Tuesday, October 21, 2008
BPC Worldview Conference Notes: Lecture 2 "Mind Splitting - How the West Lost its Mind and the Church Lost its Place"
(Credit given to Nancy Pearcey & others)
How the West Lost its Mind and the Church Lost its Place
“Christians do not promote values, because we hold that Christianity is objectively true, not merely private preference. Nor do we teach facts in the modern sense, because that means “value-free” science – free from any religious framework. What Christianity offers is a unified, integrated truth that stands in complete contrast to the two-level concept of truth in the secular world.” -- Nancy Pearcey.
I. Introduction: Today, as a culture, the West is stuck in between Modernism and Post-Modernism. We are stuck in between a public atheism where only atheistic assumptions, methods, explanations are accepted in and a private agnosticism, where, if we even care, we dare not challenge anyone’s ‘private’ view of truth or religion or morality. We sharply distinguish between facts and values; reason and faith; science and religion; truth and personal opinion. We are operating at best within a two-realm theory of truth and at worst within a context where there is no truth at all. Christians too have adopted the practice of compartmentalizing their faith into the “religious” sphere only. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to confront each of these (modernism where truth can only be scientific and postmodernism where truth does not exist). How did we get here from there? How did we split our minds and lose our place?
A. The West lost its mind because it has divided truth into two airtight compartments or realms (“non-overlapping magesteria”). In one there is fact, reason, science, rationality, matter and nature. In the other there is faith, values, beliefs, perceptions, the Mind, religion. So, we are left with intellectual schizophrenia, bifurcated thought. We have come to accept the view that there is what we know (via senses and hard science) and what we believe (via feelings and cultural environment). It is a trick from which man, the church, and society has suffered for decades.
B. The Church lost its place as the leader of culture by trying to rescue Christianity from the attacks of the 18th century Enlightenment by adopting secular philosophical assumptions and ridding itself of Total Truth (i.e., seeing Christianity as a worldview speaking to all areas of life). Basically, they bought in to the two-realm theory and placed themselves eventually outside the public/cultural discussion and the culture creating centers of society. One branch emphasized the lower story and tried to establish the truth of Christianity using only reason and downplaying the need for revelation in knowledge. The other emphasized the upper story and assumed that Christianity did not need to address, interact with, or publicly confront intellectual elites in society anyways, it’s all about the heart (personal conversion, experience) not head.
Religion and Faith: Call them ‘Values’
Science and Reason: Call them ‘Facts’
II. The Three R’s or ABrief History of Western Thought in 20m
PREMODERN (Revelation is Required)
Knowledge starts with: Self-revealing God
Knowledge is built upon a foundation of: Revelation - apprehended via reason
Truth is: Unified
Objective knowledge is: Knowable
MODERN (Reason is Exalted)
Knowledge starts with: Reason - unaided
Knowledge is built upon a foundation of: Reason - Unaided
Truth is: Divided (dualism)- between reason & non-reason
Objective Truth is Knowable
POSTMODERN (Relativism is Inevitable)
Knowledge starts with: "I" or the human knower
Knowledge is built upon a foundation of: Relativism - no foundation, only different perspectives
Truth is: Invented as we go
Objective knowledge is: Unknowable
A. Pre-Modern (Revelation is required) – Europeans basically agreed, God exists and knows everything. We humans, made in his image, know only a little part of what God knows. What we do know must be revealed to us by God (Revelation). Revelation comes through the study of Scripture/Church’s teaching (special) and through Science (natural revelation). Most believed with Aquinas (medieval theologian) who argued that natural revelation was sufficient to gain significant knowledge of God, world, and reality. The supernatural could be seen in the natural very easily. Scripture was an afterthought to knowledge. Incidentally, John Calvin and the Protestant Reformers argued that man’s use of general revelation was inadequate to yield significant knowledge of God, the world, and reality and must at all times be sharpened by the light of Scripture. Scripture was a forethought to knowledge. But the basic definition of Premodern epistemology is that all knowledge is a subset of God’s knowledge. God-centered thinking. Augustine: “I believe in order that I may understand.” Point: Knowledge starts with God’s revelation.
