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Christianity & Existentialism


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#41 Andy Whitman

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Posted 17 February 2011 - 09:37 AM

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, 17 February 2011 - 09:45 AM.


#42 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 17 February 2011 - 09:42 PM

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 ...

#43 M. Leary

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 09:47 AM

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.

#44 Kyle

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 06:55 PM

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.

#45 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 02:12 PM

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."

#46 Pathetique

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 03:22 AM

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.

#47 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 02:15 PM

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.

#48 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 03:29 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.

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.

#49 Ryan H.

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 09:09 AM

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., 28 February 2011 - 09:10 AM.


#50 tenpenny

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Posted 06 March 2011 - 04:56 PM

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, 06 March 2011 - 06:26 PM.


#51 tenpenny

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 04:57 PM

Here is video of an address given by Revd. Prof. M.C. Steenberg, now Hieromonk Irenei. The title of the talk is "Fallen man or exiled son? Voices from antiquity on 'original sin' in the 21st Century." It's just under an hour in length. In it he says that to learn about the nature of sin we'd do better to look to the parable of the Prodigal Son than to Genesis 3. In Genesis, he says, we are told about the origin of sin, but very little about its nature.

Although he states that he does not want to simply "excavate" an early Christian point of view (he belongs to the Orthodox Church) for Western ears, in a kind of tension with the Western Church, it is perhaps inevitable that the theology about sin that he espouses will resonate less well with Western Christians than Eastern Christians. In the West, the doctrine of total depravity is entrenched.

Edited by tenpenny, 08 March 2011 - 08:17 PM.


#52 Ryan H.

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 06:16 PM

In the West, the doctrine of total depravity is entrenched.

Do you mean the doctrine of original sin?

Edited by Ryan H., 07 March 2011 - 06:17 PM.


#53 tenpenny

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 07:19 PM

In the West, the doctrine of total depravity is entrenched.

Do you mean the doctrine of original sin?


No, I think I mean the doctrine of total depravity which, it is true, derives from Augustine (although it would be more accurate to say it derives from theologians who interpreted Augustine at a later time) and his concept of original sin. A point Steenberg doesn't actually make in his lecture, but which I think can be inferred, is that we in the West tend to unquestioningly assume that "total depravity" necessarily follows from "original sin." But this is not a forced conclusion, as is clear from the Eastern tradition, where Augustine's thought is neither normative nor foundational.

#54 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 07 March 2011 - 09:04 PM


In the West, the doctrine of total depravity is entrenched.

Do you mean the doctrine of original sin?

No, I think I mean the doctrine of total depravity which, it is true, derives from Augustine (although it would be more accurate to say it derives from theologians who interpreted Augustine at a later time) and his concept of original sin. A point Steenberg doesn't actually make in his lecture, but which I think can be inferred, is that we in the West tend to unquestioningly assume that "total depravity" necessarily follows from "original sin." But this is not a forced conclusion, as is clear from the Eastern tradition, where Augustine's thought is neither normative nor foundational.

I am, by the way, in the process of reading and thinking through Ryan's Feb 28 post and tenpenny's last couple following posts as well. But for now I had to interject here, I'm not sure what you mean by "we in the West", but the doctrine of Total Depravity is by no means generally accepted in Western churches.

Yes, it is one of the five points of Calvinism, but Reformed theology still represents a minority in the Western church. C.S. Lewis famously rejected Total Depravity (in his book, The Problem of Pain) as did Thomas Aquinas (in his Summa Theologica, who criticized Augustine's formulation of it for Calvin was even around), and, as did Philip Melanchthon, John Wesley, and Charles Ryrie, to name a few other Western theological heavyweights off the top of my head.

What does necessarily follow from original sin is the inherently sinful nature of a man - conclusion consistently hammered on a regular basis by the Apostle Paul in the epistles. (More on this soon, as I respond to your other posts ...)

#55 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 25 March 2011 - 12:54 PM

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)

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.

