14 September 2012

Philosophical Wanderings 4

The role of reason and logic in the realm of metaphysics....
Does it effectively eliminate metaphysical absoluteness and certainty? (Kant)
Does it validate metaphysics? (Van Til and others)
or does logic serve no purpose because Metaphysics are defined by human experience and interaction with Revelation? (Barth, Kierkegaard and others)
Hegel of course expanded on Kant's idea and said the 'self' cannot be the gauge, but the true system, the true metaphysic is something beyond the individual and is worked out through historical process. Studying history with a right understanding (similar to Kant) will allow the philosopher to stand on surer ground than simply resting in individual categories and understanding.[i]
I would reject and accept all these assertions and observations on different levels.
Logic alone eliminates metaphysical certainty and operates on an epistemological plane incapable of dissecting and/or systematizing metaphysics. Because of the imago dei, even fallen man can approach these topics and formulate ethics that are sometimes reasonably sound.
Logic can't validate metaphysics, but it can be used to invalidate and critique other systems. This grants a certain degree of probability to Christian Theism, but in terms of pure logic....it still is inconclusive.
Barth is interesting because he seemed to embrace Kierkegaard's notion that belief was 'absurd'...but he also wanted it to be true. The solution...just redefine the meaning of true! All of these thinkers can only be understood in a post-Kantian era.
Scripture no longer had to work in a systematic fashion and Barth focused on its thematic (historical) aspects...but not history in terms of actual verifiable documentable history...instead he focused on the Scripture as a document a revelation of Redemptive (Salvation) History.
This is where navigating all this gets terribly confusing. Barth's rejection and scepticism of logic led him ironically to read or perhaps more rightly 'frame' the Bible in a more 'correct' fashion. The Bible doesn't exist as a system-verification guide for interacting with the physical world. It's not a text-book for science nor is it something we look to as a primary source in terms of history.
But it still is historical. The very nature of its claims depend not a scientifically verifiable historical claim....but a historical reality rooted in Revelation. We can't discount the history, like Barth, nor do we try and treat the Bible like a scientific textbook or data source, as many Creation Science/Fundamentalist types do.
We accept the Bible as historical but we don't subject the text to scientific validity criteria.
Christian Existentialism, Neo-Orthodoxy, and even the Emergent Church all bring forth some interesting and valid critiques of the historical status-quo. Socially and politically I feel the same way about the 1960's counterculture. Good and helpful questions and critiques, but in all these cases, their solutions are inadequate and often worse than the problem they seek to analyze and remedy.
Barth's theology of course is proving to be very interesting to a new generation of Evangelicals (which increasingly proves a meaningless term). Barth's theology allows them to have the Bible, embrace metaphysics and theology....and yet, also accept the findings and approach of modern science.
Of course the problem is...it's an unbiblical theology that in fact (in the end) overthrows the teaching of Scripture.
Again lest I be understood...the Bible is historically accurate, but logical and historical verification and in some cases detailed accuracy are not its primary import and/or concern. Yes, employing logic and analogy we can synthesize discrepancies in the text, we can harmonize conflicting accounts.
I believe when it comes to theology, the Bible itself informs our logic and within the text itself we can derive guidelines for approaching theology. For Confessionalists and Traditionalists this will prove problematic, because I think the orthodoxy of Scripture ends up being a bit more broad and simple and yet far more profound and mysterious. In terms of interacting with history, I think analysis and deconstruction are probably a more appropriate task than forming new paradigms.
Interestingly Eastern Orthodoxy is often viewed by Westerners as theologically stagnant. Of course the Orthodox themselves would view their Orthodoxy more in terms of historical and philosophical stability.
They haven't been stagnant nor entirely stable...their view of authority drinking from the same font as the Western Church (pre-Hildebrand) does not stand on the foundation of Scripture. Yet, their epistemology and methodology have never allowed them to innovate and explore metaphysics in the same manner as the West. Their innovation has come in the realm of praxis and piety. Their arguments and development have dealt with issues like icons, ritual, and things like hesychasm, the Jesus Prayer, and the concept of Theosis.
While I would eschew the poison font (authoritative tradition) from which they drink, in terms of philosophical foundations concerning metaphysics, I would probably side more with the East than the West. And yet, in reality since Christianity was birthed in the East, this all really hearkens back to some of the old debates within the East....the schools of Antioch and Alexandria...Plato vs. Aristotle.
The West definitely embraced a more Antiochene (Aristotelian) approach and the East to this day favours the epistemology of Alexandria.
I'm not suggesting an epistemology rooted in contemplation, but at the same time I would affirm a more nebulous and less ably delineated epistemology that depends on re-birth and the work of the Holy Spirit in order to rightly understand Scripture. Themes, structure, and symbolism are key to understanding Scripture, and for obvious reasons the Systematic mind is going to struggle with turning these concepts into dogmatic formulae. These things are complex and multi-layered, at times a bit fluid and nebulous...and Systemic thought will have a tendency to reduce and minimize the full import of certain texts, and it will negate their multi-layered and often mysterious meanings.[ii]
At this point some might suggest that the Quadriga might meet such a requirement. But that too is systemic and formulaic approach to this issue and seeks to logically order, arrange, and systemize the hermeneutical results. While the system is more complex and profound...it's still in the end a system driven method and thus once more the Text is subordinated to systemic coherence and validity. This does not in any way invalidate every use of the Quadriga.
I would say the same with regard to something like the Multi-perspectival epistemology (and hermeneutic) found within Reformed circles, or the 5 point Covenant model espoused by the late Theonomist Ray Sutton.
In every case, these systems are commenting and revealing some aspect of truth even when they're seriously flawed. But I dismiss them from the outset as reductionistic, prescribed, and thus forced and theologically coercive.
·       In conclusion, I argue Scripture itself provides a doctrine of metaphysical logic, one which allows redeemed man to interact with and apprehend Oracular Revelation (Declarative and Authoritative Truth).
·       The purpose and intent of Revelatory language is for man's apprehension and knowledge of Christ.
·       It is to be submitted to, promoting Biblically based mind-engaged contemplation and meditation, worship, trust, and transformation.
·       Revelation is not provided as a foundation upon which to build (via philosophy, logic, and reason) and develop theological systems. This theological method overthrows the Oracular nature of the Word-Revelation and instead treats the Word as an axiomatic starting point for a philosophical system. Axiomatic in this sense means a foundational basic belief, a starting premise.
·       We can speak of Scripture as being axiomatic if we mean self-evident, thus epistemologically empowering us to apprehend the  content of the given Revelation. It's axiomatic nature is related to the Holy Spirit's internal testimony and claims it (the Scripture) makes about itself. Beyond that I would wish to formulate ideas tied not to cataphatic[iii] development, though I'm not outright rejecting all positive theological statements... but if anything my formulations would tend toward emphasizing the irreducible and apophatic nature of theological development, and when cataphatic statements are required the need to adhere closely to the text alone.

