A New Reformation

Every so often, we need a New Reformation, that is a new mining of both the Scriptures and whatever other knowledge we have gained for insight on how to deal with (1) challenges raised by secular or pagan people over the last <whatever> period of time, & with  (2) whatever faults might have arisen in the Church itself.

The Reformation of the 1500’s did just that, going back to the early Church fathers and the time of the New Testament to find a plumbline for their theology and practice.  It was successful in some ways, but failed in others.

And things have changed since the 1500’s.  New problems have been thrown at us, and we are a bit more knowledgeable about the human race and its condition.  The basics of Christian faith have not changed, but how we understand them has definitely shifted.  The Post-Reformation result of the Christian response has not been pretty, it has been often chaotic, divisive, and self-destructive.

There are three fundamental issues with which we must deal in a current New Reformation (there may, of course, be more, but these makes a good start):

 

1.  Epistemology – Science and Faith: Christians must come to terms with the rise of science and become truth-seekers above all else, that is, be willing to say, “If I am wrong, I want to know”.

Truth-seeking is the royal road to God, who is the Truth.  Truth-seeking is the first step of faith, beginning with the first curiosity of a small child.  Despite the nearly concurrent rise of science, which was all about being truth-seekers, the Reformation of the 1500’s did not get this principle clear.  In fact, in many cases, Christians went the wrong direction, we became hardened “position-defenders” rather than truth-seekers.  Afraid that honest science might disprove our faith, we could not honestly say, “If I am wrong, I want to know,” —  which in turn led quickly to the splintering of Christendom.  Without this focus on truth-seeking, we splintered into hardened defensive positions, and lost the battle for the soul of the West.

If we can imagine the two edges of the Sword of the Spirit (Hebrews 4:12) to be reason and revelation welded back to back, then we can use that image to show what happened to the Christian mind and spirit as secularists began successfully to split reason against revelation, pitting the Sword against itself.  A house divided.

It was just that split which was inherited by the American founding fathers as they struggled to put together their “new experiment” in civil government.  The masses of the American people were fairly unified in their Christian faith, and so were most of the politicians.  But the intellectuals in the colleges and universities were drifting ever more strongly toward what looked like the new intellectual wave, “enlightened” secularism, or a religion at least without revelation or a Trinity.  Reason alone, without revelation, would take care of us.  Hence the rising influence of Unitarians and Transcendentalists.  The problem was that both sides, pro-reason and pro-revelation, had a piece of the increasingly divided truth, but could not see that the two were complementaries, not opposites, and so began to conclude, disastrously, that reason and revelation were inherently at odds.

The truth is that reason cannot survive without revelation because science has a moral commitment to truth-seeking, without which it descends into just another facet of the current power struggle — as evident all through the late 19th and then 20th centuries.  Science became just as corrupted as religion, politics, etc.

And likewise, revelation will not survive without reason.  Is one to read the Bible unreasonably?  That would destroy the purpose of revelation — which is to reveal, clarify.  Are we not to read revelation logically and factually, making sense of it?  Revelation reveals with clarity, it does not muddy the waters and throw dust into the air.  The very act of reading at all requires grammar and logic.  Reason and revelation are eternally wedded in God.  We had better make it so among ourselves.  There is no other way to have clarity about God, the world, or ourselves.

But secularists continued to get more influence over the 19th century, and then won victory after victory during the 20th against a largely unreasoning Christian community.  Christianity was effectively run from the public square, mostly by secularists illegally capturing the already illegal government-run school system.

However, toward the end of the 20th century, and now increasingly in the 21st, Christians are catching on that God holds the intellectual high ground, not secular folks, and that Biblical faith is indeed the only fully reasonable way of understanding the cosmos and ourselves.  This becomes the more obvious as the Intelligent Design community does it work.  Secular and/or pagan evolution is a non-starter.  The reunion of reason to revelation, the two edges of the Sword of the Spirit, will provide a well-nigh invincible weapon against the utter nonsense into which the West has descended, on its trek through secularism, back again into paganism.
2. Gender in God: We must explore the Bible regarding both the masculine and feminine in God.  (See The Biblical Worldview, and Psychology, Salvation, & the Ordination of Women.)

