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Essentials of Christian Thought, part 2

This post continues from part 1, here.

One characteristic of the book is that the “essentials” or “metaphysics” that Roger E. Olson elucidates are somewhat buried among the text dealing with the competing alternatives. What follows are excerpts that focus on the essentials of Christian/biblical thought itself.

A basic presupposition of this book is that the Bible does contain an implicit metaphysical vision of ultimate reality—the reality that is most important, final, highest, and behind everyday appearances. p.12

Ultimate reality is relational. p.13

Ultimate reality is personal, not impersonal, and humans reflect that ultimate reality in their created constitution—what they are. Here we will call that “Christian humanism.” p.17

Here metaphysics is simply another word for investigation into the nature of ultimate reality. p.19

… both Tresmontant and Cherbonnier argued very cogently that the biblical philosophy is holistic, not requiring supplementation by extrabiblical philosophies … and that the biblical philosophy is fundamentally contrary to Greek philosophies. p.22

in this postmodern age every philosophy is rooted in some story and tradition based on it, and that for the Christian “the Bible absorbs the world”—the biblical story, narrative, is the lens through which the Christian sees reality as God’s good creation (for example). p.23

belief in the supernatural (something above and free from nature and nature’s laws) is no more a matter of faith, “seeing as,” than belief in naturalism (that nature and its laws are all that are real). p.33

The biblical-Christian vision of reality is a “view from somewhere,” … that … better answers life’s ultimate questions than any competing worldview or metaphysical vision of reality. p.39-40

… Christian theology’s main task is not correlation with other, non-Christian worldviews or plausibility structures, but self-description of the Christian view of reality from within the Christian tradition-community inspired by the biblical story. p.41

… being Christian means, in part, seeing the world as the reality described, or presupposed, by the Bible. p.43

… [Hans Frei] argued that faithful Christians ought to take the Bible seriously as “realistic narrative.” In other words, the Bible ought not to be viewed either as history in the modern, literal sense (viz., a textbook of facts about history) or as myth (symbolic representation of universal human experience). Rather, a Christian should find the meaning of Scripture out outside it—whether in outer history or universal human experience—but inside of it. p.43

Frei’s point is simply that the meaning of the Bible is not outside of it. p.44

The Bible depicts ultimate reality—the highest, best, final, eternal reality upon which all else is dependent—as supernatural and personal but not human. Here supernatural simply means “beyond nature,” not bound to nature and nature’s laws, free over nature, not controlled by nature. Some people would prefer the word transcendent for all that … p.53

The Bible depicts ultimate reality as personal, which here means having intelligence, thought, iintentions, actions, and some degree of self-determination. It also means “relational”—being in relation to others, drawing one’s identity partly, at least, from relations with others. p.53

… the long history of philosophical metaphysics, from Plato in ancient Greece to Hegel in nineteenth-century German, has tended to depersonalize ultimate reality, to represent ultimate reality as impersonal, a power, force, or principle behind appearances. p.56

… the ultimate reality of the Bible, Yahweh, God the Lord, is personal in the primary, supreme sense, the pattern of true personhood, which human beings are personal in the secondary sense, copies of the pattern of true personhood. p.57

In Athens Paul articulated concisely what later Christian thinkers came to refer to as God’s transcendence and immanence—that God is both present within creation and exalted above creation as its source and sustainer who needs nothing. p.62

Summing up, the biblical view of ultimate reality is that it is not an it but a he. According to the biblical narrative … ultimate, final, eternal, all-powerful, all-determining reality is a personal being both beyond the natural world and dynamically present within it. This metaphysical vision has variously been labeled “personalistic theism” and “biblical theistic personalism.” At the heart of ultimate reality, the one unifying source behind and withing everything, is an intelligence, free agency, and independent will marked by loving-kindness and justice. p.63

The next post in this series is here.

