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Christianity & Existentialism


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#21 Ryan H.

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 11:54 AM

I'm jumping into the middle of the conversation here, but I just have to comment.

I find comments like this insulting, and what they suggest to me is that those who make them have never experienced the soul-crushing weight of unexplained and unexplainable tragedy, loss, and grief. It's okay. It will happen. All you have to do is live long enough. And perhaps I'm overly sensitive because I saw that holy terror last night.

You seemingly entirely misunderstand me. When I'm talking about the people being anti-intellectual, I'm not thinking of people like your friends Ben and Sarapeth who are so befuddled and stunned by incomprehensible tragedy that no verbal response is possible. Heck, I've been there myself. Some days, I'm still there. 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.

FWIW, I love Kierkegaard.

When you say you think Shestov is "flat out wrong" about how man became mortal, is this based on your own personal reflection and understanding of the account in Genesis, or is it based on what one might call "received" doctrine?

It's based both in academic study and personal wrestling with the first two chapters of Genesis. I'll elaborate and respond to your points more fully later on.

#22 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 03:04 PM

But is this necessarily Kierkegaardian influence or just some part of broader anti-intellectualism? It does seem that, in your conversations, it's come back to Kierkegaard. But in my experience, this kind of "you just have to believe" talk isn't really rooted in any fully-fledged intellectual standpoint. It's just that, well, these folks aren't very intellectual, aren't very interested in being intellectual, and thus their faith is of a rather blind character.

So, to sum up, it looks like I'm suggesting in this thread that the "you just have to have faith instead of trying to reason" talk is, in fact, a major tenet of Christian existentialist belief (advanced by the likes of Kierkegaard, Shestov and their comrades). Yes, I acknowledge that there are anti-intellectual Christians who use the idea as an excuse not to think. But they are still using a particular idea that, even if they are completely oblivious that it's actually intellectually defended on purpose by thinking Christian existentialists, has logical and philosophical consequences resulting in one sort of theology instead of another.

I think that ultimately the answer to his argument is the Biblically based natural law position on self-evident truths. And it is certainly no coincidence that Christian existentialists do not like the idea of self-evident truth.

This depends entirely on how you construe a theology of natural revelation. Some formulations of it would provide difficulties for an extreme Christian existentialism, but there are other formulations both of Christian existentialism and natural revelation that would not be in direct conflict.

Yes, we can construe our theology to suit our own wishes and to harmonize with whatever we want whenever we want it to. But that has nothing to do with which theology is true or false. In this thread, I'm interested in the major ideas of Christian existentialism, which includes Kierkegaard's "leap of faith" arguments against rationalism in the church, and for another example, Shestov's arguments in, oh, say his In Job's Balances chapter on Dostoevsky entitled "The Conquest of the Self-Evident" (and yes, that's self-evident truth in reason that is being conquered, not doing the conquering).

Christianity and Existentialism are like chocolate and peanut butter! Two great tastes that go awesome together! WOOOO!

Good one. I can only come up with some lame parallel in response, like how I obviously find Existentialism (sickly sweet chocolate syrup, perhaps?) to be something that does mix well at all with Christianity's hearty steak & potatoes.

But it seems to me the people that insist that you must accept Christianity on "blind faith", which I would characterize as different from Kierkegaard's "leap of faith," are not so keen on rejecting the idea of self-evident truths. The issue with most Christian churches I've been a part of is in fact that they accept as self-evident many things that I don't see as being very self-evident.

Alright then, so how is arguing that you need to "just have faith", instead of looking for rational evidence, different from Kierkegaard's basic "leap of faith" ideas?

On another note, I know what you mean about Christians just accepting/assuming a number of questionable ideas as "self-evident" without any question. But that's a different and looser definition of the word. Sure, you can say that the things you just accept or assume (which is the act of having faith) are "self-evident," but that is not the same philosophical use of the word as John Locke understood it when he defended it or as Lev Shestov understood it when he argued against it. Rightly defined, "self-evident" is not something you just blindly accept by faith or assume. "Self-evident" means something that is necessarily true by definition, evident in itself without further proof, axiomatic, impossible to logically deny.

I'm with you as far as the fact that anti-intellectualism (or just plain ignorance) can be the root of any belief, but what I'm particularly curious as to which theologies you feel are espousing an existentialist theology. Because while I'm with you on the critiques you're raising, and think I have some inkling of what groups and positions you're describing, I might quibble with whether these groups are actually espousing an existentialist theology just because they might share the idea that religious truth is founding on faith rather than reason. I think many of these groups would balk at being lumped in with Tillich, and would likely accuse him of being far to liberal to be "authentically" Christian. Just my suspicion based on the fact that they probably share very few other commonalities in theology. Did this idea really originate from the same somewhere with a purpose that Christian existentialism did?

