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J.A.A. Purves

Christianity & Existentialism

114 posts in this topic

Kyle, I am not well read enough in Barth scholarship to know whether my understanding of Barth's offhand analogy there is correct or not - but I like to think that it makes sense. It seems in the spirit of McCormick's rescue of (much of) Barth from a lot of that neo-orthodox static.

I very much agree with you that Tillich would be a better sparring partner in this thread, even if he wasn't much of a Kierkegaardian. In fact, Persiflage, I think your beef is more with Protestant Liberalism than it is with Kierkegaard. Many applications of the kinds of existentialism we see in Tillich do result in some of the theological tendencies you are responding to. (Though my appreciation of Tillich as an apologist for the sacred in a more generalized way has deepened in the past few years, as long as I am allowed to think of generalizing about the sacred as a phenomenon and particularizing the resurrection as two different occupations. The verdict is still out on that.)

Edited by M. Leary

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Lastly, yes, I'm aware that Shestov's interpretation of the Fall may be unique in that perhaps only he has made it. A mountain of "received" doctrine stands against it. But, as I said, I don't believe Shestov's interpretation is incompatible with the Genesis account, and I even think that, alone though he may be, his interpretation probably makes the most sense. Okay, defenders of "received" doctrine at Arts & Faith, fire away.

I almost said, instead, "received" wisdom, and maybe I should have - doctrine seems overly specific. In this context, I simply meant an interpretation of a biblical story or event that is accepted by someone more on the basis of tradition and authority (i.e. someone else's thinking) than on the basis of personal thought and contemplation (i.e. one's own thinking). It could range from an opinion one hears from one's friends and fellow-travelers in faith, or one's pastor or priest, all the way up to the most carefully considered exegesis by the most learned biblical scholar.

At least from a Protestant point of view, while we find value in church tradition in varying degrees, we don't hold to much of an "authority" of "received" wisdom or doctrine. The authority we are willing to accept is Scripture, so let's see ...

Logically speaking, the two definitions of "mortal" and "immortal" are airtight and permit no third state. Therefore, to say that "man was neither mortal nor immortal" is logically absurd, yet, I still maintain that this was man's Edenic condition prior to the point when he partook of the tree and became "knowledgeable."
I don't get you, Persiflage. You said you were all about the importance of a reasoned faith, as against "blind faith" or "leaps of faith," and you were in such a big rush to start this thread, so that you could engage in reasoned debate with defenders of Kierkegaard and Shestov, so you said... But then when I get here, and present a sustained and reasoned argument - that took some care and work on my part - for why the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was intrinsically fatal (i.e. why the tree directly conferred mortality), you pull back and mumble something to the effect that I "might just be making a lot more out of something that Genesis just gives us limited information on." Man, I have to say, that's weak. Sorry, but I have to call you out on it. If you aren't interested in responding, in a commensurate manner, to what I post, why should I waste my time? I'll just leave you to continue bloviating about how existentialism ruined / is ruining Christianity.

Look, St. Thomas Aquinas himself would never claim that we can logically know everything. There is such a thing as using Scripture to say more than it actually says. I'm having a hard time trying to figure out why our ability to call Adam & Eve mortal or immortal before the Fall affects the theology of much of anything. If your point is that the fact that we can't call Adam & Eve mortal or immortal before the Fall means that they weren't either of the two, and therefore something happened that was logically impossible, that simply doesn't follow. I didn't plan to, but since you're saying that the point is important, here goes -

1) Why then does God say to man [all biblical passages are from TNIV], "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die" and not "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for if you do, I will withhold from you the tree of life" [Gn 2:17]?

Because both those statements mean pretty much exactly the same thing. It's perfectly clear that the only reason Adam and Eve are alive in the first place is by God's power. He's telling them that if they rebel, He will take away the power He's given them to be alive. That's simple enough.

2) Why then does God say (to whom exactly is unclear - other members of the Trinity?), "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever" [Gn 3:22]? By your understanding, this statement by God appears nonsensical. Why would God say this, if it's simply a matter of expelling man from Eden, in order to prevent further partaking from the tree of life. By your understanding, so what if man takes one last bite, so to speak, from the tree of life before God expels him, what's the harm in it? It would be the last time he would do so and, in any event, would not affect the final outcome. No, the account as we have it in Genesis indicates otherwise. It indicates that partaking from the tree of life confers life irrevocably.

Facts that can be absolutely deduced from this passage are (1) eating from the tree of life would make a fallen Adam live forever in his fallen state, (2) there was some property in the tree of life that God could use to give Adam & Eve eternal life, and (3) part of the punishment or consequence for the fall was now denying eternal life from Adam & Eve, while in their fallen states. Speculation that cannot be deduced from this passage would include the exact number of bites, precisely, that Adam would have to take, in order to get immortality again. All that's clear is God says Adam shouldn't be allowed to eat of the tree, and so Adam isn't allowed to eat of the tree. Exactly the mechanics of how the tree works is not relevant to the point of the story, and thus left out.

Evidently, man had not partaken of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden at any time.

No Scripture exists to back this claim up. This is something we can't know. Yes, that's right. I believe there are some things that we cannot know right now. It's not directly affecting the facts that (1) Adam's life was given to him by the power of God, (2) Adam fell and so God took away the power that was keeping Adam alive just like He said He would.

And there is further evidence for this assertion, inasmuch as the Genesis account states (emphasis added), "In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," and then later Eve relates to the serpent that God's instruction was (emphasis added), "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." Now, it seems there is a paradox here that defies logical resolution: how can both trees be in the (precise) middle of the garden? We don't know the answer to this, but we can assume that in some inscrutable way both trees were somehow in the middle of the garden.

Dude, how much mathematical minutia does the word "middle" have to contain here? Smaller than square inches, square feet, square miles? - for all we know, the middle of the garden could have consisted of 10 square miles. There is no information on this in the passage because it is not important to us. I fail to find anything about this inscrutable. Why are we supposed to try and infer anything mysterious about 2 trees being in the middle of the garden. It's about as interesting as trying to infer the color of Adam & Eve's hair.

Therefore, by Eve's statement, the tree of life was also warned against.

False. The writer of Genesis wasn't trying to sneaky here, what matters to this story is stated clear and simple. Fact: There are 2 trees in the middle of the garden (Genesis 2:9). Fact: the one tree they are forbidden to eat from is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Fact: Eve is referring to only one tree in Genesis 3:2-3. And, Fact: we know which tree this is because we've already read 2:16-17 and it's made even more clear by 3:5.

There can be no logically consistent answer that squares every statement but, on balance, the evidence indicates that the tree of life was never partaken of by man, whether or not one assumes that God had actually warned man against it.

But nowhere is the writer of Genesis logically contradicting himself or being inconsistent. It only says that they were allowed to eat of any tree (including the tree of life) except one, and then they were forbidden to eat of the tree of life after the Fall. There is no need to make any further assumption that God warned Adam against eating from some other tree, before the Fall, that God simply does not warn Adam against in these chapters of Scripture.

Why man didn't partake of the tree of life, if he was going to ignore God's warning, as opposed to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is another mystery.

No, it's not. They ate from the ONE tree God told them not to eat from, and they did it on purpose.

Finally, one should note the fact that when God explains to Adam and Eve His punishments for their transgression, now that they have already eaten from the fatal tree, death is not one of them.

To be fair, God already told them they would die earlier. We know from the story that there is more punishment for rebellion against God that merely death. We know from the story that God decided not to let them eat of the tree of life AFTER the Fall. But trying to describe the magical qualities possessed by this tree of the knowledge of good and evil is pure speculation at this point. We know what matters, and that was that death was intrinsic to the act of rebelling against God.

That, as I take it, would be Shestov's reasoning, to the extent that one can call an argument that necessarily has to deal with a paradoxical statement or two in the text reasoning. Of course, one can object that to use reason to, in effect, attack reason (i.e. by equating knowledge with death) seems a little self-negating, to say the least. But such was Shestov: his attacks on reason were well-reasoned.

No, they weren't well reasoned. That's the problem. If his attack on reason really consists of the kind of assumptions and inferences he's asserting are in Genesis 2 and 3, then he's relying on pure speculative make-up-your-own-theology additions to Scripture that are not there. A warning against eating the tree of life because it's also in the middle of the garden?? I'm sorry, but that's just not in those verses. If this is really how Shestov interpreted Scripture, I cannot stress how dangerous his ignoring the elementary rules of Biblical Hermeneutics really is. But I'm afraid his method of interpretation is probably common in church today. And it comes out of blatantly ignoring common sense, elementary rules on how to think properly. Note: other great Christian men have ignored this stuff too, some of St. Augustine's allegorical interpretations of Scripture are complete made up crap as well. But, it's not cool, man, not cool at all.

Lastly, yes, I'm aware that Shestov's interpretation of the Fall may be unique in that perhaps only he has made it. A mountain of "received" doctrine stands against it. But, as I said, I don't believe Shestov's interpretation is incompatible with the Genesis account, and I even think that, alone though he may be, his interpretation probably makes the most sense. Okay, defenders of "received" doctrine at Arts & Faith, fire away.

Uniqueness doesn't bother me. I could give a hill of beans for all I care about the authority of "received" doctrine. But I'll be damned if Shestov's interpretation is compatible with those verses in Genesis. Some of those ideas you are attributing to him flat out contradict what some of the verses in Genesis 2 and 3 actually say.

For that matter, I really think Shestov can only be classified as a "Christian existentialist" in the loosest sense. I'm not sure you would accept that he is really a Christian (born Jewish, he never converted, and so far as I know he rarely or never attended a synagogue past childhood, or a church once he became sympathetic to Christianity in adulthood). And I'm not sure I would accept that he is really an existentialist. So maybe this whole thing was a non-starter, at least as far as Shestov, and maybe that's my fault. If so, I'm sorry I wasted your time. Kierkegaard defenders, carry on. You're doing great.

I'm willing to accept that Shestov was a Christian, in fact, I hope that he was. I really have no way of knowing. Plenty of Christians can get their theology wrong, and as long as they're putting their faith in Jesus to save them, they are all our brother and sister believers that we'll join together with on one day. But I think it's important to point out when theological teaching is wrong, particularly when false theology is of the sort to turn nonbelievers away from the gospel. I honestly at this point still don't see what's so important about our being allowed to call Adam & Eve mortal or immortal before the Fall. We do have the little collection of truths that matter. Man's sin. Man's death. God's grace. All truths that we can claim to with an absolute certainty. But what is important is not to read one's own personal speculative theories into Scripture. As far as Shestov being an existentialist, I've just always thought he was since he did in fact write the book, Kierkegaard & the Existential Philosophy, where he defends many of Kierkegaard's ideas.