Essentials of Christian Thought, part 1

The Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Reality Through the Biblical Story by Roger E. Olson was published by Zondervan in 2017. It’s 256 pages long in seven chapters with as many “Interludes” but no bibliography or index. The author gives a video introduction here.

The intended audience for the book is those who accept the Bible as a guide “to the nature of ultimate reality” (p.11). Its purpose is to describe that ultimate nature (or metaphysics) according to the Bible. Much of the book is spent delineating differences between the biblical metaphysics and that of others. The author leans heavily on four authors (in order of the number of references):

Edmond La Beaume Cherbonnier (1918 – 2017), “an American scholar in the field of religious studies. He served as Professor of Religion at Trinity College, Connecticut”. Wikipedia

“Is There a Biblical Metaphysic?”, Theology Today, 15(4), January 1959, pp. 454–69.
Hardness of Heart, Doubleday, 1955.
“Biblical Metaphysic and Christian Philosophy”, Theology Today, 9(3), October 1952.
“The Logic of Biblical Anthropomorphism,” in Harvard Theological Review 55(3), 1962, 187-206.

Claude Tresmontant (1925 – 1997), “taught medieval philosophy and philosophy of science at the Sorbonne.” Wikipedia

A Study of Hebrew Thought, tr. by Michael Francis Gibson, Descle, 1960.
Christian Metaphysics, Sheed and Ward, 1965.
The Origins of Christian Philosophy, Hawthorn Books, 1963.

Emil Brunner (1889 –1966), “a highly influential Swiss theologian who, along with Karl Barth, is associated with Neo-Orthodoxy or the dialectical theology movement.” Theopedia

The Philosophy of Religion from the Standpoint of Protestant Theology, tr. by Bertram Lee Woolf, James Clarke, 1958.
Revelation and Reason: The Christian Doctrine of Faith and Knowledge, tr. by Olive Wyon, SCMP, 1946.
“Nature and Grace” in Natural Theology, tr. by Peter Fraenkel, Geoffrey Bles, 1946.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 – 1972) “was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century.” Wikipedia

Man is Not Alone, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.

The next post is here.

Physics and theology

The 19th century physicist Ernst Mach is known for his view that all motion is relative, which influenced Albert Einstein. Mach is also known for his book The Science of Mechanics (1883 in German, 1893 in translation), from which the following excerpts about physics and theology are taken (Open Court edition, 1960):

Consolation, [Pascal] used to say, he could find nowhere but in the teachings of Christianity; and all the wisdom of the world availed him not a whit. p.543

Every unbiased mind must admit that the age in which the chief development of the science of mechanics took place, was an age of predominantly theological cast. Theological questions were excited by everything, and modified everything. No wonder, then, that mechanics is colored thereby. p.546

In Leibniz’s correspondence with John Bernoulli, theological questions are repeatedly discussed in the very midst of mathematical disquisitions. Their language is not unfrequently couched in biblical pictures. p.549

Maupertuis, the famous president of the Berlin Academy, and a friend of Frederick the Great, gave a new impulse to the theologizing bent of physics by the enunciation of his principle of least action. In the treatise which formulated this obscure principle … the author declared his principle to be the one which best accorded with the wisdom of the Creator. p.549

Euler magnanimously left the principle [of least action] its name, Maupertuis the glory of the invention, and converted it into something new and really serviceable. … The theological point of view, Euler retained. He claims it is possible to explain phenomena, not only from their physical causes, but also from their purposes. “As the construction of the universe is the most perfect possible, being the handiwork of an all-wise Maker, nothing can be met with in the world in which some maximal or minimal property is not displayed. There is, consequently, no doubt that that all the effects of the world can be derived by the method of maxima and minima from their final causes as well as from their efficient ones.” p.550

