Another big factor in the spread of atheism and agnosticism is the internet and the easy exchange of information - religions and other superstitions rely on 'faith', i.e. not questioning too deeply, and it is no coincidence that in developed countries the higher the level of education a person attains, the less likely they are to be religious. The more science shows us about the universe, the more fascinating it becomes, and the ramblings of 2000 year old middle eastern farmers seem less and less satisfying.This response brings out ever so many of the themes that mark the de-christianisation that we have to address!
I intended to take this apart step by step in detail, but as an email from a reader suggests, I think I need to emphasise laying out a programme of renewal and transformation through sound, worldviews aware discipleship.
So, let me highlight some bullet point level comments before I clip from a unit in the NCSTS systematic theology survey sample course for the AACCS:
1 --> Observe the sting in the tail, dismissive remarks about presumably ignorant, semi-literate at best and credulous peasants from 2000 years ago. In quick answer to the ignorance aspect, let us just say that the author of Romans was no ignoramus, and that though he was regarded circa AD 30 as less than a sophisticated man of letters by the Sanhedrin, the apostle John by the time he was finished was capable of penning the opening remarks in the gospel of John. Where also, of course Luke was a physician whose Luke-Acts two-volume history of the founding of the church has been demonstrated to be astonishingly good as history, which is exactly what it set out to be, cf Lk 1:1 - 4. To wit:
2 Exactly as they were handed down to us by those who from the [[d]official] beginning [of Jesus’ ministry] were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word [that is, of [e]the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God],3 It seemed good and desirable to me, [and so I have determined] also after [f]having searched out diligently and followed all things closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,4 [My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been [g]orally instructed. [AMP]
But it is not enough to indict the sophomoric, bombastic skepticism and atheism of our day, we need to lay out a serious alternative.
2 --> The real point however, is that the well-poisoning dismissal of the apostles and other founding Christian figures, is meant to be a sneer at their willingness to believe in the miraculous. In short, there is a pretence here -- it finds an infamous formulation in Hume's sneers -- that the only reason that one can believe in miracles, is to be ignorant and gullible.
3 --> But in fact this is little more than an excuse for selective hyperskepticism. (For simple instance, apart from a miracle of guidance that led my mom to the right doctor when she was in despair of my life, I would not be here to type this, and if it were not for a healing in response to -- of all things, a TV preacher -- I would not have the back to sit up to write this. [Where, as one who has served as an educator at secondary and tertiary levels and as a holder of two graduate level degrees, I cannot be dismissed as an ignoramus. And there are thousands and thousands of others who have been healed by God in answer to prayer. Not to mention the millions who have met and been transformed by the living God, in the face of the risen Christ including highly pivotal figures for the course of our civilisation, from Paul to Pascal to Kelvin, Planck and more.] )
4 --> Where (as can be seen here) the pivotal miracle -- the resurrection of Jesus -- stands up to serious scrutiny quite well indeed, especially by comparison with typical alternatives offered to explain it away.
5 --> And just what has science -- as opposed to a priori materialism dressed up in the holy lab coat and declaring itself to be science -- taught us about the cosmos and the world of life? That, we live in an observed cosmos that had a definite beginning, which cries out for a begin-ner. That the physics of that cosmos is astonishingly fine-tuned in many ways that set up a basis for Carbon-Chemistry, watery medium, cell based life. That such life has in its core, DNA which has in it digital code used to assemble proteins and provide regulation for many things that happen in the cell. That the cell is chock full of clever nanotech machines that carry out its work. That to make a new body plan for an organism, we need a large further increment of such information and functionally organised machines to carry it off. Where all of this points to design as the best explanation.
6 --> It is easy to set up a strawman caricature of faith as blind and irrational belief and dismiss it. What is not so easy is to address why it is that we have no alternative but to start from a set of first plausibles taken on faith in the foundation of our worldviews:
7 --> Where it can be shown that evolutionary materialism (never mind the lab coat disguise, this is a longstanding philosophy . . . ) is self referential -- it has to account for all observed phenomena including our own selves -- and runs into serious hot water when it tries to account for the credibility of the consciously aware, perceiving, knowing, reasoning mind. Not to mention, that it has in it no foundational IS that can safely bear the weight of OUGHT and (as Plato long ago warned us c. 360 BC in his The Laws, Bk X) ends up inviting the destructive nihilist notion that might and manipulation make 'right.'
