Skip to comments.Philosophy and Christian Theology (My title)
Posted on 02/15/2004 10:57:05 PM PST by lockeliberty
A Colossal Obstacle
According to Helmut Thielke, The present intellectual and spiritual situation is marked by a distinctive dualism (Evangelical Faith, Vol. I, p.11). This dualist problematic is not, however, a newcomer. It has been with us a long, long time. It is older than my instructors, older also than Thomas and his fellow medievalists, much older therefore also than its reembodiment in the similar mind-set of Protestant scholastic thought during the modern period. It has in fact dogged Western Christianity at almost every step of its nearly two thousand-year history. Thinking in terms of two realms has posed the most colossal obstacle (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) to a unified field of knowledge (Francis Schaeffer) for Christian scholars in every generation.
The roots of these stubbornly persistent issues are most clearly traceable to the second century. With the emergence of a fourth and fifth generation of Christians, we witness the dramatic transition from the original apostolic proclamation of the gospel to the earliest forms of Christian theologizing. To understand the genius of this early Christian theology we must look at the kind of people engaged in it. The majority were not Christian thinkers of Jewish origin. They were Greco-Roman converts, younger Christians. Moreover, in contrast to medieval theologians who were mostly monks, and modern theologians who are mainly university professors, these early Christian theologians were largely pastors and bishops of local congregations and regional churches. Understandably, therefore, they produced basically a very practical theology, oriented strongly to the mission of the church in a hostile world and to the immediate crisis of faith and life within the Christian community as it evolved from its Hebrew beginnings and moved increasingly outward into the Greco-Roman culture of the empire. Accordingly, the tracts of the early fathers were not only very catechetical and doctrinal but also pointedly apologetic and polemical. For the church and its theologians found themselves headed on a collision course with the prevailing spirits of those times, descendent from various schools of thought in Greek philosophy (Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stocism, Epicureanism the greatest threat being neo-Platonism, the wellspring of early Gnostic heresies)
Together with the eighteenth century, the second century stands out as perhaps the most decisive turning-point in charting the course of Western Christian theology. Its thinkers has to wrestle with such questions as these: How should one view the relationship between Christian theology and Greek Philosophy, doing justice to the latter while preserving the integrity of the former? And how is one to negotiate the differences and bridge the gaps between the gospel and pagan ideology? The early fathers had little in the way of clear precedent on which to draw. There were no standing tradition to which they could appeal. They had only the witness of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament evangelists and, growing out of this, the testimony of the first disciples and early martyrs as this took shape in their own living experience. Not surprisingly, therefore, they offered very diverse and often conflicting answers to the crucial question of the stance Christian theology should take over against Greek philosophy.
On its negative side, the most forcefully stated world-negating answer was formulated by Tertullian (150-225) in his well-known rhetorical question, What has Jerusalem to do with Athens? to which the clearly implied response was Nothing! Separation, isolation, get out from among them this was his answer. This withdrawal motif took shape in one wing of early Christianity. Recognition of the tremendously seductive powers of surrounding pagan cultures and the comparative weakness of the early church lent to this black-white solution a large measure of plausibility. Of course, it also brought with it clear-cut implications for the theology/philosophy issue. These are discernible by comparing this very negative stance in the later Tertullian during the Montanist stage of his life, with the more accommodating references to Greco-Roman ideas in his earlier career. However attractive Tertullians memorable position and whatever its ong-range impact on Western Christianity, as embodied , for example, in the monastic movement, this was not the worldview which eventually won the day in Christian theology.
The outlook which ultimately triumphed was that developed by another branch of early Christian thinkers led by Justin Martyr (?-165), together with Clement (150-215) and Origen (185-253) of the Alexandrian school. This wing of early Christian theology advocated a more affirmative approach to Greek culture. Seeking accommodation, it developed a complementary model of the relationship between philosophy and theology. As reason is subservient to faith, it was argued, so Greek Philosophy can serve as a preparatory strange in developing a Christian body of truth. Like the proverbial Trojan horse, Christian theology opened its gates to admit and make room for Greek philosophy to play a servant role in the formulation of Christian doctrine. Philosophers were enlisted as handmaidens to theologians. So complete was the presumed conquest of theology over philosophy, so fully did some Christians believer they has assimilated into their won theological systems the natural light of pagan thinking, that in A.D. 529 the last remaining schools of Greek philosophy were closed.
Increasingly, however, the victor became the victim. The philosopher-servant became the master architect who reconstructed the house of Christian theology. Major Christian thinkers freely adopted Greek forms of thought to shape the content of the Christian faith. The dualist worldview so typical of Hellenist thought was embraced as the basic frame of reference for delineating the contours of Christian theology (note, for example, the antinomy in Augustine between the City of God and the City of the World). Such dualist-synthesist approaches reflect quite generally the theological models which emerged from the early era of Western Christianity. There was still a large measure of instability and fluidity in understanding the reciprocating relationship between theology and philosophy. The trend, however, was in the direction of viewing the latter as prolegomena to the former. Officially, Greek philosophy had been declared dead. In actuality, however, it was kept alive by the grace of Christian theology. Christian thinkers compromised their biblical distinctiveness by assimilating into their theological structures dualist religious motifs borrowed from the very Greek philosophy which had presumably been vanquished. Thus distortions appeared in Christian theology, in its fundamental starting points as well as in its overall format.
For centuries this accommodation of alien viewpoints, burdened by an irresolvable inner dialect, was able to maintain itself only as an unstable synthesis. It continued to cry aloud for greater internal consistency. For methodologically dualist axioms refuse to yield unifying conclusions. So the search went on for a theory capable of forging a unified totality picture, one capable of incorporating the basic contributions of both Greek philosophy and Christian theology. This ongoing reflection took place, however, without critically reexamining the basic givens as inherited for the past.