B. Modern (Reason is exalted) – disgusted with religious conflict, Enlightenment thinkers wanted to rid society of any need for religious revelation in nearly anything and ground all knowledge in the man’s Reason (autonomy). Some did this by saying that the ground of all knowledge was the human Mind (rationalists) and others said it was the human senses (empiricists). Others turned to skepticism. Stepping into the fray was Immanuel Kant, who sought to rescue the Enlightenment program from skepticism by bringing empiricists and rationalists together. He wrote Critique of Pure Reason, and said while all knowledge begins with sensory experience, it does not end there. Rather, there is no knowledge without sensation, but sensory data is made to conform to the Mind’s categories of thought (12 of them). So, there are objects and perceptions. All man can know are perceptions. So, the knowledge process goes like this: Sensation Mind’s ideas Truth. (quick critique: how does he know the Mind’s ideas exist since they are not apprehended through sensation?). However, the human will, justice, God, the soul, etc. can’t be “known” since they are not apprehended via sensation. This effectively places science in the area of the known or Truth, and given supremacy. And leaves faith to religion. They don’t overlap. This is called “dualism” (categorical distinction between facts and beliefs) which governs public discourse in society to this day. However, many objected. What about art/music, ethics, free will, justice, rights, love, religion, god, etc. This relegates art music language to the area of the unknown and unimportant. Kant writes, Critique of Practical Reason. Basically, he says that while we can’t know these things in the usual sense (sensation molded by the Mind) we can and must assume them because without them life would be meaningless and chaotic. So, while we know that our choices, for example, can be reduced to purely natural deterministic causes (Newtonian physics), we can’t help but believe and function as if they are uncaused and free. Just as humans possess a priori categories of pure reason that determine what is True, they also posses an a priori category of practical reason which tell us what we can’t help but believe (call these transcendental abstract entities, immaterial things that must be believed in order to function). We must assume an immortal soul so that people can receive just recompense for their earthly behavior, the alternative would be monstrous. We must assume the existence of a perfect being who is fit to judge that soul, etc. Many have said that Kant is basically contradicting himself here. He tells us that knowledge must begin with sense experience in the first book; but now there is another kind of knowledge of things that we can’t help but believe. He’s basically trying to establish Christian morality, which he sees as necessary to uphold society, without appealing to Christian revelation but only to human reason. Of course, when Darwin comes along, and atheism became seen as intellectually plausible, modernism became a fully naturalistic worldview. Clearly, what happened here is we went from “I believe what God tells me in order to understand the world” to “I believe what I tell me in order to understand the world.” Not hard to see, then, where postmodernism comes from…
C. Postmodern Epistemology (Relativism is celebrated) – can’t build a case for objective knowledge and truth upon a foundation of autonomous human reason, but that’s all we have. So truth is relative.
1. retains the I (or group of I’s) as the only source for knowledge in any sense. But since all knowledge starts w/ the knower, and they are finite, and they think and reason out of a specific interpretative community/framework (plausibility structure or worldview), then objective knowledge is unattainable (limited by finiteness and environment). “I’m a white middle-aged, European Canadian, with a reasonable amount of Western education behind me, and a white collar job, then surely it is not surprising if I look at things differently than, say a sub-Saharan African scholar or a twelve year old illiterate street prostitute in Bangkok.” DA Carson
2. What about Foundations of knowledge - are themselves produced by finite humans, so anti-foundationalism. There is no single path to knowledge. Can’t say that revelation, reason, science, empiricism, etc. is the right way to know things. Arrogant.
3. Truth is always that which is true for me or us. Truth is not ahistorically universal. But relative to time and culture. So tolerance must adapt accordingly. Tolerance went from “What you say is wrong, but I’ll defend your right to say it,” to “What you say is right for you but wrong for me, or equally true.” In religion, “You do your religion your way, I’ll do religion my way,” instead of you do religion your way, I’ll do religion God’s way.”
Premodern – Truth rains down; Modern – truth bubbles up; Postmodern – truth just bubbles
III. Secularization in the West and in the church
A. Society: Today, the West is in between modernism and postmodernism. We give an exalted almost divine status and authority to science (modernism) in many sectors, but commonly say things like we can’t be certain about anything or the truth is too big for any one of us to grasp or you can’t legislate morality because everyone has their own morals in other sectors. The Judeo-Christian consensus, once taken for granted, is broken and no longer welcome as the lens through which we must interpret the world
B. Church: How did this go unchallenged by the church? Because the church had already made their bed with the devil of dualism in so many ways.
1. Christianizing Plato (Augustine) and Christianizing Aristotle (Aquinas) – Plato and Augustine identified the material world as secondary and inferior in the mind of God and the immaterial world as primary and superior in the mind of God. So that work, daily life, politics, and so on were inferior and unrelated to the Kingdom of God. Aristotle and Aquinas argued the natural world is good and not inferior. In fact, he said it functions so well that it does not need God to fulfill its purpose. Same for man. Man in his natural state, using reason alone, does not need God, special revelation, or enabling grace for virtually anything EXCEPT a supernatural relationship with God. So special grace or revelation are add-ons and unnecessary or applicable for knowledge of and activity in the ‘secular’ world.