8 --> The equation of religion with superstition is of course little more than sneering. Here is what the apostle Peter, an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus who was then facing death at the hands of the mad tyrant Nero c. 65 AD, had to say by way of parting words, words we should soberly heed:
2 Peter 1:16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty . . .
19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain [--> he alludes here to especially the c. 700 BC prophecy in Isaiah 52 - 3, cf. here on in context . . . ], and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [NIV '84]9 --> I do agree with the commenter that the easy and rapid spread of "information" by the web and other means is a major way that atheism and its fellow travellers are propagated today. But, he needs to understand that "information" is not the same thing as truth or sound reason. Indeed, where people are not adequately equipped to think straight and to straighten out spin-driven manipulative rhetoric, they easily fall prey to rumours, fallacious arguments and other manipulative devices online, on TV, in textbooks, announced as news and in museums dressed up in the holy lab coat.
10 --> That is why we need to do some serious re-thinking about what is going on with today's aggressive but sophomoric atheism that imagines that Christianity is a delusion, and do something serious about it.
Let me do so by clipping a section of the worldviews unit in the NCSTS course for the AACCS:
>> After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned the church:
Matt 28:16 . . . the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [NET]Paul amplifies this, giving it operational form, in Eph 4:
Eph 4:10 [Jesus], the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.
11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.
14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.This is a call for individual, community and cultural transformation through discipleship and godly service through the truth in love.
17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth. [NET]
(NB: Cf. downloadable slideshow of the 2002 JTS-CGST Public Ethics Lecture. Bearing in mind, as well, the issue that -- absent a firm ethical foundation for balanced rights, freedoms and responsibilities in community -- democratic majority rule all too easily deteriorates into "three wolves and two sheep taking a vote on what's for lunch," the sort of stakeholder-based participative, ethically rooted sustainability strategies and approaches here, and the sort of more specific strategic planning and executing approaches, techniques and tools here on, will also be helpful.)In that work of discipleship, reformation and God-blessed transformation, Jesus has given gifted leaders to the church to equip its members to do the works of loving and truthful service that help to fill all things [παντων, panton, from πᾶς pas (pas`) -- 1. all, any, every, the whole] with his grace, blessing and glory. Thus, through the church and the Spirit-enabled gifted service of all its members, the whole community and culture is filled with Christ, even as the waves advancing and retreating on a beach gradually (and almost invisibly but inexorably) march upwards to high tide:
Titus 2:11 . . . the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. 12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good.The rest of this course consequently seeks to help build us up for just that task, by strengthening our understanding of the core foundations of our faith. As a part of that process of strengthening, it is convenient to look back a generation, to the key pioneering (albeit somewhat controversial and not without errors) thought and work of Francis Schaeffer, as he surveyed the intersection of the Christian faith and western culture over the past millennium, in light of the foundational thinking we can find in Paul on Mars Hill and in the Epistle to the Romans.
It is helpful to start by examining Paul's call to holiness and to truth in Eph 4:17 - 24:
Eph 4:17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,5 which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.Here, we see a dynamic, whereby it is possible to turn away from God and become en-darkened in understanding and benumbed in conscience because we harden our hearts and block our minds to the accessible, knowable truth about God. Rom 1:18 - 23 elaborates, in the context of what became known as natural theology:
Rom 1:18 . . . the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things [we may safely add: whether in the name of the old pagan religions or "science" or whatever else makes but little difference to the result] . . . .The ugly picture just painted is one in which we can see that if we are open-minded and diligent, we can see from nature, and from our hearts, minds and consciences, enough to point us to God; as was outlined above in this unit.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done . . . .
32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
However, it is possible to willfully suppress that knowledge, by insisting on substituting a different start-point for what we are willing to accept as knowledge, and resisting the force of the actual evidence. If we do so, God will not stop us as our hardened hearts, benumbed consciences and endarkened understandings lead us ever further astray in the teeth of what we know or should know. Chaos in lives, families and communities is the predictable consequence.
But, one day, he will hold us to account.
Now, Schaeffer was in Continental Europe across the 1950′s – 70′s as an orthodox, evangelical, Dutch Reformed missionary to whom the students gasping for intellectual coherence in a sea of existentialist despair, came. Came in numbers amounting to a movement. To the point where the village he was based in made it into at least one popular song.