I'm by no means claiming that the majority of American Protestant churches are espousing Christian existentialist philosophy. Instead, I'm just claiming that Christian existentialism has influenced the majority of modern day evangelicalism. There are things being commonly taught in the church today that I believe to be untrue. One is the "you just have to have faith" approach to Christianity, which denies that there is any use in rationally defending Christian truths (Wasn't it Karl Barth who made light of Apologetics?). When any thinking nonbeliever is exposed to this sort of teaching, he or she is only going to be less interested in Christianity as a result. There's a reason that in the secular culture, just having "blind faith" is a popular Christian stereotype. It's a stereotype we've foisted on ourselves, and it's a stereotype that comes with not being familiar with where certain ideas originate from. Other examples would include experiential church teaching on Hermeneutics that replaces asking "what is God saying here" with asking "what little personal meaning does this verse have for me?", or church teaching focusing ad infinitum on where you find your self-value, self-worth, self-security, etc. from. If you just haven't read the right Kierkegaard or Shestov quotes on this stuff, I'll starting posting them.

Persiflage,

I'm not meaning to ignore your posts, but I would like to address Ryan's first.

Cool. Just one quick question, I have to admit that I don't understand what you mean by "received" doctrine.

Q: Isn't this logically absurd?

A: Yes, but it is so nevertheless. God surpasses or exceeds logic.

Gotta say, I've certainly found the whole "God transcends logic" thing my Christian Existentialists friends' favorite turn of phrase. Summed up, I think you might just be making a lot more out of something that Genesis just gives us limited information on. It isn't necessarily logically absurd to say that, before the Fall, Adam & Eve weren't mortal (in the sense that they would die) or immortal (at least in the sense that their earthly physical bodies couldn't still been replaced at some future point). If "mortal" means that one will die, and "immortal" means that one cannot die, then it's no logical contradiction to say that there could also be a third state of one who was able to die actually never dying.

But were they the first? Is it not possible that different protestant groups and Christian existentialists are influenced by ideas that proceed them both?

Yes, it is possible, if not even probable. Kierkegaard had to get some of his ideas from somewhere.

... Honestly, all theology at times looks more like an attempt justify the apparent lack of provable presence or evidence of God or contradictions. And when the questions get to hard, the questioner is called to task for not simply trusting God or having enough faith-and I have found this true across the board among Catholics, Protestants and every group in between. If there seem to be no good answers? We are told to trust we just are not smart enough to truly understand God's crazy wisdom and we need to have more faith.

Yes, this is precisely what we're taught, and I believe it to be both false and unBiblical.

I find comments like this insulting, and what they suggest to me is that those who make them have never experienced the soul-crushing weight of unexplained and unexplainable tragedy, loss, and grief. It's okay. It will happen. All you have to do is live long enough. And perhaps I'm overly sensitive because I saw that holy terror last night.

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.

Edited by Persiflage, 15 February 2011 - 03:08 PM.


#23 tenpenny

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 07:12 PM


Persiflage,

I'm not meaning to ignore your posts, but I would like to address Ryan's first.

Cool. Just one quick question, I have to admit that I don't understand what you mean by "received" doctrine.

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.



Q: Isn't this logically absurd?

A: Yes, but it is so nevertheless. God surpasses or exceeds logic.

Gotta say, I've certainly found the whole "God transcends logic" thing my Christian Existentialists friends' favorite turn of phrase. Summed up, I think you might just be making a lot more out of something that Genesis just gives us limited information on. It isn't necessarily logically absurd to say that, before the Fall, Adam & Eve weren't mortal (in the sense that they would die) or immortal (at least in the sense that their earthly physical bodies couldn't still been replaced at some future point). If "mortal" means that one will die, and "immortal" means that one cannot die, then it's no logical contradiction to say that there could also be a third state of one who was able to die actually never dying.