On a final note, yes, these are principles that I strongly hold to. I want you to know that I admire your willingness to share the arguments that you have for Shestov. I actually kind of feel like defending Existential arguments would be harder than criticizing them, because they are often pretty vague. Please don't take offense because I will occasionally flatly contradict what you or Shestov may have to say. It's the same sort of friendly conversation/debate my friends and I have over a few beers. Hold me to offering a good reason for where I disagree with you. Exploring this together is how we learn, and I'm reading and learning more about Shestov just in this short conversation alone than I would without it.

Edited by Persiflage

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Ha! I turn to Barth's commentary on Romans this late evening, and what is there to greet me on the first page but this. (Scroll to pg 27)

Edited by M. Leary

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Persiflage,

I was writing up a retort to Tenpenny, but you covered most of the bases on this one. I'd add that it seems likely Adam would have already partaken of the Tree of Life. Here's my additional comment:

While God does refer to man's mortality in His recitation of punishments, in the context of "by the sweat of your brow," it is as a thing already accomplished.

It isn't spoken of as a thing "already accomplished" any more than any of the other elements of the curse are. Compare "On your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life" with "for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Not much of a distinction there.

Ha! I turn to Barth's commentary on Romans this late evening, and what is there to greet me on the first page but this. (Scroll to pg 27)

:)

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Sorry about the weird formatting below. When I tried to post, I was denied for having "more than the allowed number of quoted blocks of text." I never knew there was a limit!

Q: Before man ignored God's warning, was he mortal or immortal?

A: He was neither mortal nor immortal. His state, with regard to your question, was indeterminate. [Me: The mu state - in effect, unask the question.]

Like Schrödinger's cat?

1) Why then does God say to man [all biblical passages are from TNIV], "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die" and not "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for if you do, I will withhold from you the tree of life" [Gn 2:17]?

Because both those statements mean pretty much exactly the same thing. It's perfectly clear that the only reason Adam and Eve are alive in the first place is by God's power. He's telling them that if they rebel, He will take away the power He's given them to be alive. That's simple enough.

Actually, I would argue there is quite a bit of difference between those two statements. It's the bit of difference that makes man become mortal because he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge or because he disobeyed God.

Remember here tenpenny's distinction: "...f you strictly and only read what the text in Genesis says, I don't think what it says is incompatible with Shestov's interpretation. Note how I said that: the account in Genesis is not incompatible with Shestov's interpretation. I did not say "Shestov's interpretation must be correct."

:: [tenpenny] :: 2) Why then does God say (to whom exactly is unclear - other members of the Trinity?), "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever" [Gn 3:22]? By your understanding, this statement by God appears nonsensical. Why would God say this, if it's simply a matter of expelling man from Eden, in order to prevent further partaking from the tree of life. By your understanding, so what if man takes one last bite, so to speak, from the tree of life before God expels him, what's the harm in it? It would be the last time he would do so and, in any event, would not affect the final outcome. No, the account as we have it in Genesis indicates otherwise. It indicates that partaking from the tree of life confers life irrevocably.

::: [Persiflage] ::: Facts that can be absolutely deduced from this passage are (1) eating from the tree of life would make a fallen Adam live forever in his fallen state, (2) there was some property in the tree of life that God could use to give Adam & Eve eternal life, and (3) part of the punishment or consequence for the fall was now denying eternal life from Adam & Eve, while in their fallen states. Speculation that cannot be deduced from this passage would include the exact number of bites, precisely, that Adam would have to take, in order to get immortality again. All that's clear is God says Adam shouldn't be allowed to eat of the tree, and so Adam isn't allowed to eat of the tree. Exactly the mechanics of how the tree works is not relevant to the point of the story, and thus left out.

Well, mechanics do become relevant once you ask: If man is ignorant of good and evil, how can he disobey? If eating from the tree of knowledge bestowed the knowledge of good and evil but also made man mortal, then eating from the tree of life bestowed immortality but would also... leave man ignorant of good and evil?

:: [tenpenny] :: Evidently, man had not partaken of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden at any time.

::: [Persiflage] ::: No Scripture exists to back this claim up. This is something we can't know. Yes, that's right. I believe there are some things that we cannot know right now. It's not directly affecting the facts that (1) Adam's life was given to him by the power of God, (2) Adam fell and so God took away the power that was keeping Adam alive just like He said He would.

Well, Genesis 3:22 might appear to do just that (emphasis mine): "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."

:: [tenpenny] :: And there is further evidence for this assertion, inasmuch as the Genesis account states (emphasis added), "In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," and then later Eve relates to the serpent that God's instruction was (emphasis added), "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." Now, it seems there is a paradox here that defies logical resolution: how can both trees be in the (precise) middle of the garden? We don't know the answer to this, but we can assume that in some inscrutable way both trees were somehow in the middle of the garden.

::: [Persiflage] ::: Dude, how much mathematical minutia does the word "middle" have to contain here? Smaller than square inches, square feet, square miles? - for all we know, the middle of the garden could have consisted of 10 square miles. There is no information on this in the passage because it is not important to us. I fail to find anything about this inscrutable. Why are we supposed to try and infer anything mysterious about 2 trees being in the middle of the garden. It's about as interesting as trying to infer the color of Adam & Eve's hair.

Does anyone here know if in the original Hebrew "tree" was referred to specifically twice in this: "In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?" If it's not, and the second "tree" is a translation artifact, I think Shestov's argument (as interpreted by tenpenny) is strengthened.

:: [tenpenny] :: Therefore, by Eve's statement, the tree of life was also warned against.

::: [Persiflage] ::: False. The writer of Genesis wasn't trying to sneaky here, what matters to this story is stated clear and simple. Fact: There are 2 trees in the middle of the garden (Genesis 2:9). Fact: the one tree they are forbidden to eat from is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Fact: Eve is referring to only one tree in Genesis 3:2-3. And, Fact: we know which tree this is because we've already read 2:16-17 and it's made even more clear by 3:5.

Again, see my previous question.

:: [tenpenny] :: There can be no logically consistent answer that squares every statement but, on balance, the evidence indicates that the tree of life was never partaken of by man, whether or not one assumes that God had actually warned man against it.

::: [Persiflage] ::: But nowhere is the writer of Genesis logically contradicting himself or being inconsistent. It only says that they were allowed to eat of any tree (including the tree of life) except one, and then they were forbidden to eat of the tree of life after the Fall. There is no need to make any further assumption that God warned Adam against eating from some other tree, before the Fall, that God simply does not warn Adam against in these chapters of Scripture.

I believe the writer of Genesis is indeed inconsistent. In Genesis 3:2-3, Eve tells the snake (emphasis mine), “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it...'" This whole touching restriction is not what we were told God said. If Eve made that part up, she's lying, and since this is before any fruit has been eaten, we must assume she can't be. So the writer, we must conclude is inconsistent in the relating of this story.

:: [tenpenny] :: Why man didn't partake of the tree of life, if he was going to ignore God's warning, as opposed to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is another mystery.

::: [Persiflage] ::: No, it's not. They ate from the ONE tree God told them not to eat from, and they did it on purpose.

To answer tenpenny's question: Maybe because the snake began the conversation about the tree of knowledge and not the tree of life?

:: [tenpenny] :: That, as I take it, would be Shestov's reasoning, to the extent that one can call an argument that necessarily has to deal with a paradoxical statement or two in the text reasoning. Of course, one can object that to use reason to, in effect, attack reason (i.e. by equating knowledge with death) seems a little self-negating, to say the least. But such was Shestov: his attacks on reason were well-reasoned.

::: [Persiflage] ::: No, they weren't well reasoned. That's the problem. If his attack on reason really consists of the kind of assumptions and inferences he's asserting are in Genesis 2 and 3, then he's relying on pure speculative make-up-your-own-theology additions to Scripture that are not there. A warning against eating the tree of life because it's also in the middle of the garden?? I'm sorry, but that's just not in those verses. If this is really how Shestov interpreted Scripture, I cannot stress how dangerous his ignoring the elementary rules of Biblical Hermeneutics really is. But I'm afraid his method of interpretation is probably common in church today. And it comes out of blatantly ignoring common sense, elementary rules on how to think properly. Note: other great Christian men have ignored this stuff too, some of St. Augustine's allegorical interpretations of Scripture are complete made up crap as well. But, it's not cool, man, not cool at all.

Remember, tenpenny was unpacking what he believes Shestov would have argued as an underlying basis for his interpretation of the Fall. And I'd say his attempt seems fairly well reasoned indeed. I agree though, if his basis requires these assumptions and inferences from his readers, he may have been writing a wee bit above some folk's heads. Or, maybe he just forgot to spell it all out?

These "magical" trees and paradoxes feel very Jewish to me. What is the Jewish doctrine on the cause of mortality? Does it fall in line with the Christian thought of disobedience was the cause?

Please note: I've not read anything by Shestov (yet). ::blush::

Edited by Darryl A. Armstrong

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Well, Genesis 3:22 might appear to do just that (emphasis mine): "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."

The phrase doesn't really say anything about whether the fruit was consumed before or not. The point of the passage is that, now that man has eaten from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he shouldn't get the Tree of Life.

Does anyone here know if in the original Hebrew "tree" was referred to specifically twice in this: "In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?" If it's not, and the second "tree" is a translation artifact, I think Shestov's argument (as interpreted by tenpenny) is strengthened.

I believe the original text mentions tree twice. Not 100% on that--I'll get back to you--but I'm pretty sure.

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Does anyone here know if in the original Hebrew "tree" was referred to specifically twice in this: "In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?" If it's not, and the second "tree" is a translation artifact

No, there is a nice repetition in the verse. All the trees... the tree of life... the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...

And also germane to the above, the Hebrew word here sometimes translated "middle" is less definitive than a geometric point. It often just means "amidst" as if the trees were there in the garden, but are not located specifically by the author. Their prominence derives from their unique designation by the Creator rather than their location in the garden. I think some translations choose "middle" because the narrative here may grant the word a more particular force, as if the author wants us to picture these trees at the center of this garden. But it isn't necessary from a lexical standpoint. I find it far more intriguing to think that these trees did not have any special place in the garden, but were simply there among the rest of the trees that were good for seeing and eating. It was only God's command that gave them an aura of significance among the arboreal splendor of the new world.

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I'd say Kierkegaard's biggest influence on Barth (and especially his commentary on Romans) is his use of dialectic and paradox ... If by existentialist you mean Barth remained a dialectician, then yes, Barth remained existentialist. Although I don't believe dialectic thought necesarily equals existential through and through ... I think it might be safe to say that Barth was willing to admit the influence of existentialism in some of his earlier work. However Barth, and McCormick would agree, the existential influence wasn't a material influence to his thinking and it could be easily eradicated without changing the fundamental character of his earlier thought.