Fundamentally, then, Romans 1 rooted critical analysis of worldviews and their cultural implications was what Schaeffer was doing, and sufficiently well that when he passed away from cancer in 1984, major news magazines noted on his life work with a modicum of respect.
He was doing so in an atmosphere dominated by the great lights of learning in Europe who were building an existentialist worldview out of the wreckage of two world wars and the collapse of the academy as a leader in enlightenment (and under the distant looming shadow of the heirs of Marx and Lenin), given the dark age the horrible wars demonstrated beyond all doubt.
Don’t forget, one of these leading lights -- Jaspers -- used to tell his students that the first thing is to make sure you don’t commit suicide. And, the description of a man who came to Schaeffer, clinging to the fading memory of a “final experience” as an anchor for a sense of being in contact with something that can be seen as objective reality, as a drowning man clutches a straw, is iconic of his underlying compassion.
That should be respected, and we should reckon with Schaeffer’s successes as well as his limitations; whether or not we in the end agree with him on all or even most points. Let's adapt his famous Line of Despair diagram, to set up a timeline- based analytical framework; as that allows us to see the broad flow of thought and its consequences:
Averroes (i.e. Ibn Rushd), an Islamic interpreter of Aristotle, had then been recently translated into Latin, and this helped put the issues posed by Aristotle on centre stage in the University of Paris, where both Aquinas and Siger of Brabant taught. Brabant seems to have taught Aristotle in light of Averroes, without seeking a full reconciliation with Christian thought, and was opposed by Aquinas. Sadly, the matter came up for ecclesiastical interventions in 1270 and -- shortly after Aquinas' death-- in 1277, forcing Brabant to lose his academic position.
After Aquinas's time [1225 - 1274], the controversial William of Ockham (or, Occam) [c. 1285 - c. 1347] -- who (by papal intervention) also lost his academic position over controversies -- is seen as carrying forward the idea that "only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover." [Dale T. Irvin & Scott W. Sunquist. History of World Christian Movement Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453, p. 434.]
He is also on record: Sent. I, dist. 30, q. 1: “For nothing ought to be posited without a reason given, unless it is self-evident (literally, known through itself) or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture.” This last is sufficiently close to Aquinas' statements in ST, I Q 1, etc., that it easily invites misreading Aquinas' plain intent to bring reason under the authority of scripture as authentic revelation. Here is the key statement:
[Aquinas, ST, I, Q 1, art 1:] It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: “The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee” (Isa. 66:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation . . .Notwithstanding such balancing points, it is worth pondering the concern that by not putting in as a main stress the emphasis on Paul's corrective to the willful blindness "then and there," Aquinas' inadvertent lack of balanced emphasis in key introductory texts (e.g. ST, I Q 1) unintentionally opened a door for others to miss the point that willfully rebellious man has an endarkened mind that hinders him from seeing or acknowledging the compelling force of the signs in the world around him, and in his own heart, conscience and mind within.
It would also have been helpful for Aquinas to note briefly "then and there" on the authenticity and authentication of the Scriptures as trustworthy and authoritative revelation; in light of Peter's observations in 2 Pet 1:13 - 21 & 3:1 - 18 on how we are to live by the authentic revelatory word we have, and so also how we must therefore recognise, resist, expose and correct misleading, mockingly skeptical and dismissive rhetoric. This, as, we are not following clever fables, but rather truthful and credible eyewitness based reports further undergirded by the powerfully fulfilled centuries-old scriptural prophecies of Him who holds the future and so can accurately predict it. [Cf. Isa 41:21 - 24.]
Moreover, the scriptures -- and more specifically the God who stands behind them -- also significantly work by experiential self-authentication. That is, through the scriptures, across the ages, literally millions have come to know God in life- transforming, satisfying ways. This, in the face of Jesus through the fulfilled promises of the gospel. Precisely as Peter points out in 2 Pet 1:2 - 4 (and as Locke cited in the Greek in his Introduction to his Essay on Human Understanding, as was already quoted above):
2 Pet 1:2May grace (God's favor) and peace (which is [a]perfect well-being, all necessary good, all spiritual prosperity, and [b]freedom from fears and agitating passions and moral conflicts) be multiplied to you in [the full, personal, [c]precise, and correct] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
3For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [[d]full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue).
