Theology


Top Ten Posts for February, 2008 

Very little was posted this month (the team has been busy!), but here are the Top Ten most visited posts for the month of May:

  1. The Battle for the Mind: German and British Propaganda In the First World War: A post examing the beginnings of modern war propaganda and how it is used to direct the populace.
  2. Doormat Christianity: How much personal offense should a Christian put up with?
  3. The Nature of Truth: A two part essay that examines the meaning of truth and its underlying principles. Part 1, Part 2.
  4. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  5. Eschatology Poll Update and Fun with Christian Kitsch:  A post that examines the results of our eschatology poll while having some fun with kitschy Christian art.
  6. Faith and Reason: A two part essay dealing with a proper definition of faith as well as its relationship to reason. Part 1, Part 2.
  7. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  8. Is Fantasy Escapism?:Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?
  9. Monty Python’s Parody of Knighthood (Part 1): How Monty Python and the Holy Grail humorously skewers the ideals of Arthurian chivalry.
  10. The Ethical Quagmire of Designer Babies: A post that investigates the murky waters of bioethics.

Top Ten Posts for March, 2008

Here are the Top Ten posts on Quadrivium for March, 2008:

  1. Faith and Reason: A two part essay dealing with a proper definition of faith as well as its relationship to reason. Part 1, Part 2.
  2. Much Ado About Nothing: Nihilism and Modernist Literature: A four part essay that examines nihilistic themes in the works of three Modernist authors.  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  3. The Ethical Quagmire of Designer Babies: A post that investigates the murky waters of bioethics.
  4. An Evaluation of Descartes’ Claim that the Mind is More Easily Known Than the Body: A post that examines the contents of its formidable title.  (Note: this is not an argument against substance dualism, just an evalution of one of Descartes’ arguments for it).
  5. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  6. A Review of Expelled: A preview commentary on Ben Stein’s upcoming ID flick as well as some interesting discussion in the comments.
  7. Handling Money God’s Way: A practical post that gives Scripturally based principles and tips on how to manage your money.
  8. The Suffocating Soul: A two-part book review and commentary on the various ‘corsets’ and ‘tight slippers’ that suffocate our souls.  Part 1, Part 2.
  9. The Conflict of Christianity and Culture: A post that examines the underlying causes of modern Christianity’s estrangement from culture.
  10. The Biggest Loser- A Commentary on Pop TV: Examining the delights and dangers implicit in a popular reality television show.

A Message from  

 

“A number of people called our attention to this clip from the popular TV series ER. It really is amazing for secular television.The “Fair Use” law allowed us to teach from it, without violating copyright laws. It has wonderful evangelistic potential, so please use it all over the Internet.”

To me this one is worth re-posting for WOTM.

Nobody can say it quite like Piper:

props to Matthew at The Foolishness of Preaching for bringing this gem to light.

I believe that this movie has the potential to be the most talked about event in 2008, even eclipsing the political conventions, the Olympics and the Election.   I am equally sure that if it does well in the box office that there will be MUCH negative publicity against it.    At any rate, this is a very thought provoking trailer.  Enjoy

If nothing else I hope that this movie will engage Christians in and with the culture once again.  Forcing us to think! and get off our pat answers and shallow arguments.  This could be a great opportunity to participate in conversations with the culture at large.  It will also be an opportunity to show our ignorance if we are not careful. There is a risk of the anti-intellectuals, who shun academia, science and the institutes of higher learning, to solidify the sterotypical image of the “Christian” as the ignorant, blind faith bumpkins that many in the culture say we are.
At any rate, it is time to get out of the bunkers we call church and engage our culture again, not in some antagonistic conflict, but in truth and love.  It is possible to win the argument and lose the person with whom you are conversing. (I have to give props to my Pastor, Josh, for that line, it was too good not to borrow.)  It is also possible to lose an argument due to lack of preparation and basic knowledge and end up looking like a backwoods banjo picker.

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”.

Many people associate Christian faith with a “blind leap into the dark”.  In their opinion, Christians are required to throw away reason in order to embrace a fantastic story that helps them worry less and sleep more soundly.  Modern culture often ignores the voice of Christianity, because it is assumed that faith has no bearing upon reason.

But is this true?  Are faith and reason mutually exclusive?  Can there be reconciliation between the two?  The answer to that question is a resounding yes.  One does not have to check his brain at the door when entering the realm of faith.  On the contrary, we have an injunction from the Almighty not only to love Him with all of our heart and soul, but with our mind as well.