2. Embraced Enlightenment (secular) tools in 17th and 18th – (Rationalism and Empiricism). Their response to modernism, which insisted that any case for truth or knowledge must be made starting with man as the knower and unaided reason as the method, was to try and establish the truth of Christianity apart from the Bible (revelation of God) and using the tools (science and reason) of modern man. Many Christians took the challenge (we’ll show you that Christianity is true without appealing to divine revelation). We’ll start not with theology (philosophy) and certainly not creeds and confessions, we’ll start just with facts and logic and prove Christianity, or at least Christian morality, from there. Rise of rational religion and Protestant liberalism. This deal, as it were, rendered Christianity unnecessary and relegated it to the private realm of truth (upper story). Why? In trying to show that Christian morality could survive the tests of science and Reason, they proved too much. They proved that Christianity was unnecessary or irrelevant for ethics, for other subjects too. In short, it was no longer needed as a foundation for society. Society could be built on man’s unaided sense and reason, while Christianity at best dove-tails along.
3. Revivalism: Other Christians conceded the intellectual and cultural battlefield. They said, “If Darwinists and theologians attack Christianity with reason and evidence, let’s just make faith an issue of non-reason (pietism, quietism, revivalism, experientialism, spiritualism, mysticism, etc.) or unreason (Christian existentialists).” The intellectual side of faith is misguided and dangerous. Let’s stress personal conversion and spiritual experience, not theology and doctrine. This way, modern man can’t touch it because it is in the realm of the non-reason (upper story) and science or higher criticism is the realm of reason (lower story). If they stay in their corners, all will be okay, right? Schaeffer always said that when this happens, when religion is placed in a different realm of truth (weaker, subjective, value, etc.), it is eventually “eaten up” by the lower story (this is why theology ceased being the ‘prince of sciences’ and was taken out of public universities). So Christianity grew coming out of the Second Great Awakening a mile wide and an inch deep: it grew in subjective faith, in experiential faith; personal faith; non-communal faith; non-creedal/confessional faith; private faith; in spiritualism; anti-intellectualism, anti-confessionalism. Christianity has largely abandoned it’s claim to be a comprehensive unified integrated view of Truth applicable and relevant in all areas of life (it’s just a heart thing concerning our spirituality).
4. Rise of Dispensationalism, Fundamentalism, Spirituality of the Church, and reaction against Protestant liberalism – “who cares about culture, Jesus is coming very soon! We’d better worry about keeping ourselves holy and saving souls! Look around at all the “signs of the times.” Things are going to get horrible anyways you know, it’s all beyond redemption. Let modern man worry with “worldly” or “man-made” institutions like art, music, politics, the university, science, philosophy, poverty and disease, and so on. That’s the mistake of protestant liberals anyways. They think Christ wants to redeem the physical world or culture and does not care about souls. It’s just the opposite! We should worry with the other world, not this one.” As a result, many Protestants developed a narrow view of creation, fall and redemption at odds with historic Protestant and Reformed theology. They argued that though the world was created good, sin rendered the world and everything in it evil. The only thing God was interested in saving was the soul of man and intends to just destroy the rest of it.
IV. Christ and Culture
The Bible speaks of the world in at least two senses (a place, which God loves and a method, which God hates). We need to remember that. When God told us Gen 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth, he meant that His people were to be instrumental in advancing His kingdom over the entire world. When he told Abraham that he and his seed would be a blessing to the nations, we must remember that we are his seed and are called to bless the nations with the healing that comes from the gospel in all of life. We must be ever dissatisfied so long as all that God created good (these are the structures of creation – family, art, environment, community, culture, music, morals, marriages, work, reason, science, etc.) – continues to be distorted and misused by men as a result of the Fall. Machen: “…the field of Christianity is the world. The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought. The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel. It must be studied either in order to be demonstrated as false, or else in order to be made useful in advancing the Kingdom of God.” That is, our mission is to make a reality what we pray for in the Lord’s prayer, that God’s ‘will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, knowing well that this will not be accomplished fully until the Lord comes back to put things right. Our disinterest and disgust with the world usually is a result of a flawed view of the Fall. The Fall did not make all things besides human souls worthless to God. God is seeking to restore all things back to their good creational purpose. So, the scope of God’s salvific work is not limited to the human soul, but to all of creation, to rescue all of creation from distortion and misuse, from sex to philosophy. The corruption of art, entertainment, and government does not mean that art, entertainment, and government are evil in themselves and that God has no interest in them. Rather, as Paul says in Romans 8, the “whole creation groans” and “eagerly awaits the day when it will be liberated from death and decay.” We are the liberators! We are to be soul winners and culture creators. Too often, we are only culture critics (Pearcey). But aren’t we pilgrims? We are pilgrims, but we are pilgrims who spread salt and light in this world as we journey on to the perfect world being remade just for us. Remember, that Jesus and the early church proclaimed that the Kingdom is both present and coming, referring to God’s present and future reign over all and the consummation of history in the new heavens and new earth. Our message is the same. We preach the gospel to restore first and foremost man’s relationship with God, man’s heart condition (for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul), but we do that so man will set out to heal and restore a broken world. It’s not true that important Christian ministry is limited to evangelism, missions, preaching, etc. Important Christianity ministry is anything that God created good (normal work) and can be done from a Biblical perspective with the glory of God as the goal. I challenge you, then, in whatever you do, do to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).