CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY: Friend or Foe – Faith and Reason

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BIBLE DIFFICULTIES
Wayne Alan Detzler is the Dean, Elim Park University in Cheshire, Connecticut. M.A. Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL (1961)

Rene Descartes (1596-1650) said it: “I think, therefore I am.” This French philosopher and mathematician was re-packaging a quotation attributed to Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” In some ways, Descartes launched the Enlightenment as the age of reason. As a Jesuit theist he launched an era with his catchy comment, “cogito ergo sum.”

In reality, he pounded the path blazed by Socrates (469-399 B.C.). The ancient Athenian challenged his students with the phrase: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”[1] So committed was Socrates to the exercise of reason that he stood trial for corrupting the youth of Athens, and in 399 he chose to drink hemlock (a poisonous herb) as a form of capital punishment.

Beginning in the European Renaissance (about 1350-1600) culminating in the Enlightenment (1750-1800) reason became the dominant drive of western thought. About this era Thomas Paine (1737-18090 wrote his famous tract, “The Age of Reason.” Here he painted a world run by reason alone and observed from afar by an ineffective and uninvolved deity. This is the senseless religion of Deism.

COLOSSIANS 2:8 BDC: Is it wrong for Christians to study “philosophy”?

The scintillating saga of faith and reason is played out on the stage of Bible interpretation. No single human effort is more descriptive of this intellectual tug of war than the task of reading and interpreting the Bible.

Young Christians AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT_01

The Dawn of Reason 

When the Renaissance dawned in the mid-fourteenth century it was heralded as an era of light. Nation-states showed up to replace the old, outmoded Holy Roman Emperor, as the government was wrenched out of the hands of the Catholic Church. For instance, the fabulously wealthy Medici family fetched Florence into an age of unparalleled prosperity.

This created a social revolution. A moneyed middle class shoved aside the threadbare robes of the nobility. The new middle class rested its reputation on mercantile trade that reached all the way back to China via the fabled Silk Road.

Money meant patronage for the arts also. In Italy, it was secular, humanistic art. In the north, Rembrandt salted his production with magnificent biblical paintings such as “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” This painting housed at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia is still the gold standard of Renaissance religious painting.

The Protestant Reformation replaced the authority of the pope with that of the Scriptures. Luther’s famous dictum, sola scriptura (Scripture alone), insisted that the Bible was sufficient for salvation. He was expounded and expanded upon by brilliant Scripture students such as John Calvin (1509-64) and John Knox (1514-72). These great reformers concurred in the dictum of Luther: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.”  Then he added, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and reason, I cannot change my position.”[2]

When the Reformation metamorphosed into the Enlightenment scholars again wrestled with the issue of faith and reason. As science expanded and exploration opened the world, so knowledge exploded. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) set the tone when he wrote, “sapere aude” (dare to be wise). It was the cornerstone of his seminal essay, “What is Enlightenment?” In the Enlightenment, reason rises above revelation. Scripture is subjected to the court of human rationality of its readers.

Jean Astruc (1684-1766) divides the book of Genesis into two parts, and Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) later fragments the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, into four documents: J-Jehovah writings, E-Elohim fragments, D-Deuteronomy revisions, and P-Priestly writings. [3]

The Resurrection of Faith

The reliance on rational investigation actually led to one of the greatest discoveries in biblical interpretation. It was made by Granville Sharp, a multi-talented Englishman. Here is the story.

By the mid-eighteenth century, Granville Sharp had become a renowned musician. He and his large family of sixteen souls coursed along the canals of England on a barge making music and drawing crowds.

A well-known Unitarian challenged Granville.[4] The brazen Unitarian goaded Granville by insisting that he believed the Trinity because he did not know the original languages of the Bible. Eric Metaxas takes up the story:

Quicker than you could say, ‘It’s Greek to me,’ Sharp taught himself Greek, refuted the linguistically and theologically confused Unitarian, and then wrote a definitive pamphlet entitled “Remarks on the uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek text of the New Testament; containing many new proofs of the Divinity of Christ from passages which are wrongly translated in the common English Version” (Durham, 1798)[5]

Afterward Granville Sharp learned the Hebrew language so that he could refute the false teaching of higher criticism at the height of the Enlightenment.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

SERIOUSLY FLAWED BIBLICAL CRITICISM ASSAULT ON THE BIBLE

Meanwhile, at the venerable German University of Berlin, August Tholuck (1799-1877) likewise did battle for the Bible. Trying to defend the Scripture in an age of reason, Tholuck became one of the most famous Bible interpreters of his time (1735-1813). He relied on personal experience for his defense of the faith following along the lines of fideism (reliance on faith for knowledge). However, he did stand strong among the “Erweckung,” the revival movement that swept Germany between 1815 and 1848.

Another voice for biblical integrity was Friedrich Adolf Krummacher (1767-1845). He was a professor at Duisburg and a preacher in Krefeld. The Krummacher family made the running in biblical interpretation along the Rhine River for the first half of the nineteenth century. A sample of Krummacher’s writings appeared in 1815, the year that Napoleon fell at Waterloo. To display the power of the Scripture, Krummacher wrote:[6] “The Apostolic Epistles to the Churches about the Essentials for Church Improvement.” He believed that the Scriptures alone could steer the church aright, and in this Krummacher did combat with the entire academic world of Enlightenment Germany.

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

An exhaustive study of the “Erweckung,” the German revival between 1815 and 1848, has led me to the conclusion that many scholars stood by Scripture during a time when others were abandoning the Bible. The results of this defense of Scripture led to a revival of Christianity in much of Europe. Robert Haldane ignited the flame in French-speaking Europe, and it was called the Reveil. In Norway Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824) had the same effect, and his work resulted in the Lesare (the Readers), a Bible study movement. In Finland it was Paavo Ruotsalainen (1777-1852), who was used of God to unleash a revival. The sole common thread in all of these revival movements was the proliferation of Scripture and the devotion to its study. It was the British and Foreign Bible Society that flooded Europe with cheap copies of the Scriptures and in doing so fuelled a continent-wide revival movement.

The Reason for Faith

The answer to bad theology is good theology. As the chilling tide of tepid unbelief swept over northern Europe it looked as if all life would drown, or die of spiritual hypothermia. Only a massive infusion of the inspired and inerrant Word of God could and did turn the tide. The leaders of these revival movements are largely forgotten, but the fruit of their labors remains until this very day in clusters of committed believers across the continent of Europe. To God be all the glory!

UNBELIEF

SKEPTICISM

[1] Plato, Apology, 37e-38a. Our best record of the teaching of Socrates is found in the writings of Plato.
[2] Martin Luther, Works, vol. 34, J. Pelikan, ed. As quoted in “Martin Luther,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 432.
[3] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 412.
[4] The Unitarians believed there was one God and that the Trinity was heresy as was the deity of Christ.
[5] Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (New York: Harper-Collins, 2007), 92-3.
[6] Apostolisches Sendschreiben an die Christengemeinden von dem was noth thut zur Kirchenverbesserung 

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