Monday, June 15, 2009

Charles Chauncy on Reason, Revelation and Doctrine

The Rev. Charles Chauncy was one of the most influential preachers of the revolutionary era. He was an explicit theological enemy of Jonathan Edward's "Great Awakening." Contrary to what you might have heard, arguably it was ANTI-Great Awakening thought that theologically drove the American Revolution. You can read one of Chauncy's most notable pro-revolutionary sermons here.

Chauncy claimed he could use Sola Scriptura to prove the falsity of the doctrines of original sin, the trinity and eternal damnation. That puts him in the "heretic," arguably "not Christian" box, from the perspective of the "orthodox." Gregg Frazer's PhD thesis has a lengthy write up on Chauncy that concludes his theology was "not Christian."

Chauncy's method was interesting. He embraced "reason" along with "revelation." Indeed he criticized the "Great Awakeners" for not being "reasonable" enough when he noted:

But in nothing does the enthusiasm of these persons discover itself more, than in the disregard they express to the dictates of reason.

He claimed he could show from the Bible alone that it did not teach the aforementioned orthodox doctrines. Chauncy would admit, though, that it was his own "reasoned interpretation" of the Bible that rejected these doctrines.

And this nuance sheds light on a dispute about Gregg Frazer's thesis occurring in the commentary at American Creation. Gregg's thesis argued the key Founders and patriotic preachers believed that, though reason and revelation generally agreed with one another and that some, much, but not all of the Bible was legitimately revealed, when the two appeared to conflict they resolved the conflict in favor of reason, not revelation. Hence reason trumped revelation. You certainly get this from Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin. But, as my friend Tom Van Dyke argues, those three said these things privately and regarding the others, especially in their public addresses, you don't see them claiming the Bible is fallible, that reason trumps its errors, etc.

Van Dyke is right in the sense that publicly the key FFs and the patriotic preachers like Chauncy, Jonathan Mayhew, Samuel West and many others, didn't go around calling the Bible errant and saying that human reason trumps it. It might not be what they SAID; but it's arguably what they DID. And like the key Founders, it's perhaps/probably what the patriotic preachers PRIVATELY thought.

On the surface they appeared to preach that reason and revelation agreed, that we must have a "reasoned" interpretation of the Bible because they same God who authored the Bible also authored NATURE (what man discovered from reason alone). But when the two appeared to conflict, they followed nature and made the Bible "fit" with the findings of man's reason.

I think one could argue that this is exactly how Chauncy, Mayhew and West all handled the Trinity, Eternal Damnation and Romans 13. Man's REASON, discovering NATURE, found (among other things) that 1) God is unitary, not Triune, 2) a benevolent God would not damn anyone to Hell for eternity, and 3) men have a right to rebel against tyrants. With that already settled, they went back and made their scriptural case for all three positions.

You can read Chauncy doing this in his classic The Mystery Hid From Ages and Generations which was his purported biblical case against eternal damnation. Perhaps in a later post we will read from its quotations and discuss whether it really is the Bible that teaches against eternal damnation or "reason" superseding certain parts of the Bible to get to that result.

54 comments:

Pinky said...

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This is a good article you've posted here.
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And, it's only a step away from the idea that Jesus did not come to support orthodoxy; but, that he came in opposition to it--Salvation being that humanity is answerable to God and not to the rules of orthodoxy.
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But, that destroys the authority of religious hierarchies. So, most theologists are against it.
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Not surprising when Jesus' ministry is taken into consideration.
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Not at all.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Could a colonist be an orthodox Christian and still accept the arguments for revolution Biblically?

Sure, easy. Samuel Adams, for one.

You can find revolt in Calvinist tracts from the 1600s, before unitarianism even existed, and the colonists had them on their bookshelves.


Therefore, theological unitarianism is a separate issue from revolution. This is an unnecessary conflalation. Of church and state.

;-)

Further, Chauncy seems quite dedicated to the Bible as divine truth, and to put him in with Jefferson is another unnecessary [and unjustified] conflation.

If we throw all the elements into a stew, we can name it whatever we want, like "theistic rationalism." But that is not good history, or even good logic.

