Saturday, October 5, 2013

No Bible for Christian Academia?

What role should the Bible play in Christian scholarship?

Only a very minor one, according to various Christian scholars.

Dr David van Drunen (professor at Westminster Seminary West, and OPC minister) argues that Scripture plays a major role only in theology, whose primary role is to interpret and explain special revelation.

The other disciplines (e.g., literature, science, and history), seek to interpret and explain natural revelation ("Living in God's Two Kingdoms", p.174). Here Scripture says important things about the big picture (e.g., that God has created and upholds all things), but "Scripture does not address the narrower, technical details of these various academic disciplines" (p.179). 

1. Two Kingdoms
Dr van Drunen is an advocate of  Two Kingdoms Theology (2KT hereafter), promoted also by his Westminster colleagues Dr Michael Horton and Dr R. Scott Clark. According to 2KT , Christians are citizens of two kingdoms:

(1) The Redemptive Kingdom of Heaven, represented by the church. It is concerned with spiritual things such as worship, Christian fellowship, and preaching the Gospel. It is governed by Scripture.

(2) The Common Kingdom, embracing all cultural activities. It is concerned with such things as education, work, science, scholarship, and politics. It is called "common" because this kingdom is common to both Christians and non-Christians. It is governed by natural revelation, the truth revealed by God in creation.

The church should teach only the theological truths of Scripture, as well as its big picture concerns. The educational responsibility for the other fields resides in the Common Kingdom (p.176). Dr van Drunen claims that, through the Noachic covenant (Gen.9), God commissioned all people to exercise dominion on earth (p.164). Hence he urges:
 "Believers have the obligation, under the terms of the Noachic covenant, to cooperate as much as possible with unbelieving practitioners of their discipline." (p.181)
"If we love God's world and take the Noachic covenant seriously, we should wish to learn from unbelievers whom God has enabled to understand wonderful things about his creation." (p.184)
Although unbelievers differ in their basic presuppositions about God and the world, this does not affect the actual content of each discipline, according to 2KT. A Christian perspective concerns primarily motivation (e.g., working for the glory of God) and big picture concerns (e.g., God created and governs the world). Hence, Christian scholars should not work separately, but presumably within the mainstream of their particular discipline.

2. Christian Education?

A similar conclusion is reached by Dr David Noe (assistant professor at Calvin College, and OPC elder). His article Is There Such a Thing as Christian Education? contends that Christian education differs from secular education only in intent and motivation, but not in actual content. In a follow up rejoinder Dr Noe asserts that the truth about God's world stands independently of one's perspective; truth is not a function of worldview.

2KT is often contrasted with Neo-Calvinism, which teaches that Christians have a duty to transform culture. However, many Neo-Calvinists agree with 2KT on a limited role for the Bible in scholarship. For example, Dr Roy Clouser, rejects the notion that the Bible contains pertinent information for history or science, a view he denigrates as "fundamentalism". Dr Clouser, a follower of Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd,  has no problem with evolution, even human evolution (see my post Dooyeweerd's Legacy). Such a diminished view of the Bible suggests that Neo-Calvinists have perhaps been more transformed by culture than vice versa.

Generally, it is argued that the content of such vocations as plumbing, engineering, and medicine is no different for Christians. It is then inferred that the Bible likewise has little specific to say for other disciplines. Such thinking stresses common grace; it is assumed that unbelievers can attain true knowledge about the world. It limits the antithesis mainly to the unbelievers' refusal to acknowledge God as Creator, and to use their knowledge in God's service.

In practice, it may well be the case that many Christian scholars' work is in the mainstream, and contains no specific Biblical content. It may well be the case also that, excepting theology, many Christian colleges use the same textbooks, and teach virtually the same material as secular colleges.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that the Bible does teach significant facts pertinent to various academic disciplines. 

3. Christian History
Consider, for example, the discipline of history. The Bible extensively describes the historical unfolding of God's plan. As such, it contains many specific details, from the creation of the world to the acts of the Apostles. Mainstream history, constrained as it is by a naturalistic, evolutionary agenda, naturally rejects the divine authority of the Bible, and the supernatural events it relates. Mainstream history will thus differ substantially from Biblical history.

How should this be resolved?

According to Dr van Drunen, theology--which  interprets Scripture--relies upon natural revelation, as interpreted by other academic disciplines such as linguistics and geography (p.174). Should theology then also rely on the academic discipline of history, since history also is supposedly the Common Kingdom? But viewing Scripture in the light of mainstream history challenges the historicity of Biblical events.

It is surely no accident that many advocates of 2K support non-literal views of Gen.1. Further application of mainstream history have led to questioning also the historicity of the Biblical Adam. This, in turn, undermines important theological doctrines such as original sin, Christ's atonement, election and eternal punishment (see my post The Evolution of Calvin College).

In short, Biblical history is essential for Biblical theology. Christians should therefore develop their own discipline of history, independent of mainstream history. The same applies to the historical sciences, such as archaeology, geology, evolutionary biology, astronomy, etc.-- and other disciplines addressed by the Bible (see my post Science, Neutrality, and the Antithesis).

