Having shared in my last post the way believers loved God with their minds several hundred years ago…what happened? Christianity encountered a wave of intellectual attack (though certainly not the first). However, for the first time in our history we did not respond in a healthy and helpful way.
First was the attack from philosophy (not all philosophy, but bad philosophy—unpacking this distinction is for another post). Specifically, there was an attack on the ideas of God’s existence (an issue of metaphysics—the area of philosophy that studies what exists) and the rationality of belief in God (an issue of epistemology—the area of philosophy that studies how we know what exists).
Due to the influence of philosophers such as David Hume (1711 – 1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), “theology” was reduced to “religion.” There is a huge difference between the two. “Theology” comes from two Greek words: “Theos”—God, and “logos”—understanding of or knowledge of. Thus theology is about our knowledge of God.
This assumes there are objective truths about God that can be known, and this field of study helps one come to obtain this knowledge. This is no different than, for example, “biology” (“bios”—life and “logos”): the knowledge of objective truths about living things. Both were objective fields of study. As such, there were Theology departments in universities, just as there were Biology departments.
Compare this with the study of Religion. This study is an aspect of sociology, since Religion is defined as how people search for meaning and “the transcendent.” As such, Religion is a very subjective thing, since everyone has their own search for meaning and their own understanding of “the transcendent.” In this there are no “Truths” but only “your truth” and “my truth”—our individual, private, subjective thoughts on the subject.
So the question became whether we should study Theology (objective truths about God) or Religion (subjective truths about how individuals seek meaning and “the transcendent”). The study of Religion prevailed, as the influential philosophers of the day promoted the “Fact/Value” dichotomy: there are no Theological Facts, but only subjective Religious Values. Therefore it followed that some fields (biology, chemistry, mathematics) dealt with facts that can be known, studied, debated and confirmed. But there are no objective truths about God, and therefore this can not be known, studied, debated or confirmed. Beliefs about God were reduced to the same level as one’s choice of ice cream flavors or one’s favorite sports team. They are all merely subjective beliefs. Faith and reason were divorced. Notice today universities, with a few exceptions, no longer have Theology Departments but rather have Religion Departments, for this very reason.
Here’s the kicker. For the first time in our history we, as Christians, didn’t respond well to this false dichotomy of faith vs. reason. This was not the first time biblical truth was under attack. Attacks go back to the first century. Yet to every previous attack believers responded with detailed, well-reasoned arguments and evidences to show the challenges were false. This was what the Apologists did in the second century. It is what Augustine did in his monumental The City of God. And so on. But (due to three reasons better left for another post), for the first time in our history we didn’t respond in this way. And so we lost the battle. The words of Proverbs summarize the situation well: “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17, italics added).
Next week I’ll share the second and third attacks that we failed to respond well to …
Until then, grace and peace.