In the thirteenth century the historical situation was finally ripe for a new initiative. Greek philosophy in the form of Aristotelian logic, which had managed to survive the dark ages largely through the work of Boethius (480-525), experienced a vigorous resurgence, thanks in part to Mohammedan scholarship. Earlier Christian thinkers had relied most heavily on the vertical, hierarchial structures of Platonic thought. But now, drawing on the more horizontal, cause and effect categories of Aristotelian thought, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) bequeathed to Western Christianity a masterful synthesis. While updating the ancient problematic, he at the same time projected his restatement of it down through the medieval, Reformation, and modern eras, and on into our times. Instead of the biblical teaching that grace renews and restores nature, Thomas, in continuity with many mainline early church fathers, held that grace complements and elevates nature. Thus the directional antithesis between judgment and redemption as taught in Scripture was turned once again into a structural antinomy between rival sectors of reality held together in bipolar tension. The end product was a split-level view of reality, with nature as a lower and grace as a higher order. Nature, despite sin, was viewed as still basically good; but grace was far better. Philosophy, accordingly, was viewed as belonging to the natural realm of reason, and theology to the supernatural realm of faith.
Clearly, however, the desired organic unity of perspective was still not achieved within the structures of the Thomist blueprint of reality. The inherited dualist dialectic was not relieved in any essential way. Thomism offers at best a functional unity embodied in the career of a philosopher/theologian like Thomas himself and in the convergence of both temporal and eternal qualities in the institutional church. As two swords, the swords of earthly and heavenly authority, ultimately come to rest in a single magisterial hand, so also both the knowledge of natural things (philosophy) and of supernatural things (theology), each in its own way, come to be viewed as subordinate to the magisterial authority of the church. Within the arena of Christian scholarship, therefore, philosophy engages in theoretical reflection on natural things. Its norm is natural law. It operates by unaided human reason, which remains basically intact, unaffected by the fall into sin, leaving Thomism with the notion of an incomplete fall (Schaeffer) Appeal to revelation is not an essential trait of philosophy. It stakes its claim to credibility on universal laws of logic common to all rational men of goodwill. Thinking out the implications of the classic rational proofs for the existence of God enters significantly into such a pursuit of philosophy. Thus, philosophy, in the form of a natural theology, serves as prolegomena to theology proper, which in turn is viewed as the theoretical contemplation of supernatural truths. Philosophical argumentation lays a rational basis for Christian faith. As such, it also carries with it an apologetic thrust- the rational defense, justification, and vindication of the positive theology which builds on it.
The Thomist worldview was designed to reconcile age-old tensions, including those between theology and philosophy. It did so by undertaking the magnificent yet futile task of seeking to distil a unified perspective on reality from a dualist starting point. (nature/grace) The result was a pseudo-unity which yields little more than a comprehensive yet precarious synthesis of the very bipolar problematic with which it began, held together in a new tension-laden dialectic. The outcome was a no-win situation. Both theology and philosophy proved to be losers. For Thomism undercuts the very possibility of a truly Christian philosophy. Instead it inserts natural theology as a substructure underneath its theological superstructure. Thus it renders impossible an authentically biblical prolegomena. Theology itself also came out a loser. Spiritualized, it drifted off into ethereal realms of beatific vision. Thus it severed itself from meaningful contact with the down-to-earth life of Gods people in his world.
The Reformation: A New Departure
The Reformation marks a new beginning. Its original impetus proved, however, to be rather short-lived. Yet, while it lasted, it offered Western Christian theology its first decisively different approach to the issue at hand since the close of the apostolic era. As an historical point of departure in developing a new paradigm for doing Reformed dogmatics, we shall take up the story of John Calvin in Geneva during the decades straddling the middle of the sixteenth century. [snip] His theology accordingly reflects a more self-conscious and deliberate methodology. It has a more comprehensive, architectonic wholeness to it. His final definitive edition of ~The Institutes~ in 1559, the seasoned end product of about a dozen earlier editions involving successive revisions, augmentations, and refinements on that original little booklet of 1536, encapsulates much of the best of Reformation theology. In his work Calvin was reaching back over a thousand years of errant theology to recapture central ideas embedded in the theology of Augustine. He was at the same time drawing anew on the heart of Pauline teaching, and in it the meaning of biblical revelation as a whole.
[snip] As we have seen, the dualist-dialectical synthesis of Thomas became dominant first in the medieval era. It became dominant again in the pseudo-Protestant thought of the early modern period in its reaction to the Counter-Reformation. As a result, much of the heritage regained in the sixteenth century was lost during subsequent centuries. As a result, much of the heritage regained in the sixteenth century was lost during subsequent centuries. Protestant theology came under heavy pressure from a resurgent Thomism. This was also true of theology as carried on in the Reformed wing. It, too, abandoned the newly rediscovered evangelical style of theologizing so characteristic of the work of Luther and Calvin. It opted instead to counteract the reactionary theology of Roman Catholicism with a reactionary theology of its own. As a result, instead of growth, stagnation set in. Even worse, Reformed thinkers reverted to pre-reformational ways of doing theology arising out of Constantinian, Augustinian, and Thomist worldviews. Of these, the nearest at hand and most fully developed was Thomism. Thus, Protestant scholastic thinkers found themselves opposing the older Thomism with a newer Thomism of their own making. In effect, this meant pouring Protestant wine into Roman Catholic bottles. They relied on the overall dualist structures, together with the forms, categories, and concepts of medieval scholastic theology. This led to seemingly endless, spiritually exhausting rounds of running encounters which pit this latter-day scholasticism against an older version of the same. Both sides armed themselves with strikingly similar ammunition. Structurally the arguments and counterarguments were much alike, since both drew heavily on Aristotelian logic.