4By means of these He has bestowed on us His precious and exceedingly great promises, so that through them you may escape [by flight] from the moral decay (rottenness and corruption) that is in the world because of covetousness (lust and greed), and become sharers (partakers) of the divine nature. [AMP]This is also the context of Jesus' definition of the "eternal life" discussed in John 3:16, in John 17:3:
Jn 17:3And this is eternal life: [it means] to know (to perceive, recognize, become acquainted with, and understand) You, the only true and real God, and [likewise] to know Him, Jesus [as the] Christ (the Anointed One, the Messiah), Whom You have sent.One may indeed choose to reject and dismiss such a body of life experience and testimony.
But, that comes at a stiffer cost than one may wish to pay, for then it raises the question of the human mind being so delusional that it would drastically undermine the credibility of all knowledge-claims, especially where we claim to know other persons in relationships (e.g. we only interact with bodies, we infer that here is a person behind the body). So, it should be no surprise to see that many of the millions transformed through living encounter with God in the face of Christ will confidently report that they know God as personally as they know their mothers. As far as such are concerned, the man with a living experience of relationship is under no obligation to concede his living reality to the man who approaches him armed with skeptical, dismissive talking points.
Indeed, they would be inclined to conclude that the skeptical dismissive points are similar to how an imaginary, skeptical blind man might doubt the reality of light, which he cannot see. We would pity such a man, instead of desperately trying to prove the reality of our experience to him.
This is the context for Clark Pinnock's Scripture Principle concept:
Why, in the last analysis, do Christian people believe the Bible is God’s Word? Not because they have studied up on Christian evidences and apologetics, however useful these may prove to some. Christians believe the Bible because it has been able to do for them exactly as Paul promised it would [i.e. in 2 Tim 3:13 – 17]: introduce them to a saving and transforming knowledge of Christ. Reasons for faith and answers to perplexing difficulties in the text, therefore, are supportive but not constitutive of faith in God and his Word. Faith rests ultimately, not on in human wisdom, but in a demonstration of the Spirit and power. [An allusion to 1 Cor 2:1 - 5.]In any case, it should be a quite useful exercise to now pause and view Schaeffer's video mini-series survey episode 1, from the book/video series How Should We then Live? (Amazon DVD, here.):
[The Scripture Principle, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. xix. Cf here, C S Lewis' discussion of Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when she returns from Narnia the first time, only to be doubted by her elder siblings, here.]
Similarly, we need to ponder where the pattern of willfully turning our backs on the God who is evident in his handiwork in our world and who has put the candle of conscience within to speak to us can end up. Schaeffer and Koop, responding to the rise of abortion on demand in the USA, did a book and video, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?
Let us look at the video:
As Schaeffer was so fond of remarking, ideas have consequences, and we must think about why we are now thinking as we increasingly are, in light of those consequences.
In steps of thought:
a --> The root soil of the Christian faith is the Hebraic tradition and covenant with God, in light of the promise of Messiah; so much so that in Romans, Paul puts it this way:
Rom 11: 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.b --> But, at the same time, the Christian faith is not simply an extension of Judaism, it is a recognised fulfillment of a promise of the OT, as we can see from the very first Church Council, in Jerusalem in AD 48 or 49, when Paul and Barnabas described their experiences on their first Missionary journey:
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. [ESV]
Ac 15:12 . . . all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon [i.e. Peter, cf. vv 7 - 11] has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
16 “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’c --> In that context, Paul is a pivotal figure. A Jewish Rabbi and Pharisee of the Pharisees, from Tarsus, a Greek-speaking centre of Learning and a Roman Citizen, he embodied the Christian integration of the heritage of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome that was the foundation of Western Culture as we know it.
d --> It took centuries, and it was never a one-sided affair (where, sadly, there were many errors, unwise compromises and sins or even crimes and atrocities in the process, cf Unit 9 below); but that synthesis created something new, a Judaeo-Christian civilisation, once known as Christendom. In the second episode of his How Should We then Live series, Schaeffer gives significant (and often overlooked) insights, though his thought is somewhat marred by the error regarding Aquinas' views on the fall as was already pointed out:
e --> In that civilisation, the gospel as recorded in the Bible as the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant, played a pivotal role in shaping the culture and the lives and views of the Christianised peoples, even among those who were not personally committed "born again" Christians. And, it was taken for granted that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised messiah, the crucified and risen Saviour and Lord, the Son of God who one day would come to Judge the living and the dead.