Just for my own educational purposes, isn't Karl Barth usually referred to as neo-orthodox? Why was it again that Barth didn't like being called neo-orthodox? I've read through parts of Barth's Epistle to the Romans and Kierkegaard certainly shows up often (at one point he's even cited to suggest that theology itself is presumptive and harmful to Christ). However, if it's more strictly true that Barth was influenced by Existentialism, rather than calling him an actual existentialist, then that's what I'd prefer to do. I'm also curious, I've heard contradicting accounts of what exactly "dialectic thought" means in theology. How would you define it?

I'm curious...is there anyone who has sat down, intellectually studied Christianity and concluded it is true-that didn't take some sort of faith leap? If there is one thing I have found to be true, it is that people are more inclined to accept something intellectually if they are at least sympathetic to the idea that it is already truth. That's how people accept things we might find outlandish. And then when people point to something we might believe that is equally outlandish, we have an argument we (or someone we respect) created to say why "It's different!"

YES. Plenty of atheists or nonbelievers have sat down, considered the rational evidence for Christianity, and then, on that basis (already having decided based on reason that God exists, that Jesus existed, the Christ's words and Scripture are accurate) to take Jesus at his word and believe in Him to save them. Recent famous examples include G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Whittaker Chambers, Malcolm Muggeridge, Evelyn Waugh, Alister McGrath, Lee Strobel, and Marvin Olasky. However, concluding something is logically true (even if it's a religion) is not what existentialists mean by the "leap of faith" - neither is choosing to put your faith on Christ because you've been convinced Christianity is true by rational evidence.

Rather, his use of existential forms in his earlier thinking was an expedient way to continue doing theology in that liberal context he was engaging. Over time, as he became increasingly realist and even biblicist, he came to see his earlier appropriation as an easy way out. In the Dogmatics, his dialectical thinking matures, and we see his understanding of the Word of God both being and becoming develop in a more concretely biblical space.

Biblicist? Isn't a Biblicist one who interprets Scripture literally?

And God bless people for reclaiming this Kierkegaard from Francis Schaeffer.

What? Oh, after looking it up, turns out Francis Schaeffer wrote, in his book, The God Who Is There (which I read years ago, so I should have remembered) this -

pgs. 21-22 -

It is often said that Soren Kierkegaard, the Dane (1813-55), is the father of all modern thinking. And so he is. He is the father of modern secular thinking and of the new theological thinking ... Kierkegaard came to the conclusion that you could not arrive at synthesis by reason. Instead, you achieved everything of real importance by a leap of faith. So he separated absolutely the rational and logical from faith ... It is not our purpose here to discuss all that Kierkegaard taught ... the important thing about him is that, when he put forth the concept of a leap of faith, he became in a real way the father of all modern existential thought, both secular and theological.

As a result of this, from that time on, if rationalistic man wants to deal with the real things of human life (such as purpose, significance, the validity of love) he must discard rational thought about them and make a gigantic, non-rational leap of faith. The rationalistic framework had failed to produce an answer on the basis of reason, and so all hope of a uniform field of knowledge had to be abandoned. We get the resulting dichotomy like this:

The Non-Rational and Non-Logical = Existential experience; the final experience; the first-order experience.

The Rational and Logical = Only particulars, no purpose, no meaning. Man is a machine.

Once we appreciate the development of modern philosophy in this way, we may note that, though there appear to be many forms of philosophy today, in reality there are very few. They have a uniform cast about them. You might listen, on the one hand, to the defining philosophy as taught in Cambridge, and then turn, on the other hand, to the existentialism of, say, Karl Jaspers, and think there was no unity between them. But this is not so. There is one basic agreement in almost all the Chairs of Philosophy today, and that is a radical denial of the possibility of putting forth a circle which will encompass all. In this sense the philosophies of today can be called in all seriousness anti-philosophies.

pg. 44 -

The line of despair is a unit and the steps in the line have a distinguishing and unifying mark. With Hegel and Kierkegaard man gave up the concept of a rational, unified field of knowledge and accepted instead the idea of a leap of faith in those areas which make man to be man - purpose, love, morals and so on. It was this leap of faith that originally caused the line of despair. The various steps on the line - philosophy, art, music, theatre and so on - differ in details, and these details are interesting and important, but in a way they are only incidental. The distinctive mark of the twentieth century intellectual and cultural climate does not lie in the differences but in the unifying concept. This unifying concept is the concept of a divided field of knowledge.

pgs. 51-54 -

Modern existential theology finds its origin in Kierkegaard, as does secular existentialism. They are related together at the very heart of their systems, that is, 'the leap of faith.' Theology comes as the last step, but it is by no means isolated from the rest of the cultural consensus we have been reviewing. There is diversity within the unity of the new theology. There is a difference, for example, between neo-orthodoxy and the new liberalism following the new Heidegger. If we want to be careful scholars we must appreciate such differences. But if we miss the unity which binds together all expressions of modern theology, we have missed the essential point ... Neo-orthodoxy gave no new answer. What existential philosophy had already said in secular language, it now said in theological language. We can represent it like this:

The Non-Rational and Non-Logical = A crisis first-order experience. Faith as an optimistic leap without verification or communicable content.

The Rational and Logical = The Scripture full of mistakes. Pessimism.

... The new theology has given up hope of finding a unified field of knowledge. Hence, in contrast to Biblical and Reformation theology, it is an anti-theology ... Karl Barth was the doorway in theology into the line of despair. He continued to hold the higher (negative) critical theories which the liberals held and yet, by a leap, sought to by-pass the two rational alternatives - a return to the historic view of Scripture or the acceptance of pessimism. After the first edition of his Epistle to the Romans, he no longer acknowledged his debt to Kierkegaard. However, still believing the higher critical theories, his 'leap' still continued to be the base of his optimistic answers. In later years, as his followers have carried his views forward, he has drawn back from their consistent extensions. But as Kierkegaard, with his leap, opened the door to existentialism in general, so Karl Barth opened the door to the existentialistic leap in theology. As in other disciplines, the basic issue is the shift in epistomology ... As far as the [new] theologians are concerned, they have separated religious truth from contact with science on the one hand and history on the other. Their new system is not open to verification, it must simply be believed.

So, I'm assuming, M. Leary, that believe Schaeffer is mischaracterizing Kierkegaard somehow? How?

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Biblicist? Isn't a Biblicist one who interprets Scripture literally?

He defines what it means for his own method here on pages 11-12. These pages in Barth are among the finest responses to the excesses of that era of historical criticism, and they still work in many quarters today. I would love to see Barth and Bart Ehrman have a conversation.

The Non-Rational and Non-Logical = Existential experience; the final experience; the first-order experience.

The Rational and Logical = Only particulars, no purpose, no meaning. Man is a machine.

The Non-Rational and Non-Logical = A crisis first-order experience. Faith as an optimistic leap without verification or communicable content.

The Rational and Logical = The Scripture full of mistakes. Pessimism.

So, I'm assuming, M. Leary, that believe Schaeffer is mischaracterizing Kierkegaard somehow? How?

Right there ^. It is hard to even know where to start here in cataloging the series of errors that leads to these two false dichotomies that inform the bulk of Schaeffer's historical and cultural commentary. Schaeffer has to misconstrue a lot of intellectual history to make these simple judgments. Throughout his work, he insists on the idea that there is this unity between thinkers like Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Barth, Tillich, etc... in the sense that they have "given up hope of finding a unified field of knowledge." This is a massive oversimplification of an era in which we find philosophers and theologians finally grappling in contemporary, constructive terms with historical particularity and the resurrection (respectively). These dichotomies Schaeffer draws are what causes him, quite oddly, to lament a despair in modern art and culture that others (including the artists themselves) considered expressions of joy, peace, and post-war hope. He fails to see the grace in Wittgenstein, pastoral urgency in Kierkegaard, victorious hope in Barth, the formative re-scrutiny of rationality in Anglo-analytics, etc... Schaeffer's "line of despair" is a red herring. It certainly exists, it just isn't drawn where Schaeffer thinks it is.

Edited by M. Leary

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I'm curious...is there anyone who has sat down, intellectually studied Christianity and concluded it is true-that didn't take some sort of faith leap? If there is one thing I have found to be true, it is that people are more inclined to accept something intellectually if they are at least sympathetic to the idea that it is already truth. That's how people accept things we might find outlandish. And then when people point to something we might believe that is equally outlandish, we have an argument we (or someone we respect) created to say why "It's different!"

YES. Plenty of atheists or nonbelievers have sat down, considered the rational evidence for Christianity, and then, on that basis (already having decided based on reason that God exists, that Jesus existed, the Christ's words and Scripture are accurate) to take Jesus at his word and believe in Him to save them. Recent famous examples include G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Whittaker Chambers, Malcolm Muggeridge, Evelyn Waugh, Alister McGrath, Lee Strobel, and Marvin Olasky.

Of course...that's not what I asked. My question was did anyone conclude Christianity was true -but decided not to be a Christian? Of course, some have looked at the same things as all those you mentioned and come to opposite conclusions about the reality of Christianity.

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Instead, I'm talking about the people I've met in the white, wealthy churches where I grew up, people who were generally out of touch with sorrow and more interested in living in happy bubbles. These people would rely on the "just believe" excuse to avoid thinking about difficult issues, to maintain the simplicity and comfort of their existence, and in doing so, maintain the shallowness of their faith. Such has been the bulk of individuals I've met through my travels through the world of evangelicalism, and I'm not sure that kind of "just believe" response has much to do with the "leap of faith" idea suggested by Kierkegaard.

I fully believe that Kierkegaard was a heavy thinker, and he was interested in difficult issues. While I believe he reached some true and some false conclusions, and unfortunately, the "leap of faith" conclusion of his has been both [a] mischaracterized as an excuse for theological laziness, and taken to logical conclusions further than he reached himself. One example of the disconnect between choosing to "just have faith" and rationalism is in the faith & science debates within modern evangelicalism. Even in conservative circles, there is a divide between those arguing for their own literal interpretations of the Bible in the face of a ton of scientific evidence to the contrary. So, while I'm claiming that Christian existentialist thought is an influence on this divide, I'm also willing to admit that Christian existentialism, and non-existentialist, anti-intellectualism is only one part to certain larger theological questions that have been debated since even before Kierkegaard. Siger of Brabant, and the faith vs. reason arguments he made against Thomas Aquinas, could even be said to be a forerunner to Kierkegaard.

I'm still trying to think through and clarify some of my thoughts on this topic, so I may have already used the word "influence" in a couple places where I needed to figure out a better way to describe the occurrence of different historical thinkers arguing for essentially the same theological idea at different times. Kierkegaard may or may not have ever read or heard of Siger of Brabant, and the two of them probably would have disagreed on many different ideas, but the two of them also advocated for a couple of the same ideas, ideas that are still causing damage today.

