Church History


Faith & Reason (Continued from Part 1)

We have already established that there is an interrelation between faith and reason.  Now the question is: How do they relate to each other?  This, the second post on this subject, will seek to answer that question.  There are three major categories in which faith and reason can relate.  These are (1) faith only; (2) reason only; and (3) faith and reason.

Fideism (Faith Only)
The “faith only” perspective says that reason plays no part in matters of religion.  As Tertullian said, “I believe because it is absurd!”  This view asserts that the only valid way to know anything about God is solely through faith.  Famous faith-only Christians include individuals such as Tertullian (160?-230?), Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Karl Barth (1886-1968), and to a slightly lesser degree, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). 

 The driving force behind Fideism is the separation of man from God.  The finitude of human beings (specifically in regard to the intellect), and the transcendent nature of God keeps us from being able to effectively reason on spiritual matters.  On the one hand there is the fallen state of man which has left his mind and intellect in opposition to God; while on the other, there is the infinite greatness of God’s power and wisdom, which is totally foreign to human reason and can only present paradoxes to mankind.

Soren Kierkegaard
One of the most influential proponents of the “faith only” movement was the Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard.  Among his many written works, his book, Fear and Trembling, especially sets forth his case.

The theme of Fear and Trembling is the well-known story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Kierkegaard’s literary skill is superb as he captures the poignant emotions that Abraham must have felt as he traveled with his son to the mountain of sacrifice.  According to Kierkegaard, Abraham – unable to ascertain a rational motive explaining God’s command – had to make a “leap of faith” and obey God instead of his own reason.

This “leap of faith” stands at the core of Kierkegaard’s conception of faith and reason.  In essence he taught that the only way to understand God was to let go of reason and venture out on faith alone, that rational proofs of God’s existence were pointless and an affront to his nature, and that (contrary to Romans 1) there was no such thing as natural revelation.  Frederick Copleston, in his History of Philosophy, describes Kierkegaard’s philosophy:

God is not man, and man is not God.  And the gulf between them cannot be bridged by dialectical thinking.  It can be bridged only by a leap of faith, by a voluntary act by which man relates himself to God and freely appropriates, as it were, his relation as creature to the Creator, as a finite individual to the transcendent Absolute.[i]

Evaluation
Although the “faith only” viewpoint does indeed contribute some important teaching concerning God, faith, and reason, it has made a serious error in attempting to disregard reason altogether.  God created man a rational being and expects him to use his reason even in matters of faith.  If reason is denied then we have no basis of certainty for Scripture and faith.

Rationalism (Reason Only)
Whereas Fideism advocates that we should disregard reason for faith; the “reason only” view holds to just the opposite.  According to Rationalism, anything that cannot be apprehended or explained by reason must be rejected.  Famous rationalists include such individuals as Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

Although there are various degrees within the “reason only” perspective, the basic idea that is held in common is the belief that all truth can be discovered by unaided human reason.  Therefore the reason of man becomes the measure of all things.  Even Scripture must acquiesce to reason as it must pass the test of rational inquiry before it is accepted.

This ideology is the basis for higher criticism and theological liberalism.  Spirituality and religion are measured only by man’s ability to comprehend them.  Immanuel Kant succinctly summed up the “reason only” movement with the title of his book, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.     

Evaluation
On a positive note, the “reason only” movement has been successful in dampening some of the influence of the more extreme versions of anti-intellectualism, although in the final analysis, this system of thought has consistently demonstrated itself to be bankrupt of any legitimate insight into the nature of God and Scripture.  While it is correct in assuming that God intends for us to use the reasoning powers of our minds, it errs in placing the mind of man above God and denying the role of faith in the Christian experience.

Interrelation (Faith and Reason)
 The final view that will be stated here represents a synthesis of faith and reason.  This view asserts that faith and reason are interrelational, that is to say, that they both play a part in understanding God and Scripture.  This view was set forth in particular by two of Christendom’s greatest thinkers: St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274).  