f --> In that context, it was natural to see in the order of nature, the evident design of life, the beauty of the heavens and the world, the powers of mind and the voice of conscience, strong cumulative evidence that decisively points to God. And so, major institutions, culture, law, politics and policy were often (though, not often enough and not thoroughly enough in a balanced way!) consciously shaped by that counsel. Here, we may find the Pauline form of the Golden Rule in Rom 13 particularly helpful, especially in the NIV '84 rendering:
Rom 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,”[a] and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.g --> However, the Christianised peoples came into increasing conflict with the Muslim ones, in the aftermath of the Jihad expansion by war that especially characterised the century after Mohammed's death (NB: cf. here, here, here, here, here and here on Islam), i.e. from from about 630 to 730 AD. The Islamic powers moved from having conquered Arabia c. 620 - 630 under Mohammed, to battering on the gates of India and those of Paris, France by the 730's. By 711, Spain had been invaded and (apart from some mountainous regions) was rapidly conquered, and then in 732, an invading Muslim Army was stopped by Charles Martel, 150 miles from Paris. In response to such invasions, to repeated piratical jihad raids (including on Rome, where the last general European leader was based, i.e. the pope), to attacks on and massacres of peaceful Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land, and in response to an appeal from the Byzantine Emperor, the world moved into the nearly 1,000 year long era of cold and hot wars between civilisations, with India, the Middle East, Spain and Eastern Europe as zones of long-term conflict. [These wars were only resolved when the European nations conquered the Middle East.] Unsurprisingly, worldviews conflict -- and thus philosophical debates -- also came into the picture.
11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
h --> In that context, Schaeffer's timeline of pivotal events picks up with Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, a champion of natural theology who spoke to the issue of what is knowable by light of nature, and what is only knowable by faithful response to authentic revelation; or, "nature" and "grace."
i --> In advocating natural theology, argument to God from signs in nature and in our own conscious experience, Aquinas -- Schaeffer errs here -- did acknowledge the impairment of will and mind by man's sinful, rebellious position; but in many of the classic and more readily accessible key texts (which, then as now, tended to take on a life of their own similar to John 3:16 . . . ), Aquinas' balance was significantly different from what Paul emphasised, namely the tendency to rebel against and suppress what we can and should know about God on adequate evidence; but which we find distasteful. In John 8:42 - 47, Jesus also warns against this problem of systematic misunderstanding in no uncertain terms:
Jn 8:42Jesus said [--> to some who had adhered to him as his disciples!] . . . If God were your Father, you would love Me and respect Me and welcome Me gladly, for I proceeded (came forth) from God [out of His very presence]. I did not even come on My own authority or of My own accord (as self-appointed); but He sent Me.j --> So, there is a danger, even among those who ostensibly are following Christ, of being so locked into error that one is unable to hear the truth, precisely because it cuts across what one already believes and is unwilling to be corrected about. It is thus unsurprising that in later generations, men of a more skeptical disposition, would take the relationship of complementarity with distinction in how the unified truth is warranted between Nature and Grace that was presented by Aquinas, and turn it instead into a division -- a dichotomy [= to cut in two] -- and an opposition such that Nature declares autonomy and "eats up" Grace:
43Why do you misunderstand what I say? It is because you are unable to hear what I am saying. [You cannot bear to listen to My message; your ears are shut to My teaching.] 44You are of your father, the devil, and it is your will to practice the lusts and gratify the desires [which are characteristic] of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a falsehood, he speaks what is natural to him, for he is a liar [himself] and the father of lies and of all that is false.
45But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me [do not trust Me, do not rely on Me, or adhere to Me] . . . .