Alright, I've been thinking about this and let's put it this way. If all Kierkegaard is saying is that you need faith to be a Christian, then I do not disagree with Kierkegaard. You can only call yourself a Christian if you place your faith in Christ Himself, and in what Christ says, to save you. You can only call yourself a Christian if you make the choice to rely on Christ for your salvation instead of relying on yourself. However, that doesn't seem to be all Kierkegaard is saying.

There are modern day Christian churches that teach that you need faith even to know, for example, that God exists or that Christianity is true. They ultimately agree with the agnostics that there is no way of knowing for sure that there is even a God, and then they just say, that whatever your personal opinion is on the evidence that is there, you basically just have to have faith to believe it. This is where I disagree. You need faith to rely on Jesus to save you, but you do not need faith in order to know, objectively, that God exists or that Christianity is true. It's not going to necessarily be easy or simple, but there is an intellectual process you can go through (and that other nonbelievers have gone through) that leads to the rational objective conclusion that some truths are, in fact, true.

Again, concluding rationally that Christianity is objectively true doesn't even make you a Christian. You can be objectively convinced that God exists and that every basic truth of Christianity is rationally demonstrable, and still not choose to rely on Christ for your salvation. For what can be KNOWN about God is plain to us because God has shown it to us. For His invisible attributes, even His eternal power and His divine nature, have been clearly and objectively perceived by man - ever since the beginning of mankind. These truths are demonstrated by the things that God made. So we are without excuse for not knowing. Oh yeah, and yes, being able to know some things objectively? That is something to be happy about.

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.

That article Tenpenny posted says some interesting things, for instance ...

As convincingly irrationalist as these quotations may appear, Kierkegaard himself placed important qualifications and limits on subjectivity. Kierkegaard qualified his subjectivism significantly by his affirmation of the ultimate objectivity of truth: An existential system is impossible. An existential system cannot be formulated. Does this mean that no
such system exists? By no means; nor is this implied in our assertion. Reality itself is a system--for God;
but it cannot be a system for any existing spirit. (CUP, 107)
. . . . . . . . . . . .
The eternal essential truth is by no means in itself a paradox; but it becomes paradoxical by virtue of its
relationship to an existing individual. (CUP, 183)
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Christianity exists before any Christian exists . . . it maintains its objective subsistence apart from all
believers. (On Authority and Revelation, 168).


Kierkegaard thus does not question the objectivity of truth, but is calling for epistemological humility with claims to that truth. A distinction must be drawn in Kierkegaard's thought between ontology and epistemology. He does not doubt an objective ontology, he simply views that reality as being transcendent of any human's capacity to understand. He makes an objective ontological commitment with epistemological humility. Even after "Christendom" had been demythologized of its speculative graveclothes, a core of objective content remained necessary for Christianity, such as the "nota bene on a page of universal history" (PF, 130) and the objective revelation of the "Teacher" in the "Moment" to the student in the condition of "Error" (PF, 9-33). It was not enough to believe just anything, no matter how passionately, but some objective content was required as the object of faith.

See, it is useless to claim, like Kierkegaard does, that objective truth exists, but is just impossible for us to comprehend. Kierkegaard's epistemological claims about man's inability to know objective truth (or even to absolutely known a few objective truths) is to be properly distinguished from saying that Kierkegaard denies objective truth's very existence. Even these quotes from tenpenny's article affirming Kierkegaard's acceptance that truth exists also demonstrate the he thinks, once applied to the brains of man, the truth becomes paradoxical, subjective, unknowable, etc. You do not have to have "epistemological humility" about some things. And at least the Apostle Paul certainly didn't think so.

Again remember my friend, who has read everything by Kierkegaard and about Kierkegaard that he could get his hands on, told me that you just can't know anything 100% for sure. He reasoned that even when making the most simple of logical arguments - a syllogism - you still have to take the first 2 presuppositions on faith in order to reach any conclusion that A = C at all. From what I've read and from who I've talked to, even tenpenny here, I don't see any Kierkegaardian disagreement with my existentialist friend's claims.

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.