This perspective can best be described by the phrase, “faith seeking understanding”.  In Augustine’s opinion, faith was necessary to reason correctly about God.  We all have to place our faith in some authority as the basis for how we think; Augustine said that the authority of the Christian faith is Scripture.  However we should not be satisfied with simply resting on an authority, but we should seek to understand the authority in which we have placed our faith.  In other words, we should not just believe, but we should seek to understand why and what we believe

Aquinas’ position was very similar.  He believed that man could come to a basic knowledge of God based on reason but that Scripture was necessary for understanding many things within the realm of the Divine.  As he said in Theology, Faith, and Reason:

There are some intelligible truths to which the efficacy of [reason] extends, such as the principles which a man naturally knows and the things which are deduced from them, and for knowledge of these no new intelligible light is required, but the naturally inborn light suffices.  But there are things to which these principles do not extend, such as what pertains to faith and exceeds the capacity of reason…The human mind cannot know these unless it is illumined by a new light superadded to the natural.[ii]

Thomas was basically saying that there are things about God that the human mind can deduce from creation itself, but there are other things which can only be understood through the revelation of Scripture.  Based on this premise, Thomas believed that it was possible to prove the existence of God from reasoning about creation, which he set forth in his famous “Five Ways” in the Summa Theologica.

Evaluation
It has been said before that Satan does not care whether you or going Upstream or Downstream just so long as you are Extreme.  The “faith only” and “reason only” viewpoints represent the extremes of our subject.  The Christian life is one of perpetual balance and this extends to the realm of faith and reason.  It is important that we see that there is an interrelationship between faith and reason, and that we do jump to the fringe on either side.  Blind faith and cold reason are both dangerous guides.  The balanced Christian seeks to have the body of reason animated by the fire of faith.


[i] Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Vol. II. (New York: Image Books, 1994), p. 336[ii] Aquinas, Thomas. Theology, Faith, and Reason: On Boethius’ “On the Trinity”.

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Faith, Hope, and Charity

All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.” – Edgar Allen Poe

I came across this quote twice tonight. It struck me, this is the creed of many in the present generation. I have been reading of late about the area in and around Bridgend, south Wales, where 13 young people have committed suicide in the past year. Then there is the death of Heath Ledger, the self destruction of Britney Spears and the long list of other celebs in de-tox and therapy. What is it the world is so desperately looking for? What is this generation seeking, in every pleasure they can turn their hand to, and not finding?

What is it that the lure of drugs and alcohol promises escape to, yet cannot sustain over time? Each return trip leaves one successively emptier than before, and a vicious cycle ensues. What is it that the thirteen in Wales and many, many others were looking for so desperately this past year? What is the elusive Holy Grail for which people so futilely seek after? What is it that their worldview is not providing them?

Another young man went searching for the answers this generation longs for, and in much the same way this generation is looking. He said:

Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.
I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure,
For my heart rejoiced in all my labor;
And this was my reward from all my labor.
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun.

Indeed, we see them grasping at the wind and toiling for what cannot be retained. In short they are searching for the three fair queens of Tennyson’s, “The Coming of Arthur,” Faith, Hope and Charity.

Along the way it is the latter that is sought for first. We see the cry for love, any love, in any form. In the frantic search for love we have turned to a surrogate and have sex in lieu of love. The desire and the hunger for love creates physical pain that we try to satiate through intake of great quantities of physical pleasures. Yet, there is no love in the morning and we are left with less than the night before. (or even the moment before) And still the search continues and the temporary joining of one to the other only enlarges the void and makes the search more urgent. Listen to what is said of Charity, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not herself, is not puffed up; doth not behave herself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.”

Without the first sister, Charity, the second is unknown, making the quest a greater burden still. Without Hope all you have is futility. Vanity and Futility are the twin antagonists that lurk in the shadows, and openly work their frustrations when not in the presence of Hope and Charity. I can, without reserve, state that if your worldview does not provide you with the bona-fide articles of Hope and Charity then it lacks what it takes to provide you with LIFE. I know of only one worldview that can provide such Love and such Hope, and that is found in the person of  and relationship with one man: Jesus Christ.

The saddest commentary yet is, that His Love, which is so great, has not been seen in the words and deeds of those who call Him Lord.

We have hidden that love away inside the four walls of our spiritual bunkers and the world, that is in dire need to see and experience the Love of Christ that we say is shed abroad in our hearts, can no longer see His Love in and through us. (I speak with very broad strokes of indictment.) We, Christians, have the Love that this generation is looking for and we are hiding it behind religion and acting as if we are authorized to judge who is worthy to receive that Love. May God have mercy on us for our foolish pride and judgmental attitudes. May I be the first to humble myself and show His Love to someone who is in desperate need of these three queens.

book_glasses1.jpgI have been listening to a series of lectures on church history and I am sad to admit that I did not know a lot of this before now.  I did not learn about the history of the church at the local public school I went to, even though many events played key roles in society.  I did not learn about Constantine and his famous vision of “in this sign conquer”.  I did not learn about Erasmus, Luther, or even Nero.  Most of the church history that I know, I have learned from my husband and from my own studies.  So my question is this: whose responsibility is it to teach church history? 

