratitude for favors only makes sense because a favor goes beyond what is just.” The truth of this realization must be wrestled with: for it is not just unique to any particular human culture… some matter which is clearly contingent. What does this mean?

And what does it mean that you and I and most any other educated human being can even have this conversation? What does it mean that you know exactly what I am talking about? How is that even possible? Some of our friends, generally those on the political left, say that it is always true that “we” only makes sense relative to a particular community – only particular “communities of practice” can really understand their own. But if you are a non-Christian who is generally tracking with what I am saying in this post, this fact alone shows such claims to be nonsense. After all, do we not recognize other human beings, among all the creatures in our world, as those to whom we can relate to and communicate meaning with (giving and receiving reasons), precisely because we share a common humanity? In our scientific age, we might point out that the classical philosopher Aristotle may have gotten much wrong – but not this “rational animal” thing!

God’s child, Richard Dawkins (Acts 17:29), expressing true joy from the Lord (Acts 14:15).

God’s child, Richard Dawkins (Acts 17:29), expressing true joy from the Lord (Acts 14:15).

And why is this? To update Aristotle for today, I would suggest that it is because there is indeed a human community of practice. Much of what this community does – the “game” it plays – is trans-cultural and trans-historical. Or again, at the very least it is potentially trans-cultural and trans-historical (thinking of feral children here). After all, it seems clear that many of the things in the world – making their presence known with their more or less intractable ways – have been structuring our attention from humanity’s first breath.

Again, teleology is rightly seen as being connected with our ethics, our view of what is right and wrong – how human beings should act in light of what ultimately is… how we fit in with that.[ix] Life is about more than being practical, which includes as a core component recognizing seemingly permanent natural limits and one’s own limitations. It is also about beginning to realize and respect a) the deeper ends or goals that cause this to be the case, and b) that there is in fact an enduring moral order, much of which seems to be an inviolable and permanent part of being human.

As to where we go from here I note that the Christian philosopher Gregory Schulz says philosophy is best done in dialogue – and would this not, as he says, go especially for dialogue with God Himself? (given that He is real, is it not likely He would desire to clearly communicate with us in some way?). I suggest reading at Romans 1-3 and wrestling with what the Apostle Paul says there (don’t miss the good news at the end of chapter 3!).

There, you will find desperately needed wisdom. And that is the real reason for looking to the “bulwark of Christianity”. The mighty fortress that is our God.



Images: Dawkins ( ; found via a Creative Commons Search in Flickr images for “joyful boasting”


[i] I.e., none of them trust in any non-material force, being, thing or entity that is really good or strong enough to dissuade a particular human being who has the power to impose his evil will on other human beings. This does not mean that some do not believe there is truth that can do this, or should be able to do this. In her book Plato at the Googleplex, Rebecca Goldstein explains Spinoza’s views, which derive in part from Plato, which she explains by saying: “The beauty of proportionality that has led one on, because one loves it, would cause one to abhor a situation that would bring one into disproportion with everyone else… the impersonally sublime is internalized into personal virtue.” (p. 392, 393, see Gorgias 507e-508a, Philebus 64e, and Timaeus 47b-c). On pages 384-385, she says “Plato… is firmly on the side of the Reasonables. Everything we need to know – intellectually and morally – is out there” and “there is no escaping evaluation, no more in deciding what is rational to believe than in deciding what is ethical to do”. But here, one is really only left with notions of balance, moderation, and proportion regarding morality, perhaps to be negotiated over with one’s fellows. Hence, Plato portrays Socrates in his dialogues as being interested in the proper nature and goals of pederastic relationships.

[ii] Some would argue that anything that we might call knowledge must be publicly accessible. I think this is a reductionistic way of looking at things that is deeply wrong.

[iii] All, at some level, have felt and feel the need to explain the world in a way that brings coherence to the truths or “facts of life” we can all know – particularly those that capture attention trans-culturally and even trans-historically – even as various persons are either more or less confident that they have a “sense of the Totality” which they grasp. In any case, we should not be so naive to think that we are not always attempting to guide others’ consciences (i.e. “indoctrinate” to this or that degree) – we cannot avoid this. Therefore, while I am highly sympathetic to this essay about the recent madness occurring on college campuses, I am hesitant to give a full-throated endorsement, as it seems to lack the necessary nuance. Should normative ethics never be taught in a university?

[iv] Stated a bit more carefully, perhaps we could say that all significant questions and problems philosophers attempt to seriously address and make conclusions about emerge in part because of specifically moral – and teleological (with happiness or contentment being the end) – considerations. At the very least we can say this: in short, we should all be asking to what extent the sense of morality that we feel convictions about (often based on our personal experiences with others and our evaluations of the shorter or longer term consequences of our actions) drives or at least influences our consideration and evaluation of various kinds of evidence and their significance (correspondence theory of truth considerations) as well as various kinds of worldviews and their significance (coherence theory of truth considerations)

[v] Of course all agree some things, here and there, should change. The cosmos is not some perfect machine nor are we justified in thinking it is a machine of any kind. Proposition here about these contingent things that can and should change: any true progress would entail definite and discernible goals that we should work to be aware of and that we should work towards – where the vision of what is good is not always changing. If the answer is that the vision is something we totally invent and not primarily discover, how do we effectively and realistically work to change what needs to be changed in the world when we are always changing our minds? (channeling Chesterton here). For their part, Christians assert that believing in some kind of design in the world (often called “natural law” or the “law of nature”) does not mean that even everything that appears natural in humans is “good”. For example, racism, slavery, and the oppression of women, children, and the poor have at times throughout history – even to the greatest and most noble of thinkers – seemed to be “natural” to man (and these can only be countered with deliberate human intention, for whatever motivations), but in truth are corruptions of purpose and “not the way it is supposed to be”. I note that this explains in part the enthusiasm that many practicing Christians had for the program of Francis Bacon – who as part of his critique of Aristotle criticized his “knowledge” about the discernible purposes of this or that thing – as well as for the program of the Enlightenment (are not even liberty, equality, and fraternity in fact biblical concepts? And where in the history of philosophy, has philosophical faith in “the force of the best reason”, for example, shown that “all humans are created equal and are entitled to equal rights”? Really, which non-Christians philosopher ever said this and what were his/her reasons? Yes, the silence is deafening….). Here, arguments like atheist Michael Shermer’s are shown to be lacking in an immense way (Incidently, Shermer also admits that most of his fellow atheists, like Dawkins, think it is impossible to ground morality in anything objective, or outside of human beings).

[vi] This would go hand in hand with recognizing that there are seemingly permanent orders and structures in the cosmos that demand our respect. In which case, it would seem that what is good and right and true is about more than what is pleasurable and what is evil and wrong and false is about more than what is painful. Not only as concerns short-term and fleeting excitements but also as regards some longer-term, seemingly meaningful, and fulfilling pleasures.

[vii] Curtis White, for example, is a “Romantic” but is nevertheless “in the tank” with the philosophical naturalists: the attack on the arts is “also an attack on our earliest human instinct: our ability to invent our way to survival.” (p. 91, italics his, The Science Delusion). Furthermore, progressive Christian Eric Reitan seems unable to separate pragmatism from morality (see here).

[viii] I.e. because we are rationally inconsistent creatures our actions are finally that which must define us. For example, when it comes to this or that, mere curiosity about what ultimately is, not conviction, often describe our beliefs and attitudes (because, as Woody Allen said, “the heart wants what it wants”).

[ix] Should the fact that the connection between “male”, “female” and “offspring” is clearly more than linguistic mean a lot more to us than it currently does? J.B.S. Haldane said “Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public.” Further, Matthew Crawford, in his The World Outside Your Head (pp. 50-51) says, “the world is known to us because we live an act in it, and accumulate experience… we think through the body” and as R.R. Reno has asserted, our bodies have intrinsic moral meaning. This is a different – though very related – discussion than the one I have laid out here. Nowadays, of course, it relates in that in connects with what I wrote in the footnote above about what is related to true progress – “true becoming”.

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America, Behold Your God [of “Civil Religion”]: the Underlying Meaning of Gay Marriage and Other Incoming Issues

gaywhitehouse[note: I believe this is the longest post I have ever done on this blog. Its a magazine-length article featuring stuff I have been thinking about for a long time]

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” — Psalm 2:1


Before diving into this post, let me say this: I largely agree with Peter Leithart when he says “attending to our own house is now our best strategy for evangelization and prophetic witness.”

Actually, I’d say that’s always been the case.

That said, that does not mean that I am unwilling to encourage the wider [and increasingly] secular world to think very hard about what our current cultural moment means – and to try to persuade using their primary tool: reason (while also bringing attention to the biblical witness and its meaning).

Not all traditional Lutherans think this is the best use of our time. For example, one pastor responding to Friday’s ruling noted that we should just go on doing what we do and not act like the sky is falling. I certainly understand that impulse and it resonates with me (going along with the Leithart quote) – the sky has been falling since the Fall in the Garden of Eden! On the other hand, I think it’s also good to make clear how reason might be able to help explain what the Bible asserts, namely that fallen humanity can become even worse that it already is: flattering ourselves too much to detect or hate our sin, calling good “evil” and evil “good”, and even having the nerve to assert that there is no God.[i]

Part I – Gay Marriage: And God “Gave Them Over”… to a Pseudo-Social Justice?

A few days ago in America, gay marriage became the law of the land, following much of Europe (but not all – if it does get voted down it doesn’t really get reported). You may find it surprising to hear that as a Christian it is my personal conviction that the wide acceptance of gay marriage could have only happened in a Christian context – that is, in a society where a very strong measure of true love and tolerance is practiced.

I know people will laugh at that, and say, “No, it is the Enlightenment that is doing that work”. Well sure, to some degree… you see, in my view the “Enlightenment” is simply the most sophisticated and deadly of Christian heresies yet developed.

undertheinfluenceMorally, it hijacks Christianity’s emphasis on the dignity of the individual person and it praise of sacrificial service, particularly to the oppressed. Taking cues from Christian notions of love and freedom, it elevates the importance of the notion of “consent” (if you love something you, like the “prodigal father” in Luke 15, “let it be free” – this is the reason why free consent is considered to be at the heart of marriage in the West[ii]). And, at least until the “Enlightened” gain enough power, the Enlightenment mimics the Christian God’s impartiality and forebearance with its notions of “equality” and “tolerance”. In addition, taking its cue from the incarnation of God’s Son in history, it accentuates our sense of, and respect for, the empirical. It also assumes that the world is ordered and that our sensory equipment is likewise ordered, and reliable. In like fashion, the new life and transformation the love of Christ brings becomes progress and evolution.

In sum, there is a reason that notions of social justice find a home among those who identify with the person of Jesus Christ. Social justice came from Christianity. There is also, of course, a “Christless social justice” which largely conforms to God’s law and can do some real good in the world. That said, there is also a ”social justice” that certainly does more harm.

So how does this apply to last Friday’s decision? In short, when many in the West hear about the rather small minority of a small minority who want to get married (well mostly, because of the irresponsibility of the mainstream media, most falsely think there are a) lots of gay persons, and b) lots of gay persons who want to be involved in a committed, monogamous union – read Jonathan Last’s excellent piece here) they do, because they are moved by feelings of compassion, really want them to have that opportunity to know love (of course, how long this idea of gay marriage will last is anyone’s guess).

As Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court wrote yesterday’s decision:

“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right…. Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.”

As a Christian, I am a bit moved by that – even as all of us should know that love is about a whole lot more than the feeling of being [sexually] desired that overrides the feeling of loneliness. After all, most Americans claim the name of Christ, and who among us doesn’t want other human beings – those made in the image of God and bought with the blood of the Son of God Himself – to know some real measure of genuine love and affection in the world (and if you don’t feel that way, the “social justice” machine reasons, maybe you will feel the need to be “liked” by the world – see here from David French)?

But please don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that Christian teaching ever really supported gay marriage in particular or homosexual activity in general. I am saying that this current “justice” is a social justice mimic – this kind of sentimentality is a genuinely internal but nevertheless anemic, faulty, and imperfect imitation of what is in fact true love, compassion, and affection.[iii]

“What is more harmful than any vice? — Active sympathy for the ill–constituted and weak — Christianity … .” — Nietzsche, The Antichrist

From my viewpoint, even the most “Christian” nations in world history have never been that convincingly Christian. As Chesterton said,Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has not been tried.” Still, in nations where it has held some sway, I would argue that such heart-felt sentiments found in the general populace – mirroring the ones of those actually devoted to Christian teachings – have served us well. For example, we might be surprised to hear that world history, until re-oriented by Christian conviction, actually revealed a general lack of concern regarding children, women, and the practice of slavery.

So, for the first time in world history, things actually changed in the West (and no Ms. Goldstein, it was not primarily because of philosophy) – and this was indeed true progress!  But now, the train is coming off the rails… To borrow an illustration from Douglas Wilson, secularists have gotten into the car that is Christian morality and sentiment and – many not knowing what they do – are doing their best to crash it. Often unaware of the Christian cultural capital with which they progress…. they naively operate with the assumption that “man is the measure of all things” – even when they are increasingly losing the basis for any coherent idea of what constitutes “man” in the first place.

So, a short review of this first section’s argument: even though Christianity is opposed to gay marriage, Christians still have a genuine compassion for all persons – even enemies – and want them to know true love and care. But this true empathy, affection, etc. gets perverted by those under the influence of Christianity into a false social justice – and true Christianity is loathe to fight back with the weapons of the world. There is a very good reason why, when it comes to Christianity’s moral sense, philosophers like Nietzsche and co-religionists like Muslims have considered Christianity to be weak because of its compassionate tendencies.[iv]

As things stand now, it seems to me that there is no longer any real basis for thinking that America will continue to be a vehicle for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of [true] happiness”. Rather, because of our false God, we are increasingly embracing “death, slavery, and the pursuit of misery” – even if many have little or no awareness of this fact, due to an exceptionally wicked case of suppressing the truth.

But who is this God whom our nation serves?

Part II – America’s Self-Made Trinity Clearly Identified

So now, my question: Who is the true God in whom America – and perhaps most quarters of the Western world – trusts?

I submit that they are the Self-made Holy Trinity of Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism – and somehow, we are gods with them. Such is the shape of our contemporary hubris. Or perhaps – as these gods Christianity made thinkable and possible give way as its influence dissipates – the gods of the West will really end up being like the gods those like Homer and Sapphos, or Epicurus and the Stoics, may have thought about. Ultimately perhaps, those are the gods we are veering towards… That said, there is, I think, good reason to doubt that this will happen (more later).

Let’s take a closer look at our current Trinity.

“[Liberalism] it preaches an individualism in which many bonds and rules and constraints are thinned to filaments, and waiting for the knife.” (quoted here)

In a recent article discussing a piece about Bruce Jenner that brought up Alan Bloom’s 1992 book The American religion: the emergence of the post-Christian nation, Ross Douthat insightfully commented:

Bloom’s language definitely delivers something, and that something helps to illumine the strong religious element (however unstated or subconscious) in what we generally describe as social liberalism today. Since the 1960s that element has been addressed repeatedly by minds more brilliant than mine (from Philip Rieff to Robert Bellah), but it tends to slip out of view in public debates because the liberal vanguard, from its legal enablers to its journalistic cheering section, is so avowedly secular. And that slippage, in turn, limits our understanding of what’s really happening in our society…

But as Wilkinson and Bloom and Jenner him/herself would all remind us, in America a rights-based morality wins converts in part because the rights it champions are still ordered in some sense toward a (very American) sort of end. Freedom is good in and of itself, to a point, but it’s ultimately good because it enables us to pursue God/the divine spark/the True Self/the Original Adam, and in finding it, fulfill our true destiny and reach our perfect end. Natural law or biblical morality aren’t being rejected in favor of a purposeless freedom, in other words, but rather in favor of a higher law that fulfills a higher purpose, bringing salvation neither through faith nor works but through a gnostic revelation about Who We Really Are.

Here is the god Freedom. Redemption is not found in Christ who forgives our sin and in the perfect law of God that brings freedom (Gal. 5:1, 2 Cor. 3:17, James 1:25), but rather in the authenticity of our choices that make us who we are. Thank you Mr Douthat, for that insightful piece of cultural and religious commentary.

“The black-robed priesthood has spoken. Will the church bow before their new masters?” — David French

And before the Roman Catholic columnist Douthat, there was of course the Roman Catholic columnist G.K. Chesterton, already mentioned above. He was a masterful writer who had his finger on the pulse of the modern world – the words he wrote about a century ago seem ever more relevant today. Gene Veith, on his Cranach blog here at Patheos, recently shared the following quote about the god Progress:

“A generation is now growing old, which never had anything to say for itself except that it was young. It was the first progressive generation – the first generation that believed in progress and nothing else…. [They believed] simply that the new thing is always better than the old thing; that the young man is always right and the old wrong. And now that they are old men themselves, they have naturally nothing whatever to say or do. Their only business in life was to be the rising generation knocking at the door. Now that they have got into the house, and have been accorded the seat of honour by the hearth, they have completely forgotten why they wanted to come in. The aged younger generation never knew why it knocked at the door; and the truth is that it only knocked at the door because it was shut. It had nothing to say; it had no message; it had no convictions to impart to anybody…. The old generation of rebels was purely negative in its rebellion, and cannot give the new generation of rebels anything positive against which it should not rebel. It is not that the old man cannot convince young people that he is right; it is that he cannot even convince them that he is convinced. And he is not convinced; for he never had any conviction except that he was young, and that is not a conviction that strengthens with years.” (G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News of July 9, 1921)

But here is where I must say “Mr. Chesterton – of course they had convictions!” For example, these Victorian Britons you wrote of were convicted, along the lines of American pragmatism, that “it works”. This is the god Pragmatism. Peirce, James, Dewey (and then Rorty) did not come out of nowhere after all – but the Western world was quite ready for their ideas! And not only that, but as outlined by this liberal college professor, many today are evidently convinced – frighteningly! – that purely identity politics will “work” (so much for the careful and nuanced “social imaginary” Charles Taylor talks about?). Whether avowedly secular, socially liberal or religious, or even claiming the Christian faith, many are confident that – they feel “it works” or at least “it is going to work”. As regards what truth is, that’s all one needs to know.