Pinky said...

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But that is not good history, or even good logic.
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I'm not so sure about that, Tom.
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Maybe you could elucidate a little?
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bpabbott said...

Phil,

You might like the theology espouse at the blog Exploring Our Matrix.

King of Ireland said...

Jon,

I need your email. I answered one of Frazer's questions in a post on my blog. I can just email it to him and let him respond to me or you can post it if you want.

I would ask to post it, or at least relevant excerpts rather than just linking it like last time. I think people get lost when the do not read the link. The only way the know what I said it Frazer's response to it. Let me know.

Good post here. But just because others all them heretics does not mean they are. To say that the Founders were not a bunch of Jerry Falwells, even if proved, does not dispel the Christian Nation or Nation heavily influenced by Christianity thesis.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Pinky, a skim of page 275 onward shows that the "New Light" ministers [like Elisha Williams] weren't necessarily unitarian, and although Chauncy later has a dispute with him in theory about reason vs. revolution, Chauncy expresses some surprise because Jonathan Edwards "made use of more philosophy...than anyone I know of."

The story's far more complicated than the Great Awakening standing in the way of the "reasonable" unitarians on the way to revolution [and rejecting Jesus as God for good measure].

Jonathan Rowe said...

KOI:

It's rowjonathan@aol.com

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes Tom one COULD BE an orthodox Christian like Sam Adams or John Witherspoon and support the American Revolution. Gregg's point is they didn't find such theological case from the Bible but rather from Locke, who in turn, found the right to revolt in the "state of nature," as discovered from reason. And it was "nature" as discovered from reason that led the unitarians/theistic rationalists to reject the trinity and eternal damnation on those same grounds.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Further, Chauncy seems quite dedicated to the Bible as divine truth, and to put him in with Jefferson is another unnecessary [and unjustified] conflation.

Well Chauncy and Jefferson were both 1) theological unitarians, 2) theological universalists, 3) who supported the right to revolt in the face of Romans 13, 4) were dedicated to believing at least *some* of the Bible was true; and 5) understood themselves to be "Christians" of the "rational" bent.

Arguably, they belong in the same box.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And it was "nature" as discovered from reason that led the unitarians/theistic rationalists to reject the trinity and eternal damnation on those same grounds.

That's just not so, Jon. They used the Bible, and their heads. Their proofs were biblical, like the 100 scriptural arguments for the unitarian faith.

Let's be clear here, and this explains the continual disjunct we have on this, reason and revelation, Thomism and natural law---

Natural law [and thereby reason] has zero, zip, nada to do with salvation or theological questions like Jesus' divinity.

Even as they developed natural law arguments for liberty, that has nothing to do with the theological questions you and Dr. Frazer lump in to the stew. And that's why the thesis is without foundation.

Natural law has nothing to do with "higher" theology. They are two different streams, as James Wilson, Hooker and every other Thomist makes clear.

If they were all like John Adams, who said he wouldn't believe in the Trinity if God Hisself told him 1 + 1 + 1 =3, you'd be right. But John Adams was not definitive or even representative of the Founding, and the Christian unitarians didn't argue on Adams' grounds.

As for "eternal damnation" vs. "universal conciliation," doubts about that had been kicking around Christianity for 2000 years in church fathers like Origen. It's a fashion that comes and goes, and right now, it's even back in fashion in the Catholic Church.

http://www.romancatholicism.org/cormac-apokatastasis.htm

But not via natural law arguments, from faith, hope, and I reckon, charity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well Chauncy and Jefferson were both 1) theological unitarians, 2) theological universalists, 3) who supported the right to revolt in the face of Romans 13, 4) were dedicated to believing at least *some* of the Bible was true; and 5) understood themselves to be "Christians" of the "rational" bent.

Arguably, they belong in the same box.
..

Sure, as long as you mark the box "apples and oranges."

The first 2 aren't essential for 3), as Samuel Adams proves.


4) Jefferson didn't take the Bible as divine authority, but it certainly appears Chauncy did.

5) is so vague as to be useless. Aquinas considered himself a Christian of a rational bent, and [see above] Chauncy considered Jonathan Edwards of a rational bent. Any description that applies to both Jefferson and Aquinas tells us little or nothing.

