Monday, November 12, 2007

Fun with Theology.

I'm listening to a lecture series from the Teaching Company on Medieval Philosophy. I give it a positive recommendation, if that's the kind of thing you like. Professor Williams's engagingly describes the 1,500 year project of faith pursuing reason which motivated the philosophy of Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Abelard and Aquinas.

The importance of faith and reason informing theology was a given during the period that moderns like to describe as "dark" and "superstitious." It was a given that God revealed himself through natural revelation and divine revelation, and, as the single source of truth was God Himself, natural truth could not contradict revealed truth.

Augustine counsels practical wisdom in interpreting scripture:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]

Aquinas shows a thoroughly modern attitude in thinking about the Third Day of Creation:

As, however, this theory can be shown to be false by solid reasons, it cannot be held to be the sense of Holy Scripture. It should rather be considered that Moses was speaking to ignorant people, and that out of condescension to their weakness he put before them only such things as are apparent to sense. Now even the most uneducated can perceive by their senses that earth and water are corporeal, whereas it is not evident to all that air also is corporeal, for there have even been philosophers who said that air is nothing, and called a space filled with air a vacuum.

This is a lead up to the comment thread to this post on a "Truly Reformed" blog.

I found the thread interesting in a number of ways.

The thread began with a post by Rhology that attempted to, in essence, "seal" off the doctrine of justification from other theological ideas, such as Christology. This approach turned into a discussion of whether justification/salvation can be "sealed off" from a theology of God, to with whether when 1 Tim. 1:3 says that "God wills that all men be saved", does it really mean that?

In order to defend the Calvinist notion in election, God's sovereignty and predestination found herself arguing that 1 Tim. 1:3 doesn't refer to God's will but to His "wishes" or "desires" that have to be "balanced" against His justice.

This is, of course, theological nonsense from orthodox standpoint, which posits the idea of "divine simplicity", under which God's existence cannot be separated from His attributes. Hence, God's love is God's being is God's will is God's justice.

Carrie's argument creates a schizophrenic, irrational, and non-sovereign God, who wants things like we want things but is prevented from having those things for reasons that we would be prevented from having them. Alternatively, it presents a God who is not Love in that He chooses to damn people to Hell for sins that he predestines them to commit.

This seems to be the stew-pot of ideas that comes from subordinating everything to a narrow (and essentially unbiblical) notion of salvation.

Eventually, I was ruled out of order because the TRs (Truly Reformeds) couldn't accept my argument - which were nothing more than a re-working of Augustine and Aquinas as "biblical", albeit Pontificator body-slammed them on that point.

Another interesting point was Rhology's defense of "six days creationism". Under the "any stick to beat up an enemy" approach, Rhology seems to think that it is significant that the self-marginalized Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis rejects heliocentrism - because "the Bible never taught geocentrism" - but Rhology holds to the most literal form of creation in six days, notwithstanding the fact that this approach has exactly the problem that Augustine noted, holding the faith up to the ridicule of the unfaithful, which is why he brough up Sungenis in the first place!

So, the net result is that the TR's approach forces them into opposition to the findings of objective, neutral science, the insights of the greatest minds of Christianity and the basic doctrines of Christian faith.

All because their only authority is ultimately themselves.


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