Part III – The Impact of Secular Humanist Currents

I’ll come back to some more of G.K.’s pithy wisdom later on in this rambling essay. But first, let’s lay some groundwork for that wisdom, so that we can all start “connecting the dots”, as they say. Recently, on the blog of a prominent Darwinist philosopher, a commenter said in part:

“…it is in fact easier to be moral in a secular context than in a religious context because you can recognize clearly the returns from being rationally altruistic, how it affects society and benefits your self interest.”

“Part of a philosophy of taking control of one’s own existence and improving the objective conditions for happiness. There is an arrow of evolution that goes toward ever more reducing of suffering and  maximizing of enjoyment.” – Belgian humanist and euthanasia doctor Jan Berheim (see here)

“Part of a philosophy of taking control of one’s own existence and improving the objective conditions for happiness. There is an arrow of evolution that goes toward ever more reducing of suffering and maximizing of enjoyment.” – Belgian humanist and euthanasia doctor Jan Berheim (see here)

The late Christopher Hitchens said much the same thing in his debate with Al Sharpton (more on Hitchen’s views below). And here, in the midst of our gods Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism, we have a common explanation of what it means to be moral from within a purely secular worldview. Many of our secular elites would no doubt resonate with this quote above to one degree or another – even as they, like Hitchens*, would want to clarify (understandably) that they nevertheless do not really view morality as functionalist, pragmatic or calculating (see his comments in a debate here), but as a matter that, because of “human solidarity”, really does bind their healthy consciences (because we know we can’t “get along” without the innate morality healthy human beings possess in themselves, and we can’t live with ourselves if we violate this morality – even if we can’t explain why our morality is as it is). They also might want to assert, like he did, that they get a reward simply in doing good actions themselves – perhaps feeling good about the future results of a blood donation, for example.

All of this said, this kind of “practical reason” (yes, for you philosophers – I did use those words intentionally) nevertheless tells us that, if one does “good” things (again, often thought to be synonymous with “pleasurable”) in the world, one will receive “good” things in turn. And even after the idea of a personal God has been banished or downplayed, perhaps it is hard to totally escape the sense that something like the Eastern idea of Karma does indeed exist (as our conscience, whatever its state, still manages to tell us that something is wrong with us and the world – see here). Even secular Karma-rejecters might still posit that rationally doing “good” to the right people (Hitchens: “compulsory love is another sickly element of Christianity”) will generally result in one eventually receiving “good” back – albeit with some “luck” (chance) certainly involved in the process.

So I think that the quote that I stated above about “returns for rational altruism” – the hope and confidence that, taken as a whole, one’s “good” will be reciprocated in more than merely getting good feelings about being good – can be refined and nuanced a bit, but basically comes out unscathed. And with that said, here is the real key thing I’d like to share: upon reflection, the quote reminded me of Hitchen’s critique of Mother Theresa: namely that she did the things she did only because she knew that she would somehow and someway be rewarded by God – in this life and the next.

Hitchen's take-down of Mother Theresa's moral view.

Hitchen’s take-down of Mother Theresa’s moral view.

Regarding Hitchen’s view of Theresa vis a vis his own view, it seems to me that while he believes that doing “good” (understood as that which brings pleasure to one’s self or others – which in turn is pleasurable – as this clip of him talking about the purpose of life makes clear) is generally rewarded in the world, Mother Theresa believes that doing good will be rewarded in this life or the life to come by God. This does not mean that either would deny that doing good merely out of fear of punishment and hope of reward is highly unsatisfactory – in fact, as both have said, we should simply feel the need to and want to do what is right apart from such carrots and sticks.[v]

Another big difference, of course – made very obvious by the emergence of same-sex marriage and its full acceptance – is that for all of Hitchen’s talk about “innate morality”, his “good” can evolve and Mother Theresa’s cannot.

So, in short, when it comes to Hitchen’s view of Mother Theresa’s morality my hypothesis is that he: a) said out loud what many secular elites think is true, and b) did not see the similarities between his own viewpoint and hers, and c) as regards the differences, he did not discern that he was actually projecting his own exceptionally common but anemic moral viewpoint – namely, that if one gives the “pleasure” to others that they want, one will tend to be rewarded with “pleasure” in return (however much he might try to nuance and make more sophisticated and “human” the essential features of this position). On the contrary though, what is good is more than what is pleasurable and what is evil is about more than what is painful (and we’ll assume that most folks are not as willing as Richard Dawkins is, for example, about saying that he does not believe that good and evil really exist).

So what am I getting at? I would suggest that among our elites the moral philosophy of choice – if only by their practice and not in their theory – basically reduces to shear Epicureanism (Stoicism, with its empirical emphases, would be similar in many ways but would not be as eager to expel or downplay the idea of some kind of mind responsible for the cosmos, and hence is not amenable to acting as a counter to Christianity). I realize that many would want to claim Enlightenment folks like Kant or Hegel for their side but I say “no” – you’re actually a flat-out Epicurean”, and as we progress in this essay I will try to unpack why this is necessarily the case.

Part IV – All Philosophers – Even Epicureus – Have Teleology

The philosopher Epicurus explicitly said that his philosophy was designed to eliminate

The philosopher Epicurus explicitly said that his philosophy was designed to eliminate “physical pain and mental disturbance” (particularly the fear of the gods and death), resulting in personal happiness.

And all persons are philosophers as well, to this or that extent. Now, one must not think that I am being overly insulting here by calling people Epicureans in the last section (well… I will admit that “bad body” Hitchen’s own rather pathetic – and deplorable – take on the matter of purpose in one’s life does seem to earn more negative connotations of this word – see here). As any good philosopher will tell you, “Epicurean”, contrary to its popular notions, does not signal unbridled hedonism – it simply means the responsible pursuit of good things in life – the pleasures of this world. I mean really – who today is arguing with that? (the Christian can say that these are God’s gifts and we may even seek them here or there, but they are to be accorded a second place when it comes to our devotion[vi]).

Of course there are a variety of philosophies in the world, and all have something to say about how one should live. In fact, I recently claimed that “all philosophy is morality and teleology”, and I will now develop that point a bit here. This, I admit, is something I think many if not most professional philosophers might take umbrage with – in spite of someone like Socrates’ emphases… Stated a bit more carefully, perhaps we could say that all significant questions and problems philosophers attempt to seriously address and make conclusions about emerge in part because of specifically moral – and teleological (with happiness or contentment being the end) – considerations.[vii]

Of course, the teleological assumptions of Christians and other theists run contrary to those of the Epicurean. In a recent post I said the following:

“…Christians are those who make assertions not only about what is true about God and man, but the rest of His creation and the personal intentions discerned within. This means, among other things, that ancient metaphysical ideas of “substance”, for example, align more closely with the teachings of the Bible than does the Kantian alternative, still in vogue today in a myriad of different forms (underlying a whole spectrum of “mediating theologies”). To say this does not mean that man can, with or without the Scriptures, accurately discern and assert the intrinsic purposes of all the things in the cosmos.  It does mean however, that even without taking the Scriptures to be God’s word, man is able to accurately discern and assert some of the intrinsic purposes of some of the things within it.”

As I look at what I wrote above I don’t really disagree – but I am seeing it as a bit anemic itself – in that the statement seems to focus on the parts at the expense of the whole. In any case, I will explore the idea of discernible purposes more in a moment – looking more closely at “conservative Enlightenment” folks like Kant. But only after a few caveats expounding on my statement above.

First, as I have argued before, in part because the above is true I do not think that a highly secular worldview – particularly an atheistic one – is “intellectually viable” – and I think the most observant of the “nones” realize this (and have begun to gradually acknowledge this, as I argued here). In short, the idea that one need not posit a personal Mind/God or gods at all is not going to cut it and I would be surprised if – in search for “ordering principles” to counter out-of-control individualism and identity politics – we do not see secular persons embracing explicitly religious and philosophical ideas more and more.

Hearts fit, parts fit:  No, because our bodies have intrinsic moral meaning…

No, because our bodies have intrinsic moral meaning… (see here)

Second, when I speak of this design in the universe, I think of it not primarily in terms of science, math and engineering but rather of art and choreography[viii], with all the things therein having roles to play in a dance that brings gladness to men’s hearts (see Acts 14, where Paul talks about the joy God gives to all people). Therefore, while we certainly do not ignore, for example, the significance of the “mechanical engineering” of the “parts” of male and female that “produce” children (see this article), the understanding of reality that I am speaking of here encompasses this organic family into a complete picture that is more mature, and characterized primarily by the beauty and joy that emerge from the natural roles at play.

Third, as I noted in a previous post, Christians assert that believing in some kind of design in the world (often called “natural law” or the “law of nature”) does not mean that even everything that appears natural in humans is “good”. For example, as I noted above, racism, slavery, and the oppression of women, children, and the poor have at times throughout history – even to the greatest and most noble of thinkers – seemed to be “natural” to man (and these can only be countered with deliberate human intention, for whatever motivations), but in truth are corruptions of purpose and “not the way it is supposed to be”.[ix]

At what point do we have a

At what point do we have a “pile”? A “human being”?

In any case, I argue because of these things above, we human beings we cannot but address the role-playing entities in our world merely with what philosophers call a “relational ontology”. We must take time and care to directly and lovingly address the “things” of this world – in spite of concerns about reducing them to their qualities, “objectifying”, “fetishization”, etc, etc. This means that we must address “human beings” as things as well then (or seemingly even more radical: human being as a thing) – for any argument about the purpose of human beings – even if this reduces to radical individuality – must necessarily rest on an account of who “man” is.

And how to discern this? The modern day philosopher Wendell Berry has asked the question – even in the title of one of his books – “what are people for?” The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant – bolstered, in truth, by a uniquely biblical vision of man in which God is “no respecter of persons” – had provided the answer in part that barely continues to hold on – barely – today: because of their inherent dignity, human beings were never to be treated as means to an end. Christopher Hitchens liked to claim that the idea that we are persons created in the image of God “gets you nowhere”.[x] But what he completely misses is that, when we might not feel like loving our neighbor, this is just the reason why we want to overcome those feelings and treat persons the way that we do – even to feel real affection for them. Because they are objectively valuable and possess dignity in the eyes of God. Humanity is good – period.

Part V – Observing Kant Being Dissolved in Epicurean Acid

Kant: intelligible at all without a biblical frame?

Kant: intelligible at all without a biblical frame?

So Immanuel Kant, unlike Christopher Hitchens, believed that human morality was rooted not just in “human solidarity” but in each individual person being created with unique dignity and worth. That said, Kant’s moral philosophy also highly elevated the notion of the “categorical imperative”, which also is, according to Kant, justified as an end in itself. In short, it says “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” This, of course, is a variation of the positive formulation of the Golden Rule, stated positively by Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Jesus’ “Golden Rule”, while resembling those that came before it (they said: “don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you…”) was unique in that Christ also assumed the “brotherhood” of man. In other words, all persons were neighbors, being the offspring of God. As an online acquaintance of mine recently put it, “the Golden Rule… is not hospitably grounded in all [worldview] alternatives…”.

So what is the problem with Kant’s view of this? Didn’t he basically believe the same thing? No. For Kant, things like morality, the reality of personhood, and belief in God all reside in the realm of what he calls “practical reason” (as opposed to “pure reason”). While the biblical teaching would treat all of these things as knowledge all men have or should have (the truth can be greatly suppressed in conjunction with the searing of one’s conscience), for Kant it is only things like geometry, mathematics, and nature’s laws that can count as such. Things like personhood, God, and ethics are real, says Kant, but we certainly can’t say that we have anything like knowledge about such things – only strong convictions. This further means that in Kant’s view the dignity of personhood and morality are intrinsic, but this has no connection with how things appear in the sensible world. The given empirical properties of all the things in the world simply cannot be associated with any corresponding purposes that we can know. Again, in truth, when it comes to the world we can literally know no such things because only the transcendent and intelligible world – similar to Plato’s forms – matters.

This being said, it is still certainly true that for Kant, the thing of “humanity” and “personhood” can be said to be a transcendent inner kernel within us – i.e. something that cannot be increased or diminished or destroyed and that we have an absolute duty to respect (see here). But all this said, here is the key: with Kant, there is no reason to think that what it means to be a human person cannot evolve and be changed – which of course means morality can change with it.

““the Renaissance ideal of classical languages, classical literature, and classical arts would be replaced by classical mechanics, which have no place for meaning, ethics, or Bildung [that is, the “tradition of self-cultivation, wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation”– Wikipedia] In science and technology, every tool would be used to maximize the power of human being.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (summed up by Martin Noland)

Part of this change – started by others, but set into more furious motion by Kant – is that we become Enlightenment men who never depend on external authorities and tradition. This, literally, changes everything. Here, the autonomous individual comes to reign over all, and the effect on morality is subtle, but powerful. For example, in Jesus’ day, it would make sense to think of the Golden Rule from a more communal perspective: “I will not commit adultery with another man’s daughter because I would not want him to do so with mine – even if she might want to do that”.

Nowadays however – and this would have horrified Kant as well – the rule can be, and often is, turned on its head by the increasingly autonomous pleasure-seeking individual, cut off from really trusting others to give them truth or live in truth: “If I would like others to offer consequences-free sex to me, it is only right that I would offer it to them”. Really, freed from the natural “consequences” of sexual activity – and with new technologies assisting us every day – who is really going to insist that this could not become a universal law? That Kant’s “categorical imperative” can’t evolve as well? You and what army, er, knowledge? It seems to me that Epicurus and Lucretius, newly empowered by Darwin, were right: what is ultimately good is what brings me pleasure. Literally, “all things in moderation”, or in proportions that I judge to be proper (soon to be “proportional” and “proper” once again?)

And now of course, the kinds of morality put forth by Enlightenment figures have now metasticized further due to more existentialistist currents, where the authenticity of our moral choices – driven by instinctual desire – has become the primary consideration.  We note the 1992 Planned Parenhood vs. Casey decision of the Supreme Court: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

And here our new modern, now breathing in this existentialist atmosphere, quickly chymes in:

“Of course it’s not just about me! Just because I want to be authentic, and believe “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”, doesn’t mean I don’t want to love everybody – or love everyone that loves me that is! What that Kant fellow says about that “not treating persons as means to ends” stuff sounds like a good idea. We should definitely do that as much as possible and seek that great “common good” idea… Why can’t some “hedonism” (as you call it) go hand in hand with “human flourishing” or even “world flourishing?”

Freud, summing up many an intellectual: “Will man ever be willing to let science alone explain the universe and reconcile him to its ruthlessness?”

Freud, summing up many an intellectual: “Will man ever be willing to let science alone explain the universe and reconcile him to its ruthlessness?”

Of course notions of the “common good” have now been subtlely re-defined – perhaps formulated as something like “the aggregate sum and fulfillment of as many individual’s desires as possible”.

And here, at this point, G.K. Chesteron’s critique of “progress” comes to mind, essentially pointing out how when man is the measure of all things, the goalposts are always changing.

Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit our vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision. It should mean that we are slow and sure in bringing justice and mercy among men: it does mean that we are very swift in doubting the desirability of justice and mercy…. We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is much easier.”

If progress without a fixed ideal is absurd than the modern notion of progress cannot help but be absurd – only “known” (trust me!) to the ones who have the power to enact their vision of progress with the ones they desire to be associated with (and this, after the fact [ad hoc], can then be “justified independently” – in other words, said to be based in something very real and permanent yet distinct from evolving empirical realities – by some appeal to Platonic notions of proportionality, mathematics, etc). More from Chesterton:

As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.” (Othodoxy, 105-108, Image books, 1959)

Chesterton would have us think more critically about what is real and imaginary progress. It seems to me that with the popular notion of progress, the hope of holding on to Kant’s assertion of persons not being reduced to means to ends is a pipe dream. And really, that train left the station even years before Kant tried to salvage it – hundreds of years ago. Though perhaps Francis Bacon did not really want it to come to this, what happened was that power became knowledge and knowledge became power, i.e. knowledge became basically reducible to technical knowledge or technique. That kind of thing is all a “person” needs to “know” (person in quotes since technique and method ultimately has in mind what “works”, i.e. “how to”/”know how”, not what is, or “know that”).

We are all “useful fictions” now.

Part VI – Will There Be a De-Secularization of the Self-Made American Trinity?

