14 September 2012

Philosophical Wanderings 3

** These discussions will not interest most readers.

They will seem perplexing, pedantic, if not arcane and impractical. In the end what I'm saying is that the Bible has to shape our thinking. That would seem obvious to everyone that appreciates my writings. That's what all this leads to.
While on the surface it seems obvious, there are nevertheless many disagreements among Christians and within the larger circle of people labeled the Church. Why?
Because we all read things differently and we have different ideas about 'thinking' and how ideas are formed and work. You don't have to master this material to read your Bible. But at some point virtually all of us will to some extent wrestle with some of these questions. If we're not, then we're probably just reading the Bible as Westerners, as 21st Century Americans. To be sure, we can still apprehend the Gospel...but will we understand the Bible rightly? Deeply? What is that we're after?....to merely escape hell or to know God, to be reconciled with Him and to know the Truth?
So many of us agree the Bible alone is foundation. So many of want to just follow the Bible....why then are there so many disagreements on so many topics? Most of the arguments are a waste of time because the fundamental issues that drive the disagreements are not being addressed. That's what is happening in these posts, in this discussion I've labeled Philosophical Wanderings....

I just wanted to add a few things.......
First a clarification, and then an expansion.
I think I may have been unnecessarily confusing when I used the term Conceptualist. What I meant by it was this.....
Conceptualism (which is both identified with Aristotle and at times with someone like Ockham) says that you cannot account for Universals. The Universals are not concrete, the realm of thought and logic is more or less tied to the Particulars.
For Aristotle the Universals were found in the particulars in the way a genus is discovered by studying various species. For Ockham or at least with the Nominalists,[i] even the genus isn't anything real or actual...it's a verbal construct, a reality that exists only in categories created by the mind.
I'm absolutely not a Conceptualist in any way. I'm an absolute Realist...accepting the concreteness of Universal Concepts. I don't see how a Christian could be anything else. We believe there are heavenly archetypes, we believe typology (type and antitype) and we certainly believe in dual realms...one a perfected paragon and one an imperfect and corrupted shadow, both in some sense existing at present. Belief in Realism means an acceptance of various theological dichotomies and I would argue dialectical tensions.[ii]
Theology and the entire scope of Metaphysics makes sense if you hold to a Realist-type pro-Universal construct. We can talk about theology and ethics, theology can employ meaningful symbolism and typology...all concepts embraced by Scripture.
The question for me is...the role of logic. Can man employing this tool make use of it when it comes to the Metaphysical realm? Plato would have said absolutely, because he believed man had an innate ability. He could study a particular (like a chair or a government) and conceive of a perfect Universal 'chair' or 'state'....then employing reason, he could work out the particulars etc....
While I accept the Universal concept, I am not confident at all in the use of logic. This is where I would say we are blind without Revelation.
The Nominalist/Conceptualist will say....Metaphysics? They're not 'real'....you can't start there. At best these are grammatical structures we use to try and group and classify particulars. To the Nominalist or Conceptualist....logic will not lead them to metaphysics.
On that point I think they're right.....but I totally reject their philosophical foundation. They're only right in their understanding of logic and its limitations. For me, my worldview when applied to these questions...depends on Revelation, not logic.[iii]
On that point, many Christians agree. But then they would say once we 'have' the Revelation....NOW use logic to help decipher, interpret, systematize, categorize the Revelation given. It's treated like raw material they can shape, hone, pick apart and put back together. And some go further and believe they can develop and since their constructs are built from a foundation which treats Scripture as a priori they can equate their developed ideas with Scriptural truth.
This I totally reject. The Conceptualist would say to them, you're flying blind. You don't know what you're talking about. There's no way to verify or prove what you're saying. How would you know if it is right?
Because I accept Revelation, I can't accept Conceptualism...but in terms of their critique of using logic in the realm of metaphysics...as far as that goes...they're correct.[iv]
Theologically, this type of thinking can survive....but you're either going to drift toward Hyper-Ecclesiology as found with Rome....and ironically I would argue Anti-Means/Baptistic theology operates the same way, just with a different Anchor or start-point. Both positions stem from a similar understanding of revelation and reason.[v]
Post-Kant, Nominalism became the new Western Default of thinking. While Kant is usually categorized by himself, his thinking is definitely in line with and perhaps a revision of/reformulation of Nominalist thought. He simply created a new way to discuss metaphysics, but one rooted in the self rather than pointing to real forms or revelation. It's reality was dependent on the mind shaping it.[vi]