[snip] Maker of the Modern Mind
The great mastermind of the Enlightenment was Immanuel Kant ( 1724-1804). His synthesis was as formative for the modern period as that of Thomas for the medieval era. In him nearly all subsequent philosophy and theology take their point of departure. All of us walk in his shadow. In his ~Critique of Pure Reason~ Kant forged a synthesis between the idealist and the empiricist traditions. In his ~Critique of Practical Reason~ he set out to salvage a place for religion conceived as morality. This dual critique exposes the basic thought structures of the worldview which has shaped the modern mind. Pure reason is conceived of as the realm of hard facts, the phenomena, the empirical data of sense perception, of reason theorizing bound by the ironclad laws of logic and the scientific method. Beyond it lies the realm of noumenal ideas, of religion, ethics, morality, and value judgements. Here we experience God, freedom, and immortality. Such religious ideas are, however, no more than the postulates of autonomous human reason which comment themselves to us as moral imperatives. They have only an as if status- we must act as if their validity were firmly established. For the total meaning of life is dependent on human rationality, as Kant explains in his ~Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone~. Within this universal frame of reference the long-standing and persistent dualist scheme emerges anew as the fundamental internal structuring principle for dealing with life. It is merely given a new twist: Kant recasts the nature/grace dualism into the science/morality, fact/value, or nature/freedom dichotomy. Science deals rationally with the firm facts of reality. Theology belongs to the religious domain where men contemplate sacred things, act morally, and make value judgments. Theology, therefore, can no longer be regarded as a science. Perhaps at best it is an art. In the realm of science what is is all that matters; in morality only the why and the whereunto count. The sciences, including philosophy, deal with hard facts in a value-free way. Theology, on the other hand, has no firm factual basis nor a rational method, but is limited to making moral value judgments. It operates not by (pure) reason, but by moral intuition. Thus in one fell swoop Kant, while drawing on more than a millennium of Western Christian theology, radically overthrew it. He exploded the idea of natural theology, of philosophy providing a rational foundation for theology, of faith supported by reason, and of reason prolegomena as introduction to dogmatics. In the process Kant swept aside and thoroughly discredited the classic rational proofs for the existence of God as philosophical underpinnings for Christian theology.
Thus traditional theology came to be divorced from all other branches of scholarship, including philosophy. It was left to stand alone as a house without foundations. Underneath were only the shifting sands of reason sublimated into moral ideals.
Father of Modern Theology
With Kant as grandfather of the modern mind, Daniel Schleiermacher (1768-1834) then follows as the undisputed father of modern theology. His great achievement lies in this, that he adapted Kants philosophical vision to theology. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire nineteenth century belongs to Schleiermacher (Karl Barth). After Kant, modern theology was destined never to be the same again. He had demolished the long-standing rational arguments on which theology had traditionally rested its case. How then could theology still be rescued? That was the Herculean challenge to which Schleiermacher addressed himself. What new substructure could be laid as a prolegomenal base of support for a systematic exposition of the Christian faith?
Schleiermacher attacked this problem by accepting the Kantian conclusion that the objects of religious belief have no objective status. They are postulates of the human mind. Christian doctrine must therefore rest on some subjective basis. The idea of Gefuhl (feelings) filled this need. It became the hermeneutic key to doing theology- feeling in the sense of pious self-consciousness, finite mans feeling of absolute dependence on Another who is infinite. According to Schleiermacher, this deep-seated religious intuition is a universal phenomenon. All men participate in a common quest after God, to which each community bequeaths its own unique spiritual experiences. Christianity, however, represents the highest stage in the development of mankinds ethical aspirations. As such it merits the allegiance of all rational moral people. Accordingly, he interpreted the Old Testament as the record of Israels communion with Yahweh, and the New Testament as eulogies on Jesus by his earliest disciples. Along these lines Schleiermacher developed a reconstructed apology for Christianity as reflected in his well-known fervent appeal to the people of his age, his ~On Religon: Discourse to its Cultured Despisers.~
Schleiermacher believed that he had offered new grounds on which to construct a Christian theology. His approach was, however, just as man-centered and subjectivist as Kants. True to Kant, however, Schlieiermacher refused to justify it on the basis of rational argumentation. He appealed rather to the phenomena of religious experience. The result was Christian faith rooted in finely attuned spiritual feeling. The task of theology is to offer a systematic exposition of this universal Gefuhl. Its base of support is the scientific study of the phenomena of human religions, which serves than as the prolegomena for a study of the Christian religion.
Twentieth-Century Church Father
Against this background it is not difficult to understand why around 1920 the newly emergent theology of Karl Barth (1886-1968) fell like a bomb into the playground of the theologians. [snip] As an alternative to both Thomism and liberalism he appealed to the ideas of the Reformation, seeking to update them for our times by offering what he regarded as a twentieth-century reinterpretation of Calvins theology. [snip] Structurally Barth held that both are guilty of the same heresy. Both accept some form of philosophical base for Christian doctrine- whether that be reason or feeling. Both are alike unacceptable. [snip] Their common error, Barth holds, lies therefore in their false notion of the possibility of providing some sort of prolegomena as a substructure for Christian dogmatics. At bottom, both mistakenly embrace some notion of a natural or general revelation. [snip] In his attempt to turn the tide Barth made a radical switch to the other side. Rejecting all immanentist approaches to theology, he allows the full emphasis to fall on the absolute transcendence of God. God is the wholly Other. [snip] To clear the decks of the old problematics he swept overboard the historic Christian doctrine of general revelation. [snip] Thus, despite his radical critique of earlier dualist patterns of thought, Barth was unable to escape the trap into which the others had fallen. Like the others, he took up residence in the same split-level house, only he made some major adjustments within it, drastically rearranging the furniture and altering its flow of traffic.
Restating the Issue
Current trends do not differ fundamentally from past thinking on this issue. Christian theology continues to reflect a persistent inability or unwillingness to break with the established pattern of the two factor perspective. [snip] The result is a waffling concept of normativity which bounces back and forth between divine revelation and human response. Instead of pushing the norm up into heaven or pulling it down to earth, the norm gets suspended tenuously along an indefinable high-tension line between this dual polarity. The result is complexity compounded: instead of locating the pivotal point in one or the other of these two ~relata~, God or man, laborious efforts are expended to locate the focal point in an ambivalent ~relatio~ concept. [snip] Instead of maintaining a clearly focused distinction between revelation and response, contemporary theology projects a blurred image of the two poles. [snip] Caught in the pressure cooker between this down-draft and up-draft, contemporary theology seeks shelter in some indefinable center. The gravitational center is therefore shifting steadily from above to below to up ahead, from the God-pole to the man-pole to a future pole, from divine transcendence to human immanence to eschatological self-trancendence, from faith to love to hope. In it all, however, there is little looking back to an original and abiding reality behind the resurrection, the cross, and the fall. Creation gets absorbed into the process of salvation history. Biblical witness to the creation order is bypassed in favor of existentialist views of reality. The results are upon us. For when creational revelation gets eclipsed, the meaning of salvation here and now and of the ultimate re-creation of all things also gets eclipsed. [The] intent and purpose [should be] to explicate the meaning-full-ness of the Word of God as the pivotal point, the normative boundary and bridge between the revealing God and his responding creatures.