Nov. 10, 1793: a statue of the goddess reason is installed on the high altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris

Nov. 10, 1793: a statue of the goddess reason is installed on the high altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris

I have no idea. Will the West continue to become more secular, with nary a mention of a divine mind of one sort or another behind it all (I really doubt this)? Will the goddess reason maker her return – and perhaps find common cause with the Gaia hypothesis? (allowing for a “personal” if not so compassionate god that is at least – thank god – not “Abrahamic”) Will it adopt more Eastern forms of faith? Will Islam gain more influence and adherents longing for more moral stability? Will Christianity arise again?

I don’t know if any of us can know the answers to these questions.

For now, our “reasonable” (idolatrous) trinity of Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism seems to be going quite strong. As R.R. Reno recently put it in his new thought-piece “Empire of Desire”:

The richest and most powerful countries in the world are dominated by an intellectual class that, however individually self-disciplined and well intentioned and personally influenced by inherited moral traditions, give metaphysical priority to desire. They train us to live as docile, dutiful citizens in the Empire of Desire, asking never what is right and true but instead what is “healthy” and “empowering…. Thus runs a world that has lost its capacity to dream of something higher than desire—something to desire.

In R.R. Reno’s Empire of Desire our desires – I would say for Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism – overcome the kingdom of God and the joy, peace and harmony it brings (with the focus on the good of one’s neighbor for Christ’s sake).

Ideas have consequences.

Ideas have consequences.

So, let’s assume that our secularism will continue to go strong, as it certainly is in places like Western Europe for example (see here for a vivid example)

In which case, hear atheist John Gray:

In 1929, the Thinker’s Library, a series established by the Rationalist Press Association to advance secular thinking and counter the influence of religion in Britain, published an English translation of the German biologist Ernst Haeckel’s 1899 book The Riddle of the Universe. Celebrated as “the German Darwin”, Haeckel was one of the most influential public intellectuals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; The Riddle of the Universe sold half a million copies in Germany alone, and was translated into dozens of other languages. Hostile to Jewish and Christian traditions, Haeckel devised his own “religion of science” called Monism, which incorporated an anthropology that divided the human species into a hierarchy of racial groups. Though he died in 1919, before the Nazi Party had been founded, his ideas, and widespread influence in Germany, unquestionably helped to create an intellectual climate in which policies of racial slavery and genocide were able to claim a basis in science.”

Not only this, but one should check out the recent piece about the ideas of sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari in “Death is Optional”.[xi]  Summing up the article, Ross Douthat said:

Soon, if not tomorrow, the rich may be able to re-engineer bodies and minds, making human equality seem like a quaint conceit. Meanwhile, the masses will lose their jobs to machines and find themselves choosing between bread and circuses (or drugs and video games) and the pull of revolutionary violence — with the Islamic State’s appeal to bored youths possibly a foretaste of the future.”

Douthat’s summary is quite low-key and mild given the article, which is an excessively jarring introduction to the incoming world of transhumanism.[xii] But then there is a recent article from Anthony Sacramone, discussing the movie Kingsman: the Secret Service. In it, he talks about what Maggie Gallagher – famous for her stand against gay marriage – said about the movie, which features an execution of a[n ugly] Christian congregation:

Hitchens, vs. loving one’s enemies (like Mother Theresa, in his case): “…it’s a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to.”

Hitchens, vs. loving one’s enemies (like Mother Theresa, in his case): “…it’s a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to.” (see here)

Gallagher goes on to describe how a work of sociology she had just finished reading, So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? by George Yancey and David A. Williamson, recorded in chilling detail how some well-educated progressives indulge a sick preoccupation with inflicting pain on Christians, a blood lust resembling that of the Jihadis:

I want them all to die in a fire,” said one man with a doctorate. “I would be in favor of establishing a state for them. . . . If not then sterilize them so they can’t breed more,” said a middle aged man with a master’s degree. “The only good Christian is a dead Christian,” said another under-45-year-old man with a doctorate. “I abhor them and I wish we could do away with them,” said a middle-aged woman with a master’s degree. “A tortuous death would be too good for them,” said a college-educated man between the ages of 36 and 45. “They should be eradicated without hesitation or remorse,” said an elderly woman with a master’s degree.

Who was Hollywood entertaining with Kingsman’s groundbreaking displays of orgiastic pleasure in witnessing a Christian massacre? All the good people above, who would never, I am sure, commit violence against Christians, but for whom the idea of doing so gives a guilty pleasure.[xiii]

As regards how long Christianity moral capital will – including the idea of love for enemies – will continue to be of use to discourage and fight such things, take into consideration the words of Curtis White, who writing against the “New Atheists” scientistic tendencies also says the following:

“Like Hitchens, I am an atheist, if to be an atheist means not believing in a CEO God who sits outside his creation, proclaiming edicts, punishing hapless sinners, seeking vengeance on his enemies, and picking sides in times of war. This God and his hypocrite followers have been easy targets for enlightened wit since Rabelais, Moliere, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and our own Mark Twain.” (p. 28, The Science Delusion)

conceptions of nature determine in advance what sort of God is allowed to appear to thought and consequently, the range of meanings that can intelligibly attached to 'creation'…

“conceptions of nature determine in advance what sort of God is allowed to appear to thought and consequently, the range of meanings that can intelligibly attached to ‘creation’…”

At this point, let’s now go back to the claim I made at one point above … namely, that the problem is that all of our thinking about reality today operates under the spectre of Epicurus and Lucretius, empowered by Darwin.  This is particularly true of our elites, many of whom have, to some degree, thought about how all of this works out intellectually. I now further assert: this is the framework that our elites work within, and one need not delve into the reasons this view of the world would be popular (it is the perfect frame to accomodate the desires which flow from original sin – see here for more).

Again, if they do not want to embrace the more extreme hedonistic implications some have seen in Epircurus’ thinking, they nevertheless must work within this frame to effect the change they desire and think should happen. Epicurus is “harnessed” and his “swerve” (the idea that nature works by set laws, but there is occasionally the “swerve” of the atom that introduces opportunities for chance, contingency, ideas of freedom, etc.) is utilized then as we attempt to “control” our evolution, pushing things in the direction they think best, and using either soft or hard power to marginalize the viewpoints that conflict most seriously with their vision.

In sum, when it comes the Christian God, our elites, whether they be philosophical naturalists or Romantics like White, know which side they are on. It doesn’t matter if you are a driven materialist, praising science and how practical truth is, or one more given to the literary world, exalting poetry and the unity of man. Or if you are a Christopher Hitchens, trying to straddle the middle. What the elites of the Western World have in common is that the ends they choose are fused with the secular gods of Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism…. Yes, as I said in my review of Dreyfus’s and Kelley’s All Things Shining, even grace-drive pagan elites are ridden by the devil.

Law of Merited Impossibility to characterize the doublespeak many LGBT activists and their allies have used to advance the cause. Here’s the Law: It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.

“[the] Law of Merited Impossibility… characterize[s] the doublespeak many LGBT activists and their allies have used to advance the cause. Here’s the Law: It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”

All of this does not surprise the Christian.  As fallen creatures, humans are constantly trying to justify ourselves before others – this is an aspect of how we try to gain “salvation”. This is true of all of us regardless of what one thinks about whether or not there are absolute moral truths that do not change. The Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer offers this helpful perspective:

As it is in my own life history, so it is in world history, is a part. We should speak more cautiously and soberly in the plural, of world histories: namely, the histories of great social groups or movements; the histories of alliances, nations, and blocs; histories which stand apart and never merge into a world history in the singular. These world histories are nothing but the histories of the seeking, enforcing, denying, or lacking of mutual recognition. They are the histories of vindications and the assigning of guilt. They are one long story of the battle for mutual recognition, a life and death battle. In this regard, then, we can indeed speak of a world history in the singular (Bayer, Justification and Sanctification, p. 4)[xiv]

God made us moral creatures, and so it should not surprise us that we keep or discard our views of the world first and foremost on these considerations.  Even if statistics showed that black children raised in white homes tend to be more successful in society than those raised in black homes, we rightly wouldn’t care. It simply would not matter because our convictions about what is right and wrong will always trump even good and responsible efforts at social science. All of us, whatever our background and worldview, cannot help but be most concerned about the truth we feel about how we should act – how we relate to and think we should relate to others takes center stage.  Again, this – and not something like rationality or empirical evidences pointing to this or that trend, for example – will be our primary consideration when it comes to whether or not we continue in or discard the views of the world we receive and form earlier on in life.

The Christian will be concerned about this because he knows himself to be justified and will obey revelation which conforms to the intentions also clearly seen in nature – these are things we can know.  The Epicurean will seek to justify and save himself and those he chooses to associate with through his deeds, as he intelligently works with the ordered but ultimately mindless and purposeless objects and laws of nature, seeking to attain whatever pleasures he realistically and sensibly can along the way (the more extreme ones, basically in line with Epicurus’ epistemology though not his morality, consciously seek, through science, complete knowledge of the laws of nature, and unending presence and power [to be god][xv]).

I'm with Mr. Warren here:  “I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval or the disapproval of society.”

I’m with Mr. Warren here: “I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval or the disapproval of society.”

This view basically being the default view of the modern intellectual mileue, it seems obvious to some of us why many ideas are popular among them: increasingly unbounded sexual identity and autonomy, survival-oriented evolution, seeing the cosmos as being machine-like, the abandonment of the natural or “organic” family, etc (here one thinks of the Pope’s new encyclical, where he is constantly pointing out how “everything is connected”)  Since Kant ended up saying that we can only have knowledge about mathematical and scientific truths and not morality (which yes, he again did think was true and real, just not able to be known like math and the phenomena), for example, he ends up supporting Epicurus, even if he did not intend to.

For all the modern cold and calculating “scientific objectivity” that we tend to think is out there, each one of us is really reaching for our own version of the “good life”, and apart from Christ, this can only mean comparing ourselves with other human beings and justifying our own behavior while condemning that of others.  “My truth, your truth” is nonsense.  We are all aiming for something as concerns right behavior, even if that something is not clear to us.  And we all would like to have others join us, and will use all our power of persuasion – or perhaps more than this – when we think the time is right.

Why? Because as human beings we are all teleologically-oriented, even if we refuse to see the same in all of the things that God has created in His world.


Check your Jesus:

Check your Jesus: “…I am afraid… your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ… if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed…you put up with it readily enough.” — 2 Cor. 11

In the midst of this, I am reminded of the movie Collision, featuring the debates of Christopher Hitchens and Douglass Wilson. Someone like Hitchens, for his part, says “Love your own enemies. My enemies are the theocratic fascists. I don’t love them – I want to destroy them.” (see here). On the other hand, Wilson points out that for the Christian: “Loving your enemies is not inconsistent with fighting them.”

But here we hasten to add that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12) and “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2: 24-26).

The God of the Old and New Testaments is indeed coming to judge. But His ultimate goal is to save and not condemn. I note how Martin Luther, the 16th c. Church reformer described the attitude of a good hangman/executioner in talking about the death penalty: “When dealing with a wicked person, his thoughts are to be: “Oh, my God, how gladly I would die for this man, if it could be done!” (see more here)

For that is just what the Lord, who desires all persons to be saved, has done. And the Christian, above all, imitates this mercy (see Rom. 9:1-5).


Non-book Images: All from Wikipedia except gay white house (White House Twitter feed) and Rod Dreher (Twitter account pic)


[i] In another example, one pastor has said our principle should be “You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior.” This kind of saying might have some relevance when we talk about “disputable matters” or “adiaphora”, found for example in Romans 14 and 15. Further, the point is taken if the pastor means that we should not force another human being (who is not our child, for example) to behave in a certain way. All of this said, the problem with the statement is that all of us will inevitably use our conscience to not only determine how we should act, but how we should help others to act as well. Every human being has a certain range of acceptable behavior that they will accept and those who say otherwise are deluding themselves. We all have something to say, in one form or another, about how we think others should live.

Another example is that I resonate with this quote from a Lutheran pastor:

And yet, I also suspect that there is much truth to this as well:

I am glad that my pastor did not mention it in the sermon but did talk about it for a while in Bible class.

[ii] Regarding the nature of love, C.S. Lewis said:

“In order for love to be genuine, the agent has to have the ability to choose not to love. Unless there is freedom of one’s will to either love someone or hate them, it isn’t really love.”

It seems strange to say about one as great as Lewis, but Pastor John Fraiser points out some very real problems with this argument.  That is why I propose the following instead:

“Only freely given love is genuine love. Love that is forced is not free, and therefore not genuine love. In that case, we might as well be robots.”

Luke 15 (“the prodigal son”) shows us how God is with us.  This not only has theological but political implications.

[iii] Christianity is utterly unnatural – producing unique moral affections like nothing else (who else says “love your enemy” and really tries to mean it?). Again, because the West has been under its influence, it has formed the sentiments of even non-Christians such that a real kind of empathy – resonating with the strong affections and genuine feelings of devotion and commitment even some same-sex persons have for one another – can actually make some sense to us. So much sense in fact that we would be willing to think about – and then even legally recognize “gay marriages”!

After all, until recently in world history, gay marriage – the idea of two persons of the same sex being committed was never enshrined in any government’s law as a thing to be upheld, encouraged, or especially celebrated.

[iv] Who else care about oppressed, slaves, women? Who would care to identity with and find solidarity with each human person – even enemies? Who else would care to forego one’s right to unlimited sexual expression by unreasonably limiting one’s self within marriage? Those weak Christians. And yet….

In the past, I wrote this: “the level of personal freedom persons in the West have experienced is immense, and unarguably, unprecedented in human history. And I note that you will not find the nuanced and expansive view of rights that allows for this, which in Western societies (especially America) is part and parcel with respect for the freedom of the individual conscience – in any other society, where non-biblical religious ideas (polytheistic [hoi polloi], pantheistic [elites], etc.) are much more closely intertwined with the political. Hence, you will, for example, find that the politically active classes in no other society – not even pagan Greece and Rome – ever officially sanctioned and actively promoted things like gay marriage – hoping to elevate same-sex relationships to the same status as heterosexual ones – although throughout history there have been “variations on a common theme” (namely man-woman themes) when it comes to marriage. Quite frankly, only in a society buffered by so much biblical tolerance and patience (where the “habits of the heart” formed by the non-Christian’s imitation of the Christian [Christians could never “tolerate” *sanctioned* gay marriage] is what I am speaking of) could a thing like “gay marriage” occur (go read Luke 15 to see the attitude of the waiting, prodigal Father Jesus speaks of).”

[v] In a debate with Mr. Hitchens, when Dinesh D’Souza suggested that Mother Theresa did what she did for others out of love for God, Hitchens was disgusted by this. As one commenter online put it: “My favorite part was Hitchens standing the[re] with his drink in his hand snorting dismissive[ely] into the microphone while D’Souza was talking about Mother Theresa’s “love of Christ” for the suffering.” (comment here).

[vi] An interesting note on pursuing happiness: while behavior leading to children – and children who are nurtured well – is essential to humanity continuing and flourishing, social historian Peter N. Stearns, in his insightful book on happiness, “Satisfaction not Guaranteed”, points out that in late 20th century polls and surveys couples who decide to remain childless report having the highest levels of personal happiness. Also note that even if the “pursuit of happiness” is seen to be problematic from a Christian perspective (necessarily or potentially), simply desiring satisfaction and contentment for one’s self, one’s family, and one’s neighbor is unobjectionable. 

[vii] As I said before here, “At the very least we can say this: in short, we should all be asking to what extent the sense of morality that we feel convictions about (often based on our personal experiences with others and our evaluations of the shorter or longer term consequences of our actions) drives or at least influences our consideration and evaluation of various kinds of evidence and their significance (correspondence theory of truth considerations) as well as various kinds of worldviews and their significance (coherence theory of truth considerations).”

[viii] As I begin this article: The creation we know is not God’s machine or technology, but His living art, the distinct, unequal and beautiful but diseased partner with whom He dances.”

[ix] Note that this explains in part the enthusiasm that many practicing Christians had for the program of Francis Bacon – who as part of his critique of Aristotle criticized his “knowledge” about the discernible purposes of this or that thing – as well as for the program of the Enlightenment (are not even liberty, equality, and fraternity in fact biblical concepts? And where in the history of philosophy, has philosophical faith in “the force of the best reason”, for example, shown that “all humans are created equal and are entitled to equal rights”? Really, which non-Christians philosopher ever said this and what were his/her reasons? Yes, the silence is deafening….)

[x] Asserted, for example, in this debate.

[xi] Also see this short essay, where I discuss the implication of Harari’s ideas (which I think sum up most forcefully the thoughts of many elites), jumping off of a Washington post piece by Michael Gerson.

[xii] And hear Wesley Smith talk about transhumanism in his piece “Even Materialists Crave Religion”:

Transhumanist eschatology contains the Christian element of hope, but its believers expect that man—assisted by artificial intelligent machines, no God needed—will invent the means of attaining an immortal new age. In the transhuman New Jerusalem, we would live for thousands of years, perhaps by sharing uploaded consciousnesses in computer software programs or, if we remain physical, by self-designing our capabilities to resemble the characters in the X-Men comic books. Eventually, according to Princeton biologist Lee Silver in his transhumanist manifesto Remaking Eden (get the title?), humans will become immortal “mental beings”:

It is difficult to find words to describe the enhanced attributes of these special people. “Intelligence” does not do justice to their cognitive abilities. “Knowledge” does not explain the depth of their understanding of both the universe and their own consciousnesses. “Power” is not strong enough to describe the control they have over technologies that can be used to shape the universe in which they live.