47 Whoever is of God listens to God. [Those who belong to God hear the words of God.] This is the reason that you do not listen [to those words, to Me]: because you do not belong to God and are not of God or in harmony with Him. [AMP]
(Episode 3, on the renaissance, episode 4 on the reformation, and episode five on the era of the political and economic revolutions, are helpful in further deepening our understanding. The series as a whole is available here.)
k --> The same principle of an autonomous [ = law unto itself] lower storey that tends to crush the upper storey then led to centuries of conflict over finding a unified and satisfactory worldview. Skeptical, rationalist, empiricist and idealist worldviews that dismiss God and the evidence that points to him thus tend to be fragmentary, lacking cohesion. And that lack of coherence and resulting inner tensions are pointer-signs that reveal their key defects. This immediately points to a strategy for response through prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership, as we may adapt from Schaeffer's "taking the roof off" diagram in his The God Who is There [also HT, WJM and CY et al at UD]:
l --> By the time we reach the beginning of the 1800's, we are at a threshold that Schaeffer aptly called The Line of Despair. Hope of a unified, rationalistic, empirically grounded worldview that brought it all together in a harmonious whole was increasingly surrendered. Kant, a precursor, saw an inescapable gap between the world of our inner life (including our perceptions of the external world) and the external world of things in themselves. But in this, as William Lane Craig points out in one of his recent debates with Ludemann, there is already a key, fatal self-referential contradiction:
insofar as these . . . assumptions include Kant's strictures on the scope of scientific knowledge, they are deeply, fatally flawed. For Kant must at least be claiming to have knowledge of the way some things (e.g., the mind and its structures and operations) exist in themselves and not merely as they appear; he confidently affirms that the idea of God, for instance, has the property of unknowability.  So the theory relies on knowledge that the theory, if it was true, would not -- could not -- allow. [ Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment, ed. Paul Copan (Downer's Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), p. 13. NB: Ref.  is to Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 3 - 30, and is shortly followed by a reference to F. H. Bradley's gentle but stinging opening salvo in his Appearance and Reality, 2nd Edn.: that "The man who is ready to prove that metaphysical knowledge is impossible has . . . himself . . . perhaps unknowingly, entered the arena [of metaphysics] . . . . To say that reality is such that our knowledge cannot reach it, is to claim to know reality." (Clarendon Press, 1930), p.1]m --> Soon thereafter, Hegel (and famously Marx . . . ), no longer thought in terms of truth and error in direct opposition, but instead radically relativised truth and access to it into a sort of ongoing evolutionary triangular process of an idea and another idea in tension with it, so that these ideas contend for a time and yield a partial unity that leads on to the next stage. Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis, repeat. (Marx's key difference was he pushed the idea of intellectual struggles into clashes of classes of men in contention over fundamentally economic concerns.)
n --> According to Schaeffer, Kierkegaard, in turn, would see himself as finding the hoped for unity and meaningfulness by a willed leap of faith. From him would come the religious and secular existentialists; hence eventually Schaeffer's man desperately clinging to the experience of the redness of a rose or the beauty of a sunset as the anchor-point for meaning in his life.
o --> And meanwhile, area after area of culture would fall beneath the line, following the ideas pioneered by philosophy. Arts and music, general culture, professions, government, and last of all, theology itself.
p --> All of this spreads out in ripples from Germany (and its major universities), to its neighbours such as France and Holland, Britain and then by the early C20, America then the world at large; at least that part strongly influenced by Western Culture.
q --> But, too, there were people of insight who saw the possible consequences. Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (cf. Wikipedia bio, here) a German poet, journalist and writer, and a Jewish Christian [baptised as such in 1825], in 1831, in Religion and Philosophy in Germany, wrote one of the most chillingly accurate (and too often neglected) prophecies in all modern literature -- yes, a full century before the Nazis rose to power:
Christianity — and that is its greatest merit — has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered [--> the Swastika, visually, is a twisted, broken cross . . .], the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. …r --> So, plainly, for a long time, insightful or even inspired thinkers warned against and mourned the loss of unified meaning based on rationalist ideas as informed by scientific evidence from observation and evolving theories. ( N.b.: rationalism is a skeptical approach to thought and knowledge that in effect rejects or even mocks the possibility or credibility of revelation from God, as step number one to "critically aware" learning.)