Metaphysics no longer had to be proved, nor did it need to rest on Revelation. The Self could create or find a synthetic a priori principle and build metaphysics from that point. Kant allowed for a Nominalistic understanding of reality...which found its ultimate expression in the Empiricism of someone like Hume...but he could have his cake too in that he simply argued that metaphysical questions are of a different nature. On that point....as far as it goes....he was correct.
Western Christianity having already embraced (I think) an erroneous view of logic and its place in theology....was left in crisis.
While some maintained the old orthodoxy and awaited a new apologetic found (some would argue) with Bavinck and later Van Til...much of Western Christianity abandoned 'reason' altogether.
This has manifested itself in many ways...the Existentialism of Kierkegaard, and it could even be argued that sociologically it helped prepare the way for the embrace of something like the modern Charismatic movement which burst onto the scene in 1906.
Suspicious of intellectual endeavours, and the labyrinth of the philosophical questions that arise when diving into Systematics and Creedal Christianity, modern Fundamentalism (which appeared with the BIOLA publications from 1910-15) eschewed and remained suspicious of deep theological questions which would either lead to scepticism or revive ancient schisms.
Wanting only to focus on the basic questions, Fundamentalist Christianity focused on broad, simple doctrinal issues, addressing the rapidly shifting social decline through moral endeavour, and often  dealing with the individual internal angst people were suffering with the onset of modern life and its profound sociological implications. The final point is one that we probably can't appreciate as much, since all of us (under 80 or so) have more or less grown up while this social phase was in an advanced state.
Though it could also be argued that with the Technological Revolution (which we are in the midst of)...new categories of social crisis are becoming manifest. Within the Church this is being dealt with on a wide spectrum, ranging from the self-help prosperity type gospels, to the anti-modernist semi-agrarian forms of piety found within certain sectarian groups.
While most Reformed people are supremely confident in the apologetic formulated by Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) and view him as a Reformer on par with Calvin...the revolutionary aspect of his thought was not so much that it contained a real answer to the issues of the post-Kantian landscape. He didn't answer Kant, in fact in many ways his apologetic is similar in its eschewing of rational proof in terms of forming metaphysical foundations.[vii]
Like Kant, Van Til would tell David Hume you're searching for God the wrong way. We don't answer metaphysical questions in the same we determine whether or not it's raining or in the same way we determine if it's day or night.
 In many ways what made Kant unique was his reformulation of the argument, his complete rejection of Realism.[viii] Like I said, he was essentially a Nominalist but energized the position by redefining the entire framework. Van Til it could be said did the same thing in the realm of Christian apologetics. His argument wasn't particularly knew, but he abandoned the whole idea of approaching the issue in terms of  'Theistic Proofs'.
His views are sometimes tagged as Fideistic. This is both true and false. It is probably more accurate in strict logical terms to charge the Van Tillian system with question begging. It assumes the argument, and says you cannot make sense of the world otherwise. Many other Reformed thinkers have assumed Scripture to be axiomatic and then engage in logical development from that point.
Of course I have no problem with accepting Scripture to be axiomatic, or to assumed Divine existence. But neither position can be argued for in terms of valid coherent or verifiable and demonstrable logic. Sproul and other Thomists would of course disagree and I would label them as at the very least possessing a Rationalist tendency.
But I would go further and at the point of accepting either Scripture as axiomatic or presupposing the Trinitarian God of the Bible...at that point I still don't have any confidence in logical construction. Rather than Systematize, let alone employ Inductive development...I would want to retain something of a Strict Scripturalism.
We can't completely abandon logic. For our words and statements to have meaning, they must exhibit a certain degree of coherence. That implies logic, but does not necessarily imply Scholastic or Systematic methodology. I would argue these methods entail an epistemology which is incompatible epistemology dependent upon Revelation.
Karl Barth's unique contribution (and this statement will certainly be disputed) was that he re-cast the argument once again. He wanted to construct a theology that accepted Revelation, but also seemed to embrace Kant's devastating critique. Like Kierkegaard, the Bible could be accepted without a need to rationally account for its contents. Historicity wasn't particularly important.
Under this system, much of modern secular science could be embraced, the historicity of the Resurrection and related issues was unimportant. The significance of the Resurrection was not in the historical event but in the theological communication given to us through Revelation.
With this came many additional problems, because science itself had largely disproven the Bible (something we Bible-Believers wouldn't accept)... and the fact that the Bible seemed to report events as historical...when apparently they really weren't?
What you're left with is a confusing and untrustworthy way of reading the Bible, developing theology from it and yet its true import is realized in the realm of ethics.