Smith knows of what he writes. As Max Anderson, from Forbes magazine recently reports:

“Google has committed an investment up to $600 million into Calico (short for the California Life Company) to do anti-aging research and, as Time magazine puts it, to “solve death.” Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Ma and Sergey Brin (among others) have funded “Breakthrough Prizes for scientists who make discoveries that extend human life. Its $3 million payouts — given to six scientists each year — dwarf similar awards, including the Nobel Prizes, currently about $925,000.” [Peter] Thiel…. has invested in 25 biotech companies and has funded gerontologist Aubrey de Grey with $6 million, partly for the work of the Methuselah Foundation, whose near-term goal is to make “90-year-olds as healthy as 50-year-olds — by 2030.”

Who could argue with conquering death? Do not Christians say that death is evil? Yes, God forbid the tree of life and there is that Babel thing… and who is to say that the boats of the weak, poor and oppressed would not be lifted in this rising tide of death-defying mastery? Well, no… it is Jesus Himself who truly conquers death…. And not through us by means of our intelligence and technological mastery….

An interesting note: it seems someone like Hitchens would probably have found the transhumanist dream to be absurd…. (see here).

[xiii] More from Sacramone:

“If these living guardrails of History’s direction cannot realize their dream of seeing Christians die in large quantities, at the very least:

“Restrict their ability to become judges, senators, representatives, member of Cabinet, military chief of staff and other powerful members of government,” said a man over 75 with a bachelor’s degree. “Should not be able to make decisions regarding the law, they should somehow have to be supervised if they are working with other people (drastic, I know),” said a woman under 45 with a master’s degree. “We should put in place mandatory extreme prison sentences for anyone or any group that attempts to take away civil liberties guaranteed by our constitution,” said a middle-aged man with a master’s degree. “Churches should not be allowed to provide orphanages and adoption programs,” said one elderly man with a doctorate. “I think we should restrict the indoctrination of children in religious dogma and ritual” said a middle-aged man with a master’s degree. Conservative Christians should “not be allowed to hold political office, be police etc., serve in the armed forces,” said another middle aged man with a doctorate.

Can anyone dismiss such scenarios as far-fetched anymore?”

[xiv] On page 40 Bayer says: “The faith that works and shows its energy by love does not separate itself from the context of the dispute of “justifications” but moves in a certain way within it. The forensic structure of reality – being as judgment, being in mutual recognition – is not abolished but, as we have described it, fulfilled. In this sense the tradition of Old Testament and Near Eastern wisdom – the world order as communal faithfulness and justice – is caught up under the concept of love and thus brought to fulfillment. This many-sided and even, in itself, dissonant process of tradition has to be seen in its entire context. Luther does not restrict himself to an insular exposition of Paul. That is a common misunderstanding of his theology and of Article IV of the Augsburg Confession. The fact that the law finds fulfillment in love, and righteousness in mercy, leads into the broadest of social and cosmic relationships.”

On page 80: “Those who live in the dispute of “justifications,” asking about the ground of their own lives within this world, are told that everything is groundless and gratuitous, and they need not ground or justify themselves; it is grounded and justified only by God’s free and ungrounded Word of love. Under no obligation and without any condition, God promises communion, communion through and beyond death. The justification of the ungodly, the resurrection of the dead, and creation out of nothing all happen through this promise and pledge alone. The promise of God lets us live by faith.)”

[xv] In this day, such power is sought with the help of science and technology, and goes hand in hand with the way of thinking I describe as the modern scientific and technological mindset (or MSTM). I would characterize the MSTM as being set on overcoming everything seen to be a limit, and being reductionistic and pragmatic in practice. I do not mean to imply that the MSTM was the dominant or most important mode of thinking for most of the early modern scientists (most early scientists were more tempered by competing systems of understanding – particularly religious ones – that would compete against drives such as these) or that it was fully developed in those for whom it was the dominant or most important mode of thinking. More specifically, we can look at the MSTM in this way. It begin with an approach to the world called “methodological (not necessarily philosophical) naturalism” in the 17th century, was upgraded to include “pragmatic utilitarianism” in the 19th century, and has in recent years been upgraded to “systematic iconoclastic world-repurposing” towards man’s desires (late 20th and early 21st century). In some cases of course there were those who were “early adopters” of the upgrades. Again, what this all comes down to (endgame) is that we have behavior that can be described as being reductionistic and iconoclastic (limit and barrier breaking). This may leave us with some “laws of nature”, but also leaves us with moral lawlessness, where the ethical façade of the 19th c. “pragmatic utilitarianism” upgrade collapses altogether. At this point, we can say that there is nothing intrinsic about beauty, justice, and meaning, for example – i.e. beauty, justice, and meaning are only something that I/we (and those we choose to associate with) create / make / determine.

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Strengthening Montgomery’s Case?: Beyond the Evidentialism-Presuppositionalism-Fideism Debate Towards a Stronger Christian Apologetics (part III of III)

Bones discovered? WWF[aith]D?  How about: We are confident there are good reasons to doubt this claim and there most likely will be may more good reasons coming.

Christ’s bones discovered? WWF[aith]D? How about: “We are confident there are good reasons to doubt this claim and there most likely will be many more good reasons coming.”

Part I

Part II

“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” — II Tim 2:2

“Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” — I Thes. 2:4

“And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” — Exodus 15:31

Picking up from part II…of course, it is not that the question about “establishing” the truth of God’s word has no relation to the matter of the sinful character Montgomery mentions. Again, in Montgomery’s and C.S. Lewis’ own stories of conversion they are essentially talking about being convicted by the Holy Spirit through the evidence provided in God’s word – unbelievers being cast down and slain… “taken apart” through the Spirit’s testimony.

But, one might ask, isn’t Montgomery talking about how it was positive apologetics arguments from well-informed Christian apologists that were instrumental in his conversion – and not just the Holy Spirit working through the reliable eyewitness testimony passed down in the the church (in harmony with that same message present in the Holy Scriptures)? My guess would be that these two things went hand in hand, but even assuming that it was something like an argument for the probability of the truth of the Gospels that the Holy Spirit used to  “break the camel’s back”, does this mean that we should necessarily make it our highest priority to put forth such positive apologetical arguments?

Speaking of an atheist he knew talking about he good evidence for the resurrection: "If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not-as I would still have put it — 'safe,' where could I turn? Was there then no escape?... God closed in on me." [read quote in full context here on PBS’s website]

Speaking of an atheist he knew talking about he good evidence for the resurrection: “If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not-as I would still have put it — ‘safe,’ where could I turn? Was there then no escape?… God closed in on me.” [read quote in full context here on PBS’s website]

I suggest not.  Instead, should we not simply see them as useful devices that may, on occasion, “improve the acoustics” – so thatGod’s proof” (see last post and Acts 17:31) can do its work in leading someone to conviction of sin and faith in Jesus Christ?*  After all, has not Dr. Montgomery himself pointed out on many an occasion that “doubting Thomas” did not have insufficient evidence before Jesus showed up? In fact, he had heard Jesus’ prophecies and He had the eyewitness testimony of men he knew to be reliableCertainly, for his unbelief, the text leaves little doubt that he was culpable.

Does it not seem that what Thomas graciously received from the Lord was a concession for his hardened heart – i.e. here the Lord shattered His hardened heart so that He would be believe in Christ again? (assuming he had previously trusted in Christ but lost faith – some will dispute this but it does not affect my point)  And of course if this is true, here is some more very good news: we, and those God has given us to love, might also receive such a hard-heart-breaking condescension from our Lord!** (perhaps in the form of a well-informed and kind apologist who strategically, creatively and patiently shares evidential apologetics… also note literary apologetics, which I want to acknowledge as having some great value as well)

“Examine the evidence so you can get to God – that is evidential apologetics… we give evidence to the unbeliever so that they can use their own reason to get to God… that is just what Scripture tells us not to do.” -- Sye Ten Bruggencate (see here) Is that necessarily so?

“Examine the evidence so you can get to God – that is evidential apologetics… we give evidence to the unbeliever so that they can use their own reason to get to God… that is just what Scripture tells us not to do.” — Sye Ten Bruggencate (see here) Is that necessarily so?  I argue not.

Now, If you have been reading this series with a fine tooth comb, you will have noticed that I have largely been focusing about the oral word, which is certainly in harmony with the Scriptures passed down from reliable man to reliable man.  Is this an effort to de-emphasize the importance of the Scriptures on my part? (in fact, we recognize these as inspired, infallible, and wholly reliable not only because of Jesus’ acceptance of the O.T. and His promise of the N.T, but for deeper reasons yet, which I will address in my next series dealing in part with “TSSI” – see below). May it never be!***

My concern is rather that we – and by “we” I am especially thinking of some of my Lutheran brethren here – be aware of this: we should know that not all historical claims that really are true will be able to be “proven” by the methodologies of the modern historian (and this ties in directly with the concerns talked about in part I: skeptical modern theologies, of course, bow to the modern methodologies of the scientist and historian).  Even given that Christian apologists can make a good case that the Gospel message can be proven on the basis of probabilities, that does not mean we should make this concession without taking care to always explicitly acknowledge God’s gracious condescension… His patience and forebearance with us who are so slow to believe! (again, see the last footnote [****] in part II for more).  Note Jesus’ exasperation at our slowness in the New Testament in general and Luke 24 in particular.

Patience, forebearance, blessed condescension.

Patience, forebearance, blessed condescension.

Again, why is this so critical?  It is true, as Montgomery and other Lutherans apologists like to point out, that we do in fact make some decisions in our lives based on the probability – or likelihood – that this or that thing, situation, or person is and will be a secure anchor point. That said, this is not how we make many of our decisions nor is it, in the case of interpersonal relationships, how we make our most important decisions.**** Here, firm trust and character are essential, and probabilities do not enter our mind – or it they do, we pray for better in ourselves and others.

As best I can tell, there are aspects of Montgomery’s approach seem to be implicitly statingor at the very least readily invite this understanding that it is not responsible for human beings to depend on the historical testimony (that takes into account both facts that transpired on the ground and their true meaning – based on the fact of their verbal explanation on the ground) of reliable men – starting with eyewitnesses and being passed down – apart from the kind of proof (their testimony itself – which can be attacked but never refuted – is proof!) that meets ours or other’s methodological criteria.

Amen Mr. Parton!: “All apologetics does is remove and eliminate obstacles between the unbeliever and the cross so those obstacles are seen for what they are – illegitimate excuses to keep a person from facing Jesus Christ and his claims upon that person’s life that they are in need of the salvation he offers.” (Craig Parton, “Evidence for the Resurrection”, Issues Etc., Audio cassette, 23 April, 2000).

Amen Mr. Parton!: “All apologetics does is remove and eliminate obstacles between the unbeliever and the cross so those obstacles are seen for what they are – illegitimate excuses to keep a person from facing Jesus Christ and his claims upon that person’s life that they are in need of the salvation he offers.” (Craig Parton, “Evidence for the Resurrection”, Issues Etc., Audio cassette, 23 April, 2000).

Montgomery is a lawyer, and by all accounts a very good one.***** That said, just because the law must operate in this way, it does not mean that Christian apologetics needs to follow suit. I submit that approaches like those of Montgomery, unless carefully qualified (i.e., the “for the sake of argument…” is made explicit) will on the ground and in our hearts tend to bring with them an underlying epistemology – an approach towards knowledge as a whole (how do we know what we know) – that we do not want, or should not want, to be uncritical of.  Consider that if this account of what constitutes knowledge increasingly were to become more of an all-encompassing account, we would have difficulty saying, for example, that a person’s knowledge of their family history (of some import and life-shaping to them at least, with the potential to become this to others as well – to see this explored more in conversation with Montgomery’s book Where is History Going? see this footnote below: ******) can really be knowledge apart from proof that will be sufficient for the lawyer, trial jury, judge, historian, etc.

On the contrary, we can have every good reason, in certain circumstances, for trusting the witness and memory of other human beings – much less Almighty God himself who chooses to utilize reliable messengers for His purposes (I wrote more on the importance of trust in men – yes indeed! – for the Christian faith here). Yes, persons coming to faith in this historically-based message is a miracle from God alone, but in general, this process goes hand in hand with the presence of reliable men with a message from God (for a possible objection to this viewpoint that I have put forth here see ******* below).

“There is but one way to prepare the worldly-wise (the “wise men after the flesh”, I Cor. 1:26) for conversion, and that is that the terrors conscientiae break down their conceited trust in their own wisdom and utterly destroy “the conception of the universe as held by modern man.” -- Lutheran theologian Franz Peiper

“There is but one way to prepare the worldly-wise (the “wise men after the flesh”, I Cor. 1:26) for conversion, and that is that the terrors conscientiae break down their conceited trust in their own wisdom and utterly destroy “the conception of the universe as held by modern man.” — Lutheran theologian Franz Peiper

It seems to me that the kind of approach or framework that I have begun to lay out at the beginning of this post (also see part II) will allow for most any kind of statement of fact that an evidentialist apologist might think that he can and perhaps even should make. I think that what is different about the view I am talking about is that it sees apologetics primarily in the simple message that there is reliable eyewitness testimony (which God has also preserved for us in Scriptures that actually fit very well with what even secular historians say) and that this message is at the very least a “handmaid of the law” – in fact carrying out many of the same functions as God’s law (again, see the first footnote below discussing Acts 17:31).  Within this framework both a vigorous defense against arguments vs. the faith and positive arguments “making the case” can have a place********

It seems to me that this is basically looking at Mueller’s and Peiper’s position in the best light – “putting the best construction on it” so to speak. Speaking of construction, I want to be constructive in my criticism – building further on what I admit are some pretty bare bones here. It’s a start, and there will be more to come.

In fact, I plan to start doing this in a very short time in another series titled “*How* will we know the truth that sets us free? What is TSSI and is Jesus’ bodily resurrection the validation of His teachings?”  This is one that I have been working on for a very long while and hope you might consider checking it out as well.

In the meantime, please feel free to offer any criticism that you might have up to this point – I am eager to hear what you think.




*I am talking about making a logical and not chronological distinction here. For example, it is theoretically possible that at a given moment a statement that is meant to counter a person’s false argument and sin (for example, “….but God raised Christ from the dead that you would pay attention not to those teachers but Him!”) may, in fact, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be correctly perceived as having its origins in Gospel-centered love.  In other words, such a person has previously heard the particular Gospel message which creates faith – i.e. Christ’s death and resurrection saves us from sin, death and the power of the devil, giving us forgiveness, life and salvation – and this message now becomes efficacious through the Holy Spirit in the hearing of the more law-oriented or apologetical message.  The person is brought to faith by something that would only accuse another.  This might be why the former Issues ETC host, Don Matzat, made the following statement: “The goal of apologetics is evangelism.  The hope of the apologist is to convince the unbeliever of the truth of Christianity so the unbeliever will become a believer.”  Elsewhere in the same article Matzat less controversially states: “While presenting evidence for the historic truth of the Christian message will not bring a person to faith in Jesus Christ, it will at least cause that person to take another look at Christianity.” (“Apologetics in a Postmodern Age”, Issues ETC. Journal 2.5 (1997): 1.

Further, regarding the content of Acts 17:31, in a footnote in the last post, I wrote this:

“The fact that God has given all men proof of Jesus’ right to judge by raising Him from the dead would seem to serve something like a Law and Gospel purpose – provoking rejoicing in one and fear in another.

Law and Gospel are not just associated with what we are to do and what Jesus has done, but judgment and promise.  The Law works wrath and the solid word from God about this being His proof will be heard as by some as being about judgment (of them) and by others as “good news” promises of deliverance and the good new creation.  Of course this is all about the first commandment, and the surety that God gives us – in the flesh of Jesus Christ – regarding His judgment of man’s high treason.”

**And yes… as even some skeptics have discovered, it does not appear too difficult to make the case – using modern historical methodologies and legal argumentation – that Christ’s resurrection is the best (most probable, explanation) of the data all persons potentially have available to them. As many a Christian apologist’s experience has shown, this can definitely be “acoustic-improving” information. That said, see the last footnote [****] in part II.