Pinky said...

I might like that, Ben, if I didn't have so much on my plate.
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I'll be 78 on Independence Day and I just took a new job to create and define a marketing position in a small business that is getting ready to expand.
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I have a hard time walking and chewing gum at the same time. So, I'm lucky to keep up my study of American History.
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Jonathan Rowe said...

Let's be clear here, and this explains the continual disjunct we have on this, reason and revelation, Thomism and natural law---

Natural law [and thereby reason] has zero, zip, nada to do with salvation or theological questions like Jesus' divinity.


This is wrong; Jesus' divinity was contested by the natural lawyers on rational grounds. 1+1+1 = 3. You didn't need the Bible to show this; reason showed this. Whatever the Bible said, it could not trump this "self evident" Truth.

Re eternal damnation, they made a similar case on rational as opposed to biblical grounds; reason told them a benevolent God would not eternally damn the majority of the human race, arguably not one human soul.

Pinky said...

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Professor Guelzo has quite a bit to say about Chauncey.
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Jonathan Rowe said...

Sure, as long as you mark the box "apples and oranges."

Well apples and organes ARE a meaningful genus. They are both baseball sized fruit of a similar color. Apples and oranges are a more meaningful combination than apples & typewriters.

The first 2 aren't essential for 3), as Samuel Adams proves.

The idea is that Sam Adams, orthodox Christian that he was, didn't turn to the Bible for a right to revolt but the same "nature" as discovered from "reason" (ala Locke) that demonstrate God's unitary, benovolent nature, that He didn't damn one human soul eternally.

4) Jefferson didn't take the Bible as divine authority, but it certainly appears Chauncy did.

I think one could conclude that both Jefferson AND Chauncy took the Bible as partially, indeed a great deal of it, inspired.

5) is so vague as to be useless. Aquinas considered himself a Christian of a rational bent, and [see above] Chauncy considered Jonathan Edwards of a rational bent. Any description that applies to both Jefferson and Aquinas tells us little or nothing.

The "rational Christianity" that was "key" to the American Founding was theologically unitarian, universalist in its attributes, it relied excessively on "Nature" as discovered by reason, and held, contra Romans 13, than man had a "right" to revolt against tyrants.

These factors ARE meaningful.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, Jon. Not contra Romans 13. Mayhew explicitly writes that "the Apostle" Paul surely didn't mean we should obey the devil, among other things. It was an interpretation, not a rejection of Romans 13, and not purely a natural law interpretation either.

"Natural lawyers" is a term of art, and in fact it's not even a real term. You apply it to John Adams as if you could apply it to Thomists like Hooker and James Wilson.

No go, man. That's a complete equivocation of the term, if it existed, which it doesn't, in any formal way.

but the same "nature" as discovered from "reason" (ala Locke) that demonstrate God's unitary, benovolent nature, that He didn't damn one human soul eternally...

Natural law cannot---by definition---be applied to the supernatural. We have to rewrite the history of ideas to argue that it can.


Neither---contra our friend Kristo---do I see any evidence that Jefferson considered the Bible divinely inspired at all, where Chauncy and his ilk do not reject a word of it. That's a complete and unjustified conflation of the two, Jon.

Dr. Frazer labels a box "theistic rationalist," and Jefferson and John Adams properly go in. But then he grabs every Founder he can find and wedges them in if they share a few traits.

Apples and oranges share a few traits, too, round fruit, the size of a baseball. But the closer we look at the list of traits, the more vague we must make them in order to work.

Which is why I started up with him on Romans 13, as an examination of his method. He's the one for whom the Bible is all. But as we see, once the Reformation rejected the Catholic central authority on interpretation, things went wild all over Protestantism.

In fact, what he calls "theistic rationalism"---except for Jefferson and JAdams---is really just a rejection of the straitjacket of Calvin and Puritanism, and a return to Christianity's use of reason in interpreting the Bible. Moreover, that rejection began back in 1600s Britain, specifically on Romans 13.