[i] Some suggest Ockham was not a Nominalist

[ii]Of course many Christians reject this type of thinking. It goes against our default way of thinking in the West. We are all raised to be Nominalists and this has a profound effect on how we read the Bible and think about theology.

But on the other hand, there are those within Christian circles who believe that once we have the correct metaphysical axiom then we can proceed with great confidence in reason and logic.

This is similar to Plato. Plato of course didn't believe in revelation, he believed that the axiomatic principles were innate and could be found through reflection. At that point he (like many Christians) believe that once you have the 'axiom' you can use logic and work out all the implications.

My thinking is more revelation-dependent. I don't have that confidence and I think proceeding in that manner will in the end subordinate revelation itself. Logic plays a role in order for words to have meaning but that's quite different from the attempts to systematize and dive into the realm of inductive speculation.

[iii] This is not to suggest that Revelation is somehow illogical.

[iv] For example when I hear or read many theologians talking about the Inter-Trinitarian relationships, the decrees of God, or sometimes even the relationship between Covenant and Eschatology....I think, you're flying blind. Accept what the text says, quit trying to develop it and make it coherent according to your standards.

[v] Both systems exhibit a rationalistic unified or monistic tendency. In terms of theology, both are Nominalistic in how they treat metaphysics.
Not that they deny metaphysics, but with nominalism appearance is reality...it will not allow for unresolved dichotomies or dualistic categories which I argue are deeply embedded in the text of Scripture...starting with the Incarnation.

These schools or factions will sometimes accept dialectical constructs like the Incarnation, but even then their understandings are often warped and deficient and their descendants usually end up rejecting these ideas. Or at the very least they accept the dualities in certain essential categories...Trinitarianism for example, but then won't allow the same principles to function elsewhere even when they can be clearly demonstrated from the Text itself.

[vi] This tension between Aristotelian and Nominalist thought shaped the debate between the Enlightenment and the Romantics, today's Modern v. Post-Modern camps, and within the church you can even see it in the difference in approach between something like the Willow Creek (Church-Growth) movement and the grouping usually referred to as the Emergent Church. They're all wrong, fatally flawed at the foundational level.

[vii] In fact depending on how you interpret Van Til you could say he revived the Ontological Argument and re-worked it. Or, you could say that he embraced Fideism which is something not wholly incompatible with reaching the post-modern world which is very much in harmony with Kantian thought.

[viii] There's certainly a 'Realist' flavour to Kant's synthetic a priori, but it can't be called a Universal because it is determined by each individual.


Cal said...

Maybe it's where we grew up into and how we learned, but I feel like I'm hearing nails on a chalkboard when I hear "bible-believing" and "following the bible". It's not because I don't take the Scripture authoritatively, nor it being the "tradition of the apostles" and the "teaching of the Church".

It ends up being trying to fit a system to the text. Now I think I understand you, but sometimes when I read you on dialectics, covenant and wills, it seems like this itself becomes a system. I don't think you're doing this but it comes off this way sometimes.

What I mean to say by all this is that I try and say: I follow Christ. Not in some arrogant or patronizing way,but that the Scriptures all point to Him.

This was Barth's point, which is easy to misunderstand. Barth wasn't saying Scripture isn't history, or history doesn't matter. Barth would say "History only means anything because it is In Christ" that is, History revolves around Christ.

I think his problem is deeper to the historicity of the resurrection. It's not that it's a "Oh, well, I guess it's not true. Ok, moving on..", it's that time becomes a mere fancy and means nothing if not defined by the Christ.

Barth stood polar ends from someone like Bultmann, yet Barth does seem to care less about the temporal necessity of Adam, which he would argue can not be understood outside of Christ. I'm not so sure to the length that he goes, though I certainly agree with him in that the Word of God was the beginning, created all, walked with Adam and will be there until the end and anon. Eternality.

On another note, I'm beginning to sympathize with the fundamentalists (the early 20th). I can't stomach systematics anymore, I was half way through Calvin and I had to close it and haven't touched it for awhile.

To turn the Living God into constructs of logic turns my stomach. I think Calvin's approach was wrong: to catechize by knowledge and dogmatics. Chelcicky (our beloved mutual brother) had it right, walk as Christ and read His words and you will understand who He is if you love Him and obey Him.


Protoprotestant said...

I know what you mean….. the phrase ‘bible-believing’ can stir up a lot of negative feelings and bad memories. I believe wholeheartedly in the concept but it, like ‘Born Again’ and so many other phrases have been hijacked and made into something cheap.