What is Faith?
Many of the misunderstandings concerning faith and reason stem from a misconception of what faith really is.  Many consider faith to be some mystical feeling in the pit of their stomach; a magical intuition that guides them to deeper truth.  To others, faith is a thoughtless adherence to creeds and dogma without any concern or attention to the facts that under gird them.  Neither of these is the Biblical definition of faith, nor are they the traditional concept of faith that the church has held for centuries.

Faith According to Scripture
Nearly every time the word “faith” is used in the New Testament, it is translated from a form of the Greek word pistis.   The primary definition of pistis is a “a conviction of the truth of something that leads to belief“. We see, therefore, that the New Testament conception of faith is not a belief in an irrational fantasy, but rather a confidence in what one knows to be true.  As one theologian has said, “The heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false.”[ii]

The most comprehensive treatment on the subject of faith found in Scripture is found in Hebrews 11.  Often regarded as the “faith hall of fame”, this chapter sets forth a concise definition of faith in its first verse:  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

A closer look at the attributes given to faith found in this verse will greatly increase our understanding of what faith really is.  The word “substance” is translated from the Greek word hupostatis.  This word, which is translated as “confidence” in 3:14, means “the strongest possible form of confidence that something is true“.  The word “evidence”, found within this verse and translated from elegchos, literally means “a strong conviction“.  The verse, literally translated, would read, “Now faith is the confidence of things hoped for and the conviction (or assurance) of things not seen.”

By looking carefully at this and other portions of Scripture, we can ascertain that the Biblical concept of faith is not an irrational leap into the dark, but a reasonable step into the light.  Although our faith rests in things which cannot be seen, it does so after being previously convinced that those things, though unseen, are real nonetheless.

Faith According to Theology
When we examine much of the traditional theology of the church, we find no conception of an irrational or blind faith.  The theology of saving faith was carefully systemized by the theologians of the past.  These men divided true, saving faith into three components: Notitia, Assensus, and Fiducia.

Notitia
This word means “the idea” and deals with the recognition of facts and data.  Faith cannot exist without some form of knowledge of what one is to believe.  In regard to saving faith, there must be an exposure to the data or facts of the gospel before one will ever be able to have faith in what it says.  Romans 10:14-17 states:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

Thus we see that faith must begin with a conscious recognition of fact, and cannot exist within a mental vacuum.

Assensus
Assensus means “to give intellectual agreement to the validity or truth of a statement”.  This means that one not only knows (notitia) the message of the Gospel, but that they have agreed that its message is true (assensus).

Although notitia and assensus are necessary to saving faith they are not sufficient in and of themselves.  This insufficient type of faith is known as fides historica, or mere historical faith, as opposed to fides salvifica (saving faith).

It is important to note, however, that assensus is necessary to salvation.  There must be an agreement with the facts before someone can exercise faith.  This, in itself, demonstrates Christianity to be reasonable faith; because there is no disregard of fact or evidence. It does not mean that the person coming to faith understands all of the facts presented, but that he has agreed that they are true in light of the evidence.  To quote Charles Hodge,

“God requires nothing irrational of his creatures. He does not require faith without evidence. Christianity is equally opposed to superstition and Rationalism. The one is faith without appropriate evidence, the other refuses to believe what it does not understand, in spite of evidence which should command belief.”[iv] 

Fiducia
This term literally means “trust”.  It is the third and final necessary component of faith.  It involves an appropriation and reliance on what one knows to be true.  In the case of the gospel, it is a complete surrender to, and total trust in the promises made by God through Christ. 

It is also important to note that fiducia involves trust in a person and not just agreement with fact (assensus).  Our faith is not is not based on evidence or facts about Christ (though it may be supported by it), but in Christ Himself.    

We exercise these three aspects of faith every day.  Here is a simple but cogent illustration.  Our first reaction upon walking into a dark room is to search for the light switch.  Upon locating the switch we use it to turn on the light.   All of the three components that have been previously mentioned are involved in this simple act of faith. 

switch.jpg

  • 1. Notitia– We realize that the room is dark and we discover the location of the light switch.
  • 2. Assensus– We intellectually assent that the switch will turn on the lights based upon on the evidence (i.e. switches found in similar locations have always turned on the lights before).
  • 3. Fiducia– By actually flipping the switch we have placed our trust in the fact that it will perform the task we have already mentally agreed that it would do.

Although these three divisions of faith may occur almost simultaneously, each one is necessary for true faith to occur.  Therefore a study of the very nature of faith demonstrates that the idea that it is “blind” or somehow separate from reason is absurd.  While reason is not faith, it is necessary for faith.


[ii] Pinnock, Clark, Set Forth Your Case (The Craig Press, 1967), p. 3
.[iv] Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology,  Taken from Introduction to Chapter 3, “Rationalism”

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