These are ideas and working theories I've been thinking about for some time. Someday I'd like to find the time to further develop these ideas and bring them out for discussion. Also, I have extensive notes for a future essay I hope to write concerning the Marks of the Church...that is to say the Attributes by which the True Church may be recognized. Historically Protestants have argued for....
1.    The Preaching of the Word
2.    The Administration of the Sacraments
3.    Church Discipline
So for example under this definition (which is not monolithic even in Reformed circles) the Salvation Army would not be a True Church because they have rejected the Sacraments, thus establishing their tradition above the clear commands of Scripture.
Or you could argue the Mainline Churches no longer preach the Word. How can they if they don't believe the Bible to be a book of Divine origin?
Or you could argue the Roman Catholic Church is false because they place tradition over and often against the right preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments.
These ideas are all valid, but I wish to reformulate and recast the entire question in terms of Oracle and what that means theologically, with a special emphasis on Covenant implications, and certainly what it means historically in terms of a Christian historiography.
God willing I will someday find the time.

[i] Hegel's influence cannot be understated. His basic ideas, building on Kant have affected many different thinkers and schools of thought.

[ii] While I do think there was a marked difference between Calvin and the later Calvinists, you definitely a minimalist tendency in some of his Commentaries. I think sometimes he's reticent to launch into typology and other topics and in some cases minimizes and hence misses key elements of the textual meaning. This does not necessarily demonstrate a Scholastic tendency (in a general sense), but it could be argued demonstrates an anti-Medieval Scholastic tendency. The Protestant Scholastics re-embraced certain aspects of the Scholastic method without embracing the exhaustive methodology found in something like the Quadriga, which tied in philosophy and tradition.

Their understanding of Scripture militated against that level of fluidity and speculation but their employment of logic pushed them more into the realm of decretal theology and speculation... something not clearly found either in Calvin or Aquinas.

[iii] Cataphatic refers to positive statements concerning the Divine Nature. Apophatic refers to negative statements. Cataphatic declares what God is, while Apophatic says sometimes we can better describe God by saying what He is not, or it can be language which is less precise about what it positively says in order to not place limits on God. Apophatic language will tend to be much more broad and less rigid. It's tendency will be anti-speculative and less sure about what it can positively say. Apophatic thought will by necessity be unable to move away from its authority-source, in this case Scripture.

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