Similarly, the notions of the constancy of the quantity of matter, of the constancy of the quantity of motion, of the indestructibility of work or energy, conceptions which completely dominate modern physics, all arose under the influence of theological ideas. The notions in question had their origin in an utterance of Descartes, before mentioned, in the Principles of Philosophy, agreeably to which the quantity of matter and motion originally created in the world–such being the only course compatible with the constancy of the Creator–is always preserved unchanged. The conception of the manner in which this quantity of motion should be calculated was very considerably modified in the progress of the idea from Descartes to Leibniz, and to their successors, and as the outcome of these modifications the doctrine gradually and slowly arose which is now called the “law of the conservation of energy.” But the theological background of these ideas only slowly vanished. p.551

During the entire sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, down to the close of the eighteenth, the prevailing inclination of inquirers was, to find in all physical laws some particular disposition of the Creator. But a gradual transformation of these views must strike the attentive observer. Whereas with Descartes and Leibniz physics and theology were still greatly intermingled, in the subsequent period a distinct endeavor is noticeable, not indeed wholly to discard theology, yet to separate it from purely physical questions. Theological disquisitions were put at the beginning or relegated to the end of physical treatises. Theological speculations were restricted, as much as possible, to the question of creation, that, from this point onward, the way might be cleared for physics. p.551-552

Towards the close of the eighteenth century a remarkable change took place,–a change which was apparently an abrupt departure from the current trend of thought, but in reality was the logical outcome of the development indicated. After an attempt in a youthful work to found mechanics on Euler’s principle of least action, Lagrange, in a subsequent treatment of the subject, declared his intention of utterly disregarding theological and metaphysical speculations, as in their nature precarious and foreign to science. He erected a new mechanical system on entirely different foundations, and no one conversant with the subject will dispute its excellencies. All subsequent scientists of eminence accepted Lagrange’s view, and the present attitude of physics to theology was thus substantially determined. p.552 [Lagrange’s Mécanique analytique was published in 1788.]

Newton never, despite his profound religiosity, mingled theology with the questions of science. … The same may be said of Galileo and Huygens. p.552

It stands to reason that in a stage of civilization in which religion is almost the sole education, and the only theory of the world, people would naturally look at things from a theological point of view, and that they would believe that this view was possessed of competency in all fields of research. p.553 #

… the theological conception of nature itself owes its origin to an endeavor to obtain a more comprehensive view of the world;–the very same endeavor that is at the bottom of physical science.  p.556

In fact, science can accomplish nothing by the consideration of individual facts; from time to time it must cast its glance at the world as a whole. p.556

But now, after a century has elapsed, after our judgment has grown more sober, the world-conception of the encyclopaedists appears to us as a mechanical mythology in contrast to the animistic of the old religions. p.559

Physical science does not pretend to be a complete view of the world; it simply claims that it is working toward such a complete view in the future. The highest philosophy of the scientific investigator is precisely this toleration of an incomplete conception of the world and the preference for it rather than an apparently perfect, but inadequate conception. p.559

# One might update this sentence as follows: It stands to reason that in a stage of civilization in which science is almost the sole education, and the only theory of the world, people would naturally look at things from a scientific point of view, and that they would believe that this view was possessed of competency in all fields of research.

Naturalism and uniformity

I posted a series of selections from Matthew Stanley’s recent book here. This post is about an article he wrote: “The Uniformity of Natural Laws in Victorian Britain: Naturalism, Theism, and Scientific Practice” (Zygon, vol. 46, no. 3, Sept. 2011, pp.536-560). His conclusion in the article is similar to the book: the practice of naturalistic and theistic scientists in the 19th century was the same. Their inspiration and motivation was different but this did not interfere with their common practice. Then the naturalists we able to achieve a position of dominance and deprecate the theists and their theism.

“Uniformity is the claim that the laws of nature are the same everywhere and everywhen in the universe” p. 537.