Dualisms take place within creation, not between the Creator and the creation. Yet, not every historical instance of over-againstness of a duality or couplet, should be construed as a dichotomy. Speaking of the differences between, say, male and female, Jew and Gentile, East and West as dualisms only blurs the picture.
Clarity demands, therefore, that we recognize a real antinomy at work within the world which may also not be called dualism. Such is the case with the biblical idea of antithesis. Think of seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3). Recall the words of Moses: I hold up before you this day blessing and cursing, the way of death and the way of life- therefore, choose life (Dueteronomy 30:15,19). Recall Joshuas parting message: Choose you this day whom you will serve- the gods of your forefathers or Yahweh (Joshua 24:14-15). Recall Elijahs challenge to Israel: How long will you go halting between tow positions; if God be God, serve him; if Baal, then serve him (1Kings 18:20). Think, too, of the New Testaments repeated emphasis on the choice between God and Mammon, the broad way and the narrow way. Christ speaks, furthermore, in word pictures of wheat and tares growing up side by side in the same field, and of sheep and goats.
In biblical teaching the antithesis points to a spiritual conflict which cuts across all of life. World history demonstrates this running encounter between two opposing forces- the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. Both the awesome judgment and the renewing grace of God are big-as-life realities all around us. At heart men are either Christ-believers or disbelievers. Yet the line of the antithesis also cuts through the very life of Christians. The old man and new man are locked in mortal conflict within our bosoms. Listen to Paul: The good I would do not, and the evil I would not, that I do. O wretched man that I am! (Romans 7:15,24). Christians therefore are not strangers to the heart-rending cry for help: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).
But again this is not a dualism. For the antithesis represents a spiritual warfare between good and evil which knows no territorial boundaries. It is not geographically, locally, or spatially definable. The enmity between these two hostile forces does not coincide with two parts of reality, as though one sector of life were holy and the other unholy, or one bloc righteous and the other unrighteous. It is a directional antithesis which runs through all the structures of life. Sin is totally pervasive. Grace, too, lays its claim on all reality. The antithesis may therefore not be dualistically misconstrued as though it drives a wedge between soul and body, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, church and world- with the former viewed as good and the latter as evil.
In the beginning God established his thesis for the world- covenant faithfulness and kingdom obedience. After the fall, he reestablished this thesis in Christ. But the enemy continues to launch his antithetical counterattacks. Therefore, to set the record straight, we should not label Christian organizations and institutions as antithetical or separate. The opposite is true. Christian causes stand in principle behind the thesis that Christ is Lord of all. So-called neutral organizations and institutions, which are in reality humanist and secular, are in principle antithetical and separate. For they fail to stand on the side of the biblical thesis. They have in effect separated themselves from the renewed order of reality, namely, that God is in Christ reconciling all things to himself (2Corinthians 5:19). So now the basic question we all face is this: Are we for Christ or for some anti-Christ? This thetical/antithetical decision is radical and all-embracing in its impact. But again it is confusing and misleading to call this dualism.
What, then, are we to understand by dualism? If not the Creator/creature distinction, and if not the antithesis, what then? At a deeply religious level dualisms blunt the sharp edge of antithesis. Instead of moving us wholeheartedly in the one spiritual direction or the other, dualism allows for a divided allegiance. Instead of leading to single-mindedness, it draws a line through the world and opts for walking on both sides of it, though with uneven pace. Dualism gives the spiritual antithesis ontological status by defining some parts, aspects, sectors, activities, or realms of life (the ministries of the church) as good and others (politics) as less than good or even evil.
[snip]At bottom, therefore, dualism may be defined as a confusion of structure and direction. It is a view of reality in which two earthly magnitudes are conceived of as standing in opposition to each other, and this opposition (antithesis) is read back ontologically into the very structures of creation. Accordingly, some life-activities and historical structures are regarded as redeemable, others as only remotely redeemable at best. In light of our earlier historical-theological analysis, all this has a ring of long-standing familiarity about it.
In some world religions this dualist conflict between good and evil is projected back on the gods themselves. It assumes the form of an ultimate dualism- as, for example, in Greek mythology with its conflict between Zeus and the Titans; or in the superstitions of many ethnic religions with their belief in hostile and friendly spirits which pervade the world; or in Manichaeism with its view of the good God of the spirit standing over against the evil Demiurge of matter. Within Western Christian theology, too, we encounter hints of such an ultimate dualism, as in Luthers ~Dues revelatus~ and ~Deus absconditus~. Reformed theology, too, has not always been free of such dualist tendencies.
In dualisms the divine norm is always either kept at a distance, a step removed from everyday living (upstairs), or it is identified with some aspect of life (downstairs), or it takes the form of a dual normativity which wavers dialectically between the two. Dualism is a deceptive attempt to reject life in the world (in part) while at the same time also accepting it (in part). It tends to break rather than to absorb the tension between the already and the not yet. Christian faith is often related only extrinsically to scholarship. All such dualisms make it impossible to do justice to the biblical message of creation/fall/redemption as holist realities. For they disrupt the unity of the creation order. They legitimatize the reality of sin in one or another realm of life. They limit the cosmic impact of the biblical message of redemption. They confine Christian witness to only certain limited sectors of life.
Summarizing, we may say that the Creator/creature distinction is an abiding ontic reality. The antithesis stands as a present historical reality. Dualism is, however, a conceptual distortion of reality.