And I hope you'll take a look at the link I posted to Chauncy and Jonathan Edwards. Edwards agreed with Chauncy about most of the problems with the Great Awakening. In between the two was the "New Light" movement, with revolutionary preachers like Elisha Williams. It wasn't all black and white.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Natural law cannot---by definition---be applied to the supernatural. We have to rewrite the history of ideas to argue that it can.

But this is exactly what the theistic rationalists like James Wilson James Madison did when he/they interchanged God and Nature. They wrote as though God and Nature were ONE and that both claimed rightful ownership over the other.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're pulling an OFT on me here, man, on basic definitions. You did not react well when he did it to you. In fact, you got downright angry.

Natural law is about this life on earth. It cannot speak intelligibly of the supernatural, of the afterlife.

This isn't a gotcha debating point. It's key, it's essential to understanding the ideas.

Now, you might make your argument via "natural religion" or even "natural theology." However, the Christian unitarians like Chauncy and Mayhew didn't argue from there, they argued from the Bible.

And John Locke hisself wrote in the Reasonableness of Christianity:

But natural religion, in its full extent, was no-where, that I know, taken care of, by the force of natural reason. It should seem, by the little that has hitherto been done in it, that it is too hard a task for unassisted reason to establish morality in all its parts, upon its true foundation, with a clear and convincing light...

Locke doesn't close the door to natural reason deriving natural religion, but he says it hasn't been successful yet, and even the Christian unitarians of the Founding didn't even try.

Look at their arguments. Bible.

And Locke continues in the same passage that

And it is at least a surer and shorter way, to the apprehensions of the vulgar, and mass of mankind, that one manifestly sent from God, and coming with visible authority from him, should, as a king and law-maker, tell them their duties; and require their obedience; than leave it to the long and sometimes intricate deductions of reason, to be made out to them...

Locke---whether he believed it or not---says right here for all to hear that God sent Jesus to give mankind The Word. The colonists took that at face value, which is why they praised Locke as a Christian and not a subversive.

The "theistic rationalists" Jefferson and John Adams tried to turn the Bible into something less than the Word of God, the Holy Writ, but basically got nowhere, and even Adams spoke well of Christianity as "revelation."

The "theistic rationalist" thesis has Jefferson in its box, and most of the oft-confused John Adams. The rest keep jumping out of the box: Locke, Mayhew, Chauncy---in their own words.

bpabbott said...

"Natural law is about this life on earth. It cannot speak intelligibly of the supernatural, of the afterlife."

This comment has raised a question for me.

Did these individuals see God's effect on human material existence as necessarilty supernatural, or as being consistent with nature?

Also, I don't see why a Theisitic Rationalist must necessarily reject the supernatural out-right. Is the God of nature really a necessary qualification?

Pinky said...

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They wrote as though God and Nature were ONE and that both claimed rightful ownership over the other.
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I think Shain makes that point quite well.

Pinky said...

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Is the God of nature really a necessary qualification?
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I think the apostle Paul gives a good answer to your question, Ben, in Romans 1:20, "...since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." This is the verse that allows the God of Nature to preempt the Biblical God.
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King of Ireland said...

Jon stated:

"Gregg's point is they didn't find such theological case from the Bible but rather from Locke, who in turn, found the right to revolt in the "state of nature," as discovered from reason. And it was "nature" as discovered from reason that led the unitarians/theistic rationalists to reject the trinity and eternal damnation on those same grounds."

I think what Frazer is missing is that nature discovered from reason IS IN THE BIBLE. We all assume that Paul ran around to the gentiles with a bright and shiny New Testament. He did not. Many did not know the sciptures at all. When he came upon people like that like on Mars Hill he used reason with them instead of the Bible.

Romans 2 clearly states that those who did not have the Torah could do what it said "by nature" because God's qualities could be seen through nature and conscience and non have an excuse. If there is no excuse then they must have been able to do it. I also do not understand why reason and revelation are two different things.

If someone has no Bible then they must you reason alone to have a revelation about God. I think this is a false dilemma. The issue is who God was to these people. His characteristics and all. I think we get sidetracked with debates about who is a Christian. One day I hope we can turn the discussion to the central question:

Who is God?