Does the responsibility rest solely on the family?  If so, what should parents be doing to educate themselves?

What about the church?  If so, in what setting?  Sunday School?  The sermons? 

What about school or society?  Should all history be taught, regardless of apparent religious content?

Or is it all three?  In what environment should we learn church history?  Should we expect a podium and a 30 minute lecture every time or is there a way to incorporate the facts and lessons of history into everyday life?  I would love to hear your opinion on this.

Christ the Redeemer (of culture)

The relationship between Christianity and Culture (especially the arts) has been a topic of great interest on Quadrivium here lately.  Beginning with a post on Christianity and Culture (that linked to this blog) and continuing with posts on a North Carolinian art museum, the value of fantasy literature, and the validity of “Christian” art.  Sadly, as the last post demonstrates, modern evangelical Christianity is woefully out of touch with the art and culture of society.

Why are Christians this way?  Well, we do know that they have not always been.  For centuries, the Christian faith informed and inspired some of the greatest artistic achievments ever to be accomplished.  Yet, in the past couple of centuries, the church has endured a self-imposed isolation from culture.  There are signs of change, however, and I believe that as the church continues to understand what caused these problems, she will eventually remedy them. 

Allow me to share a few reaons why I think that Christians have ignored culture and the arts for so long.

  1. A Fundamentalist Overreaction to Liberalism-  The late 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to a bitter battle in Western universities (especially American) between two theological factions: Liberal and Conservatives.  The latter group came to be known as fundamentalists (taken from a series of conservative theologial articles).  While liberal theologians eventually triumphed in the battle for the university, fundamentalists were tenacious defenders of orthodox Chrisitianity.  However, because fundamentalism was a reactionary movement, it unfortunately went the way of most such movments: it overreacted to the opposing ideology. Since liberal theology placed a strong emphasis on the so-called “social gospel” (that is, the responsibility of Christians to engage, improve, and create culture), by the mid-20th century, fundamentalism had almost completely isolated itself from the culture.  Christians were taught to keep themselves separated from the world, and things like art, film, literature, and the theater were considered to be “worldly”.  Evangelicalism – fundamentalism’s younger sister -was born around this time and sought to correct these problems in the church (evangelicals are sometimes known as “fundamentalists with PHDs”).  While some progress has been made, the damage done to the idea of cultural involvement within the church was severe.  We have a long way to go.
  2. An Overemphasis on the Apocalypse- The 19th and 20th centuries also saw the emergence of “rapture fever” in the church.  Prophecy conferences and “End-Times” analysis became one of the most popular forms of theological study for the church at large (to the neglect of many other theological studies).  Ministers would stand (and still do) before their congregations or tv audience with the past week’s newspaper for their text and proclaim fulfilled Bible prophecies as their sermon.  Popular authors began to set dates for Christ’s return and their was an overall sense of impending doom.  Now, while the church had her eyes on the sky, she forgot the culture at large.  Why become bogged down in cultural involvement if Jesus is going to come back in the next five minutes?  Besides, it’s so much more fun to wildly speculate about what Daniel and John were talking about, then seriously engage the culture on an academic level.
  3. The Emergence of the Christian Subculture – America is a country driven by consumerism, and the church has incredibly exploited this fact in the past fifty years.  Consequently, Christianity has been polished and packaged in a multitude of ways.  Now there are “Christian” films, books, paintings, musical groups, clothes, bumper stickers, department stores, plush toys, ad infinitum.  As a matter of fact, there is no need for the average Christian to encounter his culture because he has all that he needs within his own “safe” subculture.  Hence, we have really bad movies and books that are produced and then marketed by slapping the “Evangelical Approved” label on them.  Christians devour these products and become more culturally inept in the process. 

I’m sure that there are many more things that can be said about this matter than just the few problems that I have pointed out.  What I am interested in is if their are any good answers to these problems.  What can Christians do to change this?