I suspect this reads Aquinas through the lens of nominalism. Here's a commentary on the natural and supernatural in Aquinas:
"At any rate, in Aquinas's thought, "nature" refers to human nature as it concretely exists, that is, as already integrated within the context of grace but as formally considered independently of what revelation teaches of that context. Viewed from that perspective, nature possesses a transcendent openness to grace and, some Thomists would claim, a desiderium naturale toward fulfillment in grace. Sixteenth-century theologians, however, tended to take the natura pura to be a full reality in its own right. On the basis of Aristotle's principle concerning the proportion of ends to means, they declared this nature incapable of any supernatural desire of God. Their theological dualism was complete but remained hidden behind a traditional terminology--"natural" and "supernatural--whose meaning it subverted. In Aquinas, the term supernatural does not refer to a new order of being added to nature but to the means for attaining the one final end for which the power of nature alone does not suffice. He calls God agens supernaturalis to distinguish the order of the Creator from that of creation(in which nature and grace appear together). Nature thereby becomes the effect of a supernatural agent."
-Louis Dupre, Passage to Modernity
IIRC, Schlieiermacher is the guy responsible for boiling Christianity as a religion down to two concepts: The universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. This gross misunderstanding is still readily evident today in the social gospel and Christian pop psychology being preached from so many pulpits.
Kant is a perfect example of a person who is highly intelligent and discerning, and yet can neither see nor discern the things of God.
Good question. Perhaps the debate was merely an exercise in over-emphasising certain aspects of each writer. I don't know.
Earlier, you had stated the existence of several antitheses (plural) in the scriptures. Have you noticed however, that Synthesis is strikingly absent from the pages of scripture?
What fellowship has light with Darkness. It seems that Special Revelation (Scripture) is calling upon the man to choose sides, and not attempt to synthesise.
"Either make the tree Good and his fruit good, or make the tree bad and his fruit bad" (please forgive me if i do not quote accurately)
And yet in Russia we had Bulgakov, Berdyaev, and Lossky, perhaps Khomiakov too, for starters. This author has not looked far enough to the east. There is no excuse for this because in present-day we also have Solzhenitzyn and Florovsky, and I would say, Schmemann and Meyendorff.
Yes, that's because he bought into the false dilemma of Kant:
either God is in our world of experience, but then he is not God; or he is God, but then not in our world of experience.
Because he bought into this false dilemma he was left with a Diest God and human morality as two seperate realities.
What I found fascinating about this analysis is when the author spoke of the contemporary situation:
The gravitational center is therefore shifting steadily from above to below to up ahead, from the God-pole to the man-pole to a future pole, from divine transcendence to human immanence to eschatological self-trancendence, from faith to love to hope. In it all, however, there is little looking back to an original and abiding reality behind the resurrection, the cross, and the fall. Creation gets absorbed into the process of salvation history.
The evidence of this dualist mentality is seen in the dispensational, "Left behind", "this is not my world" mentality. The mentality is "saving souls" for the next world and dismissing our obligations to this "kingdom" as a lesser and distinct reality.
ps Love that tagline
In your description above, I presume such a dualism should be considered false, i.e. the opposition is "read back ontologically" and it shouldn't be. Am I reading you correctly?
And if I may follow through, I take it that there are dualisms that are ontologically fixed--not read back--into creation.
I think some clarification will be needed as to kinds of dualisms. The relation of hot to cold is a kind of dualism that functions differently than the relation of creature to creator or between temporal and eternal or between immanent and transcendent etc.
Excellent point, and it goes to show how easily we fall into a dualist mentality. In fact, what the authors suggests, which I did not include when editing this part of his book, is a three factor alternative. The author gives an example of a Christian view of government.
Christian view of Civil Government On a two-factor theology, once again, the norm for political life must be located either "upstairs" or "downstairs." If one opts for the former, the same familar problem recurs. Existing governmental establishments can then be defended with an appeal to divine will. The status quo gets canonized, allowing for no meaningful address to an accessible norm in support of a call for political reforms. The spector then arises of rulers shielding themselves from public accountability by an appeal to "the divine right of kings." This approach offers an all-too-easy answer to the question of civil disobedience- it is always wrong.
If, however, we choose to sit on the other horn of this sacred/secular dilemma, then the norm for goverment gets leveled out to the idea of popular soveriegnty. The vox populi then becomes the vox Dei. The basis for political life is then located in the will of the people, taking shape in a social contract, with public policy determined by majoritarian rule. Political practive can then rise no higher than a patriotic salute to "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."
Here, too, a three-factor view of reality offers an alternative. The norm lies neither in the hidden recesses of an inscrutable divine will nor in the arbitrary judgment that "the people have spoken," but in the mediating Word of God for public justice, given with creation, reaffirmed in the redeeming work of Christ, and illumined by the witness of the Scriptures. This view holds revelation and response together, each retaining its identity, yet always in a religously charged relationship.
So, I agree, synthesis implies dualism, when in fact we should thinking in the three factor alternative of good and evil and the mediating Word of God which gives direction to the good.
No, I am not the author and I am still working through to try and understand all of the nuances the author presents. Creation was declared "very good." The ontological status of man and creation as good was thus the only ontological status. Thus, it is a misconception to consider the antithesis (evil,sin,Satan) as a part of the original creation. Dualism is then giving the antithesis a necessary reality. Dualism gives the antithesis a certain structure within the world, a place of it's own. Antithesis is directional. It points us back to our original ontological status. The claims is that nothing in this world can be purely good or purely evil. The antithesis has layed claim on all parts of this world but the Thesis also is "reconciling all things to Himself."
I've read some of Dooyeweerd's philosophical writings and my head nearly exploded. What's your take on Dooyeweerd?
Or am I missing the point completely?
I just looked it up. I've not read it, but it looks like Dupre has. Thanks for the recommendation.
I read de Lubac's The Drama of Atheistic Humanism before I had read any of the authors he studied in that work. A re-read is definitely in order.
The discussion on this thread is outstanding. Thank you so much for posting the article!