***While Nathan Shannon, in his article about Cornelius Van Til, makes his point in a different context, it is certainly true that, “When we say ‘evidence’ we do not always mean a fingerprint or a phone record. A person can give evidence by testifying to what she has witnessed” (Shannon, WTJ 74 (2012): 348), Of course, here is where I emphasize that when it comes to testimony we do not always mean written testimony either!  Again, one can see from the last footnote [****] in part II that I am hardly de-emphasizing the Scripture. If one nevertheless thinks that I am in danger of downplaying these, they might well ask the 16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz whether or not he was doing the same thing. Paul Strawn summarizes Chemnitz’s “eight kinds of traditions” of which the Scriptures are one: “The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form, spawned Chemnitz’s explanation of traditiones in the second locus, De traditionibus. Here he lists the first of eight different types of traditiones as Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows: 2) the faithful transmission of the Scriptures; 3) the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon); 4) the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”; 5) dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts; 6) the consensus of true and pure antiquity; 7) rites and customs that are edifying and believed to be Apostolic, but cannot be proved from Scripture. Chemnitz rejects only the eighth kind of tradition: 8) traditions pertaining to faith and morals that cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture; but which the Council of Trent commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture. The important element of this last of the traitiones appears not to be the fact that such traditions of faith and morals not provable from Scripture actually existed, but that their status of equality with Scripture was foisted upon the church by the Council of Trent.” P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 213-14. (bold mine)

Ideas of infallibility particularly come into play here when we talk about “putting it into writing” but there is more to the concept of course (but when have you heard even confessional Lutherans today talk much about this?)  Robert Preus, explicating John Gerhard, talks about how this idea of infallibility in the Church can go beyond the Scriptures as well: “in a sense it is true that the Church is infallible and the judge in spiritual matters, inasmuch as its faith is and must be grounded in Christ, but it is quite another thing to claim that a Church council or a Roman bishop cannot error”. (122, Preus, Inspiration of Scripture)
That said, here I think about something I heard on Issues ETC maybe some 16 years ago.  Norman Nagel was asking rhetorically about what the book of Romans said we were saved by: faith or the blood. He said both, but when we talk about the blood, faith has nothing else to talk about.  I think its like that with authority in the church.  It is both, but when we talk about the Scriptures the Church has nothing else to talk about…. (for more on this matter of interpretation, see my post, John 16:8-11 and ministerial vs. magisterial interpretation.

****For example, given that one man’s saintly wife is and has, both intentionally and unintentionally, shown herself to be (her presence is strong evidence for Christ’s presence among him), he sees and feels absolutely no need to entertain the possibility that she will enact “plan b” as regards their marriage. Here, what he knows if what he has yet to be shown is false – distrust and mistrust has not been earned.  Now, it is true that evidence may be presented which seems – on the face of it – to contradict such confidence, and from this point this challenge will need to be admitted, with decisions made (and each case being unique in its own way). None of this negates the main point however about how utter trust in this or that situation is not just reasonable but more than reasonable – and of course, even if this cannot be said of all married couples….

*****Again, this is not surprising.  Montgomery’s friend, fellow lawyer and Lutheran evidentialist apologist Craig Parton, says: “…nothing short of the sheer objectivity of Christian truth claims and the factual character of those claims makes Christian faith so appealing to the legally trained advocate.”– Craig Parton, The Defense Never Rests. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003, p. 71.  Quoted in a recent article at 1517 the Legacy Project.

****** Why is this so important? A Christian should be able to uphold this kind of knowledge in general. And how much more should this be true of the Christian’s knowledge, which has been obtained not just by reliable men, but by God’s own Holy Spirit working through reliable men.

More answers to possible objections follow, based on a close reading of John Warwick Montgomery’s book, Where is History Going?

In his essay “Gordon Clark’s Historical Philosophy” in his book Where is History Going?, Montgomery asserts “The conviction that historical facts do carry their interpretation (i.e., that the facts in themselves provide adequate criteria for choosing among various interpretations of them) is essential both to Christian and general historiography.” (p. 164). I suggest that this is indeed often the case, but there may be some cases where this is not the case, or, at the very least, there is more than meets the eye. It seems to me that one thing that we need to keep in mind here is that Montgomery is talking about doing historiography – and not simply history (which can be understood in informal or more formal ways). I will explain more in the rest of this footnote.

Elsewhere in the essay Montgomery states: “the reason for [secular philosophy’s] failure [to produce an adequate account of history] does not have to be located (and must not be located) in the inability of historical facts to speak clearly apart from philosophical commitments. The difficulty is rather, as I have noted elsewhere, that ‘such a welter of historical data exists that we do not know how to relate all the facts to each other. Our lifetime is too short and our perspective is too limited.” (pp. 165 and 166). I would agree with this but simply argue that, in many cases, this has more to do with not knowing or being familiar with the appropriate living eyewitness testimony – including the Eyewitness Testimony Incarnate (that provides the proper factual testimony attributing the proper meaning to certain events, for example the resurrection) – than it does sifting through whatever facts that are available to us through written documents (and to some degree archaeology) per se.

When Montgomery goes on to say “the trouble with secular philosophy of history is not that it has looked into history instead of aprioristic first principles in endeavoring to understand the past; it is that the secularists have been deflected by their extra-historical commitments from looking at history objectively – and particularly from looking at the Christ of history objectively”, I appreciate what he says, but not because I think that it itself is an objective statement, but because I think it may sometimes be appropriate to challenge a particular unbeliever – one with a great appreciation for what is able to be accomplished when persons attempt to recognize and fight their biases – with this kind of a statement in order to get them to listen concerning Jesus Christ. I say this because I myself am certainly not objective, but motivated not by aprioristic first principles but a First Love.  Montgomery is another such living witness.

When Montgomery goes on to assert: “When the historical facts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection are allowed to speak for themselves, they lead to belief in His deity and to acceptance of His account of the total historical process”, I want to emphasize that a) they never do “speak for themselves” but have been spoken for by messengers (or in the Apostle Paul’s case, The Messenger), b) they do not always lead to belief in His deity but may only result in “historical faith” (I believe the good Dr. would concur) – see this post, particularly the end, for more and c) speaking about us knowing history as opposed to the scientific discipline of historiography, while the truth of the Christian faith – the Christian story – may well be thought about in terms of probabilities (Montgomery: “historical truth is synthetic and not analytic, i.e…. it is arrived at by the empirical examination of documents and therefore never attains the level of one hundred percent certainty”, p. 168), and I think there is a time and place for talking about it in this way (“for the sake of our argument…”), ideally, it is better that it is not thought of in this way, but rather in the sense that that good and reliable men – whose accounts are also bolstered by other reliable men – are simply to be trusted to be telling the truth. Trust in reliable persons is something too valuable to undermine through contrary ideas, exemplified in oxymoronic phrases like “trust but verify”. We may have confident knowledge of many things – intimate or not – that we may never be able to prove to another person apart from trust, which is in large part dependent on character (see footnotes here about how the first historicist, Vico, indirectly undermined character and trust). And when it comes to Christian faith, we are talking about God making Himself known in this process, and not apart from it.  Again, we can say this even if we are talking about a person who only has “historical faith” that the Christian story is true (rather than having true Christian faith, where there is a saving connection with God – where these things are believed to be true “for me” as well). The faith that the devils have is not based on probabilities!

Montgomery is right to say that “If one is incapable of discovering the meaning of historical events from the events, then one is incapable of finding the divine Christ in history, and history will most certainly reduce to ‘a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing”, but the key here is that we do not experience directly all events occurring in space and time ourselves, and do in fact depend on the testimony not so much of idiots (though now and then, we all do idiotic things and are blind to what we should see) but, fortuitously, reliable men entrusted to teach others…. (who can – or should be able to! – give us good reasons why Jesus Christ should be given priority attention over other religious leaders).

There is much in this chapter from Montgomery that I agree with – particularly many of his critiques vs. Clark’s presuppositionalism and preuppositionalism in general. I especially appreciate the first paragraph on p. 170 where he states “[Clark] does not see that causation, like the historical and scientific explanations that incorporate causal thinking, is no more than an empirical, synthetic construct which is employed ad hoc to deal with historical facts. Causal explanations are grounded in, and tested against, the facts for which they endeavor to account”. That said, here is where I simply state that unlike historiography, history really can, at bottom, be a non-theoretical exercise – just like understanding a person is a non-theoretical enterprise.  We understand someone not because we have a better theory (causation), but because we know a p/Person (hat tip to the philosopher Ray Monk). Our Christian faith, fundamentally, is not a hypothesis. In short, I agree with Montgomery when he says that we cannot “’begin with God’ (the Christian God) without benefit of objectively discoverable historical facts”, but I simply assert that testimony from reliable men is enough to qualify for this. For more reflection on these matters, see part III of my recent series on historicism, and this post where I note that, as regards trust in the Christian testimony, all empirical investigation and reasonable interpretation of the same has yet to suggest that distrust in the Christian messsage has been earned.

I hope it is clear that I am not entirely dismissive of Dr. Montgomery’s project. Far from it! In spite of all that I say above in this footnote, I also agree with him when he states: “the epistemological route by which one arrives at biblical truth does not determine the value of what one arrives at – any more than the use of a less than perfect map requires one to reach a city having corresponding inadequacies”. (p. 180) Again, my focus here is that when it comes to things like Christ’s life, death and resurrection, it is the map of reliable human testimony to this – and not the one produced by Christian historiographers – that we should be emphasizing (even as we do have in our back pocket the positive, “for the sake of argument”, “case for Christianity” based on probabilities – produced by Christian historiographers to utilize as we think is appropriate).  For it is not only their words, but His life-giving, history-describing-and-making words as well.  Here is where we will find our solid ground (if this sounds suspect I have written a post on the importance of trust in the church as well where this matter can be further explored) and we praise God that this reliable testimony, used by the Holy Spirit to convict men of sin (Acts 17:31 and John 16:8-11) is also preserved for us in the Holy Scriptures in a way that may be assailed but never defeated.  See the upcoming series on “TSSI” for more on this.

*******“But” – comes the objection – “will not this kind of un-scientific attitude dissuade Christians from digging into their faith – so as to have the ‘raw material’ so to speak, that others may use it to counter unbelief? If you point out that ‘trust but verify’ is actually an oxymoronic statement, are you not indirectly going to undermine the whole enterprise of evidential work that has been done?”

I don’t think so. We note that such evidence and the arguments that Christians might make concerning that evidence need not be born from any doubt or skepticism, but out of simple curiosity. In any case, I gladly acknowledge that those who do feel themselves asking these questions – whether for reasons of doubt or faith – will often find themselves better equipped to shut the mouths that might object to Christian faith. It still does not mean that we should indirectly encourage doubt with “trust but verify” approaches (note I do think that challenging non-Christians about their foundations is very appropriate).

********And while apologetics might reveal to sinners why we ask the doubting questions we do, it may also may simply help us see that our questions are fine – they are something any curious believer eager to learn more about their faith might ask – even as our reasons for asking them also might have the potential to be out of line (yes, I realize that we are sinner-saints and that our motivations can never be totally pure, but I do not think that discounts the distinction I am making here).

 Images: Parton: ; Peiper: ; Bruggencate:


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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Uncategorized


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“The right side of history” – what does this mean? History, historicism, and the Christian faith (part III of III)

The greatist history lesson ever: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)

The greatest history lesson ever: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Part I

Part II

if history has meaning, this meaning is not historical, but theological; what is called Philosophy of history is nothing else than a Theology of history more or less disguised.” — Robert Flint (1838-1910)*

In the last post, we looked in some detail at historicism, which I said has been one of the great enemies – along with philosophical naturalism/mechanicism – of the Christian faith.

My take on the current influence of historicism in the Western world is that it is gradually going extinct as particularly Christian notions of divine providence dissipate in the wider populace. That said, I think that historicism still exerts significant influence in the [dying] mainline churches and, ironically, perhaps increasingly in more conservative church bodies as well…. (with Erlangen theology, for example, being increasingly attractive to some conservative proponents of Lutheranism looking for what are widely considered more intellectually respectable options).

An agnostic seeking to be escape the "myth of progress", based, he says, in religion.

An agnostic seeking to be escape the “myth of progress”, based, he says, in religion.  More here**.

Onward. The final post in this series addresses the reality of purpose in history as well as the Christian alternative to historicism (and more indirectly, philosophical naturalism/mechanicism as well).

These days, we hear much from persons – even those who consider themselves quite “non-religious” – about “being on the right side of history”. A good question here is why one would assume – particularly if a person is more atheistic or agnostic – there is a right side to be on? Truly, even those who insist that impersonal and purposeless processes are the foundation of the cosmos consistently find themselves attributing a purpose to life that goes deeper than their mere preferences.

In his book, Christ and History, mentioned in previous posts, George Buttrick says

“…the ‘fatalities’ of nature (interesting word: fate-alities) invade history; and nature sometimes seems irrational, at least to historical eyes. Why should a flash flood in the Pennsylvania hills sweep away an orphanage?..Hitler’s Germany or an engine driver cannot fully be ‘explained.’ There is an irrational streak in history.” (66 and 67)

Russel Crowe as "Maximus" in the 2000  movie, Gladiator

Russel Crowe as “Maximus” in the 2000 movie, Gladiator

…and then perceptively notes that just when people

“say that history is irrational it reveals purpose… [this] heresy [of American progress] could not have risen except as deviation from a true surmise, namely, that history has a purpose – so that man is able to ask, “What is the meaning of history?” How strange that amid all the fatefulness of human freedom, politics is still a valid quest! How strange that history is not a raveled chaos, but a tapestry of which we ask, “What does this portray?” Good statesmanship is the right reading of events and the proposal of realistic action: it assumes that history will honor, at least in measure, our honorable purpose – because history itself is purpose. Jesus seems to have assured men of this trustworthiness in our human story: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” Here he compares the dependability of nature with the sure purposes of history. So each man says of public and private pilgrimage: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends.” Yet how can purpose be irrational, and irrationality show purpose?” (67-68)

He also writes, compellingly

We assume human freedom, and have little option; for if we deny freedom, we assume that the denial is free, not merely the lip movements of a marionette. Similarly we assume that freedom is responsible freedom, as when we say, “he was brave’ or “he was a coward.” If we confess, as we must, that we have small right to judge our neighbors since we cannot read their inner history and may be ignorant even of their outward circumstance, and since we also have a tarnished record, we thus make a larger confession, namely, that we are all under a higher court….Yet history seems often to scorn the responsible man…” (p. 70)**

Only written by the winners?

Only written by the winners?

And as noted in our first post, history goes down to the deepest levels. Who am I? Where am I from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of life? Or, in words Buttrick uses: Who am I? Why am I? What is the meaning of history? From where have I come and where am I going? Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? And if we should not, like those under the thrall of historicism, talk about “salvation history” as distinct “world history” – but rather say “history is history is history” – what does this look like?

History is a part of who we are – not just the facts but the meaning of the past, present and future are always before us! We cannot avoid being creatures who must give an account of who we are: from where we have come, where we are, and where we are going. This is because we are the crown of God’s creation created in His image. As He does history, we do history.

That said, it is true that from the beginnings of the creation only God has perfect knowledge about what has, is, and will happen on this stage that He has prepared – the drives, the thoughts, the words and deeds of all flesh. And this is true even as He Himself is far from being a “neutral observer” but rather moves (in Him all “live and move and have their being”), influences, directs and harnesses all things. It sounds a bit trite, but it really is true – history is “His story”.

And yet, thanks be to God! He has revealed to us that which we need to know about our living, moving and having our being in Him in space and timethe things that really and truly matter. God has spoken! – He is there and not silent, as the 20th century Reformed Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer liked to say. In working with His prophets and apostles He tells us what really matters – primarily who He is and what He has done and who we are and what we have done – giving us forgiveness, life, and salvation and – telling us also what He is doing and will do – filling us with direction, purpose, and power for living.

whereishistorygoingIn giving us this life-giving account of what has unfolded by His design in time, our Lord is, again, certainly not “neutral” – such a depressingly deadening and uncommitted word! – even as He certainly is just, fair, and reliable – true – in its telling. In His words to us we discover that in His work in time our Lord has chosen to work intimately with His image-bearers – that is the mini-Creators bent on rejecting Him due to the historic space-time fall. In fact, He has done this very thing – that is working with men – in giving us the Bible (again, see this post on the role of trust in human beings in God’s plan). This book was “co-written” with men more “given over to Him” than most – that is, by those who allowed Him to work through them to give us the Divine Scriptures, which we can and should say are in but not of this world. Like the Son and like the sons themselves.

But of course, it is only natural that we want to ask: if this is the case can we say that God is “objective” in His telling of history? Again, we can see that what is really being asked here is whether or not the account that God has given us is fair, accurate, and reliable – true. It is indeed this – we can rest assured that in giving us the only real message that brings forgiveness, life and salvation He has described the past – and the future – in just this way, even as, again, it is not only this: fort the True One has also been in the midst of it, shaping it. Without a doubt, as regards what has come before us, for example – that is, history proper – we can and should say that there is a certain past that really happened, and that only God knows this past in its fullness, for He very actively knows all of us perfectly. We have no better account of the doings of God and men in time and space than what He can provide us with.

So all of this raises a very interesting question for us: what to make of all other human efforts to record the facts and meanings of man’s past, present and future? Compared with Holy Writ, we can simply say that these are pale imitations – some better, some worse – of what our Lord has done. As men have worked to create accounts which portray the past and speak of its meaning both then and for now, there are certain things we notice. When we talk about the important events in history we tend to focus on victory, wealth, power, prestige, fame, worldly success (and post-Enlightenment, “progress”). He, on the other hand, seems to focus on more simple matters, particularly the power and work of death-defying love – divine and human – that goes deeper than all of these things, transcending them.

So, some historical accounts of men will be more valuable than others, and not only because some are more “objective” than others. Of course, it really does go without saying that no human history is “objective” – it simply cannot be “unbiased”, as if we were the all-seeing and neutral narrator of a novel (of course detailing only the important events in the story – neutral?). And we come to this important point again: even as this idea of the Author and the novel has often been connected with our ideas of God for good reasons, His knowledge of the past, present and future – as we have repeatedly noted above – is much more involved than this! We might equate the notion of “objective” with having a “God’s eye-point of view”. But of course when we think about what having a “God’s eye-point of view” on the world and history means, we might again be tempted to think of God as not being involved – or that involved – in the story.  