There is often strong, but not well explained, resistance to the notion that God is our mother just as He is our father.  It has often been hinted and suggested that the Trinity is a family, but seldom, if ever, developed theologically.

One suspects that the resistance, especially among men, is the pagan/secular association of women with sexiness, seduction, and promiscuity.  The Biblical image is mothering — which means life-giving, faithfulness, and support, not sexiness.  Like reason and revelation, masculine and feminine necessarily imply each other.  And though the Bible does not call God our mother, there are passages from start to finish where God is described as relating to us in feminine, mothering ways.  God often uses marital imagery to describe His relationship with His people.

Seeing the feminine in God opens up vast resources for personalizing our relationship to God, resolves a host of issues which have arisen in our gender-contentious society, and need not at all be drawn into the pagan and secular scheme of things.  The Biblical view of motherhood is the best defense against the pagan/secular view.  Only the Biblical worldview can give us an answer to the perennial “war of the sexes”, which then provides a substantial and reliable answer to the sex and gender issues of our time.
3. The nature of Godly civil government:  Christians, for most of the last two centuries, lost their grip on what reformed theologians were beginning to understand in the 16- and 1700’s, and on what God provided for us in our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution: a limited government for a free people under God.  The Declaration and Constitution could have been written only by a Biblically literate and faithful people.

The task was not complete with the signing of the Declaration and then Constitution, however, and Christians of the 1800’s failed to finish securing and explaining those Biblical foundations.  So with the rise of “positivist law” over the 1800’s, denying any relation of civil law to the law of God or to a natural law, the secularists were able to gently nudge God out of the picture, with hardly an audible peep from the still majority of Christians in America.

American Christianity had lost its way.  But the political disasters of the 20th century have awakened Christians to the need to revisit our political foundations, that the so-called “separation of Church and State” is not what God had in mind.  There is a separation between Church and State — they have different tasks, but God rules over both of them.
These three issues, truth-seeking, gender in God, and civil government, must be dealt with in a New Reformation for our time.  As with the 1500’s, a true reformation goes back to mine the Scriptures for ways of dealing with our straying from the Biblical path and new insights into how to deal with current issues.  The nature of truth, gender, and government are key issues awash everywhere in the world today.  The Bible (and no other religion or philosophy) has good answers to all of them.

Christians are typically today unable to explain their faith in public.  They stick to inside the church walls, for the most part at least, and almost never appear in the political back rooms or on public stage with an audible faith.  That is primarily because Christians in the 1800’s began to oppose “reason” to “revelation”, tending to paint God as an arbitrary, tyrannical intellectual despot — much like the Muslim version of Allah.  The problem actually began early in Christian history, leading to a distortion of the Image of God which has plagued Christendom right up to the present.

God cranked up the intensity of the discussion by giving us the rise of science overlapping with the Reformation.  That challenged Christians to a deeper understanding of intellectual credibility — as part of the Imago Dei, and truth-seeking at the foundation of Biblical faith.  But for the most part, Christians (like the Hebrews rejecting the entry into Canaan – Num. 13-14) did not get it, failed God’s test, and rejected both science and the development of due process in government as being “secular”.  They were not.  They were both given specifically by God for His people.
There are signs that Christians are getting fed up with this nonsense, but we have a loooong way to go.   The Road to Emmaus is aimed to provide a clear explanation of the basics of the Biblical worldview and Christian faith which is logically seamless, no contradictions.  I have believed that to be possible since my junior year in college, and still believe it to be possible.  I believe that the already finished works on this website (see Shopping Mall) provide that logical consistency.  Some Christians might have to let go of a favorite doctrine to attain that consistency — as I have on occasion.  Let the reader decide.