“Herschel’s position that the essence of science was the search for and study of universal, uniform laws was accepted by every scientist I will discuss here, whether theist of naturalist. Precisely what uniformity meant, and how one should thing about it, was more complicated.” p. 540

“The term ‘scientific naturalism’ was first coined by T. H. Huxley in 1892, but the ideas, methods, and attitude of naturalism became widespread decades before. In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, a group of scientists preaching the strict exclusion of religion from scientific matters (for which the uniformity of nature was an important weapon) became influential and rose to prominence in the scientific community. Led by Huxley, John Tyndall, and their allies, these strongly naturalistic scientists portrayed themselves as the vanguard of a truly modern and enlightened science and eventually succeeded in making their visions of a completely naturalistic and areligious science seem obvious and inevitable – precisely how naturalism is presented by scientists today.” p.538

“Scientific naturalism had its most important locus in a group known as the X-Club. This informal network (essentially, a dining club) of young, ambitious scientists sought to professionalize their discipline and increase its social and cultural standing. A critical part of this effort was the exclusion of religion, the supernatural, and the clergy from science: ‘They opposed all suggestions that there were supernatural interventions in the natural order and any attempts to constrain scientific investigation within theologically-determined boundaries’ (Barton, 1990).” p.540

“Its leaders spent a great deal of time and energy discussing the foundations of science and explaining how those foundations excluded the supernatural. And the most important idea supporting that exclusion was uniformity.” p.540

“Huxley referred to the order of nature in almost every essay or lecture, and explicitly opposed it to theology.” p.541

“Huxley’s friend and ally John Tyndall also spoke vigorously of the power of uniformity to banish God” p.541

“The subtexts of these claims was that uniformity not only restricts religion from entering science, but that uniformity can only be justified in a world without divine intervention.” p.542

“The claims of Huxley and Tyndall that uniformity demanded a completely areligious science did not drive the theists to secularism. And yet, these theistic scientists (in Britain, almost all Protestants of various flavors) were in total agreement with the naturalists that uniformity was critical to the advance of science. How could they embrace the naturalistic methods but not the naturalistic conclusions?” p.542

“The answer is that the theists saw uniformity as their impregnable position, not Tyndall’s. The consistency of natural laws over time and space was a sign pointing toward God, not warding him off.” p.543

“Natural laws were seen as instances of divine fiat, and they were constant because God is consistent in his actions.” p.543

“Without an ordering force (i.e., God) one would expect the universe to be a mishmash of chaotic events. The only guarantee for constancy of the laws of nature was the intent of the lawgiver.” p.547

“Within the general rubric of uniformity, there are two specific topics that are thought commonly to be exemplars of how uniformity allows no room for religion: miracles, and the origin of the universe.” p.547

“There was widespread agreement among theistic scientists that apparent violations of natural law were illusory.” p.548

“If scientists had total knowledge of all natural laws, then nothing would ever appear supernatural.” p.549

“Some critics of this position claimed it restricted God’s action, saying that a God who could not intervene in special circumstances was no God at all. But, again, it was uniformity, not interruptions of it, that truly showed us the nature of things” p.549

“There is nothing in Religion incompatible with the belief that all exercises of God’s power, whether ordinary or extraordinary, are effected through the instrumentality of means – that is to say, by the instrumentality of natural laws brought out, as it were, and used for a Divine purpose” (Duke of Argyll, 1867) p.549

“So, this move would essentially remove the category of formal miracles and subsume all divine actions under special providence.” p.550

“Lord Kelvin, considering the implications of the laws of thermodynamics, said that science must stop at the point in the past where matter and energy were created” p.550

“Why Did the Naturalists Win?” The X-Club “was able to have an enormous impact on the future of science by focusing on science education.” p.552

“Huxley designed his teaching to stand for what Adrian Desmond calls a ‘distinct ideological faction’ that clearly marked off acceptable (naturalistic) from unacceptable (theistic) ways of thinking about science.” p.553

“A side effect of this is that once the scientific naturalists gained dominance in the scientific community, they were able to rewrite the history of their discipline to erase the long tradition of theistic science.” p.553