It also helps better articulate what McCormick (and I clumsily) was getting at: any existentialism in early Barth (so, pre-mid 30's if we're going off his work on Anselm as being the turning point) wasn't a thorough-going existentialism (i.e. Barth was an existentialist theologian) but used it sparingly and for his benefit even if it wasn't crucial to his program. And you hit the nail on the head when you referred to him as a realist and a bit of a biblicist. If I had to pick a camp for Barth I would tend to put him in the realist camp first and foremost. Thus my confusion over the original post that praised realism (if I recall correctly) but was (open to be corrected) placing Barth in an existentialist camp.

Again, for my own education please, what would you describe as the "realist camp"? While I have done a large amount of reading on all of this, I know I still have a lot more to do.

Well, I don't think the "you just have to have faith instead of trying to reason" notion is at all a fair depiction of Kierkegaard. As that first link of Tenpenny's suggests, Kierkegaard did not deny rational knowledge wholesale; instead, he held that truth had both objective and subjective aspects. He simply held that rationality had limitations, as indicated, among other things, by the paradox of the Incarnation and the Trinity, spaces into which the human mind struggles to enter. But Kierkegaard would be absolutely horrified at a kind of brainless, unconsidered faith. To quote that article Tenpenny put forward: "Kierkegaard does not advocate a non-reflective faith. One can and should be reflective and rational concerning one’s faith."

Alright, I don't want to appear to be arguing that Kierkegaard was not reflective, and did not use reason in his arguments. Kierkegaard was certainly not brainless. So when I claim that he's irrational, I'm referring to one of his arguments without meaning to impinge upon his mental abilities. Kierkegaard used reason, and came to certain reasonable conclusions. But he also came to certain unreasonable conclusions about the limitations of rationality, of which, his "leap of faith" idea is one. I understand that he wasn't aiming to produce some of the "brainlessness" in the modern church with which some Christians embrace his "leap of faith" idea, but I still believe his leap of faith argument to be wrong.

But to claim existentialism has some real influence on American evangelicalism, you have to connect the dots historically between the works of Kierkegaard and the modern state of American evangelical belief. You can't just say, "Hey, these ideas seem similar, so there must be influence here!" Similar ideas can be arrived at by very different means.

Your challenges are encouraging me to work on this and I appreciate it. I'd just add the caveat that some of these ideas are identical, but yes, it is possible for two separate historical teachers to argue for the same identical theological proposition, while being completely oblivious to each others existence.

Oh, so God gives us all the answers, then? That doesn't seem very Biblical to me. That's not to say God fails to give us any answers at all. But there are always gaps, spaces which our mind struggles to enter, or spaces where God refuses us revelation. Remember that God's response to Job is not an articulate proof and defense, but a devastating rebuttal of Job's knowledge.

No, God doesn't give us all the answers. He only gives us the ones that matter and that are relevant to doing what we are supposed to do here on earth. The "God's thoughts surpass all human understanding" collection of Scripture verses are both [a] true, and misinterpreted to mean something more than they actually say.

Tillich would be a better sparring partner in this thread, even if he wasn't much of a Kierkegaardian. In fact, Persiflage, I think your beef is more with Protestant Liberalism than it is with Kierkegaard. Many applications of the kinds of existentialism we see in Tillich do result in some of the theological tendencies you are responding to. (Though my appreciation of Tillich as an apologist for the sacred in a more generalized way has deepened in the past few years, as long as I am allowed to think of generalizing about the sacred as a phenomenon and particularizing the resurrection as two different occupations. The verdict is still out on that.)

From what I've read of liberal theology and existentialist theology, there are some important distinctions. Summed up generally, the problem with Protestant Liberalism is that they use faulty Bible interpretation techniques and incorrect theology in order to deny important Christian truths. But I've found liberals to be much more rationalistic than existentialists. Summed up generally, the problem with Christian Existentialists is that they use the same faulty Bible interpretation techniques and embrace some of the same incorrect theology, AND THEN ALSO, affirm many of the same Christian truths argued against rationally by the liberals. So the Protestant Liberal can argue rationally that a Christian claim to truth is irrational and false. The Christian Existentialist then comes along and argues that the same Christian truth claim is irrational, but that we should accept it as true anyway because it's just better that way.

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the problem with Protestant Liberalism is that they use faulty Bible interpretation techniques and incorrect theology in order to deny important Christian truths.

Summed up generally, the problem with Christian Existentialists is that they use the same faulty Bible interpretation techniques and embrace some of the same incorrect theology, AND THEN ALSO, affirm many of the same Christian truths argued against rationally by the liberals.

Who are either of these people? Specifically?

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But he also came to certain unreasonable conclusions about the limitations of rationality, of which, his "leap of faith" idea is one.

I'm beginning to wonder what you think Kierkegaard's "leap to faith" idea actually entails. That, and why, precisely, you think it is so untenable, which, as far as I'm aware, you haven't really explored beyond some very broad statements.

He only gives us the ones that matter and that are relevant to doing what we are supposed to do here on earth.

But this isn't the same as God providing a water-tight systematic, logical theodicy or proof of the divinity of Christ, the historicity of Christ's resurrection, so forth and so on.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Persiflage,

I'm sorry I was testy with you, and I apologize. I was tired when I posted and I think that contributed to it.

I realize now that I haven't connected the dots, so to speak, very well at all. The interpretation of the Fall would, naturally, seem to you like a totally peripheral issue, so why would you respond to it, particularly? Especially since Ryan was the one who brought it up and my comments were directed (at least nominally) to him. My bad.

Okay, I will try to connect the dots better. I wrote the following on my blog, in this post (but read the whole post, if you have time):

No theme was more foundational for Shestov than the biblical legend of the Fall. To understand the Fall, in the precise way that Shestov understood the Fall, is to understand Shestov; to miss it, is to miss Shestov. No more; no less.

So, yeah, the Fall is not a side issue with Shestov. He bases pretty much everything he wrote on it. Also, I'm sorry now that I even posted that little "Q & A" post about mortality / immortality because I think it directed your attention to the wrong place. The "Q & A" post was offered simply as a brief addendum to my longer, and I think more important, post before that, i.e. the one about mortality being intrinsic to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. To put it in a shorthand form, for better dot-connecting purposes: Knowledge = Death. As Shestov says in the quote that Ryan cited and disagreed with:

The theologians, even those like St. Augustine, have feared this secret, and instead of reading what was written in the Bible, viz: that man became mortal because he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they read that man became mortal because he disobeyed God.

What does any of this have to do with Christian doctrine? In terms of the contents of Christian doctrine, perhaps nothing. But in terms of whether a nonbeliever approaches Christian doctrine or anything concerning God, and whether a believer stays where he is, perhaps everything. How so? Because it speaks to the terrible danger of cupiditas scientiae (lust for knowledge). Shestov writes about this in his book Athens and Jerusalem:

One would think that the religious philosophers of the Middle Ages should have seen that it was precisely this question of the eternal truths, the truths independent of God, that hid in itself the greatest dangers, and that they should consequently have strained all their powers to defend Jerusalem against Athens and recalled in this connection the warning of the Bible against the fruits of the tree of knowledge. Some of them did remember it. Gilson quotes in a footnote Peter Damian who affirmed that cupiditas scientiae (lust for knowledge) was for men "leader of the flock of all vices," but Gilson realizes that no one listened to Peter Damian; Bonaventura himself found these words strange. The enchantment of the fruits of the tree of knowledge always persists: we today aspire as eagerly to the eternal truths as the first man.

But what is it that seduces us in these truths that depend neither on ourselves nor on God, and why is it that we base our best hopes on the principle of contradiction or on the idea that what has once been cannot not have been? We do not even raise this question - as if the independence of the eternal rational and moral truths were the guarantee of our own independence. But it is just the opposite: these truths condemn us to the most repugnant slavery. Being independent of God's will, they themselves have neither will nor desire. They are indifferent to everything. They are not at all concerned with what they will bring to the world and to men, and automatically actualize their limitless power with which they themselves have nothing to do and which comes to them one knows not whence nor why. From the "law" - what has once been cannot not have been - may flow for us a good but also an evil - a horrible, insupportable evil; but the law will accomplish its work without caring about this. One cannot persuade the eternal truths, one cannot move them to pity. They are like the Necessity of which Aristotle said that "it does not allow itself to be persuaded." And despite this - or precisely because of this - men love the eternal truths and prostrate themselves before them. We can obtain nothing from them, consequently we must obey them. We have not the power to escape them, we see in our impotence an "impossibility," consequently we must worship them. This is the true meaning of the cupiditas scientiae: a puzzling concupiscentia irresistibilis carries us toward the impersonal, indifferent to everything, truth that we raise above the will of all living beings.

Is it not clear that we are in the power of that terrible, hostile force of which the Book of Genesis speaks to us? We have seen that all the commentators believed that the sin of the first man consisted in an act of disobedience: Adam wished "to be free," he refused to submit. In reality it is just the opposite that happened: having tasted of the fruits of the tree of knowledge, man lost the freedom that he possessed on leaving the hands of the Creator and became the slave of "the eternal truths." And he does not even suspect that the eritis scientes (you shall know) by means of which the tempter bewitched his soul led to his "fall." He continues to the present day, indeed, to identify his eternal salvation with knowledge.

Shestov is all about trying to break the deadly grip of cupiditas scientiae on men's minds. There is a certain class of people, and it is vast today, who may never come to Christ until or unless they free themselves, at least partly, from cupiditas scientiae.

About divine truth (and its "defenselessness" in the face of reason), Shestov writes:

It is a truth of "revelation." Like David in the Bible before the gigantic Goliath armed from head to foot, it remains invisible even to the "eyes of the mind," unarmed and defenseless before the innumerable army of all historic philosophy's arguments. It does not even have the sling possessed by the young shepherd, the future great king and psalmist. And yet, weak as it was, it entered into combat with "the wisdom of the century." "The unlearned rise and storm heaven," as Saint Augustine with amazement exclaimed. And Saint Thomas Aquinas echoed him: "But it would be more wonderful than all signs if the world were brought to believing such hard things, executing such difficult things, and hoping for such exalted things by simple and unlearned men without miraculous signs." And indeed, the Bible was brought to the world by simple, ignorant people who were absolutely incapable of defending it by the methods which learned people use to attack it.