From the onset, there was something that just didnt seem right as the author is speaking of the early Christian theology incorporating Greek philosophy. I finally figured out what was bothering me
The Jewish people were under Hellenistic rule from about 334 B.C., i.e. Greek philosophy was infused in Jewish thought and culture long before Christ was born.
I have to be honest with you AG. What I see is that you and betty have reassigned Plato to the role of John the Baptist, the one came before. We have God's special revelation to the Jewish people and Plato is not mentioned, nor are his dualist categories. Hopefully I will have a response soon to logos' fine question which will in turn rebut the Platonic position.
Then you have misunderstood. John the Baptist is the precurser, the one who prepared the way for the Christ in Spirit, to prepare human souls. Plato and the Greeks are no way near to this astounding dignity. For their influence was mainly on the intellectual culture of the time. I do not see why it is necessary to pit Plato against John as if they were in any sense rivals. In no way do I believe that.
I would also like to point out that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of specific Old Testament prophesy.
Biblical prophesy wasn't only to convince the world of God's power. If that were the case, prophecies about weather and such would do. The prophecies reveal important markers towards the arrival of God's kingdom.
I do find it interesting (and have noted it several times) that the prophet Daniel spoke of Alexander the Great very clearly.
It was the prophesy itself which caused Alexander to deal kindly with the Jewish people. It is also significant that Alexander normalized the Greek language throughout the empire. Where language goes, philosophy follows. Philosophy is fundamentally, after all, a matter of definition, of understanding.
I truly believe God planned all of this so that the people alive in Christ's time would have the conceptual understanding and language capability to receive and spread the Gospel.
But that does not mean I believe Plato was of the same stature of John the Baptist. Plato's contribution was as betty boop said, to the intellect - not the soul.
Is it possible - just a thought before I dig deeply into all the rest of this - that Christian dualism springs from the difficulty that most Christians have in realizing that they already participate in eternal life? In other words, that we tend to look forward to some unspecified future date and destination, failing to realize that we've already arrived now? "In the world but not of the world" must have some meaning greater than simple human aspiration, don't you think?
that Christian dualism springs from the difficulty that most Christians have in realizing that they already participate in eternal life? In other words, that we tend to look forward to some unspecified future date and destination, failing to realize that we've already arrived now?
I'm not convinced that it springs from the ignorance most Christians have of thier present kingdom authority but rather Platonic dualism that has infested Christian theology is the cause of that lack of knowledge. Following Platonic theory we are just "hovering" between earth and heaven in some sort of synthetic no-mans land reaching for the sky while being pulled by some sort of evil grativational force toward the earth. With that sort of mindset it is only natural that the natural is considered evil.
Thank you so much for writing -- will be in touch soon.
This site goes down soon for maintenance. Expanding these remarks will have to wait.
Meanwhile, thank you truly for sharing your thoughts.
logos, I agree with your sense concerning how many Christians view themselves as being either "here" or "there" - not realizing that the "there" is "here" when a believer has been born again (Romans 8, John 3). Spiritual awareness takes time/trial/patience, IMHO - and without it, I don't see how one could rationalize it as anything other than a dualism.
lockeliberty, the "in between" communication of the soul/spirit has been the subject of Jewish mysticism from the beginning. The Kabbalists claim that such traditions were passed down verbally from Adam, that writing such Holy matters was forbidden. I believe that is what the word actually means.
Notwithstanding the Kabbalists, there is much discussion of soul/spirit on traditional Jewish websites. Sadly, the New Age movement has picked up on also and have their own form of mysticism using the same terms.
The "in between" has to do with the words used in the Torah. In Genesis 1, the word nephesh is used to describe the soul of animals. In Genesis 2, the word neshama is used to describe the breath of God given Adam so that he would be a living soul.
In Jewish mysticism there are even more words, ascending as follows: nephesh, ruach, neshama, chaya and yeshida.
The idea is that the ruach is the spiritual arrow within a man (free will) where he decides to either be carnally minded (nephesh) or Godly (neshama). The levels above neshama have to do with becoming ever more spiritual. At least that is the way I understand what I have read. LOL!
This hierarchical communicating soul/spirit structure appears to be quite similar to Plato's metaxy. Perhaps the thinkers arrived at similiar ideas from different directions, or perhaps Plato picked it up in studying the Torah in Egypt as I recall being mentioned in one of Justin Martyr's papers.
Ah, I see I have not made myself crystal clear; let me clear that up.
I really wasn't speaking to the ignorance that many young Christians have concerning their present citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. I had more in mind those mature Christians who, knowing they already participate in eternal life, still are unable to live out the faith they proclaim.
I think the case has been made that everywhere Christianity has gone in the world it has taken on the patina of the new culture in which it finds itself. Clearly, looking only at the outward manifestations of the faith, there is a difference between "Western" Christianity and Christianity as practiced on the continent of Africa, or in middle China, as just two examples. We seem unable to pull our feet out of the muck of whatever corner of the world in which we find ourselves and walk the golden streets of heaven. Certainly the influences of Plato in first century Christendom are another example, but it doesn't seem to me that Plato should take the blame for the manifestations of Indio/Hispanic culture found in the faith as practiced in Central America.
I have become somewhat amused by the various attempts over the years by different sects, if you will, that have attempted to "return to the first century church", which itself was aculturized by the Mediteranean (sp) society in which it lived. I'm amused because, while I do think such attempts are valid and faithful, no one ever seems to want to go the extra step and practice the faith like the One who introduced it into the world in the first place, Jesus Christ Himself. Somehow the thought seems to be that "if we can trade our post-modern culture for the culture of first century Jerusalem and Rome, we'll be much better Christians". I doubt that's true; at best it's a trading of the culture we know for a culture we only think we know.