“Concepts like uniformity, which were both theistic and naturalistic in practice, became recast as only naturalistic.” p.554

“Our modern understanding of the uniformity of natural laws as being purely naturalistic, then, is contingent and not inevitable, and a close historical examination of the issues shows that uniformity can be, and was, a tool used both for and against religion. The victory of the scientific naturalists in removing theism from the expectations and parlance of the scientific community had little to do with how science was done (despite their claims to the contrary) and much more to do with attempting to secure better access to professional positions, resources, and cultural authority.” p.555

Miracles and uniformity

The week before Christmas is a good time of year to write about miracles because it’s a time to be reminded of the meaningfulness of miracles. But what about their truth? Doesn’t the uniformity of nature make miracles impossible?

Thomas Aquinas said a miracle is ‘beyond the order commonly observed in nature’ (Summa Contra Gentiles III), but David Hume went further and defined a miracle as ‘a violation of the laws of nature’ (Of Miracles, 1748). Hume also claimed that scientific induction required the uniformity of nature, so on his telling, miracles undermined science.

However, Hume failed to establish the uniformity of nature on rational grounds. The future does not necessarily resemble the past. The most he could say was that the uniformity of nature is a matter of custom and habit. (There’s a convenient summary of his argument here: Probable reasoning has no rational basis.)

Others have also been unable to establish the uniformity of nature on rational grounds. This failure led to Karl Popper’s argument that induction is merely not untrue, and that one counterexample can falsify any induction. However, the history of science shows an unwillingness to abandon well-accepted science because of one or a few anomalies.

Does scientific induction really require the uniformity of nature? No, that is a misunderstanding of science that goes back to Scholasticism, which was revived in the 19th century by Richard Whately and John Stuart Mill. See John P. McCaskey’s writings on The History of Induction.

Induction is based on classification, not a principle of uniformity. Observation and experiment lead to the definition of a class by a uniformity. Then by definition other objects or events in the same class possess the same uniformity, whether in the past, present, or future. As I wrote here, science studies uniformity but that is far from requiring uniformity everywhere at all times.

It is better to define a miracle by what it is – unique – rather than what it is not – uniform. A miracle is a highly unique event or result, especially one attributed to divine agency. Since science studies uniformity, not uniqueness, it doesn’t have much to contribute about miracles. But uniqueness is studied by other disciplines such as history, philosophy, theology, and literature – that is, the humanities, not the sciences.

Miracles are by their nature very unique and significant. They fall outside of uniformity but since there is no valid principle of uniformity, that is not a problem.

Is All Truth God’s Truth?

“All truth is God’s truth” is a common paraphrase of Augustine of Hippo’s writings, such as On Christian Doctrine, (II.18):

“A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God or give thanks but became enfeebled in their own thoughts and plunged their senseless minds into darkness. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for the image of corruptible mortals and animals and reptiles’ [Rom. 1:21-3].”

But that is different from the meaning today that “Christians should recognize that whatever people say is true, must be true for God, too.”

In that vein, I append an excerpt from The End of “Christian Psychology” by Martin and Deidre Bobgan. EastGate Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA, 1997, pp. 45-47:

Is All Truth God’s Truth?

Individuals who want to make psychological theories and therapies available to Christians and who attempt to integrate such theories and techniques with Scripture justify these practices by saying, “All truth is God’s truth.” At first such a statement sounds plausible and even true. However, we need to look at what might be included on each side of the equation of “all truth = God’s truth.”

First of all, what is truth? While there are several definitions of truth, one generally assumes that truth represents that which is true, real, and actual. Truth is the perfect expression of that which is. If what is put into the category of “all truth” is limited to “the perfect expression of that which is,” then that would be “God’s truth.” However, the assortment of ideas, opinions, and even apparent facts under the designation of “all truth” reduces truth to meaning “imperfect human perception of that which is.”

The broad field of psychology at best involves human observation and interpretation of Creation and therefore is subject to human error and the blindness of the unregenerate heart as described in Ephesians 4:18, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.”

Psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies have the further problem of subjective imagination also proceeding from unregenerate individuals. They represent a further departure from expressing that which truly is. Instead, they present some subjective observation, reasoned analysis, creative imagination, and much distortion. If these ideas are included under the declaration, “All truth is God’s truth,” one must conclude that those who use the expression have greatly misunderstood the nature of truth, let alone God’s truth.

In raising human observation, interpretation, and opinions to the same level and authority as God’s truth revealed through Jesus and in the written Word of God, those who promote psychology among Christians demonstrate their high view of human opinion and their low view of Scripture.

In his discussion of “all truth is God’s truth,” John Moffat says, “I think that, in many ways, this slogan is the verbal equivalent of a graven image; something that appears to represent truth but does not.”3 He explains:

None of the people that use this “all truth” expression actually say that they consider man’s thoughts equal to God’s revealed Word, it just happens to work that way in practice; just as at first the graven images were not meant to replace God, only to represent Him.4

Then to show where “all truth is God’s truth” thinking can lead a person, Moffat says:

I can imagine Nadab and Abihu talking before the early worship service in the wilderness. One says to the other, “All fire is God’s fire. God made all fire; therefore it is all of him.” Or while Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the children of Israel could have said to Aaron, “All worship of God is God’s worship.” These analogies have the same deceptive sound of being logical at first glance, but they are full of the same ambiguity and deceit as the expression “all truth is God’s truth.”5

In contrast to the broad category labeled “all truth” by those who want to include what humans perceive through their senses, achieve through their reason, conceive in their minds, receive from one another, and interweave with Scripture, the specific category of “God’s truth” includes only what is perfectly and flawlessly true. God Himself is true and He has made known His truth through His Son, who referred to Himself as the truth (John 14:6); through His written Word, which perfectly states what is true (John 17:17); and through the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of Truth who will guide believers into all truth (John 16:13). With all that God has provided in His Son, His Word, and His Holy Spirit, one wonders why people are so enamored with the psychological opinions of men.

All humans have partial perception, fragmentary knowledge, and incomplete morality through common grace and general revelation. While these are gifts common to all mankind, they are contaminated by human depravity. Whatever truth people have perceived is contaminated by their unrighteousness. Apart from special revelation and special grace, all stand guilty before God, because they hold whatever truth they have gained through general revelation or common grace in a state of unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Do such people appear to be reliable sources for Christians to seek counsel for godly living? Indeed, general revelation and common grace serve as very weak and even dangerous justifications for dipping into psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies, all of which were conceived and developed by unredeemed minds.

  1. John D. Moffat, “Is ‘All Truth God’s Truth’?” The Christian Conscience (May 1997), p. 27.
  2. Ibid., p. 28.
  3. Ibid.

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 3

Part 2 of this series is here. This post covers the last section of Chapter Two, which is on miracles. I offer some comments of my own at the end.

p. 71 – Miracles

Building on this reading of uniformity, the scientific naturalists thought they had one attack for which there was no counter. Miracles, they said, were the essence of Christianity. And a miracle, it seemed, must be a violation of a natural law, and therefore a violation of uniformity, and thus cannot be consonant with science. Taking a position on miracles, then, forced one into either the theistic or naturalistic camp. This was a maneuver emphasized repeatedly by Victorian scientific naturalists, many of whom were directly inspired by David Hume.

During and after the Reformation, the general Protestant view was that miracles had been limited to biblical times, and could no longer be found. This was a strategic move to differentiate them from superstitious Catholics calling for their saints’ protection, and also to anchor the Bible’s authority over ecclesiastical tradition–only it had true miracles. This position came under scrutiny for theological reasons from, among others, John Henry Newman and Horace Bushnell, who wanted to abandon the limitation of miracles to biblical times and accept modern ones.