Although truth itself may not be a function of worldview, what we perceive as truth certainly is. All truth may be God's truth, but not all that man asserts as truth is in fact so. And, conversely what he rejects as false may well be true. Witness the mainstream denial of Biblical truth.

Christians must therefore insist on a fully authoritative Bible as the basis for their curriculum. We must guard Biblical truth, and "avoid the antithesis of knowledge falsely so-called" (1 Tim.6:20). The antithesis runs deep, impacting not just motivation but knowledge itself, particularly the interpretation of God's Word.

This is not to deny that there may still be much overlap between Christian and mainstream scholarship. But it does mean that any so-called common grace insights of mainstream scholarship must be tested in the light of Scripture. The doctrine of the antithesis must refine common grace. 

4. 2KT Is Self-Defeating
Interestingly, Dr van Drunen bases his 2KT on the applicability of the Noachic covenant to all people. This presumes that there was indeed a huge historical flood that wiped out all humans except for Noah and his family.

Such belief is contradicted by mainstream scholarship. Consider the assessment of Dr Davis Young (Professor emeritus of geology at Calvin College):
But archeological investigations have established the presence of human beings in the Americas, Australia, and south-eastern Asia long before the advent of the sort of Near Eastern civilization described in the Bible and thus long before the biblical deluge could have taken place. In the light of a wealth of mutually supportive evidence from a variety of disciplines and sources, it is simply no longer tenable to insist that a deluge drowned every human on the face of the globe except Noah’s family. (Davis A. Young, The Biblical Flood (1995), p. 242.)
One might add that the notion that only Noah's family survived the Flood is contrary also to current mainstream biology, which asserts that the human population was never less than a few thousand.

This places Dr van Drunen before a dilemma:

If mainstream scholarship is valid, as per 2KT, then there is no universally applicable Noachic covenant, and hence, no theological basis for 2KT. On the other hand, if such Noachic covenant does exist, then Christian history, geology, archaeology, and the like, must differ significantly from their mainstream counterparts, contrary to 2KT.


JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

It is interesting that you include Roy Clouser in this article. The "sphere sovereignty" of Dooyeweerd has become the sphere dichotomy of the present day. The dominion of Christ in all of life seems to have been scaled back for some reason. As you say, it seems that culture has conquered Christ's realm instead of Christ ruling over everything.

Dr. Schaeffer once said that you cannot have a static two-kingdom situation: the one will always try to conquer the other. But it seems that Jesus' admonition, to "Have faith in God" (Mark 11: 22), is now being put after having faith in men and their "knowledge". What we see in your article is that the naturalist's theories are raiding the theologist's territory, to the point of changing key precepts of theology.

So much for two kingdoms!

People tend to forget that it is not the Three Forms of Unity or the Westminster Standards that define us as Bible-believing Reformed Christians; it is faithfulness to the what the Bible says that defines us, that determines our faith, thats sets us apart. It is not adherence to one sectarian view of Scripture, but it is belief in and adherence to Scripture alone that marks us. And that does not divide us from the truth of the creation around us, but in fact strengthens our tie to it. The Reformed Confessions are meant to safeguard a Biblical fidelity.

Instead of questioning the integrity of Scripture why would we not rather question the integrity of man? If it is the case that not everything a theologian says is theological, much less theologically correct, then why would we not also suppose that not everything that a scientist says is scientific, much less scientifically correct?

Are these Christians really glad about the fact that worldly wisdom has triumphed over the Bible? Does it not bother them that their "better understanding" has robbed them of their own understanding, that their intellectual advancement it is really nothing else but mere capitulation?

A sad, sad situation in our churches.


John Byl said...

Hi John

Thanks for your comments. In answer to your last question, unhappily, they do not see it as "worldly wisdom" but mistake it to be truth revealed by God through "general revelation", and they do sense any "capitulation", but, rather, believe they have attained a deeper understanding of Scripture. They fail to see that their approach erodes also the theological meaning of Scripture.

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:

I have, then, 4 questions to ask these people:

1. Does 2KT assert that the two norms for the two separate kingdoms are separate (or exclusive) as well? (i.e. General Revelation for the Common Kingdom; and Special Revelation for the Redemptive Kingdom.)

2. Are the two kingdoms related? Will there be a Common Kingdom in eternity; and, is there a Redemptive Kingdom in the Common Kingdom now? (i.e. not just sharing a mutual, common world, but one kingdom alive and active inside the other, as part of it.)

3. Are the three values neutral? (i.e. Truth, Goodness, and Beauty: a) belonging to both kingdoms the same; or b); peculiarly belonging to the one kingdom or c) belonging to both but as separate values in each kingdom, namely Truth - a la Common Kingdom, vs. Truth - a la Redemptive Kingdom.)

4. This all started with something that was supposed to be innocuous: a dispute about how much time it actually took God to create the world. Or more accurately, what does the word “day” in Genesis One actually mean? It was not supposed to (and they all promised it wouldn’t) touch the basics of true Biblical theology. What happened? Now the kingdom of Christ has no say in the Common Kingdom anymore, but is now just a matter of motive or intent in the believer, and no longer that of the world’s rightful Sovereign Ruler. So, again, what happened: to the first intentions and the first motives of those who introduced these innocuous questions into the churches; to the theology of these questioners; to the norms to which they promised fidelity before God and His people?