How God is "objective" in the ultimate sense.

Is it more that God is objective or that He has an objective?

But He is deeply involved – for He is the great Subject and the Lover of His whole creation (Psalm 145), with man its crown, as the great object. Yes, God’s objective is His beloved object – so here is how history is “objective” to the hilt! 

God’s reliable history – the Holy Scriptures – are not a removed and dispassionate accounting of the facts, but of the meaning of a romance between the Husband and His bride, the Church. Here, all the facts are important – incredibly important!*** – but fall into this wider context.

And there are indeed dark nights in the soul in this history-defining relationship.  But as Buttrick reminds us: “Faith in action has eyes when our natural eyes cannot see”. (p. 79) And in the crucified One, it overcomes the world – in the “long defeat”.

Finally, perhaps some are disappointed that what I have said here does not take more of a “systematic theology”-like approach.  That is deliberately the case – for I think that the Reformed theologian Michael Horton is right when he often asserts that “the doctrine is in the drama”.  As I hope is clear from what I have written here, I think that what the Christian church has to offer the world when it comes to this matter of history cannot be underestimated in terms of its importance.

That will become even more clear in an upcoming series: *How* will we know the truth that sets us free? What is TSSI and is Jesus’ bodily resurrection the validation of His teachings? 

I hope you will join me for that one to.




*Quoted in Montgomery, Where is History Going?, p. 184

**He goes on to say: “[Israel] admitted that judgment had rightly fallen, or so at least her prophets knew; but Assyria! – Assyria was blind to God and His judgments, and worshipped only idols! So we ask why a megalomaniac paperchanger should bedevil the world. Yes, the seeds of Hitlerism were in every land, but the world arraigned against him was not Hitler. Bright eras come, not by man’s contriving; dark eras, not by man’s intention and desire. We are still responsible, but history ever and again appears irresponsible, as if there were no right and wrong… (pp. 70-71)

***In a recent post, the prominent and highly influential Eastern Orthodox blogger Father Stephen Freeman said:

Deeply connected to materialist Christianity is a “materialist” understanding of time. In the modern understanding, time is simply a description of the chain of cause and effect – the past being a collection of causes, the present being the result of those causes, and the future being the results that have not yet happened (and therefore do not yet exist). With a materialist notion of cause and effect, history (with a solid/fixed existence) becomes of supreme importance. Christianity as a “historical” religion, becomes a description of Divine causes and effects. The linear character of time takes on a controlling character. Thus historical (solid/fixed) events such as the Creation of Man, the Fall, Noah’s Ark, the Red Sea, etc., have their historical character as their prime importance. The story of the universe is a story that takes place entirely within a materialist system of cause and effect. Sin is a historical problem requiring a historical solution. And because of the fixed nature of time/cause/effect, each historical event presupposes and requires the same character of its causes. Thus if the historical character of Adam and Eve are questioned, then the historical character of all subsequent events are challenged as well. The Fall becomes the cause of the Cross.

Elsewhere, he had written:

“Adam as the progenitor of sin is nowhere an idea of importance (or even an idea) within the Old Testament. St. Paul raises Adam to a new level of consideration, recognizing in him a type of Christ, “the Second Adam.” But St. Paul’s Adam is arguably much like St. Paul’s Abraham (in Galatians), a story whose primary usefulness is the making of a theological point.

Nevertheless, St. Paul’s lead eventually becomes the pathway for history’s ascendancy. For while it is true that man’s breaking communion with God is the source of death, this is reduced to mere historical fact in the doctrine of Original Sin. For here Adam, as the first historical man, becomes infinitely guilty and deserving of punishment, and pays his juridical debt forward to all generations. This historical understanding of the fall, with inherited guilt, locks the Fall within historical necessity. It is among numerous reasons that Original Sin, as classically stated in the West, has not found a lasting place within Orthodox tradition.”

One must wonder: are we then, in the West, by virtue of our believing in a historical Adam, all crass literalists now?  In responded to him regarding that first post above, I asked this

.when you say that “Sin is a historical problem requiring a historical solution”, is this not, from our perspective, something that seems to be very true? A simple reading of the account in Genesis 1-3 would seem to suggest this, would it not? Is there not some sense in which innocence was lost? Do they not realize they are naked? Do they not run? Does not “everything change” in some mysterious sense here? You speak of us misunderstanding the Fathers today, seeing them through the lens of this materialist Christianity (the “alien metaphysic” as you say). Do not some of the Fathers speak in this way though?

He said, in part:

you correct that there are fathers who speak in this way. I would speak in that way in certain contexts.

But the Genesis account is not a simple account and there are many things within it that signal this. It is layered and complex and sometimes begs questions (that call us beyond the simple). I sometimes think that the “simple” approach to Genesis forgets to stay with the text and reads an imaginary construction of the text that ignores the signals to abandon the simple.

“In the Beginning.” Sounds simple. St. John did not think so. Many fathers immediately noted that Christ Himself is the “Beginning.” I could go on and on and never leave the first verse.

I replied, in part:

What concerns me is that for many, Gods’ word seems to be merely something like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – the main intention not being to convey real history that speaks to us and forms us now, but rather to simply speak to us and form us now…

Now, now, now.

But look at Jesus… he never gives any indication that He took the events of the OT as anything other than things that really happened. What do we do when the True Myth Incarnate gives us such impressions… and then tells us to to believe like children?

For it seems to me, there is a ruthless logic here. There are these genealogies that connect Adam with Christ after all… Why stop with Genesis and Adam as being mythological so as to just be for the now, now, now – at the expense of words acknowledging that it also has to do with the real past?

Must these be set against one another? Is the realism you speak of – and which I hold to as well – against this?

And that, for now, is where the conversation ends.  I am told that someone like C.S. Lewis was “absolutely not a Christian materialist” but a decided “Realist” like the rest of the Inklings.  And I ask “What does this mean?”  Are we in the West who believe in a literal Adam not realists now where those who would deny him are?

What do you do when the True Myth Incarnate (Hat tip: C.S. Lewis) gives every indication that the stories of the Old Testament are utterly historical as well as for our moral edification? Do you, in an effort to stifle this inconvenient truth, eventually end up consigning the True Myth Incarnate to more ethereal realms as well? Why wouldn’t you? And then, even if you still say that you believe in Jesus Christ (as Jowett – see part I – no doubt would have claimed), do you really?  Might it not be time to wonder, with Paul, whether or not you have a “different Jesus”?


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Posted by on August 25, 2014 in Uncategorized


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“The right side of history” – what does this mean? History, historicism, and the Christian faith (part II of III)

“If exegesis is to be practiced historico-critically, it must use the methods of secular historical science, i.e. criticism which allows only probability judgments, and the principles of analogy and correlation (cf. Troeltsch).  Thereby it subjects itself in principle to secular-historical judgment” (theses presented for discussion in the University of Munich, quoted by Marquart on p. 114)

“If exegesis is to be practiced historico-critically, it must use the methods of secular historical science, i.e. criticism which allows only probability judgments, and the principles of analogy and correlation (cf. Troeltsch). Thereby it subjects itself in principle to secular-historical judgment” — theses presented for discussion in the University of Munich* (picture is of Ernst Troeltsch)

Part I

“[The distorted ideas of modernity] see man as his own god, and history either as man’s work or as a naturalism.” — p. 25, Bible as history, George Buttrick

Today I want to talk about historicism, with lots of help from the respected confessional Lutheran apologist and historian Dr. Martin Noland.

Over my last Christmas vacation, I tackled his PhD. Dissertation, Harnack’s historicism: the genesis, development, and institutionalization of historicism and its expression in the thought of Adolf Von Harnack (1996).** Right away I was hooked and intrigued with Dr. Noland’s ambitious work, because we share very common interests and he seemed to “fill in” many of the gaps that have existed in my own knowledge of topics such as these (see my own series on this topic “What Athens needs from Jerusalem”).

What follows is my own highlighting of key elements of Dr. Noland’s dissertation, along with some comments that aim to build on his very insightful observations and synthesis.

Be warned – what follows is admittedly some very dense and heady stuff – this can’t be avoided when talking about historicism! – but I am trying to make it understandable as best as I can, choosing the most helpful quotes and the like. At 360 pages, the dissertation covers a lot, and in order to not simplify the complexity too much, I have chosen to error on the side of going a bit too long myself. Here is a particularly helpful summation of Noland’s work by the man himself:

In summary, historicism was both a worldview and a method. As a worldview, it was identified with anti-naturalist and post-speculative realist perspectives, emphasizing the themes of the malleability of human nature and individuality. As a method, it operated with the principles of criticism, analogy, correlation, development, and the historical idea.” (p. 83)

The “post-speculative realist perspective” talked about in that quote is a term that emphasizes a distinction between men like Hegel and the others who followed him that are usually considered to be historicists – Hegel was far more optimistic about man’s ability to speculate accurately about the future, given what he considered the discernible workings of the Spirit in the world. In his dissertation, Noland points out the Christian influences (particularly a strong notion of “divine providence”) on some of the first systematic thinkers in historicism – men who responded to and countered Hegel – particularly Ranke and Humboldt, and also says that the highly influential early 20th c. theologian Adolf Von Harnack was “closer to the early historicists… than Troeltsch may have realized” (p. 202, hence Von Harnack’s picture being in part I).

Who is Troeltsch?  Pictured above, he is most well-known as a Christian historian of culture and religion, and the author of the famed work Die soziallehren der chrsitlichen Kirchen und Gruppen, which Noland says can be seen not primarily as a theological treatise, but “the epitome of historicist analysis of Western society at the highest level” (p. 213). So it is not surprising that Noland cites Troeltsch quite a bit in his dissertation, for the most part seeming to accept his analysis and synthesis as helpful (Noland’s own view is that Troeltsch himself should be classified as a historicist – he also told me that his views were affected by World War One and that he thinks Troeltsch can be considered a transition figure***).  Again, what follows will summarize some key bits of Noland’s overall analysis.

With the overthrow of Aristotle, both good and bad things came.

With the overthrow of Aristotle, both good and bad things came.

First however, I will share some of my own comments – to set the wider context a bit more. With the advent of Descartes in the mid- 17th c., there is a fundamental shift in philosophy in the Western world – a shift that the great Lutheran theologian John Gerhard perhaps just caught the tail end of.  Nevertheless – and I admit that I could be wrong about this – it seems to me that with Descartes we have an attempt to partially salvage Aristotle’s focus on certainties external to, or outside of, us – namely, their discernible essences – from the onslaught of Francis Bacon’s program (exemplified by a title riffing on Aristotle: the New Organon****), which in sum emphasized the importance of “what works”- technique (with extreme forms of nominalism being the inevitable result of this) via experimentation, systematic observation, and probabilities.

Rene “I think therefore I am” Descartes was not only a towering philosopher but also a mathematician and practicing scientist.  His ideas, scientific and philosophical (in these days, these were seen as going together, science was philosophy) had an immediate influence.  It would be  then be other action-men like Blaise Pascal who would soon afterwards seem to further vindicate crucial aspects of both Bacon and Descartes’ approaches, what with his many experimental science and mathematical-invention successes. Newton would follow soon thereafter, lending even more credibility – immense credibility – to Bacon and Descartes.  However, even in these days there were men who saw what was being missed in these approaches and endeavored to put forth their own viewpoints. Some indeed sensed that the Enlightenment efforts of men like Descartes (“the only things that can be proved, demonstrated, and verified beyond a doubt can be called ‘knowledge’”) and later, David Hume (there is a “fact-value split”) were, to say the least, “a bit off”.

Back to Dr. Noland’s dissertation: the key point in all of this, according to Troeltsch, is that for Descartes the question is no longer about ontology (“what is”) but rather the mind’s apprehension of reality, or “epistemology” (“an analysis of the contents of consciousness”, “what is known”).*****  Descartes, according to Troeltsch, is a “naturalist” who looks at the world through the lens of quantity and regularity and seeks to “express everything by mathematical statements and to find constant mechanisms behind all phenomena. It conceptualizes these mechanisms in the forms of laws, based on observations of physical, social, or moral regularity.” Naturalism “looks at the world from the standpoint of physical entities and processes, even to the extreme point of explaining all human behavior and history physically” (Troeltsch, quoted in Noland, pp. 46 and 47).******

On the other hand, historicism, according to Troeltsch, is the great antithesis of naturalism. And Descarte’s great antithesis personified was an Italian writer by the name of Vico. According to Noland and those he cites (men like Isaiah Berlin, for example), we see the beginnings of this species of thought called historicism with him, who also introduced the notion of “mytho-poetical” truth – and how it could explain what had happened among the heathen (note: not Jewish and Christian) nations (p. 102). Like Descartes, Vico wanted to pursue “science” and “general laws” and so did not outrightly reject the scientific mindset like the historicists of the future would (“German thinkers steeped in pietism and mysticism”), who put their focus not only on organic ideas, like Vico, but individualities as well (p. 116). While Descartes rejected the “application of human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles’, to the study of history, Vico argued that human history is, in fact, created precisely through such ideas, which are ‘modifications of the human mind’” (p. 108) – he “asserted the epistemological primacy of the man-made historical world” (Gadamer, in Noland p. 217). In Vico’s mind, methodological error was to be charged towards persons like Descartes, who “apply human ideas, such as ‘laws’ and ‘principles,’ to the study of nature, which was created by God and so is fully known by God alone” (p. 108)!

Noland sums up Troeltsch’s views on historicism by saying that while it to, like Descartes, was concerned with the “contents of consciousness” (the “cognito ergo sum” – i.e. vs. ontology, i.e. “what is”), it also…

looks at the world from the standpoint of intellectual, spiritual, and psychological entities and processes, even to the extreme point of explaining all natural phenomena as a cultural growth. Unlike the model of Newtonian science, which posited the fixed nature of entities and the mathematical description of processes, historicism recognizes that entities change and develop over the course of time. Such change of an entity, requiring a historical account of its origin and growth, is thus the root issue dividing naturalism and historicism. (p. 47)”

In short, “what the Enlightenment [and its naturalism] attributed to nature and nature’s God… the historicists attributed to history and history’s God” (p. 143).

John Henry Newman, also big on the importance of probability...

John Henry Newman, also emphasized the  importance of probability when it comes to finding faith…

Troeltsch contends, Noland says, that “the empiricist category of ‘experience,’ with its anti-naturalist concentration on knowledge attained a posteriori, not least by immersion in the ‘stream of history,’… laid the foundations for the rise of historicism” (48-50). Noland also says that “criticism is not a chief, distinguishing principle of historicist thought” even though for the historicist, we note that actual historical events become all about probabilities (p. 59).

In addition, for the historicist, the notion of “correlation” (“there can be no change at one point without some preceding and consequent change elsewhere…. Everything is interconnected and each single event is related to all others” – Troeletsch, p. 64) replaces the naturalist’s “mechanical concepts of causation” (though ultimately “’culture’, i.e. [bildung], is the historicist’s causal principle”) and “all classical notions of ‘substance’ and ‘essence’ become obsolete” and “even the notion of ‘truth’ becomes subject to change” (italics mine, p. 103).******* Importantly, the past is not a “series of isolated, sporadic, and ultimately meaningless events”, but everything contributes to “development”, which “connotes some form of growth or improvement” (p. 69). Again, note that many of these ideas are either explicit or are implicit/tacit already within the writings of Vico, who can be called the “father of historicism”.

Martin Noland, on historicism: “all classical notions of ‘substance’ and ‘essence’ become obsolete” and “even the notion of ‘truth’ becomes subject to change.”

Martin Noland, on historicism: “all classical notions of ‘substance’ and ‘essence’ become obsolete” and “even the notion of ‘truth’ becomes subject to change.”

I would also note here that for the naturalist and historicist (throw in empiricist, rationalist, etc), the present becomes the key to the past (for the historicist, this means “empathetically” coming to understand human nature more and more now, in line with creating a “psychology of historical causes”, p. 64) even if this also means “thinking in terms of the totality” (where there are necessary internal factors and contingent external factors to consider – this key principle is known as the “historical idea” [p. 74]) and not simply in terms of accurately reporting specific historical events, or as a historicist might say “unique and autonomous historical forces” [where these “stand in a current and context comprehending the totality of events” and are always conditioned by their context])******** (p. 64, 68, 69; for more key paragraphs explaining historicism see 62)

Noland also touches on the modern era, with the “linguistic turn” in historiography, which insists that the historian’s language does not only represent or reflect “past actuality”, but in some sense also creates it – the “narrativist” Ankersmit, for example, “argued that the historical idea was a construction of historicists, which they mistakenly located in the past itself as its principle of coherence” – this is to be guilty of “reifying” the historical idea. In other words, the “historian’s language does not reflect a coherence… in the past itself but only gives coherence to the past” (Ankersmit, quoted on p. 80). Noland says that if the historical idea is simply an arbitrary concept it “may well be judged a bankrupt method and worldview”. On the other hand, he says “the historicist notion of a ‘cultural whole,’ for which there are evidential grounds in both present and past history, resists the complete dissolution of the historical idea into textuality” (p. 81).**********

How can the “good, the true, and the beautiful” avoid becoming that which certain persons – and those they choose to associate with – simply agree is  - or they will say is – good, true and beautiful?

