The further I get along my religious walk, the less inclined I am to accept organized religion.
I’ve been calling myself a “Presbyterian”, but that’s more because of the move I made early in my career as a Calvinist, to accept infant baptism and its subsequent covenant theology. It made sense then, and does so now. Further, I believed (and still believe) that the overall theological scheme of Calvinism is more-or-less correct; at least, it makes the most sense to me.
But as I studied Van Til and his system of apologetics, a funny thing began to happen.
I began seeing these theological systems as “models” that could be rejected, without giving up the truth of Christianity. Think of it this way:
Suppose I try to explain to someone how my car works.
I may not be able to say how, exactly, it is able to go – but I know it does. Further, if pressed by a skeptic, I may be inclined to offer some explanation for how it might operate. Now, supposing I’m able to come up with three or four different scenarios for how my car runs, the skeptic, at that point, might begin critiquing each scenario.
And supposing he’s unusually adept – he may be able to successfully deconstruct all four of my “models”. But as I’ve realized over the years, he’s not, therefore, justified in claiming that the car cannot run! At best, all he can say is that I’ve failed to give a good working model for how it runs, and should keep trying.
Let’s apply this analogy to something more relevant to Christian apologetics:
I believe there was once a giant flood that covered the entire Earth, destroying all life excepting maybe insects, certain vegetation, and some water creatures, and also excepting that rescued by the man Noah, who was warned by God of the coming disaster, built an ark, and salvaged creation.
Atheists hate this story and ridicule those who take it literally. But, they can’t say it didn’t happen. All they can do is critique the various Flood models offered up for analysis. These Flood models must explain the mechanics of such a flood (where did all the water come from and where did it go?), they must explain the flaws in modern dating techniques which give far older dates than the Flood narrative allows; they must explain how the entire Earth could have been repopulated from a handful of animals, how the animals got to their unique habitats post-Flood, how different races of humans developed; and so on and so forth.
Now, supposing, say, John Woodmorappe’s flood model is studied and thoroughly deconstructed by skeptics, does that entail that the Flood never occurred?
Not at all!
Now, let’s apply this same reasoning to theology.
I believe that God is both one person, and also three persons, at the same time, and in the same way. This is a huge mystery in Christian theology; it’s a paradox that has caused no end of arguments, and creation of different theological models.
Cornelius Van Til has a Trinitarian model. Gordon Clark has a Trinitarian model. In fact, there seems to be no end of theologians, dogmaticians, and scholars of systematic theology, who supply their unique explanation of the Trinitarian paradox.
Even if pithy atheist philosophers step in and internally deconstruct each and every one of these trinitarian models, (and ohhhh how they try), it wouldn’t prove that the doctrine of the Trinity is false. It would just prove that a handful of explanatory models have failed to be explanatory.
I blogged about a serious dream I had two nights ago – where I literally met Jesus Christ.
The resulting feeling of loyalty I had – loyalty to an individual human man (who was, nevertheless, divine) – trump any and all emotional attachment I have to a theological model.
Hang ALL theological models!
What’s the conclusion of this?
Well, there are many conclusions, but the most immediate are as follows:
1. Presuppositional apologetics and the theological models necessary for the arguments to operate, become a mere game of reasoning. “Oh, you want to play the reason-giving game, eh? Let’s play!” … but they can all be easily set aside at the end of the day, laid down as one lays down a sword after a battle…laid down, never to be touched again in times of peace.
2. And if we’re laying down these methodological swords (and the accompanying theological models), then all that’s left is love and loyalty for the man Jesus; a love and loyalty that isn’t guided by rationalized rules, procedures, and dogmatic models, but rather, by heart-felt emotional empathy – an actual relationship.
3. Those who segregate from each other because of disagreements over the truth of this or that theological model, are missing the actual truth of the matter – which is: the models are irrelevant.
Upon reading number 3, the puritans will be up in arms, I know – but consider: a study in Van Tillian apologetics, if anything, helps one realize the power of skeptical argumentation. Human-kind is floating in a void of skepticism and meaninglessness, and the only life-line we have is what God has condescended to give us. But, even with His word, we’re left in the helpless state of finitude.
Believe me, Puritans, there is no theologian or Christian philosopher smart enough to create a rational model that is so thoroughly explanatory that it becomes indubitable, and immune from all criticism. Such a thing is simply impossible, because such a system would require an infinite amount of detail – infinite, because it would be describing an infinite God. We finite men are unable to do so.
So, playing the “reason-giving-game” will only lead us into more sophisticated states of irrational finitude. Better then, to use the tools of the game as a sword, and lay it down in times of peace as opposed to constantly brandishing it to a cowed congregation.
I know this is so, because I’ve read the most sophisticated philosophy of religion and theological models out there, and none of them are final. None of them are indubitable. None of them succeed in completing an extensive, rationalized, accounting of our existence. And none of them ever will.
4. I’m obliged to include point four with respect to my many orthodox friends:
These guys are constantly harassing me for not joining the orthodox church and jumping on board this new religious bandwagon that is sweeping the alternative right community.
In my mind, they’re trading the sophistry of protestant theological models, for the sophistry of organized bureaucracy. Christ said His kingdom is “not of this Earth”, and while I know the theologians (both Puritan and Orthodox alike) would have a field day in breaking that statement down, deconstructing it, and explaining away its clear meaning – I can’t help but feel like Christ is plainly telling us that we should be less willing to sell our allegiance to an Earthly bureaucracy, and more willing to give it up to Him.
Neither love for an organization, or love for a set of rational models, can replace a genuine love of Christ. (To their credit, neither the puritans or Orthodox would claim they do any of the above – the reader can decide the point for himself).
Let the Orthodox be the stomach of the church, and the Puritans be the liver – we’re all part of the same body.
At any-rate, while I may still do apologetics from time to time, I’ve lost almost all desire to contend in the intellectual arena; especially when doing so means battling for the truth of one model over another.
Better to try and demonstrate humanity as it is, in its finite state, through poetry or fiction (as best I’m able). In this, I think I’ll be joining a long line of European authors and poets.