Perhaps it's because we are unable to practice Christianity as Christ did. Granted, it sure wouldn't be an easy task to undertake. When I read the gospels looking for Christ's manner and method of ministry, here is what I see:
He made no direct attempt to establish an institutional church anywhere or by any particular liturgy or doctrine. He made no mention of denomination, sect, cult, or derivation of faith at all. He established no dogma or doctrine, although I hasten to add that we humans immediately fashioned our own doctrines and attached them to His words just as soon as He was out of our presence. (I'm not saying there is no doctrine to be found in the gospels; I'm just saying that any there is, at best, indirectly alluded to rather than firmly established by our Lord.) So, how did Jesus "do ministry"?
Wherever He woke on any given day He set out along the Way; speaking, teaching, healing and otherwise dealing with whomever He met as He traveled. He seemingly gave no thought most of the time to what direction He traveled, nor did He often seem to have any particular destination in mind. Wherever He found Himself at night, He (presumably) found a place to sleep, from where the next morning He arose and did it all over again. He left no "house churches" in His wake, constructed no cathedrals or temples, and from all evidence gave very little thought to His earthly surroundings (we know He was very aware of the earth and all its glory, however, for it was the trappings of the earth which punctuated His parables).
The closest thing I can find to Jesus' model of ministry in history is the story of Johnny Appleseed, and I don't think that had quite the same goals in mind. I can't think of a single Christian known to history who followed His model of ministry. Perhaps some of the early Christian monks came closest, but I think it's telling that, by and large, they are unknown to history.
In short, I don't know of course, but I have to wonder if this (Jesus' ministry) isn't what Bonhoeffer was thinking about when he began talking about "religionless Christianity". And again, I hasten to add that I couldn't do it myself. I don't see how I could minister after the manner of Jesus ... and still have a wife and family. We "know" the glories of heaven, but we are unable to give up the comforts of the world. I think that is our dualism. Our heads are in the clouds, but our feet are stuck in the mud of everyday concerns.
If we are ever able to slough off the dualism which I think is a condition of our humanity, we will have to find a way to introduce our heads to our feet, so to speak, and I think that is only possible ... and barely at that ... through the avenue of our hearts. And if you must know, I see this forum as a microcosm of the problem; there are many here from practically all persuasions of Christianity who have filled their minds with the intricacies of Scripture, but who, from their manner of speaking to each other, give very little evidence that they have ever opened their hearts to Christ.
Long story short, in my view we are dualists because we are humans, and no matter how often we tell ourselves that we are citizens of heaven and only sojourners in the world we can't ever quite act like we truly and fully believe that.
Whether all that can be laid at the feet of Plato, I'll leave to bb. :)
That is true. God finds people where he finds them. They awaken, when they do, where they are, and start the journey toward God from where they were when he found them.
So at one level there is nothing surprising in the fact that Roman christians would have a Roman world view, and American christians would have an American world view. And so on.
The other side of it is that, while each culture brings a certain flavor into Christianity, it is itself transformed over time. Plant the seed of Christ into a culture and the culture itself will be transformed.
But I reject the notion that as each separate culture is undone and redone, transformed, that they will be exchanged for some kind of uniformity. There will be a common philosophical language which will unite them, but people being as they are this common philosophical language does not mean uniformity. God didn't create billions of unique individuals with the idea of making them uniform, and they won't be.
I particularly like your observation that Jesus imposed no dogma, no doctrine, and planted no churches. Its a pretty simple message, love God and love your neighbor. Its one that awakens humanity, it isn't one that pushes humanity into uniform boxes. People often bring their chains with them when they come into the faith, and some make a virtue of them. It takes a while to clear all that out, like cleaning out the attic every once in a while. It is poignant work as you take treasured junk to the dump but you have to do it to make room for what comes next.
I am in agreement with you, I think. Whatever ground you occupy is God's ground, it is the stage from which you will work out your own story. You aren't less in God's will if you are a mechanic, or an accountant, or a real estate salesman, than if you are a minister. Really, we are all priests, where ever we are, but priests with dirt under our nails, and kids to raise.
The primary stage where God's people operate is not the physical church but the world itself. The people who devote themselves to full-time ministry have their place, someone has to keep pushing the word out there I suppose, but God's work is done when you and I go out into the world and create it. I believe it is a mistake to over-spiritualize things as much as it is to ignore the spiritual component of what we do.
The work we do, the battles we fight have a spiritual component, not because we apply it like a bandage, but because they do inherently. God is at work in history, he is at work in the economy, he is at work in every aspect of humanity because he is at work in us, and we carry that seed in us as we go out into the fray. He coordinates the battle even when we don't see it.
God's will does not depend upon every single human being believing in him, all he needs is a certain critical mass of people who hear and act and things start to happen. The result won't be necessarily any particular system, such things develop organically to fit the times and the people. The results will transform those systems, though.
What a wonderful essay, logos!
The only historical figure I can think of who actually tried to live the way Christ did -- in itinerant ministry -- was Francis of Assisi. He chose a life of total poverty, relying solely on the Lord for his daily bread, and a place to lay his head down to sleep at the end of the day. Only in this way, Francis believed, could he truly live a life in imitation of Christ. Obviously, there are few takers for this sort of thing. Very few people would choose a life like this -- with the possible exception of "street people." (I.e., the "homeless," many of whom have mental disabilities and substance abuse problems....)
I don't think we can blame Plato for the dualism of human life. His was a "cosmology of wholeness." He recognized that man was "part beast, and part divine" -- but sees the parts as complementary, and in their dynamic relations as constituting one whole -- Man. This model suggests that man actually does live both in time and in Eternity. I'm not sure, however, that Plato would see this as an instance of "duality." The material world is "in time"; but the spiritual world -- the divine -- is eternal; and man incorporates both within himself.
The symbol that comes to mind is the Christian Cross. The vertical is the timeless projection of the soul, from its ground in the cosmos -- which I also imagine to partake of the divine, since it is an expression of divine creative will -- to its search of the divine Beyond whose great symbol, for Plato, was the Agathon. (This not God Himself, but the vision of divine perfection and goodness.) For man, both "ends" stretch virtually without limit beyond man's ability to perceive them; but man's inner life is experienced as a tension between the two "pulls."
The horizontal of the Cross, running perpendicular to the vertical: This is the line of time.