I was referring to definitions, for both words: "mortal" and "immortal." You are mixing an inference with a definition. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) defines "mortal" (in the sense we're using the word here) as "subject to death," and "immortal" as "exempt from death." Furthermore, these are the ordinary, everyday definitions that most people would give for these two words, even without consulting a dictionary. When, with respect to "mortal," you said "one will die" that is an inference from the definition (and not an unreasonable one, under post-Edenic conditions), but it is not the definition itself. Curiously, when you passed on (hmm, a pun) to "immortal," you switched from using an inference to using a definition. Thus, in order to be consistent, which sound reasoning requires, you should have said:

"If 'mortal' means that one will die, and 'immortal' means that one will not die..."

or:

"If 'mortal' means that one can die, and 'immortal' means that one cannot die..."

But neither of those would allow you to show that a third state is possible, would it?

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.

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.

#24 Kyle

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 07:24 PM


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 influece to his thinking and it could be easily erradicated without changing the fundamental character of his earlier thought.


But if we pull out that Barth quote about "paying homage to the false idols [of existentialism]," we need to complete the sentence: "with existential thinking, I was paying homage to false gods, even if only after the manner of the libellatici of the Decian persecution." This is a big caveat. Barth is referring to those Christians that bought certificates to prove they had made proper homage to pagan idols, rather than actually doing it. Which is to say: He didn't consider his use of existential forms in his earlier thinking as an idolatry that renders his early thinking unfaithful. 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. (As Bloesch use to tell us in class, Barth would always walk into class with a Greek New Testament and maybe a page with a few notes. When fielding questions, he would typically sort through his GNT to a text, read it, and expound on it in response.)

However (remaining true to dialectics), I appreciate the way in which Barth critiqued Bultmann's existentialism, which essentially drained all the Christological content out of the historical particularities of the New Testament.


Thanks for expanding on this. I was a bit pressed for time when composing my initial reply and you hit on many of the themes I would have liked to hit on.

However, I totally missed the meaning of the phrase you added: even if only after the manner of the libellatici of the Decian persecution. Thanks for pointing that out. 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.

In fact I had one professor who liked to read his Bible with Barth over one shoulder and Tillich over the other. He was very into continental philosophy.

#25 Ryan H.

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 08:14 PM

So, to sum up, it looks like I'm suggesting in this thread that the "you just have to have faith instead of trying to reason" talk is, in fact, a major tenet of Christian existentialist belief (advanced by the likes of Kierkegaard, Shestov and their comrades). Yes, I acknowledge that there are anti-intellectual Christians who use the idea as an excuse not to think. But they are still using a particular idea that, even if they are completely oblivious that it's actually intellectually defended on purpose by thinking Christian existentialists, has logical and philosophical consequences resulting in one sort of theology instead of another.

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."

Instead, I'm just claiming that Christian existentialism has influenced the majority of modern day evangelicalism. There are things being commonly taught in the church today that I believe to be untrue. One is the "you just have to have faith" approach to Christianity, which denies that there is any use in rationally defending Christian truths (Wasn't it Karl Barth who made light of Apologetics?).

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.

... Honestly, all theology at times looks more like an attempt justify the apparent lack of provable presence or evidence of God or contradictions. And when the questions get to hard, the questioner is called to task for not simply trusting God or having enough faith-and I have found this true across the board among Catholics, Protestants and every group in between. If there seem to be no good answers? We are told to trust we just are not smart enough to truly understand God's crazy wisdom and we need to have more faith.

Yes, this is precisely what we're taught, and I believe it to be both false and unBiblical.

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.

#26 M. Leary

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 08:23 PM

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, 17 February 2011 - 10:02 AM.


#27 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 11:18 PM

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, 15 February 2011 - 11:20 PM.


#28 M. Leary

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 11:26 PM

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, 15 February 2011 - 11:27 PM.


#29 Ryan H.

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Posted 15 February 2011 - 11:31 PM

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)

:)

#30 Darryl A. Armstrong

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 05:01 AM

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 [i]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, 16 February 2011 - 05:05 AM.


#31 Ryan H.

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 06:53 AM

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.

#32 M. Leary

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 08:55 AM

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.

#33 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 11:54 AM

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?

#34 M. Leary

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 12:47 PM

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, 16 February 2011 - 12:48 PM.


#35 Thom Wade

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 01:01 PM


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.

#36 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 03:58 PM

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 [b] 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 [b] 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.

#37 M. Leary

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 04:07 PM

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?

#38 Ryan H.

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 06:06 PM

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., 16 February 2011 - 06:08 PM.


#39 tenpenny

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Posted 16 February 2011 - 09:09 PM

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, 18 February 2011 - 08:55 AM.


#40 Thom Wade

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Posted 17 February 2011 - 08:11 AM


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?