But this Bible did not satisfy the philosophers. Even Saint Bonaventura, whose "Adam, as Brother Alexander of Hales said of him, did not seem to have sinned," wished to obtain "demonstrated" truth. Even the saints no longer escaped the consequences of the original sin: the doctor seraphicus (angelic doctor), the spiritual heir of Saint Francis of Assisi, who had overcome all earthly passions, is nevertheless possessed, like all of us, with the cupiditas scientiae (lust for knowledge) and cannot overcome this passion. He wishes to "defend" the truth of revelation, to make it self-evident. Temptation lies in wait for us just where we least expect it. Our Greek teachers put our vigilance to sleep by suggesting to us the conviction that the fruits of the tree of knowledge were and must be the principle of philosophy for all time. Even the doctor subtilis allowed himself to be tempted, as we have seen. He believes, but faith is not enough for him. He asks of God permission to taste the fruits of the tree of knowledge. All the most remarkable and influential representatives of the philosophy of the Middle Ages repeat endlessly: credo ut intelligam.

I hope you see now where I'm coming from - more than this I cannot do. As for this discussion, I do think I will retire from it, at least for the time being. I just received by post a book in Swedish that I've been waiting for (a recent biography of the theologian Gustaf Wingren), and that will probably absorb most of my free time for awhile.

All the best,

Michael McIntyre (aka tenpenny)

Edited by tenpenny

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the problem with Protestant Liberalism is that they use faulty Bible interpretation techniques and incorrect theology in order to deny important Christian truths.

Summed up generally, the problem with Christian Existentialists is that they use the same faulty Bible interpretation techniques and embrace some of the same incorrect theology, AND THEN ALSO, affirm many of the same Christian truths argued against rationally by the liberals.

Who are either of these people? Specifically?

Actually...the first comment makes me curious...along with who are these people...what are the "important Christian Truths" liberal Protetants deny?

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Andy, I'm very sorry to hear about your friends. My prayers go with them. I think you have a very good point that we all either have had, or will have, times of crushing grief and suffering. And it is during these times that our faith will be most tested. I agree with you that rational discussion of general revelation and evidence for the truth of Christianity during times of grief are not particularly comforting. But works and discussions like those of C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain are meant, not to console suffering believers, but to provide an answer to nonbelievers who are wondering about Christianity and how a good God could allow evil in the world. There is a time and place for everything.

I realized that there is something else I haven't made clear in this thread yet. Just because I disagree with the Christian Existentialist use of faith to supplant reason does not mean I don't hold faith to be a major requirement and life-saver within Christianity. Faith is what makes you a Christian - putting your faith and trust in Jesus, and His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave - that is the only thing that makes us Christians in the first place. A philosopher could prove that God exists, that Jesus existed and the gospels were true, that Christianity is the only religion that is true, and that still wouldn't make him a Christian. I don't think you need faith to know God exists or that Christianity is true. But there is still a huge difference between rationally demonstrating a Christian truth and placing your faith in Christ. ALSO, someone who falsely believes that there isn't really any good rational basis for the truth of Christianity, but who still puts his or her faith in Christ ... well, that person is just as much a believer as the one who only choose to put his faith in Christ to save him, after first looking at the rational evidence.

That's fair enough, and I appreciate the clarification. Thanks. I still wonder about the focus on the rationality of Christianity, however. It seems to me that in the history of Christianity this is a relatively recent phenomenon, at least as it pertains to people in the pews. I'm not suggesting that we return to a time when most people were illiterate, and when the experience of God was mediated via soaring Gothic cathedrals, and incense, and stained glass windows, as beautiful as those things are. But I do think there is an essential element of mystery -- of plain, unadorned, we-don't-know-and-we'll-never-understand-so-you-gotta-have-faith bedrock belief that has been missing from this discussion.

Christianity is not rational. It's crazy through and through. It purports that a poor, itinerant preacher from a cultural backwater who was put to death as a common criminal was actually God in the flesh, that he was really dead and then came back to life, that he could walk through walls but still eat fish, that after a while he flew up to heaven, that he's still alive today, that he's always been alive (except for that brief bit where he was dead; don't think too hard about that), and that because of these events my sins, which are many (talk to my wife), have been forgiven, and that I have obtained eternal life with him when I trust him to save me and make me less of a jerk.

This is certifiably nuts. I happen to believe it's true, but it's certifiably nuts. This is the scandal of the gospel, and it should not be minimized. Furthermore, any rational basis for faith is shot to hell whenever a Christian encounters unexplained and unexplainable tragedy. I'm not going to say to my friends who just lost their infant son "you just gotta believe." And I'm certainly not going to regale them with proofs for God, and bring up Anselm and the Ontological argument, or any other piffle for which they ought to rightly punch me in the nose. I'm going to hug them, bring them some meals, sit with them and cry with them. But I'm not going to try to explain any of it. I have no idea.

Perhaps, some days or weeks or years later, they will think back on their time on the planet and recall the reality of God in their lives. I hope so, because I know they have experienced the reality of God in their lives, just as I have. This is as mysterious and a-rational (not irrational; it's just that rationality has nothing to do with it) as it gets. But it's scriptural. Time and time again the authors of the Old Testament books call the people of Israel to think back on those times when God was most real, most evident in their lives, when crazy, unexplainable things happened. They often did this in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of dry times when God seemed galaxies away.

Rational faith is fine as far as it goes. But frankly, it doesn't go very far. In fact, "rational faith" sounds a lot like "proof" to me, and proof is the one thing we absolutely do not have. I suspect that's why we're called to have faith.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I appreciate the thoughtful comments so far everyone. I'm going to have to take a week off from this and from most of my A&F participation for about a week, but I do plan on responding to and thinking about what I haven't got to yet so far. This is still a subject I'm interested in tackling for a while, just after I've finished some important and time-consuming work for a week first.

So, I'll get back to this soon ...

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Hope you have a productive week. The above conversation may look like a lot of heat, but it is also generating a lot of light. I am thankful for your contributions here at A&F.

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Hope you have a productive week. The above conversation may look like a lot of heat, but it is also generating a lot of light. I am thankful for your contributions here at A&F.

::thumbsupup::

And while I'm here, I've got the outlines of the definitive Barth post floating around. OK, not definitive, but hopefully clarifying a bit about Kierkegaard's influence on Barth, early versus late Barth, Barth the biblicist and realist. I've been a bit on the busy side the last few days--amongst other things leading this project--but hopefully will get around to it soon.

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Alright, I can start getting back into this a little bit. Looks like I have quite a bit of catching up to do.

 

Well, mechanics do become relevant once you ask: If man is ignorant of good and evil, how can he disobey? If eating from the tree of knowledge bestowed the knowledge of good and evil but also made man mortal, then eating from the tree of life bestowed immortality but would also... leave man ignorant of good and evil?

By mechanics I was referring to the mechanics by which God decided to use the tree (did He actually put magical powers in the tree that would poison the life in Adam and Eve? did He simply put a tree there for Adam and Eve's will to be free, and then just withdrew eternal life from them after they rebelled? who cares?). Man could disobey because he had something called free will. He was told not to do something and then did it (while he was free to either do it or not do it). Again, getting down to particulars not specified in Scripture seems like a useless activity to me. Did the fruit specifically and magically instill knowledge of good and evil inside the brains of Adam and Eve? Or did the mere act of disobeying God instill the knowledge of evil inside the beings of Adam and Eve, and it was from that possibility that the tree derived it's name? If we're brainstorming, I can speculate till the cows come home about how precisely an infinite and sovereign God decided to do what He said He would do.

 

Does anyone here know if in the original Hebrew "tree" was referred to specifically twice in this: "In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?" If it's not, and the second "tree" is a translation artifact, I think Shestov's argument (as interpreted by tenpenny) is strengthened.

The Hebrew word for tree is "ates" (Strong's Number 6086) and it does indeed appear twice in Genesis 6:9, once for each separate tree.

 

But nowhere is the writer of Genesis logically contradicting himself or being inconsistent. It only says that they were allowed to eat of any tree (including the tree of life) except one, and then they were forbidden to eat of the tree of life after the Fall. There is no need to make any further assumption that God warned Adam against eating from some other tree, before the Fall, that God simply does not warn Adam against in these chapters of Scripture.

I believe the writer of Genesis is indeed inconsistent. In Genesis 3:2-3, Eve tells the snake (emphasis mine), “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it...'" This whole touching restriction is not what we were told God said. If Eve made that part up, she's lying, and since this is before any fruit has been eaten, we must assume she can't be. So the writer, we must conclude is inconsistent in the relating of this story.

An elementary rule of hermeneutics is that twice or thrice told tales in the Bible do not have to be literally word-for-word-detail-for-detail EXACTLY the same. And if they aren't, that doesn't necessarily demand logical contradiction. Some people take this to mean that the Four Gospels contradict each other. ("But ... but ... Matthew says the 2 Marys found the empty tomb, while Mark says the 2 Marys and Salome found the empty tomb ... AH HA!") In this case, I'd suggest that Eve can be mistaken without lying, and that being led into sin is a process, her thinking gets more confused the longer the devil questions her.

Note: I first thought that the questions tenpenny and Shestov were asking about the details in the story of the Fall were an off topic rabbit trail. After further consideration, turns out HOW you interpret Scripture is dependent on your philosophy, and there is definitely an Existentialist approach to interpreting Scripture that Shestov has used here, and that I've seen others like Barth use elsewhere. I'm even tempted to say that this discussion is illustrative of the anti-rationalist Existentialist approach to Scripture, because it allows for more reading your own personal meanings and inferences into the text, instead of just letting the text say what it says, period.

 

No, there is a nice repetition in the verse. All the trees... the tree of life... the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...

And also germane to the above, the Hebrew word here sometimes translated "middle" is less definitive than a geometric point. It often just means "amidst" as if the trees were there in the garden, but are not located specifically by the author. Their prominence derives from their unique designation by the Creator rather than their location in the garden. I think some translations choose "middle" because the narrative here may grant the word a more particular force, as if the author wants us to picture these trees at the center of this garden. But it isn't necessary from a lexical standpoint. I find it far more intriguing to think that these trees did not have any special place in the garden, but were simply there among the rest of the trees that were good for seeing and eating. It was only God's command that gave them an aura of significance among the arboreal splendor of the new world.

M. Leary is, right here, 100% correct.

 

Biblicist? Isn't a Biblicist one who interprets Scripture literally?

He defines what it means for his own method here on pages 11-12. These pages in Barth are among the finest responses to the excesses of that era of historical criticism, and they still work in many quarters today. I would love to see Barth and Bart Ehrman have a conversation.