How can the “good, the true, and the beautiful” avoid becoming that which certain persons – and those they choose to associate with – simply agree is – or they will say is – good, true and beautiful?

Also noteworthy here is that before postmodern critiques like this came into play, Heidegger’s “existentialist analysis of Dasein and its temporality” can be seen to coincide with prominent historicists like Dilthey for example, who “judged that the internal experience of human ‘self’ and its historical memory” – “that strange fusion of memory and expectation” in internal experience – “afforded the only adequate foundation for historical knowledge” (p. 218). Unlike Vico, Dilthey summed up the view of many a modern historicist when he said that “the historical world cannot be subsumed under general values and laws, because history is constituted by the constant development of life in its inexhaustible and unpredictable fullness” (p. 219).

And we would also be remiss to mention how with the advent of Darwinism, this naturalism and historicism Troeltsch speak of could actually be imagined to merge together and go hand-in-hand, something Troeltsch himself observed had happened (pp. 48-50). I would sum this up by saying that the only difference here is that there are evolutionists more in line with Newton’s more naturalistic and mechanical approach (think Dawkins minus Newton’s piety) and those more in line with Goethe’s more organic approach to evolution (think Stephen J. Gould minus Goethe’s supernaturalism).   Here, I would refer persons to Benjamin Wiker’s helpful book Moral Darwinism to help one get a sense of the long and interesting story of evolutionary ideas and their influence. Further, I would also add that notions of “essences” – that is unchanging things – at this time could be more easily associated with things like atoms (and today particles known to be even more fundamental) as opposed to things like dogs, cats, men, women, marriage, children, etc.   Of course when this is pitched we are then left with this question: how can the “good, the true, and the beautiful” avoid becoming that which certain persons – and those they choose to associate with – simply agree is – or they will say is – good, true and beautiful?  

Who do you trust indeed?  Ah, trust.  Who are the voices from history that really do have a handle on history – real history?  We will pick up here tomorrow, but in the meantime, you can also see this post (“Put not your trust in men?  Overcoming the Cretan’s paradox in Christ”) I did as regards the critical role of trust in the world in general and the Christian church in particular.




* quoted by Marquart on p. 114, Anatomy of an Explosion: Missouri in Lutheran Perspective.  He also quotes from a May 1975 Forum Letter:

“It is not enough to say that historical criticism means ‘discriminating appreciation.’  ‘The historian,’ says [David] Lotz, ‘must cross-examine, test, weigh, probe and analyze all written records of the past.  If he fails to do this he de facto surrenders his claim to the title of historian!’ (p. 116, italics and bold mine)

Note that well.  Evidently, we can’t seek to learn more about history simply because we are curious to do so.  Of course questions will come, but no one can question absolutely everything.

As regards that first quote accompanying the Troeltsch picture, of course this “secular historical science” was in many cases advanced by professing Christians.  Although for many of them, universal human reason which could be shared by all (producing clear and distinct ideas) was not necessarily supposed to be opposed to the Bible – such was the claim at the time.

** In light of the issues presented by Lutheran theologian and textual critic Jeffrey Kloha several months ago, Lutheran theologian and historian Martin Noland gave pastors and interested laypersons a reading list (as had Dr. Kloha), and I slowly begin working my way through some of those recommended titles. One of those titles was Dr. Noland’s dissertation, evidently recommended to help persons have more historical context for better and more complete understanding these issues. The dissertation is available through the ProQuest dissertations database and so can be readily obtained from most academic libraries (I have commented more on this issue that arose a few months ago here).

Another note: I shared this part of my series with Dr. Noland and he wanted to point out that he is not a historicist by just about any definition of the term.  He actually took on this topic because his doctoral advisor, Dr. David Lotz, said that work needed to be done in this area for the “guild” of church historians.

*** Personal email, Aug. 3, 2014.

**** I can imagine that Aristotle would have found some of what Bacon had to say amenable to his own approach. After all, it was Aristotle who first pointed out that “Lack of experience diminishes our power of taking a comprehensive view of the admitted facts. Hence those who dwell in intimate association with nature and its phenomena are more able to lay down principles such as to admit of a wide and coherent development; while those whom devotion to abstract discussions has rendered unobservant of facts are too ready to dogmatize on the basis of a few observations (quoted in Crawford, Shop class as Soulcraft, p. 23).”

***** Quote from a First Thoughts commentator I saw while writing this: “I recall coming across in my reading a description of the modern/postmodern worldview as a worldview that has in effect replaced the metaphysics of the ancients with epistemology. This observation seems particularly relevant [in the following case]: Whereas the Carthaginian inhabits a cosmos haunted by metaphysical gods demanding blood sacrifice, the Postmodern inhabits a world that is ultimately subject to his or her own solipsistic preferences: thus a fetus is a life when the mother wants it, but not when she doesn’t want it.

****** Later on, according to Noland, Hamann would, along with Berkeley, assert that “human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious” (p. 124). Noland notes that this assertion was not adopted by later historicists. Nevertheless, I was happy to see this insight from some respected thinkers, as it is something that I myself have thought of quite frequently (see here)

******* Manelbaum has stated that historicism helped people to obtain a “historical sense”, which involved being able to “shed the prejudices of the day” and the rejection of anachronism, and he says that the “historical sense” “has also been regarded as characteristic of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 66, 7 ; I note that there have always been careful historians who have tried to keep their prejudices and ignorance of other’s customs in check, and would point to the 16th c. Lutheran humanist Flacius as a good example of a historian like this).   While this certainly sounds good, I note that one person’s “prejudice” may also be another person’s devout faith – and something they ought not give up

Note that on p. 113 Noland says that in Vico one cannot find the historicist principle of criticism (this would be where the historian tries to get behind the text, seeking for a “more credible” story) and yet it seems to me that the roots of this at least are clearly seen in this denial of more classical understandings of the terms “substance” or “essence”, which was certainly encouraged by Vico’s affinity for the Epicurean disciple, the Roman poet, Lucretius. If there are no stable categories that persons of varying backgrounds can agree on throughout time, can we, or should we, really be confident of anything that we are able to perceive? On what basis? The idea that we can be confident on the basis of a “principle of analogy”, affirming that human beings can know the things they have made (the mind’s awareness of its own productions over time) falls flat for both scientific (see Kant’s critique of this notion in his words vs. Herder) and practical reasons (for example, one simply needs to see all the important questions that historicists disagreed on! Which “self-understanding of the Spirit”???). Thus it is easy to see how the criticism that results in only skepticism without end gets started.

Further, on p. 96 note that Vico, in spite of his belief in a version of Divine providence, contrasted his own view with the “doctrinaires [i.e., the Cartesians], who “judge human actions as they ought to be, not as they actually are (i.e. performed more or less at random)” and who, “satisfied with abstract truth alone” and “unused to following probability” (emphasis mine), do not bother to “find out whether their opinion is held by the generality and whether the things that are truths to them are also such to other people”. While Vico is not dealing with the probability of historical events here, one can see how his idea of human belief and behavior – with the emphasis on generally held opinion and actions “performed more of less at random” – decreases the importance of both particular beliefs in the world and individual human agency (even if it does increase the importance shown to individual “forms” – according to Noland, as the father of “organicism” Vico could say that everything that is ‘made’ is ‘true”” and that “there are no mutations and no aberrations, only manifold potentialities”, p. 103), and with this the importance of character, and with this the importance of loyalty and trust.  This seems like it will inevitably lead to even more criticism and dissolution. After all, men are ruled “not be forethought, but by whim or chance” (p. 99).  Also note that in spite of his supposedly un-mythical-poetical use of the Bible (he applied the mythical-poetical critique to all the non-Christian/Jewish religions), Vico also did not believe that we were all one in Adam (p. 180).

********  Noland: “Historicists, to be sure, make ‘present experience’ a criterion of ‘what really happened’ in the past; but this methodological principle of analogy does not require one to minimize or otherwise obscure the ‘differentness’ of the past. Historicism, however, does oblige the historian to view events as ‘embedded within a pattern of development.’ The historical sense, by contrast, is content to investigate the discrete event as such, to determine its individual nature, apart from any concern to locate it in a larger developmental process.”

With this principle in mind, one wonders how much “differentness” the historicist is actually able to tolerate. Resurrections from the dead? The lives of totally unique human beings like Jesus of Nazareth, the very Son of God himself incarnate in the flesh?  If historicism can only be conceived of in categories more Platonic than Aristotelian, one wonders where this leaves the importance of this concrete determinative action of the Son of God in human history.

One can see lots of Plato in Vico: “Abstract, or general truths are eternal; concrete or specific ones change momentarily from truths to untruths. Eternal truths stand above nature; in nature, instead, everything is unstable, mutable. But congruity exists between goodness and truth; they partake of the same essence, of the same qualities…. (p. 96)

That said, I do not think the idea of the “historical sense” is perfect either, when one considers the importance of not only God’s individual acts in history, but the ongoing story that the Bible tells of his faithfulness.

********** Note also this statement by Wayne Hudson, in his recent article, “Theology and historicism”, thesis eleven 116(1) 19-39, 2013: “Put bluntly, it is not clear why…. recurrent structural features should not also be historicized if things change in the course of history as much as historicists suggest.  Conversely, if things do not change that much, then historicizing may have limited applications in other areas as well.


Images: Wikipedia ; Noland – Brothers of John the Steadfast.

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Posted by on August 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


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“The right side of history” – what does this mean? History, historicism, and the Christian faith (part I of III)

Vico, Hegel, Harnack... in the line of historicism, yet another Christian heresy.

Vico, Hegel, Harnack… in the line of historicism, yet another Christian heresy.


“Vagueness as to what is meant by Christ’s historicity must necessarily result in vague and indecisive theologies of history.” — J.W. Montgomery, Where is History Going? 1969, p. 185


I plan on getting to my posts dealing with Lutheran apologetics soon.  First though, this series (which will lay some good groundwork for those forthcoming posts).

In recent posts, “Daring to Deny Darwin” and “The ‘Upside’ of Being a Gadget”, I talked about one of the great enemies of the Christian faith: philosophical naturalism.

(and I have characterized one of the most modern forms of philosophical naturalism – existing from the 17th century and up – as the modern scientific and technological mindset, or MSTM, which we could also call “mechanized naturalism” or “mechanicism”).

I also recently posted a very short critique of Erlangen theology.  One aspect of this kind of theology is that it attempts to take into account some of the more creative ideas and methods of the great 19th c. German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.  Hegel is perhaps the foremost proponent of “historicism”, which is a philosophy that originally arose in order to counter some of the negative aspects (and fruit) of more modern naturalistic views.* (more on this specifically in part II of the series).

That said, historicism is another great enemy of the Christian faith.  I would contend that the modern form of philosophical naturalism/mechnicism is like the drunk man who gets on the horse and falls off on one side.  Historicism is the basic counter-response, and the drunk man falling off the other side of the horse. The one who tries to utilize both in tandem also cannot balance on the horse.  Of course the drunk man in our analogy is a symbol of fallen man, particularly fallen man at the utter heights of his fallen intellectual powers (there is no denying he is clever and aware of much that is true!) – natural man’s own view of himself is that he is the “reasonable man”.

In this series we will take a look at historicism while also talking about the importance of real history.

We begin…

Who am I? Where am I from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of life?

These are questions about historical matters that none of us can fail to ask or think about. That said, naturalism and historicism, which I have said are two great philosophical enemies of the Christian faith, complicate terribly our potential answers to these questions.

sparrowThese days, you will certainly not get sage advice like the that given to Edwin, the 7th century King of Northumbria (now northern England and south-east Scotland).  After hearing the Gospel preached, the King proposed to convert to Christianity and one of his chief advisors, according to the Venerable Bede, said this:

“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”** (story from Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 731).

Answers such as these were at one time seen as being eminently reasonable, especially in an age where much history had been lost.  To say the least, this is no longer the case.

Starting with the Renaissance but with the Enlightenment in particular, new ideas and new discoveries were in the air…  Many of these ideas, some good and some bad, would find their most fulsome flowering in the thought of the great German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. (though starting out with a man by the name of Vico – see next post). While it is fair to say that Hegel is more known as an idealist than a historicist, his work is associated with both of these streams of thought, which tend to merge.

In order to give you a bit of the flavor of the kind of influence Hegel enjoyed and the fruits his ideas bore, here is a lengthy – but very interesting – quote from the book “God’s Funeral” by A.N. Wilson.  In this quote, Wilson follows some of the history of a highly influential scholar and professor named Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893), who is little known today but in his own day “turns up in a thousand nineteenth-century anecdotes”. Please note that Wilson himself is a septic skeptic – I will refrain from editorializing too much about his own rather skewed take on things:

An interesting account of the increasing atheism and agnosticism in 19th c. England.

An interesting account of the increasing atheism and agnosticism in 19th c. England.

“Unlike most Oxford men of his age, [Jowett] knew that there was an alternative [to self-defeating Humean empiricism and “insulting” revealed religion]. When his friend Arthur Penrhyn Stanley (destined to be Dean of Westminster – he is the little boy Arthur who risks the ridicule of his dormitory in Tom Brown’s Schooldays by daring to kneel down and say his prayers) had finished his magnificent hagiography of his hero Dr. Arnold, Jowett proposed that the pair of them take a holiday in Germany. They set off in the summer of 1814, with Liddell and Scott’s enormous and newly published Greek Lexicon, and with one copy of Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft, which they took it in turn to read and analyse. They attended various philosophical conferences, but the most exciting and important thing Jowett did was to meet Erdmann of Halle – the meeting took place in Dresden. Erdmann was Hegel’s representative on earth. The two young Englishmen were thirteen years too late to meet Hegel himself, but meeting Erdmann was the next best thing.

Jowett never became a full-blown Hegelian. There was always a part of him which, as Geoffrey Faber his biographer says, was ‘salty’ and empirical; there was an even larger part of him which was so Platonist that it did not need Hegel. A typical Jowettism, this:

‘Hegel is untrue, I sometimes fancy, not in the sense of being erroneous, but practically, because it is a consciousness of truth, becoming thereby error. It is very difficult to express what I mean, for it is something which does not make me value Hegel the less as a philosopher. The problem of Truth idealized and yet in action, he does not seem to me to have solved; the Gospel of St. John does.”

There is a brilliance about this remark. Of course, all the churchy bigots regarded Jowett as a complete heretic, and he spend his life, after he came to fame and prominence, being denounced by them. But he was something of a mystic, so that although he never for a moment believed in the Thirty-nine Articles or the literal truth of miracle-stories in the New Testament, he believed deeply in God and Christ.

[editorial comment: OK…]

At first glance, certainly, idealism, the German version, seemed like the best approach for an attack on the dead hand of materialism and empiricism. The extent to which Hegel’s God – mentioned so frequently in that philosopher’s works – is the same God of Christianity can always be a subject of debate. Is Hegel’s God Personal? The community of the Spirit in Hegel consists in the Spiritual Community, or the Church. But this is not understood as [Cardinal] Newman and friends would have understood it in using the word. It is not the laying-on of apostolic hands, still less a sacramental ‘magic’ which constitutes the Hegelian community. The perfected community of enlightened ones is itself, in Hegel’s world, God. And he chose, when describing this community, and impersonal word, Gemeinde, ‘whose ordinary meaning excludes any idea of personal unity’.

Jowett was a great teacher rather than himself an original metaphysician. This is what makes his visit to Germany so important – and so different from [Edward] Pusey’s visit to Gottingen and Berlin nearly twenty years before. Whereas Pusey came back to England and decided that there were storms ahead and it was time to batten down the hatches, Jowett returned with a feeling of liberation…

Lutheran theologian Franz Peiper - Pieper was writing his critique of Erlangen before World War I (for all intents and purposes), before Barth and Bultmann came on the scene, before Barth and Gogarten had their "throw-down" about whether or not God can be known through history, or even creation. Pieper therefore was, to a certain extent, like the scout that saw the opposing force coming, and galloped back to try to warn the garrison of what was coming. Therefore he can be forgiven somewhat for not being as prescient as we now can be about the topic post Barth

Lutheran theologian Franz Pieper was “like the scout that saw the opposing force coming, and galloped back to try to warn the garrison of what was coming.”*** (this is what he warned us of)

Relevance for us? Stories like this have been recapitulated many a time by many a young theological intellectual (perhaps particularly those intellectuals studying in Germany). German thinkers – with their intoxicatingly comprehensive and systematic foci, have loomed large in world history…. (check out this paper and learn about Bad Boll – you will need to download this to read due to formatting issues)

Hegel’s style of thought was to exercise much influence in 19th and 20th century theology. Of course in the twentieth century there was also resistance to his thought, particularly from the Kierkegaard-influenced neo-Orthodoxy, led by Karl Barth. That said, for all the good that can be found in neo-Orthodoxy, it was lacking in many respects, including its unwillingness to speak about the matter of history and the Christian faith in a way that did not cause utter confusion.  

