Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review 3: Protestantism is the root of all evil...

OK, OK, Brad Gregory doesn't say that in The Unintended Reformation, chapter 2: "Relativizing Doctrines."  That sure is how this chapter feels.  This post is the second half of my review of this chapter.

My second review begins at about p. 96.  In keeping with the Parable of the Talents, I'll try to obey the Lord's command and not bury my gift of sarcasm too much in the ground.  But in keeping with the love command, I'll at least try to maintain a modicum of civility. :-)

1. Up to this point in the chapter, I agree with Gregory that sola scriptura has failed to provide anything like a common Christian understanding of faith. However, this does not validate Gregory's apparent agenda, only thinly veiled, which seems to be to say it was a mistake to leave the pre-nominalist views of the Roman Catholic Church, with a frequent hint that he thinks Vatican 2 was a big mistake.

In fact, let me stop right here and trash his whole line of thinking up front.  Transpose his arguments back a couple thousand years and we're trying to justify how the new fangled religion of Christianity didn't settle the "hyperpluralism" of the ancient religious world.  Oops--his entire underlying argument disintegrates into a pool of drool. This book is a Charles Taylor want-to-be.  It tries to use the big words and complex sentences, but is completely devoid of the profundity. His rhetoric is stale, contributes no new ideas, and does so in a tiring, preachy style.

2. The only coherent option is thus the next variety of Protestant Christianity he trashes. He calls it "spiritualism." Let's call it by the name those of us to are more sympathetic to it use: pietism.  He is quite right that those who looked to the inner light of the Spirit to settled disagreements over ideas did not arrive at common ideological ground...

And here let me stop and tell him the best hope for orthodoxy.  The best for orthodoxy is not for Protestants to admit we were wrong to leave the Roman Catholic Church.  What were we thinking?  He doesn't say this but, come on, what else could we conclude from a chapter like this one?  He trashes every other option but clearly believes in orthodoxy. So the answer is that Luther should never have disagreed?  In other words, the theological bickering that you say led truth to shift to science could have all been solved if the Protestants would have just shut up?  That's helpful.

No, the only real hope for Christian orthodoxy is some sort of faith in common Christianity.  It is not "Scripture only."  It is something like "5 centuries, 4 councils, 3 persons, 2 natures, 1 God." Even that requires an act of faith, but it represents what the vast majority of Christians believe and have believed throughout the centuries. This faith in common Christianity acknowledges what Protestants, Roman Catholics, and the Orthodox hold in common in terms of creed.

... but pietism takes the only really coherent position on what is important to God.  If God is not ultimately more interested in our hearts than our heads, there's no hope for Christianity.  So eat Vatican 2, Gregory, and accept that I am your "separated brother."  Otherwise it all falls apart.  The alternative is not pre-nominalist Roman Catholicism any more than it's pre-Great Schism.  It's non-Christianity.

So perhaps neither Zwingli nor the most zealous catholics of the Inquisition will be in the kingdom of God, while Luther and Erasmus may fare better. Gregory criticizes pietism because it did not result in orthodoxy... which is ultimately a circular argument.  A heart-oriented religion cannot be judged a failure by the criteria of a head-oriented religion!

3. The bulk of the rest of the chapter is devoted to trashing reason as a reliable path to truth. He runs through a host of modern philosophers--Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Husserl--with the goal of showing that they didn't agree with each other while being quite certain they, at last, were the individuals that had reasoned it all out.  And of course there can be no doubt that philosophers say the darnedest things.

Are there commonly accepted relationships between these philosophers?  Gregory seems to ignore the fact that Kant is more or less the funnel of the rationalists and empiricists before him like Descartes, Spinoza, and Hume. There are accepted connections, accepted improvements between these thinkers.  They are not disconnected atoms that all disagree with each other.  He also seems to ignore empiricism and seems to want to bracket science from it, as if the success of science is not in some way a vindication of empiricism on some level.

And stuck in his cognitive priorities, he cannot see that modern philosophy has inevitably led to the same basic point of view as pietism: it is not so much our ideas as our living in the world.  Nietzsche and Foucault do not ultimately present us with another alternative. That is to misunderstand them. They argue for the dead end of the cognitive priority. This is what postmodernism variously boils down to. Each in their own way, these faithless philosophers are saying the same thing--if there is common ground, it is not in ideas.

Philosophy does have three rock solid rules of truth.  All reasoning, including religious thinking, is susceptible to the weight of these rules.  How well does a hypothesis correspond to the data?  Does a hypothesis appear to be logically coherent internally?  Does a hypothesis seem to help us function in the real world?  Against such there is no law.

I believe there is room for Christian faith in all these developments. What we can't do what Gregory seems to want to do, to somehow become pre-moderns again.  I guarantee you that his understanding of the otherness of God is not the understanding he seems to think Anselm and the medieval church had.  Even Hegel knew that.

1 comment:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Metanexus is known as one of the largest science/religion organizations, I believe. I had heard that it disbanded for awhile. The vision is the usefulness of natural knowledge in science to theological reflection.

Metanexus is attempting to have a "wholistic view" where the natural and the supernatural are "one". Biological systems has been of much importance to "frame" the whole discourse between science/religion (not that this is the only framing).

Biological systems see the universe as a "living whole" where from the natural state of affairs creates, through contingencies and interdependencies emergent properties. It is a dynamic view of human choice and the interconnectness of knowledge, as well as the universe.

Some allow for parallel universes to describe the "potentialities and possibilities" of how humans will frame or understand "life".

Panentheism was the term used for "God", as "God" was in and part of every aspect of life. The sacred and secular were not separated, but distinctified by usefulness/purpose.

Protestantism was the beginning of the "individual" against the group, critical thinking/questioning, which led to scientific exploration and discovery. The medieval mindset of authoritarianism was challenged and free thinking was allowed!

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