In the vertical axis, time past, present, and future are simultaneous -- thus "timelessness" is the nature of the soul, psyche. This has been referred to as the Eternal Now. On the horizontal, time is linear, sequential, and unidirectional. This is the line that people spontaneously see, for its deals with past, present, and future -- and the last is of great concern to most men, both inside and outside the meaning you give, as an expectation of a "future heaven."
But actually, "heaven" is already "in us" -- along the vertical line. Few people notice this, however.
Which is why I've speculated that Hell is not necessarily a future possibility only. We can have living Hells -- which would result from the "poor order of the psyche" (which I interpret as lack of conformance with "the laws of Nature and of Nature's God" as a famous secularist once put it), running along the vertical line.
Of course, poor order there is inevitably played out along the horizontal time line. It is a translation of psychic disorder into the empirical realm, both personal and social.
I have to leave it there for now, logos, and get back to work!
Thank you so very much for your beautiful essay!
I have been thinking about this post a little more. I know I am not qualified to attempt to develop such a cosmology, it is plainly beyond my abilities. But I will foolheartedly offer these observations; before anyone makes mince-meat of me I only ask that you be quick and merciful...
I am generally more inclined to dig into political philosophy, where although we are dealing with intangibles, they are intangibles with a fairly ready connection back to the material world. Philosophy as applied to the nature of God and the Universe is of a different sort. In this case we are using Philosophy as a tool to see beyond the limits of our knowledge. In this case the connections back to known territory are a little more tenuous.
Of course, to see beyond the limits of our knowledge, we first have to know what the limits of our knowledge are.
In the case of God, we have scripture, and we have our own personal experiences with him. We tend to ignore the latter when putting together a philosophical position because it doesn't lend itself to use as direct evidence in developing an argument. But inevitably it will inform everything else, and provide the silent underpinnings, and this is not wrong. If we are developing a philosophy of God it has to take into account the real God as we know him or its just a pointless exercise.
At least in the case of the Universe, which has a material component, there is also material knowledge, and the possibility of further material knowledge. You are dealing with the melding of a number of different scientific disciplines, and in this case "philosophy" ought not to go beyond the known realm without at least a tip of the hat to what is "known"... or at least, thought to be known. That means our budding young cosmologist needs at least a metaphorical grasp of physics, and astronomy, and the life sciences. Someone attempting such a thing without trying to include what is known is only going to be made a fool the next time some grad student flips on his electron microscope. So to speak.
By which I mean to say that while its wise to approach the known sciences with a healthy skepticism, it is a mistake to ignore what is known when it creates problems in our dogmatic presuppositions. No one here would do that, but I have met people who would...
The next thing is that the purpose of such a philosophy must be to describe the world as it, in fact, is. This is why I prefer political philosophy where I get to worry about how it ought to be... but in the kind of study we are discussing here the actual nature of creation must harmonize with our philosophical model. We can't worry if the model we develop crosses some line that sets off alarms somewhere. We aren't trying to prove or disprove Plato, or Dualism, or anything else. A fair proportion of the physics text writers aren't Christians, but we won't let that bother us either, truth is truth, and it is where you find it.
The article that kicked off this thread points out the incompleteness, and the inapplicability of the dualist model in some cases, or even many cases. The medievalists used that way of arriving at a solution but we aren't required to, obviously. If as a metaphor for what we see we use some of their thinking in a particular case, we are tipping our hat to the old guys but we are not enslaved to them. Similarly we are often surprised at how much some of the Greeks seem to have gotten right. But we aren't persuaded because they are Greek, we are impressed that they seem to agree with us 3000 years before we graduated high school. Or at least I am.
My point, which I have tortured nearly to death, is that an attempt to accomplish a new philosophy coming from a Christian perspective will not be an explicit refutation of anything necessarily. It should simply start from what we know, or think we know, matched up against what we believe, or think we believe, and go from there chiseling and polishing the pieces until they fit. Sort of.
An honest effort to do that will bring out the peanut gallery to accuse you of some kind of heresy, I promise you, but I won't do it. I'll give it an honest reading, and if I can understand it, an honest argument. Some of the smarter people here may have to explain it to me first, though.
Jesus knew exactly where He was, and where He was going at all times during His ministry on earth. He wasn't a "wandering monk" going aimlessly about the Galilee and throughout Judea.
Just thinking about His trip through Samaria proves that. Jesus said that He "must needs go through Samaria." Why? Because He had an appointment to keep, just like on every other day of His ministry.
What would make one "unable" in your eyes? I would say that many are unwilling not unable. If they ate not willing , then perhaps they are unable because the lack the grace necessary
He made no direct attempt to establish an institutional church anywhere or by any particular liturgy or doctrine.
Scripture appears to indicate that Jesus spoke with purpose .
Mat 7:28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
Mar 11:18 And the scribes and chief priests heard [it], and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.
Jesus was after all a Rabbi , a teacher, that taught in the Temple at times.
Jhn 7:16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
The apostles knew the import of passing on correct doctrine
1Ti 1:10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
I am afraid if we see Jesus as a wandering and aimless man that had had no doctrine , we present a flawed image of God made man .
2Jo 1:9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
If Ye have seen me YOU HAVE SEE THE FATHER that sent me.
I think we can all agree that the Father is the perfect model of organization
Wherever He woke on any given day He set out along the Way; speaking, teaching, healing and otherwise dealing with whomever He met as He traveled. He seemingly gave no thought most of the time to what direction He traveled, nor did He often seem to have any particular destination in mind.
I believe Jesus well knew His destination was Calvary and every step was ordained to bring him closer.
As shown in the Mar 11:18 quote above Jesus spoke at times and place that would lead to the crisis with the Jews and bring Him to the cross.
He could have come to heal Lazarus before he died...but He delayed coming so that He could display His power in a way that would be the catalyst that sealed His fate.
Even if my point concerning doctrine is moot, it still remains that He established no earthly church, let alone denominations or sects; His earthly ministry was the personification of the Two Great Commandments even while he purposely walked toward the Cross.