I guess I'm interested in knowing how you can say this in light of what Romans 1:19-20 and even what Romans 2:14-15 say about General Revelation. The Apostle Paul is sounding a lot like C.S. Lewis in there. In fact, how do you define "General Revelation" in the first place? I'd suggest it's the doctrine of general revelation that Christian Existentialism most denies.

Thomas Aquinas is an example of a guy who believed in explaining how general revelation clearly reveals certain truths to us (yes, even water-tight and systematically). C.S. Lewis was challenged, over and over again, for demonstrating particular Christian truths. Yet his arguments still hold, and even the argument he rewrote & refined after debating Anscombe is pretty much now logically undeniable. Yes, we're human and can make mistakes. That doesn't mean we have to have epistemological humility about elementary facts like our own sin and depravity. I realize these are still topics debated all over the world, and yet, by process of elimination, you can reach a conclusion. The Scriptures specifically tell us that God left enough facts laying around ... on purpose ... for us to understand ... with the precise intention of our being forced to reach certain conclusions.

Edited by Persiflage, 25 March 2011 - 12:55 PM.


#56 Thom Wade

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Posted 25 March 2011 - 01:55 PM

There are modern day Christian churches that teach that you need faith even to know, for example, that God exists or that Christianity is true. They ultimately agree with the agnostics that there is no way of knowing for sure that there is even a God, and then they just say, that whatever your personal opinion is on the evidence that is there, you basically just have to have faith to believe it. This is where I disagree. You need faith to rely on Jesus to save you, but you do not need faith in order to know, objectively, that God exists or that Christianity is true. It's not going to necessarily be easy or simple, but there is an intellectual process you can go through (and that other nonbelievers have gone through) that leads to the rational objective conclusion that some truths are, in fact, true.



What is the objective evidence that God exists and Christianity is true? Complexity in nature (for one common example) isn't objective proof of the truth of Christianity.Simply because a smart/educated person found something convincing isn't evidence that it is fact or objective truth.

Edited by Nezpop, 25 March 2011 - 01:57 PM.


#57 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 25 March 2011 - 02:59 PM

What is the objective evidence that God exists and Christianity is true?

Creation itself. (Psalm 8:1-3, 19:1-2, Romans 1:19-20, Acts 14:15-17, Isaiah 40:12-14, 26)
The ability of man's brain to comprehend truth. (Luke 1:4, I John 1:1-2)
The logical demand for either a primum movens immobile or an infinite series of movers, only one of which is not logically contradictory. (re: Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica)
The impossibility of the sum total of contingent things being caused by anything that was contingent. (Cosmological proof, see Thomas Aquinas)
The logical idea itself of a Necessary Being. (Ontological proof, see St. Anselm.)
The purpose/design that every complex ordered system always displays. (Teleological proof)
The mathematical impossibility of all the Biblical Messianic prophecies and their every little tiny detail (made by different men, at far different historical times, in different places) all coming true in the life of one Person in an mathematically finite place and population (earth).
The fact that mathematical improbability always reaches a point of impossibility. (a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters for a billion million years into infinity will never = Hamlet by William Shakespeare)
The existence of rational thought. (See "The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist", chapter 3 of Miracles by C.S. Lewis, also see the writings of Alvin Plantinga, Victor Reppert & William Hasker on "the argument from reason")
The existence of self-evident truths. (See also Norman Geisler and John Locke)
The existence of the laws of nature & natural, inalienable rights of man.
The existence of the human soul.
The existence of right and wrong.
The knowledge of right and wrong by man, or the existence of man's conscience. (Romans 2:14-15, the Anthropological or Ethical proof)
The elementary fact that man does not always follow right and wrong, but, in fact, often does wrong. (See Mere Christianity by Lewis)
The outright falsehoods fundamental to every other philosophy and religion on the planet earth.
The logical process of elimination. (The Congruity proof)
The existence of the perception of beauty (human and divine) in the universe. (The Aesthetical Proof)
The existence of the 4 Gospels.
The witnesses to Christ's Resurrection from the grave. (I Corinthians 15:5-8, including Doubting Thomas, John 20:24-29)
The claims and words of Jesus. (spoken by either 1 - a man mentally insane, 2 - a man morally a flat out liar, or 3 - one who was speaking the truth)

[Intricately ordered] Complexity in nature (for one common example) isn't objective proof of the one particular truth of Christianity., namely, that there is a God.