So, for example, when Barth explains his interpretation method -

Strictly speaking, no single verse seems to me capable of a smooth interpretation. There ‘remains’ everywhere, more or less in the background, that which subtly escapes both understanding and interpretation, or which, at least, awaits further investigation. But this cannot be thought of as a ‘residuum’ simply to be put on one side or disregarded. It is my so-called ‘Biblicism’ and ‘Alexandrianism’ which forbid me to allow the mark of competent scholarship to be that the critic discloses fragments of past history and then leaves them - unexplained. I have, moreover, no desire to conceal the fact that my ‘Biblicist’ method - which means in the end no more than ‘consider well’ - is applicable also to the study of Lao-Tse and of Goethe. Nor can I deny that I should find considerable difficulty in applying the method to certain of the books contained in the Bible itself. When I am named ‘Biblicist,’ all that can rightly be proved against me is that I am prejudiced in supposing the Bible to be a good book, and that I hold it to be profitable for men to take its conceptions at least as seriously as they take their own.

- why is it so hard to understand his position? It seems vague and unclear. I've never understood why Bible interpretation is supposed to be so very hard and mysterious. Yes, we need to study Scripture and the Holy Spirit works to help us understand how to apply it to our own lives better. But interpreting the meaning of Scripture, in and of itself, is simply an intellectual exercise in following the certain rules of Hermeneutics. Getting the meaning of the words is easy, it's figuring out how to grow in and more fully understand the depths of God's character and truths that the words reveal to us that is the hard part. Barth plays with the label "Biblicist" like it doesn't mean anything to him, unless he gives it his own meaning himself. But I'm trying to understand why he still sounds so hesitant. It's like he's trying to communicate what he believes about the Bible, but finds it difficult. When ever I read writers who are trying to make an argument but are hesitant about actually claiming much of anything, it gives me a pain. Just let it out, dude, say something more like "When I am named 'Biblicist,' all that can rightly be proved about me is that I have become convinced that the words of Scripture are true, that Scripture acts like a sword dividing our false conceptions & desires away from us and leading us to salvation in Christ, and that it contains special revelations that we will never find in Lao-Tse or Goethe."

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That Shestov stuff is very interesting.

The idea that something immortal can become mortal (or vice versa) is very puzzling to me. If being mortal means that "one will die in the future," then it seems just as correct to say that Adam was mortal before partaking of the fruit as it is to say that he was mortal after. How can one existing in time ever know whether one is immortal or mortal? Supposing I'm immortal, how do I know that death doesn't await me somewhere down the line? And how could I know I'm mortal without experiencing death--something that is unexperienceable by definition (i.e. that death is the expiring of consciousness).

An appealing alternative is that the pre-fall state is a metaphor for a state beyond time, beyond duality.

Shestov's stance against knowledge seems to echo Nietzsche's. Take for example these excerpts from Beyond Good and Evil:

1. The Will to Truth, which is to tempt us to many a hazardous enterprise, the famous Truthfulness of which all philosophers have hitherto spoken with respect, what questions has this Will to Truth not laid before us! What strange, perplexing, questionable questions! It is already a long story; yet it seems as if it were hardly commenced. Is it any wonder if we at last grow distrustful, lose patience, and turn impatiently away? That this Sphinx teaches us at last to ask questions ourselves? WHO is it really that puts questions to us here? WHAT really is this "Will to Truth" in us? In fact we made a long halt at the question as to the origin of this Will—until at last we came to an absolute standstill before a yet more fundamental question. We inquired about the VALUE of this Will. Granted that we want the truth: WHY NOT RATHER untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance? The problem of the value of truth presented itself before us—or was it we who presented ourselves before the problem? Which of us is the Oedipus here? Which the Sphinx? It would seem to be a rendezvous of questions and notes of interrogation. And could it be believed that it at last seems to us as if the problem had never been propounded before, as if we were the first to discern it, get a sight of it, and RISK RAISING it? For there is risk in raising it, perhaps there is no greater risk.

[...]

4. The falseness of an opinion is not for us any objection to it: it is here, perhaps, that our new language sounds most strangely. The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps species-rearing, and we are fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest opinions (to which the synthetic judgments a priori belong), are the most indispensable to us, that without a recognition of logical fictions, without a comparison of reality with the purely IMAGINED world of the absolute and immutable, without a constant counterfeiting of the world by means of numbers, man could not live—that the renunciation of false opinions would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life. TO RECOGNISE UNTRUTH AS A CONDITION OF LIFE; that is certainly to impugn the traditional ideas of value in a dangerous manner, and a philosophy which ventures to do so, has thereby alone placed itself beyond good and evil.

Whereas Nietzsche focuses on how "truth" degrades man's will, Shestov aims to show how it degrades God's will.

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It is hard to even know where to start here in cataloging the series of errors that leads to these two false dichotomies that inform the bulk of Schaeffer's historical and cultural commentary. Schaeffer has to misconstrue a lot of intellectual history to make these simple judgments. Throughout his work, he insists on the idea that there is this unity between thinkers like Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Barth, Tillich, etc... in the sense that they have "given up hope of finding a unified field of knowledge." This is a massive oversimplification of an era in which we find philosophers and theologians finally grappling in contemporary, constructive terms with historical particularity and the resurrection (respectively). These dichotomies Schaeffer draws are what causes him, quite oddly, to lament a despair in modern art and culture that others (including the artists themselves) considered expressions of joy, peace, and post-war hope. He fails to see the grace in Wittgenstein, pastoral urgency in Kierkegaard, victorious hope in Barth, the formative re-scrutiny of rationality in Anglo-analytics, etc... Schaeffer's "line of despair" is a red herring. It certainly exists, it just isn't drawn where Schaeffer thinks it is.

I think it's important to distinguish between setting up a false dichotomy and claiming that there are a few main ideas supported by otherwise different theologians and philosophers. Remember again that Schaeffer thinks it important to say this -

There is diversity within the unity of the new theology. There is a difference, for example, between neo-orthodoxy and the new liberalism following the new Heidegger. If we want to be careful scholars we must appreciate such differences. But if we miss the unity which binds together all expressions of modern theology, we have missed the essential point.

If you separate the rational from religious experience, you end up with very particular logical results. You'd have to come up with examples for me on works of art that Schaeffer thinks are expressions of despair that the artists intended as expressions of joy. When I watched that How Should We Then Live? video series of his, the nonChristian works of art he showed all looked pretty depressing.

the problem with Protestant Liberalism is that they use faulty Bible interpretation techniques and incorrect theology in order to deny important Christian truths.

Summed up generally, the problem with Christian Existentialists is that they use the same faulty Bible interpretation techniques and embrace some of the same incorrect theology, AND THEN ALSO, affirm many of the same Christian truths argued against rationally by the liberals.

Who are either of these people? Specifically?

Off the top of my head, liberals with faulty hermeneutics would include Jim Wallis, Marcus Borg, Tony Campolo, and John Shelby Spong. While, if developed, it's probably a topic for a different thread, I find the Emergent Church crowd's dislike of holding to doctrine and Scriptural inerrancy perhaps not so strangely consistent with their appreciation for the ideas of Soren Kierkegaard. The main proponents of these ideas include Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Rob Bell, Dan Kimball, Leonard Sweet, Erwin Raphel MacManus, and Brian McLaren. But I'll even add another, unfortunately enough, there's an evangelical conservative element that also tends to replace the rational with mandates to rely on faith instead, these would include Joel Osteeen, Max Lucado, Joyce Meyer, and Pat Robertson, to name a few.

The liberals think Kierkegaard just didn't take things far enough. The Emergent crowd thinks Kierkegaard was right. And the more anti-rationalist element among conservatives may not even know who Kierkegaard was in the first place.

I'm beginning to wonder what you think Kierkegaard's "leap to faith" idea actually entails. That, and why, precisely, you think it is so untenable, which, as far as I'm aware, you haven't really explored beyond some very broad statements.

Ok, well from the Kierkegaard that I've read, the "leap of faith" idea is essentially the logical conclusion of his work, Concluding Unscientific Postscript. I've got to get a copy of it again, for now, Anthony Storm has written a good summary. Selections from Kierkegaard's writing are like this -

Anyone who as a believer posits inspiration must consistently regard every critical deliberation—whether as for or against—as something dubious, a kind of temptation. And anyone who, without having faith, ventures out into critical deliberations cannot possibly want to have inspiration result from them. To whom, then, is it all really of interest?... Faith does not result from straightforward scholarly deliberation, nor does it come directly; on the contrary, in this objectivity one loses that infinite, personal, impassioned interestedness, which is the condition of faith, the ubique et nusquam [everywhere and nowhere] in which faith can come into existence ... (pgs. 26 & 29)

The objective view, however, continues from generation to generation precisely because the individuals (the observers) become more and more objective, less and less infinitely, passionately interested.... The more objective the observer becomes, the less he builds an eternal happiness, that is, his eternal happiness, on his relation to the observation, because an eternal happiness is a question only for the impassioned, infinitely interested subjectivity.... If Christianity is essentially something objective, it behooves the observer to be objective. But if Christianity is essentially subjectivity, it is a mistake if the observer is objective. (pg. 32)

Boiled down, Kierkegaard's argument in Concluding Unscientific Postscript is that we cannot reach religious truth through logic and reason.

He only gives us the ones that matter and that are relevant to doing what we are supposed to do here on earth.

But this isn't the same as God providing a water-tight systematic, logical theodicy or proof of the divinity of Christ, the historicity of Christ's resurrection, so forth and so on.

Well, we have some truths, not all truth. Christians believe that God gave us the truths that matter. Christians also can reasonably believe that we have the truths and reason necessary to make water-tight, systemic demonstrations of certain basic tenants of Christianity, i.e.; the existence of God, the existence of right and wrong, the sin nature of man, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, etc.

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Persiflage,

I'm sorry I was testy with you, and I apologize. I was tired when I posted and I think that contributed to it.

No apology necessary, man. I've learned long ago that my questions and arguments often come across sounding much less gentle in writing than they do when I'm able to use my own tone of voice in person.

No theme was more foundational for Shestov than the biblical legend of the Fall. To understand the Fall, in the precise way that Shestov understood the Fall, is to understand Shestov; to miss it, is to miss Shestov. No more; no less ... So, yeah, the Fall is not a side issue with Shestov. He bases pretty much everything he wrote on it.

I find this troubling since his views on the Fall seem to be based on misinterpreting Scripture (adding a whole number of ideas to the story in Genesis that aren't, strictly speaking, actually there).

To put it in a shorthand form, for better dot-connecting purposes: Knowledge = Death. As Shestov says in the quote that Ryan cited and disagreed with:

The theologians, even those like St. Augustine, have feared this secret, and instead of reading what was written in the Bible, viz: that man became mortal because he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they read that man became mortal because he disobeyed God.

What does any of this have to do with Christian doctrine? In terms of the contents of Christian doctrine, perhaps nothing. But in terms of whether a nonbeliever approaches Christian doctrine or anything concerning God, and whether a believer stays where he is, perhaps everything. How so? Because it speaks to the terrible danger of cupiditas scientiae (lust for knowledge).