Huxley chose miracles as the subject for some of his famous battles with Gladstone, and developed his ideas further in his book on Hume. He argued that an observation of an apparently miraculous event (say, the unsupported floating of lead in midair) would be no evidence that the laws of nature had been suspended. A man of science would then simply investigate to find the hitherto-concealed laws that allowed such a a thing to happen. Humanity’s limited experience with the world would inevitably lead to gaps, but those gaps could not be used to show divine intervention…

p. 72 – Usually even a small amount of thought could provide naturalistic explanations for otherwise mysterious events, such as miraculous healings. He warned against anyone declaring an event to be impossible on the grounds of natural law, as that would play into the hands of “ecclesiastical apologists” and their worship of absolute statements. One could say an event was improbable, but even the most extraordinary events did not threaten the laws of nature.

Huxley’s typical approach to addressing miracles was distinctly Humean–instead of questioning whether the miracle occurred, or could have occurred, he questioned the witnesses and the reliability of their account. … Only an expert committed to naturalism could be a reliable witness.

The next move was a brilliant use by Huxley of the social context of his listeners. Of course, he said, everyone in his audience was a good Protestant who would never believe Catholic medieval miracles. And yet, “if you do not believe in these miracles recounted by a witness whose character and competency are firmly established, whose sincerity cannot be doubted, and who appeals to his sovereign and other contemporaries as witnesses of the truth of what he says, in a document of which a MS. copy exists, probably dating within a century of the author’s death, why do you profess to believe in stories of a like character, which are found in documents of the dates and the authorship of which nothing is certainly determined, and no known copies of which come within two or three centuries of the events they record?”

These “stories of a like character” were, of course, the Gospels. Huxley stressed that knowledge of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John was essentially zero when compared to knowledge of Eginhard. He thus trapped his audience into either siding with Catholic superstition or admitting the unreliability of the New Testament.

p. 75 – There was widespread agreement among theistic scientists that (as with Huxley) apparent violations of natural law were illusory. Many other Christians agreed–Frederick Temple declared, “There may be instances where this Order is apparently broken, but really maintained, because one physical is absorbed in a higher.” That is, an event that appeared to be outside the laws of nature actually was lawful, but it simply obeyed a law of which humans were not yet aware.

What, then, of the supernatural? Would not religious believers need violations of natural law to be assured of the existence of supernatural forces? One of the prices of this strategy was that, in an important sense, the category of the supernatural faded away (or was at least redefined).

p. 76 – So far, these theists were in almost complete agreement with Huxley and Tyndall. Did that not hem them into precisely the dilemma of choosing between uniformity and divine action? They replied strongly in the negative: God could still watch over his creation and enact his plans, but through natural laws, not with interruptions of the natural order. … The deity could manipulate natural laws in a variety of ways without violating their essence, and could produce any of the fantastic events recorded in scripture. This idea had a long genealogy in Christianity going back to Augustine.

p. 77 – Frederick Temple argued that even if science were to someday give an explanation of all the miracles in the Bible, it would not at all change their role in revelation. The miracle could be in their timing, or intent, or effect, rather than in the breach of uniformity. This fit well with a traditional Protestant distinction between miracles, which required an objective witness to provide proof of supernaturalism, and special providence, which appeared to be normal events–excepts when viewed through the eyes of faith. So this move would essentially eliminate the category of formal miracles and subsume all divine actions under special providence.

Discussion: The theists lost the debate on miracles by either (1) accepting Hume’s definition of miracles as violations of the laws of nature, or (2) accepting that God’s laws for creation were all “natural” with no supernatural laws or no supernatural laws that could affect the natural world. I think the solution for theists is to reject Hume’s definition of a miracle, and emphasize that God has laws for all of creation, which includes both natural and supernatural/spiritual worlds.

