Tuesday, September 13, 2005

How Did I Get Here? (Part II)

(to be sung with a thick faux-Australian accent…)

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable,
Heidegger, Heidegger, was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table,
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as sloshed as Schlegel…

Part II of my little self-examination deals with my differences in PHILOSOPHY from my old Internet theology friends.

I’ve found that in many respects, the greatest strength of a person or group is also their greatest weakness. I think this is especially true in the (r)eformed camp. Our greatest strength is insisting on an intellectually trained clergy and encouraging a theologically astute laity. It is also a weakness, in that human intellect is not a neutral commodity.

In the course of my sojourn in Reformed circles, I learned that there were several philosophical assumptions made about how to “do theology”. These assumptions included some form of “common-sense realism” (assuming a direct correspondence of reality to our sense perceptions of it), the systemizability of Scripture (inside the Scriptures are a solid systematic theology waiting to get out), and the competence of logic and deduction to get us from the Scriptures to that system.

One thing about Calvinists that most people are aware of is that we believe in something called “total depravity” – the “T” in the infamous TULIP. “Total depravity” simply means that there is no facet of the human person that is unaffected by our fallen-ness. What I’ve come to realize is that, however much we Calvinists say we believe this in the abstract, we always seem to give our theological/intellectual exercizes a pass on this. Those durn Arminians/Semi-Pelagians/Anabaptists/Catholics/Whatevers may have allowed their fallen intellects to affect their theology – but NOT us Calvinists! WE’VE got it right!

I’d be much more inclined to accept this little piece of hubris if it weren’t for the fact that Calvinists tend to disagree with *each other* on other matters that would seem to derive from the same principles of logic and interpretation as do the matters that separate Calvinists from non-Calvinists. If we Calvinists have a pass on the intellectual effects of depravity, why can’t we agree on things like baptism, lapsarianism, church government, or any number of other matters? Why would God give us “the truth” in soteriology just to let us flounder in ecclesiology?

The simple fact is, human logic and rationality are just *not* what they’re cracked up to be. Our use of logic is, sadly, subordinated to our egos. Logic is fine and dandy, as long as it proves *my* point. Once it starts to turn on us, the logical fallacies start to bloom like dandelions. And I think Calvinists are *not* immune to this. A recent re-reading of Pascal’s Pensees has reaffirmed my realization that all humanity suffers from this fault, and Calvinists do not get a “Get out of intellectual depravity free” card. Therefore we ought to show a little more grace and humility in our dialogues – but more on that in the next post.

A corollary of this is how we approach Scripture. Is Scripture primarily a sourcebook for constructing a systematic theology, as per Charles Hodge? Is it the axiomatic foundation for *all* human knowledge, as per Gordon Clark? Or is it the story of redemptive-history, starting from creation and culminating in Christ, meant to tell us how we are to relate to Him? This does not mean that there is no propositional revelation in Scripture, but that it is NOT ONLY propositional revelation. The Bible was not only meant for us to pull prooftexts out of it to beat our intellectual opposition with. We’re very apt to pull out what *we* want to see, and downplay what the other person wants us to see.

So, how do I differ from my old friends? I’m no longer as optimistic that we can pull together a perfect systematic theology from Scripture. I’m no longer willing to pretend that Calvinists have an intellectual edge over other Christian traditions. I’m no longer willing to remain in captivity in the philosophical modernist Babylon. I’m not quite willing to go to full postmodernism yet either, but I’m willing to listen to some of the criticisms, critically. I’m currently reading some of Brian McLaren (on hearing whose name some of my old acquaintances will rotate three times and ritually spit on the ground). I DON’T agree with everything he says, especially in regards to historical theology, and on hell. I DO agree with many of his critiques of modern evangelicalism and evangelical theology. And instead of pillorying him for his mistakes, we ought to at least listen to what he’s getting right.

If we can get to the point where we can honestly listen to someone and learn from them, even as we charitably disagree with them, we will have come very far indeed.


Blogger pgepps said...

Howdy, Doug!

I'm back from Australia (to Japan), out of the hospital, and at the end of my first week of teaching at the college, here. Yee-haw, what a couple months it's been!

Very interesting to read your "evolution" here. We react to some of the same things, although I'd simultaneously be more pessimistic about our "knowing" things in general (i.e., I have more truck with post-structuralism) while being equally or more optimistic about the rational potential (however sadly unrealized) of revelation.

I look forward to getting the Evangelicals RE:Union discussion going again, if you're still into it. Perhaps next week?


8:53 AM  
Blogger burttd said...

Peter, check your e-mail.

9:50 AM  

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