Why isn't it? That's the Teleological proof.

I fail to see why so many Christians are so shrinking and delicate about this. I'm happy to openly meet anyone's challenge to any of these logical proofs, any time, anywhere, any place, in a spirit of fascination, wonder, joy, and gentleness. Why not? We've got a whole huge rich Christian tradition of rational and intellectual giants on whose shoulders we can begin. Besides, I take the Apostle Peter seriously when he says, "Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as Holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience ..."

And there is far far more objective evidence than just this. This post is only just a small smattering, off the top of my head, of a majority of ultimately & collectively conclusive evidence that has long existed in ready access on our planet for anyone who wants to ask questions. I realize there are objections to each of these proofs, but the objections can be met. I realize that many Christians use these logical arguments in the wrong spirit, but that doesn't mean they can't still be used rightly.

So if you really want to discuss this in detail, we should take it to a separate thread.

And yet, so many Christians still insist that there is ultimately no intellectual rational basis for absolutely claiming Christianity to be true. This is why I will never be a Christian Existentialist.

Edited by Persiflage, 25 March 2011 - 03:01 PM.


#58 Thom Wade

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Posted 25 March 2011 - 04:14 PM

That's an interesting list. However, none of which is somehow factual proof of God-let alone Christianity. They are things Christians believe, certainly. And things mentioned in the Bible. But the existence of the Bible and Gospels are no more proof if Christianity's eternal reality than the Koran is proof that Islam is correct.

Using the Bible to back up the Bible is circular and does not make the Bible true.

The claims and words of Jesus. (spoken by either 1 - a man mentally insane, 2 - a man morally a flat out liar, or 3 - one who was speaking the truth)



This always gets me. I don't assume anything else in life has to be 100% infallible or get everything right 100% to have value. No other speaker or writer is expected to be always right...but somehow...Jesus and the Bile have to be exactly what they say-because otherwise everything Jesus said and that is in the Bible is crap? That's not logical in the least.

It was not the best argument Lewis ever put forth.

The existence of the Gospels is no more proof of the truth of Christianity than the Koran is proof of the truth of Islam.

Absence of current information regarding complexity in nature isn't proof of God. And can you show me a soul? I've never seen one before.

Edited by Nezpop, 25 March 2011 - 04:33 PM.


#59 Ryan H.

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Posted 25 March 2011 - 05:15 PM

There are modern day Christian churches that teach that you need faith even to know, for example, that God exists or that Christianity is true.

And they're right on the latter count, I think. Not so much on the former.

I guess I'm interested in knowing how you can say this in light of what Romans 1:19-20 and even what Romans 2:14-15 say about General Revelation. The Apostle Paul is sounding a lot like C.S. Lewis in there.

Having a conscience does not mean that you are suddenly inclined to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

In fact, how do you define "General Revelation" in the first place?

Paul's writing in Romans puts forth the idea that nature testifies to the existence of God and his power and, furthermore, that we have a deep, inherent knowledge of basic moral law in terms of conscience. But I wouldn't push the category of General Revelation much further than that.

That's an interesting list. However, none of which is somehow factual proof of God-let alone Christianity.

Yeah, all of them can be substantially challenged, and to believe that they automatically point to God, you kind of have to look at them already believing in God to begin with.

Edited by Ryan H., 25 March 2011 - 05:21 PM.


#60 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 02 April 2011 - 12:16 PM

That's an interesting list. However, none of which is somehow factual proof of God - let alone Christianity. They are things Christians believe, certainly. And things mentioned in the Bible. But the existence of the Bible and Gospels are no more proof of Christianity's eternal reality than the Koran is proof that Islam is correct. Using the Bible to back up the Bible is circular and does not make the Bible true.