Knowledge = Death??? And this is supposed to be a Biblical idea? Where else in all of Scripture (besides Shestov's own personal interpretation of Genesis) can this idea be found? Heck, if Knowledge = Death then I don't want to be trying to gain more knowledge. I shouldn't want to exert my reason to learn more about God, good and evil, sin, and salvation. I shouldn't be interested in the quests of science or ever admit that scientific knowledge can point us towards God. In fact, I better just tightly close my eyes, ignore all the pesky logical knowledgeable stuff, and just make that blind leap into the comfortable, unthinking, unquestioning, illogical embrace of a loving God.

I'm sorry, but it was not gaining knowledge that caused man's spiritual death. It was direct rebellion against God. And the desire to knowledge, in and of itself, does not equal rebellion against God. God gave us brains and the laws of logic & mathematics for a reason.

Shestov writes about this in his book Athens and Jerusalem:

One would think that the religious philosophers of the Middle Ages should have seen that it was precisely this question of the eternal truths, the truths independent of God, that hid in itself the greatest dangers, and that they should consequently have strained all their powers to defend Jerusalem against Athens and recalled in this connection the warning of the Bible against the fruits of the tree of knowledge. Some of them did remember it. Gilson quotes in a footnote Peter Damian who affirmed that cupiditas scientiae (lust for knowledge) was for men "leader of the flock of all vices," but Gilson realizes that no one listened to Peter Damian; Bonaventura himself found these words strange. The enchantment of the fruits of the tree of knowledge always persists: we today aspire as eagerly to the eternal truths as the first man.

But what is it that seduces us in these truths that depend neither on ourselves nor on God, and why is it that we base our best hopes on the principle of contradiction or on the idea that what has once been cannot not have been? We do not even raise this question - as if the independence of the eternal rational and moral truths were the guarantee of our own independence. But it is just the opposite: these truths condemn us to the most repugnant slavery. Being independent of God's will, they themselves have neither will nor desire. They are indifferent to everything. They are not at all concerned with what they will bring to the world and to men, and automatically actualize their limitless power with which they themselves have nothing to do and which comes to them one knows not whence nor why. From the "law" - what has once been cannot not have been - may flow for us a good but also an evil - a horrible, insupportable evil; but the law will accomplish its work without caring about this. One cannot persuade the eternal truths, one cannot move them to pity. They are like the Necessity of which Aristotle said that "it does not allow itself to be persuaded." And despite this - or precisely because of this - men love the eternal truths and prostrate themselves before them. We can obtain nothing from them, consequently we must obey them. We have not the power to escape them, we see in our impotence an "impossibility," consequently we must worship them. This is the true meaning of the cupiditas scientiae: a puzzling concupiscentia irresistibilis carries us toward the impersonal, indifferent to everything, truth that we raise above the will of all living beings.

Is it not clear that we are in the power of that terrible, hostile force of which the Book of Genesis speaks to us? We have seen that all the commentators believed that the sin of the first man consisted in an act of disobedience: Adam wished "to be free," he refused to submit. In reality it is just the opposite that happened: having tasted of the fruits of the tree of knowledge, man lost the freedom that he possessed on leaving the hands of the Creator and became the slave of "the eternal truths." And he does not even suspect that the eritis scientes (you shall know) by means of which the tempter bewitched his soul led to his "fall." He continues to the present day, indeed, to identify his eternal salvation with knowledge.

Shestov is all about trying to break the deadly grip of cupiditas scientiae on men's minds. There is a certain class of people, and it is vast today, who may never come to Christ until or unless they free themselves, at least partly, from cupiditas scientiae.

I absolutely refuse to believe that Christianity teaches that the lust/desire for knowledge is wrong. This is essentially what Sunday School teachers tell questioning nonbelievers all the time - the people who lust for knowledge and ask questions about what they are being told the Bible says are considered dangerous. If you ask questions and use logic, why then, you might logically demonstrate how a part of Christianity is wrong (at least, that's the fear of the incompetent Sunday School teacher). There is a class of people who will never come to Christ unless they free themselves of the desire for knowledge? I'm going to say right now, that our desire to knowledge comes from God. In fact, it's our desire to know truth that leads us to Jesus. It is no coincidence that Shestov points to "the religious philosophers of the Middle Ages" as the guys he believes first go this wrong. Religious philosophers of the Middle Ages? That would include one man in particular, and that was St. Thomas Aquinas, who is still probably the theologian who wrote one of the greatest works of theology in history, the Summa Theologica.

It makes perfect sense that Shestov is offended by Aquinas' use of Greek philosophy in figuring out defenses for Christianity. Shestov considers objective and moral truths as putting us in a sort of illogical slavery? That's NOT Christian, and I'm sick and tired of hearing this idea being taught in churches. I seem to remember someone somewhere explaining how it's the truth will set us free. Aquinas was so successful partly because, when Siger of Brabant got up and argued that Christianity does not have to logical or scientific (and that we should just blindly accept that faith and reason will never be able to coincide), Aquinas wiped the floor with him. Because of his Christianity, Aquinas was willing, in the Medieval Ages, to exercise a certain amount of faith himself. Aquinas believed that science did not contradict Christianity, and he had faith that never, at no point in history, was science ever going to contradict Christian truth. Aquinas argued that logic and reason are parts of God's general revelation for us, that actually point us in the direction of God's special revelation. Faith and reason go together. They are not opposed to each other.

The desire for knowledge is a desire that can lead you to God. Why we should be afraid of it or consider it dangerous because objective truths are "impersonal" or enslave us by forcing us to reach certain logical conclusions is beyond me. Particularly, if you believe that objective truths are actually part of Christianity, then finding them will always point you in the right direction.

About divine truth (and its "defenselessness" in the face of reason), Shestov writes:

It is a truth of "revelation." Like David in the Bible before the gigantic Goliath armed from head to foot, it remains invisible even to the "eyes of the mind," unarmed and defenseless before the innumerable army of all historic philosophy's arguments. It does not even have the sling possessed by the young shepherd, the future great king and psalmist. And yet, weak as it was, it entered into combat with "the wisdom of the century." "The unlearned rise and storm heaven," as Saint Augustine with amazement exclaimed. And Saint Thomas Aquinas echoed him: "But it would be more wonderful than all signs if the world were brought to believing such hard things, executing such difficult things, and hoping for such exalted things by simple and unlearned men without miraculous signs." And indeed, the Bible was brought to the world by simple, ignorant people who were absolutely incapable of defending it by the methods which learned people use to attack it.

But this Bible did not satisfy the philosophers. Even Saint Bonaventura, whose "Adam, as Brother Alexander of Hales said of him, did not seem to have sinned," wished to obtain "demonstrated" truth. Even the saints no longer escaped the consequences of the original sin: the doctor seraphicus (angelic doctor), the spiritual heir of Saint Francis of Assisi, who had overcome all earthly passions, is nevertheless possessed, like all of us, with the cupiditas scientiae (lust for knowledge) and cannot overcome this passion. He wishes to "defend" the truth of revelation, to make it self-evident. Temptation lies in wait for us just where we least expect it. Our Greek teachers put our vigilance to sleep by suggesting to us the conviction that the fruits of the tree of knowledge were and must be the principle of philosophy for all time. Even the doctor subtilis allowed himself to be tempted, as we have seen. He believes, but faith is not enough for him. He asks of God permission to taste the fruits of the tree of knowledge. All the most remarkable and influential representatives of the philosophy of the Middle Ages repeat endlessly: credo ut intelligam.

I hope you see now where I'm coming from - more than this I cannot do.

I have to say, I'm not sure if I could have come up with some better quotations myself that are explaining more directly what it is that I absolutely object to about Christian Existentialism. Desire for knowledge is bad. Check. The truth of Christianity cannot be defended by reason. Check. It is actually error even to attempt to defend the truths of Christianity by demonstrating their reasonableness or making appeals to self-evident truth. Check.

I believe these ideas are all wrong. They are not Biblical or Christian in the least. And I have personal experience of seeing their being taught in churches, and seeing their teaching turn honest and thoughtful nonbelievers (some of whom are my close friends) away from the Gospel. This is why I think it is worth spending explaining how Christian Existentialism is in error.

Actually...the first comment makes me curious...along with who are these people...what are the "important Christian Truths" liberal Protetants deny?

Oh, you know, the usual ... the fact of Christ's resurrection from the grave, the Divinity of Christ, the reliability of the Biblical account of the miracles of Christ, the virgin birth, the sin nature of man, etc.

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Ok, well from the Kierkegaard that I've read, the "leap of faith" idea is essentially the logical conclusion of his work, Concluding Unscientific Postscript. I've got to get a copy of it again, for now, Anthony Storm has written a good summary. Selections from Kierkegaard's writing are like this -

Anyone who as a believer posits inspiration must consistently regard every critical deliberation—whether as for or against—as something dubious, a kind of temptation. And anyone who, without having faith, ventures out into critical deliberations cannot possibly want to have inspiration result from them. To whom, then, is it all really of interest?... Faith does not result from straightforward scholarly deliberation, nor does it come directly; on the contrary, in this objectivity one loses that infinite, personal, impassioned interestedness, which is the condition of faith, the ubique et nusquam [everywhere and nowhere] in which faith can come into existence ... (pgs. 26 & 29)

The objective view, however, continues from generation to generation precisely because the individuals (the observers) become more and more objective, less and less infinitely, passionately interested.... The more objective the observer becomes, the less he builds an eternal happiness, that is, his eternal happiness, on his relation to the observation, because an eternal happiness is a question only for the impassioned, infinitely interested subjectivity.... If Christianity is essentially something objective, it behooves the observer to be objective. But if Christianity is essentially subjectivity, it is a mistake if the observer is objective. (pg. 32)

Boiled down, Kierkegaard's argument in Concluding Unscientific Postscript is that we cannot reach religious truth through logic and reason.

There's a disconnect between your summary of Kierkegaard's "leap to faith" idea and the passage you quoted. The passage touches on his essential notion, but Kierkegaard there is stressing the difference between objective knowledge of a truth and then a willful, deep submission to it, that there is a difference between "objective knowledge" of a fact and genuine belief, that is, faith. Nevermind that Kierkegaard's philosophy would suggest that reason is an essential component of bringing an individual to the point where the "leap to faith" can be made. It's not some discardable tool. That article Tenpenny posted (really, a fine write-up) is quite helpful here in extrapolating Kierkegaard's own sense of the limits of subjectivity and the necessity of rationality, that his picture of faith has a kind of "faith seeking understanding" element.