Pinky said...

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Shain’s book, carefully scrutinizes the issue at stake here.

I think he gives a very good explanation on how the Founding Era American thought of God.
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But, it is a complex question and cannot be explained as though eighteenth century Americans had our vocabulary--they didn't.
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Even so, things began to change iduring the last decade of that century.
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We make a major mistake when we try to simplify the issues using our vocabulary. They did not--could not--see things the way we see them today.
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Jonathan Rowe said...

This is what I was referring to when I meant Wilson and Madison interchanged God and Nature (hence making God seem less the God of super-nature, and more something that Nature owned, what the theistic rationalists did):

For instance in Works, Wilson wrote of, "Nature, or, to speak more properly, the Author of nature."

In the remonstrance Madison was while invoking God given unalienable rights also said they were the "gift of nature." But this was from a man who believed there was a "road from Nature up to Nature's God."

Here are how some academics, beside Dr. Frazer and myself react to this blurring the lines of God and Nature.

Jon Butler of Yale said: "The god who appears in the Declaration is the god of nature rather than the God of Christian scriptural revelation."

Michael Zuckert:

"The Christian God is also the God of nature, of course, but qua Christian God, qua the God of the covenant of grace, he is the God of super-nature. The Christian events, the incarnation, the resurrection, the economy of salvation -- these are miraculous, extraordinary events, not events in or of nature."

Marvin Olasky:

"[T]he expression 'nature's God' even made it seem that nature had created God and now owned Him."

Gary North:

"Nature’s God or Nature Is God?

"Madison called all state established religion an Inquisition in prin ciple.19 He ended his plea with a prayer to the officially nonspecific
“Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe.”20 He made it clear who this
Lawgiver is: nature itself.

Because, finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; . . .21

So Tom there are some pretty smart and learned scholars most of whom are not secular liberals, who don't quite see it your way.

Finally here is a quotation from James Wilson's Works which perfectly captures this Nature owning God dynamic:

The law of nature is immutable; not by the effect of an arbitrary disposition, but because it has its foundation in the nature, constitution, and mutual relations of men and things. While these continue to be the same, it must continue to be the same also. This immutability of nature’s laws has nothing in it repugnant to the supreme power of an all-perfect Being. Since he himself is the author of our constitution; he cannot but command or forbid such things as are necessarily agreeable or disagreeable to this very constitution. He is under the glorious necessity of not contradicting himself. This necessity, far from limiting or diminishing his perfections, adds to their external character, and points out their excellency.

I'm writing this because the "theistic rationalists" were more than just Jefferson and J. Adams, it those two AND Franklin with beyond a reasonable doubt smoking gun quotations.

And it was Madison, Wilson, G. Morris and others in a "connect the dots" sense.

It was also the Declaration of Independence and all of the public natural theology speak to the detriment of revealed theology speak.

If we are going to talk about OFT and similarities Tom. The similarity I see between the two of you are both, for some personal ideological reason, don't like the concept of "theistic rationalism," and are using all of your philosophic powers to try to minimize it. You of course, are much better, you have a lot more scholarly and philosophical power.

He had all the WILL, but if oft-made him come off as one who engaged in aggressive stupidity.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Now, you might make your argument via "natural religion" or even "natural theology." However, the Christian unitarians like Chauncy and Mayhew didn't argue from there, they argued from the Bible.

You are right that this part is key. They argued from BOTH. Frazer's point is on matters of Trinity, eternal damnation, and Romans 13, it was the human centered "natural religion" not the Bible that won.

I'll have to look back and see how carefully Frazer uses words; I wouldn't call Chuancy, Mayhew, Clarke, Newton, Locke, Price or Witherspoon (whom Frazer admits was "orthodox") "theistic rationalists" in the sense that the key Founders clearly were (Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin) or probably were (G. Morris, Hamilton before the end, Washington, Madison). However they did influence their "theistic rationalism." Out of all of them, I would term Priestley the "theistic rationalist," or the closest to it.