Well, you'd actually have to read the actual proofs themselves instead of just my haphazard list of them, in order to explain how their conclusions aren't logical. And I bet you could at least admit that the existence of the Bible could be proof of the truth of Christianity IF there were certain facts about the Bible that would be impossible unless the Bible were true. As far as the Scripture references on the list are concerned, that's just to demonstrate that making these arguments is Biblically based within Christianity. I could delete all the above mentioned Bible verses from the above post, and that wouldn't change the logical arguments.


The claims and words of Jesus. (spoken by either 1 - a man mentally insane, 2 - a man morally a flat out liar, or 3 - one who was speaking the truth)

This always gets me. I don't assume anything else in life has to be 100% infallible or get everything right 100% to have value.

I don't assume that either, so good.

No other speaker or writer is expected to be always right...but somehow...Jesus and the Bible have to be exactly what they say - because otherwise everything Jesus said and that is in the Bible is crap? That's not logical in the least.

Well, it's not every religious leader who just outright tells everyone that he happens to be God, can forgive your sins, and save you. It's Christ's claim to Deity that that 3-way choice is talking about. When Jesus told everyone that He was God, either He was mistaken (and just as crazy as someone walking around today telling everyone that he's Napoleon), OR he knew he wasn't God but lied to deceive everyone, OR was telling the truth. I don't know if this is one the best arguments for Christianity out there, but it's a decent one - particularly when you start investigating the possibilities of [a] or [b] being true.

Absence of current information regarding complexity in nature isn't proof of God.

You're right there.

And can you show me a soul? I've never seen one before.

And come on now, I've had other discussions with you before, I know you can do better than make arguments like that (not a very existentialist argument either, it's more of an extreme hyper-rationalist argument).

Having a conscience does not mean that you are suddenly inclined to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

Agreed, but don't you see? All a seeker needs to do is pick up one little truth at a time. The existence of right and wrong is one truth that must be accepted in order to become a Christian in the first place, and it's a truth that many deny accepting. Having a conscience (and therefore soon recognizing yourself as a sinner) makes one more inclined to believe Christianity than someone who has somehow managed to rid himself of his conscience.

In fact, how do you define "General Revelation" in the first place?

Paul's writing in Romans puts forth the idea that nature testifies to the existence of God and his power and, furthermore, that we have a deep, inherent knowledge of basic moral law in terms of conscience. But I wouldn't push the category of General Revelation much further than that.

Paul's writing in Romans also says that nature testifies to the attributes (and therefore even the character) of God. In other words, Creation is meant to reveal certain truths to us, and does reveal them to us whether we want them or not. Then, add to that that man knows right from wrong, because his knowledge of the moral law was actually put there by God, and well, you're starting to find yourself with objective truths that you don't have to be in the least epistemologically timid or coy with anymore.

That's an interesting list. However, none of which is somehow factual proof of God-let alone Christianity.

Yeah, all of them can be substantially challenged, and to believe that they automatically point to God, you kind of have to look at them already believing in God to begin with.

I guess the problem with your viewpoint here is that many of these arguments have been explained to us by men who did not believe in God to begin with. I would submit that any of these truths can actually stand up to a substantial challenge. And it's not too hard to say they point to God since the logical conclusion of these arguments will often be just the three words "Therefore, God exists." One single proof does not have to immediately result in believing in the God of the Bible, but it's a step in the right direction. And once you start taking these steps, they do lead in one direction.

But not only am I saying that objective rational evidence pointing us towards the truth of Christianity exists, but I'm also asking why so many modern Christians don't believe there's even any Biblical basis for using it anymore. It's the lack of confidence in General Revelation and even mere rational thought within the church that I'm claiming is a direct result of the influence of men like Kierkegaard. And if Kierkegaard taught that, even if objective truth exists, man can't really be completely sure of it ... isn't that contrary to the Apostle Paul teaching that even nonbelievers know truths about God demonstrated to them by Creation?

Edited by Persiflage, 02 April 2011 - 12:17 PM.