Christians also can reasonably believe that we have the truths and reason necessary to make water-tight, systemic demonstrations of certain basic tenants of Christianity, i.e.; the existence of God, the existence of right and wrong, the sin nature of man, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, etc.

On this you and I must strongly disagree. There is no genuinely water-tight, systemic demonstration of any of those ideas. There are arguments in favor of them, some of which are more plausible than others, but not one of them is absolute and unassailable.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I just borrowed from the library, and am reading for the first time, M. C. Steenberg's 2008 book Irenaeus On Creation : The Cosmic Christ and the Saga of Redemption. This is hardly my first exposure to Irenaeus. I've read a number of books about his theology and, along with Maximus the Confessor, I'd say he is my co-favorite church father. Steenberg's book includes a lengthy explication (chapter four) of Irenaeus' position on the Fall. The section in that chapter titled "The tree and the prohibition" is fascinating. I was already familiar with the basic features of Irenaeus' position on the Fall, but Steenberg draws out several aspects that I hadn't appreciated before. Down below, I will post some excerpts from this section of his book. However, for the sake of those who only want a condensed version, I offer the following perhaps outrageously oversimplified ("CliffsNotes") version that summarizes two views discussed here already, with Irenaeus' view listed third:

Standard interpretation:

God's prohibition was a moral test for man. Death was not intrinsic to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man could have eaten ten pieces of the fruit, or a hundred, and there would have been no harm in it, so long as God had okayed the act first. Knowledge had nothing to do with it. [God as heavy-handed, "yank and crank," Koehler-style dog trainer - teaching man that obedience is the be-all and end-all.]

Shestov's interpretation:

God's prohibition was no test. Death was intrinsic to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The moment man ate one piece of fruit, the knowledge he thereby gained made him mortal. Knowledge had everything to do with it. [God as, in effect, spreader of poison - He warned man not to eat the poison, didn't He?]

Irenaeus' interpretation:

God's prohibition was no test. Death was not intrinsic to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge, in fact, is intrinsically good. But, man was not yet ready or mature enough to have this knowledge and so, by ignoring God's command and eating the fruit, death was the outcome. Man ruined his prospects and the fruit's (knowledge's) too, i.e. both the eater and the eaten became one in their ruination. He would therefore have to find his true path (to true knowledge) another way (through the subsequent incarnation of Christ). Man's act had to do with both knowledge (in a qualified sense) and disobedience (sin). [God as patient and loving teacher who, in effect, warned immature man that the tree's knowledge was "too hot" for him to handle yet, and when the pupil disobeyed and burned himself anyway, chastised him severely, but didn't abandon him, and came up with "Plan B."]

While it's tempting to see Shestov and Irenaeus as miles apart, and in a way they are, I think it's also true that the line between a poison and a medicine is a fine one. Some of the best medicines are, in fact, poisons. You just have to take them at the right time, and in the right dosage. I submit that Irenaeus' position is, in a way, a more subtle, discerning and balanced (and, yes, I can see it now - truer) formulation of Shestov's position. The outlier to me is the standard interpretation. I just can't see that one at all.

Now, for the excerpts from Steenberg's book:

We cannot simply say that the story of creation here becomes one of a 'fall', for there is an important sense in which Irenaeus' view of the human economy cannot be paired with what has long become the traditional conception of such a fall; or certainly of 'The Fall' with its consequent division of human nature into pre- and post-lapsidic states. Attempts are still made to read Irenaeus in this way, but by and large scholarship knows better. In his reading of creation's interruption, Irenaeus shares much in common with the Jewish readers of Genesis 3, and at times surprisingly little with his near-contemporaries in the early Christian Church. ...

'And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."' Irenaeus extrapolates, from the insertion of this prohibition into the very heart of the creation saga in its anthropogonic element, that the commandment itself forms part of the formative work of the creator upon his creation. The prohibition is an active manoeuvre of God in fashioning his human formation, even as were the drawing up from the dust and the breathing of the divine breath. It is not merely a negative proscription, but a positive affirmation of the proper limits of human knowing in its present stage of development. It is in this sense that Irenaeus utilises the text of the prohibition at Epideixis 15, where it is placed at the end of his long treatment of the creation saga, in some sense completing all that has gone before:

But, in order that the man should not entertain thoughts of grandeur nor be exalted, as if he had no Lord, and, because of the authority given to the man and the boldness towards God his creator, sin, passing beyond his own measure, and adopt an attitude of self-conceited arrogance against God, a law was given to him from God, that he might know that he had as lord the Lord of all. And he placed certain limits upon him, so that, if he should keep the commandment of God, he would remain always as he was, that is, immortal; if, however, he should not keep it, he would become mortal, dissolving into the earth whence his frame was taken. And the commandment was this: 'You may eat freely from every tree of paradise, but of that tree alone, whence is the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat; for on the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die' (Gen 2.16-17).

...

The prohibition against eating from the tree of knowledge is, for Irenaeus, God's establishment of the proper realm within which the human creature's intellect and reason may be employed in the course of its growth. This is a unique observation on his part. Through it, Irenaeus puts forth the idea that knowledge itself, as an element within the composite being of humankind, must have reign only within the proper scope of its capabilities and preparedness at any given point in its development. Knowledge must not 'exalt' humanity to a state of self-professed grandeur that exceeds 'its own measure'. To do so is to use improperly the 'authority', the rational faculty given to the race by God, for a purpose beyond that for which it is intended. The prohibition of 2.16-17 is a 'safety' provided to guard against a potential danger inherent in humanity's possession of a free and self-determining will. ...

All this is in stark contrast to the broadly Valentinian view on knowledge, which Irenaeus has been attacking throughout the Adversus haereses ... For these [and Persiflage?], a 'knowledge that knows more than it should' is, provided that the knowledge in question is true and genuine, hardly a possibility. It is only false knowledge - deception or ignorant belief - that is harmful; the restoration of true knowledge and true knowing is indeed the primary aim of 'Gnostic' praxis. ...

Irenaeus, however, insists that at humanity's creation, even true and genuine knowledge, be it in too full a measure for the limited status of the newly-formed creature, can be harmful to the race. Here he follows Theophilus precisely, from a text in the Ad Autolycum commonly accepted as having been an important source for Irenaeus' exegesis:

The tree of knowledge was itself good, and its fruit was good. For the tree did not contain death, as some suppose; death was the result of disobedience. For there was nothing in the fruit but knowledge, and knowledge is good when one uses it properly.

...

In all this, Irenaeus is markedly in line with Theophilus in his reading of the same Genesis text. God sets forth the prohibition, and the departure from obedience to this commandment brings consequences not through the tree itself or the knowledge it presents, but from the disobedience of the eater. Yet Irenaeus goes further than Theophilus, and while he does place emphasis on Adam and Eve's disobedience as at fault in the transgression of God's prohibition against the tree of knowledge, he refrains from any implication that a test of obedience was the primary reason for it. Rather, the commandment is an important and integral element in the economy of human maturation, preventing the newly-fashioned creature from laying hold of that which it is unable to bear, preserving the fullness of knowledge for a time - and there will be a time - when humanity shall be ready and able to partake of the full knowledge God offers. ...

Irenaeus employs the prohibition, at Epid. 15 and AH 5.20.2, to considerable effect, and its importance may be encapsulated in the observance that the divine commandment of those verses, the sole prohibition of Eden, is interpreted anthropocentrically by Irenaeus as pertaining to the life and growth of the human creature in Christ, and not primarily to the sovereignty or otherwise independent will of God who therein tests his new creation. It is not the exertion of God's authority, but his dedication to the perfection of his handiwork. ...

Irenaeus is again careful to explain that this death was not caused by the fruit but by human disobedience, for 'disobedience to God entails death'. His wording at the close of 5.23.1 is especially interesting:

For along with the fruit [emphasis Steenberg's] they did also fall under the power of death, because they did eat in disobedience.

The fruit itself, the potential for genuine knowledge of good and evil, the capability for godly knowledge in humanity, is, together with that humanity, become forfeit to death in the eating. The human person's disobedience to the divine prohibition not only entails the death of his personal being - the immediate and direct consequence of his defiance of God's economy - it entails also the disruption of the very nature of his potential within the economy designed and wrought for his sake. Adam and Eve's 'eating in disobedience' does not disturb solely the eaters, but the very fruit of which they are partaking. This represents a substantial Irenaean insight. The forfeiture of life is both personal and historical: Adam and Eve would die 'on that same day', but so also will all human generations from that time forward perish and the fruit of the tree of knowledge will become more elusive still. ... Adam's potential for growth in the course of the economy has been altered. This loss shall require restoration.

Is this, then, not a 'fall'? In some sense, the answer must be yes. ... God created life, but Adam became 'the beginning of those who die'. His turning aside from God is his forfeiture of life, and as Adam was given this life in his genesis, there is without any question a genuine and real loss in consequence of the transgression in the garden. ... An attempt to read Irenaeus as presenting no scheme whatever of an Edenic 'fall' would be to over-estimate the case. But of the loss itself, Irenaeus presents the scenario, absent among Christian writers before and rare among those since, of humanity losing that which it did not in actuality possess. This loss of potential, rather than the loss of actualised realities, is one of the most important nuances of Irenaeus' treatment of sin and human nature, and for its explanation there is still no better analogy than that drawn some fifty years ago by Wingren:

A healthy, newborn child is unable to talk, for example, but it has every likelihood of being able to do so in the future, and provided only that the child grows, it will reach the stage of being able to talk. An injury to the child, however, may prevent it from ever beginning to talk. This is the situation of the first man. He is a child, created in the image of God, but he is not the image of God. That he lacks something, however, is not due to sin. No injury has yet happened to the child. He is uninjured, but he is just a child - he does not yet realise what he is to be.

We need not greatly expand on this description, for Wingren's comments make clear the manner in which Irenaeus is able to speak of the loss of what he also claims Adam and Eve did not at that time possess. What is of interest is the manner in which Irenaeus' understanding of perfection as an eschatological, and more so a Christological, concept, causes him to read such texts at a remarkable degree of face value. He does not speak of the transgression of God's prohibition as effecting a change in human nature any more than does the text of the scriptural account. There is a loss incurred through sin, a 'fall' in this sense; but Irenaeus does not read into this fall anything beyond the direct measure of the text. These children are not perfect at their formation, as no child can be; and his understanding of human nature after the expulsion from Eden remains largely unchanged from this initial state. Protology, for all its profundity and - in sin - its cataclysm, remains nonetheless a beginning; and this beginning, orientated toward Christ, remains orientated toward him as much in its state of transgression as before it. It is primarily humanity's relationship to the cosmos, God and other human persons that is altered, and this through the transgression proper and the circumstances under which Eve and then Adam were to violate the divine command.

Edited by tenpenny

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