Miracles should be defined as of two types: (a) transcendent miracles, such as the creation of something from nothing, which exhibit the transcendence of God, and (b) the operation of supernatural laws that affect the natural world. We divide creation into natural and supernatural worlds but there is one reality, and what happens in one can affect what happens in the other. These supernatural laws are beyond the purview of empirical science, but empirical science can and should recognize that theology based on revelation provides legitimate knowledge of supernatural reality.

Part 4 is here.

Christianization of the world

In Mt 13:33 reports of Jesus: He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Christianity is the leaven of the world. Put it into the world and gradually the whole world is leavened. This is the Christianization of the world.

Note that leaven works from the inside out, not the outside in. Christianization does not mean the world is given a coating of Christianity in hopes that it will penetrate further down. Rather, it means that the leaven of Christianity is put into the middle of the world and gradually works its way throughout.

When this is done, the outside at first may look as if nothing much has changed. But if the inside has changed, then sooner or later the outside and everything in between will change. That is what genuine Christianization means.

Christianity is a meta-religion: it “comes after” religion because it takes a religion and transforms it. The first religion Christianity was applied to was Judaism, as recorded in the New Testament. After that, the pagan religion of the gentiles in Europe was Christianized. Many of the customs associated with Christianity today come from Christianized Judaism and paganism. For example, Easter is a Christianized spring festival (the name comes from the Teutonic goddess of spring) and Christmas is a Christianized winter solstice festival.

Other religions have not been Christianized as much, but they could be. Music is one aspect which has been Christianized. There are Christian songs in every music tradition. Converts from any religion should be able to retain parts of their culture with a new focus and interpretation. Christianity is not about replacing the cultures of the world but about redeeming them.

The kingdom of God is the Christianization of the world. Where the kingship of Christ is, there is the kingdom of God. The world in all its diversity can be redeemed — and preserved — through Christ.

 

Gentile Old Testaments

It is remarkable how the Apostles denied that Gentiles needed to follow the law of Moses, and put only a few restrictions on Gentile believers (Acts 15:28-29):

28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.

In short, there was no need to follow the law of Moses but four practices would go a long way to smoothing relations between Jewish and Gentile believers. In the West we don’t think of the first three but the fourth is affirmed. So much for the rest of the Old Testament.

Certainly the Apostles weren’t jettisoning the Old Testament. But they weren’t affirming it much either. The Judaizers had it wrong: the Gentiles can become Christians right where they are. There’s no need to accept the Old Testament with its law of Moses, circumcision, rituals, and 613 commandments (according to Orthodox tradition).

When pagans converted to Christianity their pagan practices were reinterpreted as much as possible rather than banned outright. Yes, much behind Christmas is pagan — but it has been given new Christian meaning. The same is true with Easter. Even the pontifex maximus was transformed into the pope.

There is certainly a danger here that Christianity may be influenced by paganism rather than the other way around. But the alternative is a return to the law of Moses, and that has been ruled out. But then what is the tutor or guardian “to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” if not the law of Moses? The best that paganism had to offer.

When the early Christians approached the pagans, they argued from the Bible but also from the greatest writings of the pagans. What were these? In Europe they were the classics, especially the writings of Plato and Aristotle. These writings, correctly understood, point to Christ in their own way.

Modern pagans today have their classic writings, and Christians need to show the from them why Christianity makes sense. As the Old Testament is not always clear on what it means, so Gentile classics do not always show a clear connection to the Gospel so it’s up to Christians to make it for them.

One-sentence summaries

One could use the common one-sentence summary of the Muslim faith to describe other monotheistic faiths and monistic ideologies; for example:

There is no God but Yahweh and Moses is his legislator.

There is no God but Yahweh and David is his psalmist.

There is no God but Deus and the Pope is his bishop.

There is no God but Gott and Luther is his reformer.

There is no God but Dieu and Calvin is his polemicist.

There is no God but Jesus and Wesley is his evangelist.

There is no God but Nature and Newton is his scientist.

There is no God but Evolution and Darwin is his scientist.

There is no God but Matter and Marx is his revolutionary.