If we are truth-seekers, we will reject statement contrary to known fact, and reject illogical statement as inadequate and unfinished.  We might hang onto the two ends of an apparent contradiction until it can be  resolved.  That is the intelligent way to handle contradictions — put it on a shelf until the conflict can be resolved.  That has happened over and over in my quest for this seamless garment of Christian faith.  I recommend it for all truth-seekers.
Below is a list of the central beliefs of the Christian faith in generic terms, as I would state them for a New Reformation.  They are “generic” in the sense of being non-denominational — the issues which are central to the Christian faith — but not how the details might be stated.  The denominational differences are the details to be worked out in that logically seamless way:
(1) Objective truth – the foundation of both reason and revelation.  (See Epistemology Library)

Christians rail at those who promote “relative” truth (which is a logical contradiction and is almost always manipulative).  But we have often ourselves failed to be true to the goal of logical consistency.  If truth is objective rather than relative, then we ought to be able to get at it by the normal means of investigation which we learn as we grow up into adulthood.   That is the Biblical position.

We live in a sacramental cosmos, in which the temporal, physical, spatial are all mixed up with the spiritual, metaphysical, and eternal.  The words ‘truth’ and ‘true’ together occur about 250 times in the Bible, always with positive meaning.  Truth is never denigrated.  It is taken for granted that truth-seeking and truth-speaking are expected and required by God (see, for example, 2 Cor. 4:1 ff; or, I Kings 18:17 ff.).

We must be truth-seekers before trying to be position-defenders.  Positions are very very important, but one gets to the true position only by being a truth-seeker.  When we become position-defender at the expense of truth-seeking, our positions petrify so that no intelligent discussion can take place.  No one is then willing to risk the hard work of truth-seeking, nor the chance that “my” position just might need some adjusting.  That attitude has been a primary cause of the fracturing and hence the demise of Christian faith in the public arena, and rightly so.  Such an attitude is betrayal of Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  God is not interested in or honored by intellectual cowardice parading as “faith”.

(2) the Biblical worldview, that is, the Doctrine of Creation.  God is both Creator of, and Sovereign over, all things and circumstances.

He is Sovereign because He is Creator (see The Law & the Grace of God).  Being both creator and sovereign define the meaning of “being God” for the Bible.  The Biblical worldview, as distinct from the pagan/secular worldview, is defined by this reality.  See also Theology Library.

If the Biblical worldview (in opposition to the secular/pagan worldview) cannot be shown to be the truth, then neither the Bible itself, nor the Christian notion of salvation and redemption have much chance of making sense.

The Biblical doctrine of creation is the foundation of the Biblical worldview, forming a watershed between the Biblical view and the two primary other views — pagan and secular (see Worldview Library and also Personality, Empiricism, & God for the Cosmological argument for God — which establishes the Biblical worldview over and against the pagan and secular views).

(3) Man made in the Image of God – male and female, to be in fellowship with Him and one another.

Every human being, from conception to birth, is therefore of unalienable value, and given by God the same protection for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as anyone else.

(4) The reality of the Fall, sin, and the corruption of the human spirit, unable to save itself.

(5) A final moral judgement between heaven and hell will happen in every life.

(6) The Bible as the definition of the Christian faith (as interpreted through the lens of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds — go to The Authority of the Bible in a Scientific Age).

(7) The uniqueness of Christ as the Way to salvation (see Christology Library).

Given the Biblical  worldview (with persons, not things, as the basic entities of the cosmos), the uniqueness of Christ is not a self-serving, narrow-minded belief, it makes perfect logical and factual sense.    See The Law & the Grace of God.

(8) The holy and undivided Trinity as the fundamental nature of the Godhead.  See Trinity Library.

Every one of these points can be defended Biblically, logically, and factually.  If any one of the points is missing, the fullness of the picture will be compromised.  As my college religion professor stated, only the Biblical worldview has dependable logical consistency, all other worldviews fall into contradiction.

Dr. Earle FoxDr. Earle Fox is IAI’s Senior Fellow in Philosophy of Science and the Worldview of Ethical Monotheism.

This article was oiginally published at TheRoadtoEmmaus.org. See also Dr. Fox’s new Book Abortion, the Bible and America.

The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

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