The old stone gods will then rise from long ruins and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and Thor will leap to life with his giant hammer and smash the Gothic cathedrals. …
… Do not smile at my advice — the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder … comes rolling somewhat slowly, but … its crash … will be unlike anything before in the history of the world. …
At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead [--> cf. air warfare, symbol of the USA], and lions in farthest Africa [--> the lion is a key symbol of Britain, cf. also the North African campaigns] will draw in their tails and slink away. … A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.
s --> But, they were not heeded. And now, as a global movement -- one that, in light of Heine's warning on the consequences of rationalist skepticism and irrational neo-paganism, we should be extremely wary of -- we arrive at the ultra- or post- moderns, who celebrate what was once mourned. Mary Klages (as a typical example) sums up this view and spirit:
“[Postmodernism] differs from modernism in its attitude toward a lot of these trends. Modernism, for example, tends to present a fragmented view of human subjectivity and history (think of [T. S. Eliot’s epochal poem] The Wasteland, for instance, or of Woolf's To the Lighthouse), but presents that fragmentation as something tragic, something to be lamented and mourned as a loss . . . Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn't lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let's not pretend that art can make meaning then, let's just play with nonsense.” [Emphasis added.]t --> Thomas Oden is withering in his response to such thinking:
Postmodernity in my meaning is simply that historical formation that will follow the era of spent modernity – the time span from 1789 [fall of Bastille, start of French Revolution] to 1989 [fall of Berlin Wall, end of Communist revolutionary era] which characteristically embraced an enlightenment worldview that cast an ideological spell over our times, now in grave moral spinout . . . We could call what is passing the era of French Enlightenment, German Idealism, and British Empiricism, but those influences are just more complicated ways of saying modern consciousness . . . .u --> Of course, on another front, we face the resurgence of the same Islamic worldviews, ideological and geostrategic challenges that Europe faced in Aquinas' day. But this time around, Western Civilisation is eaten out from within, and is filled with inner doubts as to whether it even deserves to live.
Experience teaches that when avant-garde academics bandy about the term “postmodern,” it is usually more accurate to strike post and insert ultra. For guild scholars, postmodern simply means hypermodern, where the value assumptions of modernity are nostalgically recollected and ancient wisdoms compulsively disregarded. Meanwhile the emergent actual postmodernity that is being suffered through outside the ivory tower is not yet grasped or rightly appraised by those in it.
We do not at all mean by post modernity what many academics mean – deconstructionist literary criticism and relativistic nihilism . . . Richard Rorty and Jacques Derrida are ultra-modern writers according to this definition, rather than postmodern . . . . what is named post is actually a desperate extension of despairing modernity that imagines by calling itself another name (postmodern), it can extend the ideology of modernity into the period following modernity . . . .
My use of the term “postmodern” began in 1969 . . . in seeking to describe spiritual wanderers searching for roots, before Derrida and Foucalt popularized it, and just before the Architectural world began to shanghai the idea. When philosophers and literary critics got around to using the term postmodernity in the 80’s to be applied to what we are calling ultramodernity, my thought was that the term was being misapplied then, and it still is now . . . . We can defiantly sit on the term postmodern with a paleo-orthodox spin . . . on the grounds that its earlier meaning is preferable to its later meaning, and the logic of a Christian understanding of modern history demands it. The logic of modernity demands something to follow it, even when the myth of modernity lives in denial of that possibility. [“The Death of Modernity and Postmodern Evangelical Spirituality,” in The Challenge of Postmodernism, Ed. David S. Dockery (Wheaton, IL: Bridgepoint/Victor, 1995), pp. 25 – 27.]
v --> Against that backdrop, we are called to stand up as a unique people, a counterculture and an alternative that calls men to listen to the voice of God in not only the signs we can see in the world around and in our minds and consciences within, but through authentic testimony to the gospel backed up by the sign of the resurrection, through the thereby released miraculous transforming power of God in our lives, the God we have been forgiven and blessed by, and in light of his authenticated Word.
w --> Under that call, we can again see the force of the programme of action in Eph 4 in a new light:
Eph 4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says,x --> The authentic truth in love liberates, and that same truth in love transforms individuals, families, communities and cultures, if we will but receive it with gratitude and repentant trust:
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?1 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,4 to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Eph 4: 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.And so, we must now go on to further elaborate what the truth in love as authenticated by the sign of the resurrection is, and how it transforms, so we may be better able to receive it and be blessed by God through it.>>
18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
So, now, there is a challenge before us all: if not now, then when? if not here, then where? if not us, then who? END