The late theologian George A. Buttrick wrote a very interesting book in the early 1960s called Christ and History. He is clearly influenced by men like Karl Barth and his neo-orthodoxy, and his comments below a) sound pretty good and yet, b) sound a bit strange, with some jargon that may be unfamiliar to us:

“Is thought primarily scientific or philosophical or theological?  Or is it historical, that is, so constituted as to be able by nature to respond to the onsets of God in history?  At any rate, the Bible is history… the Bible is history, and sacred history and faith-history… Bible history is eschatological…Bible history is focused history… [it] sets a Year One in the midst of history…” — George A Buttrick, Christ and History, 1963, p. 18, 22, 24-26

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Hegel: "the philosopher should seek to discover the rational within the real—not to impose the rational upon the real."  Hegel himself:  “History is the process whereby the spirit discovers itself and its own concept”   Hegel: on the wrong side of history[‘s Author]

Hegel, on the wrong side of history[‘s Author]: “History is the process whereby the spirit discovers itself and its own concept”

Despite Buttrick’s overall theology not being ideal, did he indeed hold the line here on this matter of Christ and history?  On the one hand, after I read the book, I thought that he basically did.  On the other hand, upon more reflection, I found myself doubting whether or not he really did! (though I can definitely say that in many respects the book struck me as quite insightful and informed – I will quote from it later on)

Here, it seems to me, is the crux: against Hegel, the Christian must assert that there are some statements made on earth that remain and always will remain true. Permanent.**** Over against those who would employ Hegel to re-imagine the historic Christian faith in this or that way, we must assert that there is no “salvation history” that should be held as distinct from larger (or smaller, according to some theologians) “world history”. In short, “history is history is history”.  That said, I think that some will, understandably, want to be nuanced in their understandings of these things, and in and in part II we will get on that road by taking a closer look at historicism….

(part II in a couple days)




*That said, in many cases historicism – in the minds of many men at least – is also frequently thought to be highly compatible with philosophical naturalism/mechanicism (particularly as regards what is the chronological and mechanical process of evolution and accompanying ideas of progress and goals). Part II will talk about this more.

**”The King did become a Christian and. St. Paulinus[, who had preached to him,] went on to convert many in the kingdom of Northumbria, notably the great Hilda who received the monastic habit from our own St. Aidan who served the next king of Northumbria after Edwin, Oswald.” (from here:

*** Full quote from my pastor: “Pieper was writing his critique of Erlangen before World War I (for all intents and purposes), before Barth and Bultmann came on the scene, before Barth and Gogarten had their “throw-down” about whether or not God can be known through history, or even creation. Pieper therefore was, to a certain extent, “like the scout that saw the opposing force coming, and galloped back to try to warn the garrison of what was coming.” Therefore he can be forgiven somewhat for not being as prescient as we now can be about the topic post Barth…”

**** In this view then, the notion of positive law, for example, cannot simply be thought to be the mere product and catalyst of social change, but is rather is intimately connected with things that are permanent and transcendent, outside of us.

Images: Wikipedia ; sparrow: ; Harnack pic:

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Posted by on August 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Put not your trust in men? Overcoming the Cretan’s paradox in Christ

Epimenides was a Cretan who made one immortal statement: "All Cretans are liars." -- Wikipedia

Epimenides was a Cretan who made one immortal statement: “All Cretans are liars.” — Wikipedia

“[It is] better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8) indeed.  And remember “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Psalm 146:3).  And did the Psalmist also not admit “I said in my alarm, ‘All mankind are liars.'” (116:11)?

Yes, i
t’s not just the Cretans who have a problem!  “Let God be true and every man a liar!” (Romans 3)

Yes.  But. 

In a post the other day, I spoke about how it is unavoidable that we must trust men (this is also a theme I have talked about frequently, particularly here, here, here and here)

Specifically, I said this:

*unavoidably*, we really do trust the men *who urge us not to trust in men* (for example, Exodus 15:31 says, “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant”), but to stay with the divinely revealed faith once delivered to all the saints – which means perpetually fleeing back to the Scriptures to test all things, particularly those things that seem wrong or unfamiliar (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:11)!

In other words, talking about “trusting God and not men” is, once again, “useful shorthand”.  Again, in truth, more nuance is possible – and necessary – for many Christians.

Years ago, I had this thought as well (original post):

…because “ecclesiology is Christology” (Kurt Marquart) those in the Church have faith in God through the Church (if not directly, then indirectly).  For cradle Lutherans, faithful saints gave them the life-creating Promise from their childhood.  And yet, in “Cretan’s paradox” fashion, as we grow, we ultimately become more and more aware that “all men are liars” (those passing on the Promise to us may have even emphasized this point to us: that they, as lying sinners, must depend on Christ!), but that God’s grace still breaks through in the midst of all of this.  Christ is in our midst!  In fact, He comes precisely because of this work of Satan: namely, the problem of original sin that infects us all!  So indeed, here we have a great paradox: as we grow in our faith, we become more certain regarding the Promise itself – the Promise Himself – than the love and integrity of any man – and of anything else in the whole creation.

holding-handsAnd yet, we as Christians also may trust in men more than any other man. (even as there is much distrust among Christians – so much so that we may insist it is necessarily true that unity assumed is unity denied). This is what I will explore in-depth in the rest of this post.

According to Lutheran historian Martin Noland*, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – whose “organic inner unity” and “organic powers” (Herder) idea of “development” would compete with the one of Darwin’s which confined itself to ‘mechanics’ as a mode of explanation – contended that that “scientific theories create the reality which they describe” and that “truth” is “already decided when the scientific community determines which experiences are normative” (pp. 170-180, italics mine). Noland notes that when it comes to the ultimate issue of authority, the influential argument of Ernst Troeltsch must actually be reduced to ad hominem argumentation, where the competent scholars that he lists are the ones to trust (p. 85).

My argument would be that we all are ultimately reduced to trust, as we must at all times choose between competing wise men / scholars who appear to know their topic well and, from our less educated perspective, seem to be highly competent. In other words, we may want to say about all this that it is not really about persons, but this is actually unavoidable. And this necessity goes for the educated among us as well as the uneducated. The idea of the historicist that we need to focus on the “cultural whole” is indeed worthy of serious reflection (for example: are points of Christian doctrine better taught in story form, and not just particular “Bible stories” but the whole narrative of creation, redemption and consummation? ), but we still must ask which account – which worldview and corresponding method of world-inquiry – and which person in whom we hear and see these things – we must trust.

Kant, who may today be considered a conservative Enlightenment figure, is well known for defining the Enlightenment in the following way:

[Enlightenment is] “ the emergence of man from his self-imposed infancy. Infancy is the inability to use one’s reason without the guidance of another. It is self-imposed, when it depends on a deficiency, not of reason, but of the resolve and courage to use it without external guidance. Thus the watchword of enlightenment is: Sapere aude! Have the courage to use one’s own reason!’” (Immanuel Kant, 1784).

As I said about this quote a few years ago:

“If I question my spiritual inheritance in Christ – and even turn away – it is not because I used my own understanding apart from other influences.  It is because I choose to turn away from one Person and to trust another.  If I don’t realize that this is happening I only reveal that I shun adulthood, embrace childishness, and dwell in darkness.

It is important to learn to “think for one’s self”.  At the same time, if “[man’s infancy] is the inability to use one’s reason without the guidance of another”, we never become adults who can become like little children.” (see full context here ; also see part II here)

“…you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

“…you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

Let me try to explain more fully what I insisted on there. It seems to me that what some persons – mostly on the Enlightenment’s left – have always noticed is that in spite of “ad hominem” concerns, answers to life’s questions often must come down to arguments from personal authorities – even if they will never simply come out and say this (hence the importance of the “science” of “higher criticism” – this is really a facade). For them, one must trust in the right men – who, incidently it seems, may be said to know the “mind of God” (as we see first expressed by men like Humboldt and Hegel, implicitly and explicitly respectively – it seems to me that the “Muses” have seized men like these with their Christ-denying “insights”!).

Now one might counter by saying that of course people are a part of the equation here – and specific authoritative persons in particular – but that these people generally don’t point to themselves (and their own education and character) as the reason to trust what they say. This is true not only because we know it is considered bad form (do note how the Apostle Paul argues though), but also because when they attempt to assert or persuade by giving reasons they indeed point to things outside themselves, and not just any things but specific evidence they are willing to recognize as relevant in this or that way that is embedded in and explained by authoritative narratives (even though in this process they must certainly use their own senses, well-informed opinions, inferences, and guesswork, things the 19th historicist Humboldt emphasized).

And yet, some may feel that these stories – even if there is nothing which speaks against them – may not be able to be verified by a preponderance of evidence that points to a specific account being true beyond a shadow of a doubt – or even a reasonable one. But is each man supposed to make this determination himself – perhaps by forming his own “science of history” and trying to overturn all the important rocks himself – or must there always necessarily be some level of a personal element – i.e. trust – involved? So what again is the key element, even as all of the factors are undoubtedly important?  Logically, the “argument from authority” cannot be avoided.   Therefore, we insist that the key element is the One True God – the divine Persons of the Trinity and their authority – even as in general the Godhead chooses to work in harmony with human beings and their authority, based not only on their competence but their actual character.  This is a character that can be dependable in spite of its imperfections and can be discerned by men – albeit imperfectly. Not only this, but this character will always clearly deny that man is the measure of all things and will rather affirm that the world and all that is in it ought to be governed on the basis of trust – and in fact necessarily is (whether to merely survive or thrive – that is, be like the plant in Psalm 2 that grows by the river – as they say)!   This can’t be denied! One might even say that this trust derives from the Trinity itself, as the Godhead holds all things together by the power of its word, whereby man might live and move and have his being in God in the world.

Martin Luther would not have liked me saying this, but when I am tempted to doubt my faith, it is not only his words – words he always tried to speak in line with God’s Word – but his very person that gives me comfort – in spite of the fact that I have only “known him” through his writings. And I believe that is by God’s design.

My main concern about trying to fit Christianity with modern thought-forms is that we can see how actual historical events passed on by persons whom we trust will always take a back seat – and it seems to me, become altogether irrelevant.   And this is why we needy sheep need – no matter how great our education in languages, philosophy and the sciences – to depend on the Holy Spirit Jesus speaks of, who has given us Scriptures for our security (Luke 2) and comfort (see Rom. 15) and also interprets them with, in, and for us. The Spirit’s character is flawless, even as ours is perpetually flawed, confused, and at odds with one another. Luther rightly wanted to trust in both God and the Roman Catholic Church who was to speak for him. And he believed that God would provide for His people through a church that would be willingly corrected – until he simply could no longer believe this. Simply put, Luther’s skepticism was earned, and did not come willingly.** Of course, the same cannot be said for all the “Protestants” who have come after him (see Noland’s comments about the necessity of skepticism and criticism as regards post-apostolic traditions on p. 251, also see his comments on pp. 314-316). For some of them, skepticism has been raised in prominence to a methodological principle. But, as Luther reminded Erasmus, the Holy Spirit it no skeptic, but rather is an Authoritative Person who can bring us the reliable knowledge we need.

Indeed. Again, to say that we are to trust in no man but God does not mean that we are not required to trust in God through His faithful servants. It is not only that we have no choice to do this – especially in these last days – but rather that one aspect of Christians is that they are those who can trust one another better than most, for they ultimately know that their Lord has their back and guides history in His Providence. Now it is indeed the case that God may convert any man through the word alone in spite of the spiritual knowledge and character of the one who preaches. This however, does not mean that having a sanctified clergy and church is unimportant or not to be the regular means of the means of grace.   It is one thing to come to faith and another to keep it when doubt comes, as it certainly will – men of the greatest knowledge, sensitivity, and integrity have always been needed in the church.

Some might think that I am trying to “naturalize” what is “supernatural”. Do not get me wrong: I think that it can be very helpful for us in the Lutheran church to indeed talk about faith as a “supernatural” thing. That however, is because many Christians understand this term to mean something that comes from above, not because it is something understood to be at odds with things as they must ordinarily (i.e. “natural” in this sense) transpire in our lives. In other words, in talking about faith in the way we do – that is being a gift from God that we cannot achieve by our own powers – we do not thereby abandon what we know about the trust that exists in normal, everyday life.   Christian faith is not opposed to this, but goes hand in hand with this! It is not merely analogous to the ordinary trust we experience among human beings, but rather cannot be separated from this. Therefore, for example, when we talk about the faith the Holy Spirit creates through the content of the Scriptures, we speak about how that happens through the very normal reception of those words, which we simply assume – trust! – that we are able to understand (what some have called, in a move that seems overly rationalistic to me, the “historical-grammatical” method – see here for more about how God uses our regular reading to create and nurture faith – “Scripture interpreting scripture” only makes sense in this context). Likewise, when we talk about being receptive to the message of the Gospel that we received, this generally happens through the normal human event of one person trusting another, where there is no good reason for skepticism, as it simply has not been earned.

Back to the quote from above from one of the brightest Enlightenment lights. Kant was brilliant. Kant was foolish.   These statements are both true, and they apply to the Enlightenment – a highly intellectual species of Christian heresy – more than any one person.   Noland points out that Troeltsch, like most all Western intellectuals, adopted a form of the fact/value split (formally put forth by David Hume in the late 18th c.), where naturalism (rationalism and empiricism come along here) views the world through the lens of “regularity” and “quantity” and historicism (romanticism comes along here) views the world on the basis of “quality” and “subjective experience” (p. 46) Noland himself says that the historicist Dilthey’s “method of historical knowledge is proper and objective, but only if there actually are organic powers that unite cultures and epochs through an inner genetic principle and direct a culture’s growth” (italics his, p. 220, 221). Of course for some Christians they would probably say that it is faith in Christ – as it was for Harnack – that makes this knowledge proper. It is probably a null issue, seeing as how such an “inner genetic principle” could never be proven by scientific means, but I still wonder about the concession Noland makes here – and I wonder this because of the way it seems to concede the role of modern critical history (is the only good historian the one who is the constant critic and skeptic, or is there something to be said about studying the past out of love simply without necessarily needing to have a critical attitude?) and its roll over human trust – whether that be in oral tradition, family histories and local histories.*** Do we as Christians not think – more than anyone else – that some people – people we know to be great examples of learning, holiness, and discernment – have yet to earn our distrust – even as we know them to be sinners? (where perhaps their self-awareness of this fact only helps us to trust them as we trust God?)

Indeed we do. Life is about trust, history is about trust, and in Christ, the Cretan’s paradox is overcome.

More on what this means in coming posts where I will talk about how we should go about proclaiming the world-saving – and world-shaping – deeds of Jesus Christ for the salvation of all.


* Over last Christmas break, I tacked the PhD. Dissertation of the respected confessional Lutheran apologist and historian Dr. Martin Noland, Harnack’s historicism: the genesis, development, and institutionalization of historicism and its expression in the thought of Adolf Von Harnack (1996). Noland had suggested persons read a number of works, including this dissertation, so as to help them have more historical context for understanding one of Concordia seminary professor Jeffrey Kloha’s recent papers. The dissertation is available through ProQuest dissertations and so can be readily obtained from most academic library databases. Right away I was hooked and intrigued with Dr. Noland’s ambitious work, because he seemed to “fill in” many of the gaps that have existed in my own knowledge of intriguing topics such as these(see my own rather ambitious series “What Athens needs from Jerusalem”).

** For Luther, it would seem that the book of James (and some others) “earned his distrust”.  That said, I think that we really do need to take into consideration the context in which Luther was operating, where his theological opponents were really misusing those books.  Later Lutherans were able to see these as also being Christ-centered and Spirit-inspired.  In any case, Lutherans like Martin Chemnitz were right to highlight the reality of “Antilegomena” in the church – and to insist that these books should not be able to help determine doctrine without the help of other books (at the very least out of sensitivity towards believers who while holding orthodox beliefs were nevertheless unable to fully embrace such books as being Scriptural). 

*** At one point Noland also writes that “Harnack demonstrated his awareness of the difference between historical evidence and religious experience” (around pp. 250-260). I am not comfortable talking about this as being something that persons can be aware of because that seems to imply to me that these things, while they are clearly able to be distinguished, do not belong together and in fact go hand in hand.   It seems to me that for Adolf Von Harnak and his house, they will uphold their community’s experience of the historical man Jesus Christ, who they certainly feel exemplifies the pinnacle of morality and goodness and is the greatest and most compelling religious figure whoever lived! As for me and my house, we will continue to assert that the Word of God – and those who put forth its account of history – which goes hand in hand with its particular teachings – demands our unwavering trust. All men listen to teachers who shape and form them, and the doctrine is always in the drama, or history, whether we are speaking of the true narrative or one of the myriad false narratives.

Versus Harnack – whose whole theological framework seems to me to resemble some kind of an elite Hindu approach [with a focus on philosophy and the oneness the gods share rather than popular piety focused on polytheism and rituals] – I do not deny that the “personality” of Jesus Christ will often have a role in a person’s personal conversion, but I cannot simply see Jesus as a great religious figure – the greatest and apex of religious figures – of whom the actual history is not clear and not able to be trusted in (again, Harnack does not really provide a defense of Christian faith as the truth, but rather a defense of the influence of the man Jesus and its ongoing significance for good. I believe that the Scriptures are indeed a reliable history, even as they might not be majority history that most everyone readily accepted without difficulty (and that may have much corroborating physical evidence), but rather a “minority report”, or what is today being called a “microhistory”. More on that in the near future


Wikipedia: Epimenides ; holding hands: ; nursing:

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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Uncategorized


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