Introduction to the First Objection from the Religious Left

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, February 1, 2017 0 comments

by David Odegard

If you recall, constant reader, Jim Henson was a master puppeteer. He created The Muppet Show. This was before special effects had digital technology. Perhaps you remember Henson’s feature length movie entitled, The Dark Crystal.

It told a story of the selfish, evil Skeksis and their oppression of the Gelflings. The Skeksis are opposed by the peaceful and meditative UrRu. The climax of the movie (do I need a spoiler alert for a movie that peaked in 1982?) is when the Gelfling replaces the broken shard of the dark crystal and the light is able to shine through it without it being dispersed into separate colors. When the crystal is made whole, so is the shining light. And the biggest surprise is that the Skeksis and the UrRu turn out to be two halves of the same beings. They each join their counterpart and balanced, healthy beings emerge to restore peace and unity all across Dark Crystaldom. Happy ending.

I wish that the divide between liberal and conservative Christianity could be so easily defined and repaired. There are similarities to Henson’s movie, but it is vastly more complex. There was a split ideologically, and each side has followed different trajectories to their logical conclusions ever since. The wedge was the Enlightenment. The founders of the Enlightenment wanted a purely rationalistic religion that could be derived from reason. It set up an entirely different way of looking at ultimate reality, one that was incompatible with the revelatory nature of Christianity. There was an immediate divide, but it has become more obvious over the last couple centuries.

At the time, Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of knowledge was still the standard. He taught that knowledge was like a pyramid in which truth about God could be known from looking at His creation and inferring things about Him. This was natural revelation. It contained the idea that God Himself created the universe in such a way as to point to His ultimate character and personality.

Aquinas didn’t stop there. It is not enough to have only this kind of knowledge. God reveals himself in a special way to humanity so that we can have specific revelation. This is compiled in the Bible. In these two ways, general and special, God reveals Himself to humans. It is religion that is centered and dependent upon God communicating to people. The desire for a purely rationalistic religion is completely different and operates on an entirely different set of assumptions about the nature of reality.

As might be expected, centering religion in human reason rather than divine revelation changed the center of gravity from God to humanity. Enter humanism. It becomes less about faith in what God has said in the Bible and more about what I can understand and accept by reason. Immanuel Kant finally decreed that we cannot know the metaphysical world; it is a mystery beyond human perception. Imagine Kant’s conception as a large brick wall that we cannot see over, around, or through. We simply cannot know what is on the other side. Some of Kant’s contemporaries decided that we must make “a leap of faith” from reason into faith or hope that there was something on the other side and that it resembled what the Bible teaches, but this was a departure from the historical Christian conception of reality as well.

Friedrich Schleiermacher opposed Kant in some measure by asserting that we can experience the phenomena of what is on the other side of the wall, even if we cannot know it rationally. Schleiermacher concedes too much to Kant even in this. Kant is wrong to say we cannot know what is on the other side, since God has told us in the Bible what is on the other side. This is the ultimate difference: we either have a self-revealing God or we do not. Kant says there is no way for us to have knowledge of the other side, but if someone like God communicates to us from that side and tells us about it, we can have rational knowledge of it. This is precisely what Christians believe, that God has broken through the metaphysical barrier and communicated to us through prophets and now ultimately through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Now the reliability of God’s communication shifts back into focus and it is no longer based on the human ability to reason. The Christian does not have to sort through the Bible to discern with his own reason what parts of it are God’s Word and which parts are not. We can trust the reliability of God’s ability to communicate. God is once again the focus as He initiates communication and the rescue mission of His divine grace expressed in Christ.

As faithful Christians tried to gain and maintain an intellectual equilibrium in the wake of these developments, the split appeared and gradually began to polarize Christendom. Some embraced Kant, some Schleiermacher with his mixed blessings, some held true to Aquinas. Please continue to my next blog post to get more of the story.

Special thanks to Dr. James Sweeney for taking time to clear up some of my mental fog, in accordance with his gifts. He may or may not endorse everything I have said, but he has helped me a great deal in understanding the concepts.

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