Even the term Fundamentalist….I am one, but the term has very negative connotations at least in the United States. That’s not true in Britain and among the chapel going folks I met there they scratch their heads when you try to distance yourself from the term. It doesn’t carry all the culture war, legalism and political baggage it carries here. I appreciate them trying to draw a line in the sand. They recognized at least the crisis brought about liberal theology….the need to do something. I am a Fundamentalist but it’s not a label I use and I don’t appreciate the anti-intellectual bent. It’s proved destructive over the course of several generations.

In the UK there’s a positive aspect….the chapel community doesn’t think in institutional or bureaucratic terms. Just keep the Presbyterians away from them! I heard C. Trueman talking about some of that recently and alas!....that non-institutionalism was what in part led him to embrace Presbyterianism. He’s one of the few men in Reformed circles I respect…but hearing him talk about it sent a shiver down my spine.

If I go looking for Dialectical tensions…then I’m guilty of a system. No doubt about it. That’s what (I think) happens with Frame and Poythress’ Multi-perspectivalism. (There’s a wiki article on it)

There’s definitely something to what they’re saying…but Frame seems to go looking for Triads…and in the end starts forcing (I think) the system on the text.

I think the Dialectic kicks in when you’re talking to someone about Hebrews 6 or 10, or Colossians 1.23 vis-à-vis John 10.29.
Or when I’m talking about Titus 3.5 in light of Romans 3 or even Romans 9. These passages don’t fit very well when you’re doing systematics. Something is going to give, one passage will overrule another…despite attempts at synthesis. Away with synthesis. They’re both true. The Dialectic is just a way to try and make the tension somewhat coherent….not an Aristotelian package, just coherent enough for words to retain meaning.

Protoprotestant said...

I have a whole shelf full of Systematics texts and I have three different translations of the Institutes. I used to read them all regularly and with vigour…now they tend to collect dust. I’ve listened to many Reformed people try and explain how all the disciplines work together…Systematics, Biblical Theology, Historical Theology inform each other etc…
That’s great but Systematics by necessity will always win. If the system is rooted in Confessional Tradition….then the discussion is really pretty much over. The Confession isn’t a guide, a map to help you navigate the labyrinth of theology, it’s a chain keeping the dog in the yard. Even if you pick up a scent and start to run, you can only go so far and it jerks you back.
That’s good they say. We need that. Really? Apparently the formulators of your confessions didn’t. Why stop with them?
Linguistically Barth is very appealing…I see why people are drawn to him. He’s Christocentric, talking about the Text of the Bible…and yet not falling into the Fundamentalist traps. But as you know, it’s not that simple and in the end his theology is actually not at all in accord with Scripture. Yes, he’s totally different than Bultmann who I wish would have just said….I’m not a Christian. I don’t believe. But because Bultmann wouldn’t and so many of his followers do the same we have tons of mainline churches filled with non-Christian and in some cases atheistic pastors who use the ‘language’ of historical Christianity but don’t actually mean any of it. To them they might as well me talking about Odin or Zeus.

Cal said...

As for Barth, I do think he misses the point many times and the Kantian liberalism definitely informed how he discussed some things, but I don't see him as a heretic.

In fact, his christocentrism is what makes him closer to the Scripture. His emphasis on the Word of God is, what I think, understands the whole thrust of Scripture.

God's will? Christ vis. Ephesians 1:4-7. The covenant? Christ's eternal covenant with the Father which breaks invites Jew and Greek into at His shed blood for remission of sins vis. Hebrews 13:20.

I learned to respect Calvin especially because of the explanation of king,prophet,priest. Our God is that fulfillment of all the things man so desperately needs. I think Barth really understood this and I love him for it. I thank the Lord for Barth who held out the Word of Life to a sick and benighted Europe (esp. Germany).

The only yoke we wear is Christ's and it is easy and light. Systematics don't want that, and it's open ended and chaotic seemingly. It's why Jacques Ellul said faith's bedrock is doubt. Doubt not in Christ or His unending love but on all the systematics, all the ways we think we know what we are doing and that we know how to talk about God or dictate to Him how things go. Wrong. And that is why I appreciate some of the Reformed for tearing things down, becoming iconoclasts, and going back to Jesus.

Bultmann is the example of what Kierkegaard talked about when he said the heathen is in a better position than the "christendomite". The former has to interact with the Word because it is foreign and fresh (and usually offensive), the latter can dismiss it; he has heard it all before.