For instance, with Witherspoon -- when he taught politics he was a philosophical rationalist and naturalist. We he preached sermons, he was a Calvinist. As noted, he was "orthodox." That means, by definition, he was not a "theistic rationalist" or a "unitarian." However, insofar as he influenced Madison and the other key Founders, it was his philosophical naturalism or rationalism, NOT his Calvinism that influenced them. So even if Mayhew, Chauncy, Clarke, et al. don't fit perfectly within the "theistic rationalist" box, they still influenced the concept.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, you're completely misreading [most] of the quotes and the Thomistic scheme of natural law and revelation, which are two different things.

King gets it right where Paul the Apostle praises the men of Mars Hill for their temple to the unknown God, and then tells them the message of Christ, filling in the details of their unknown [true] God.

For instance the notion of "grace" is unavailable and underivable by reason. Zuckert says this explicitly in your own quote:


"The Christian God is also the God of nature, of course, but qua Christian God, qua the God of the covenant of grace, he is the God of super-nature. The Christian events, the incarnation, the resurrection, the economy of salvation -- these are miraculous, extraordinary events, not events in or of nature."

And it was OFT who was also conflating nature and nature's God, except the other way, than natural law was the Bible.

King of Ireland said...

Jon stated:

"For instance, with Witherspoon -- when he taught politics he was a philosophical rationalist and naturalist. We he preached sermons, he was a Calvinist."

I think this is exactly what Tom has been trying to point out. The Bible has more to talk about than salvation. This is the whole crux of the discussion. When I say salvation I am talking about what Evangelicals call conversion. But that is even limited. Salvation means so much more than that. It means restoration and bringing things whole again.

This goes back to the kingdom of God coming to earth discussion. Using reason and principles from the Bible to help restore society to how God intended it to be is biblical.

I tried to get Frazer to read a book called "Eternity in their Hearts". It starts with the story of Paul talking about the unknown God. It turns out that one of the monuments there is to the "Unknown God" commemorating the time when a plague had hit the city and they kept sacrificing to the gods. It dawned on someone that maybe the god that they had offended was unknown to them. They sacrified to the "unknown God" and the plague stopped.

Paul was a student of History so he knew the story and used it to introduce them to that "unknown God" the statue was built to honor. He told them that it was the God who made the world and everything in it.

Paul used reason, history, and cultural traditions to introduce God to them. I am sure Witherspoon was trying to do the same thing. It should all point to God in that according the Romans 2 God can be known by what is made. This would include governments that reflect the character of God. I think Aquinas calls it special and general revelation.

Also I can see we are still calling Frazer's view of Romans 13 the biblical one. It would seem if that part of the foundation cracks(and it is starting to) then the whole building of his thesis comes down.

I still have not had anyone tell me why reason cannot be revelation. Do people think revelation only comes from the Bible? Maybe a definition of both would help. If it is ground already covered I missed it.

Jon quoted:

"Jon Butler of Yale said: "The god who appears in the Declaration is the god of nature rather than the God of Christian scriptural revelation."

This is a false dilemma again. Romans 2 is in the Bible and talks about God being revealed through what is made. It is the same God. He is revealed through the Bible and Nature. Discussing what a Christian is, is possibly a straw man.

The question seems to be more does the God of Nature and the God of the Bible have similar enough traits that it is the same God more than what traits his followers share.

It gets back to Paul's two questions when he saw God:

Who are you Lord?
What do you want me to do?

The former is about the traits of God. The latter is the actions of his followers. Which one is more important to understand? I am sure this is not as clear as I would like it because I am not sure how to put what I am saying.

King of Ireland said...

Sorry,

Phil quoted Romans 1 when I stated it was Romans 2 that talked about being able know God through what was made. Romans 2 is about men doing by nature the things required by the Torah without having access to it. Sorry if I confused anyone.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jon, you're completely misreading [most] of the quotes and the Thomistic scheme of natural law and revelation, which are two different things.

[King, I'm not ignoring you but am saving your insights for later.]

For instance the notion of "grace" is unavailable and underivable by reason. Zuckert says this explicitly in your own quote:

"The Christian God is also the God of nature, of course, but qua Christian God, qua the God of the covenant of grace, he is the God of super-nature. The Christian events, the incarnation, the resurrection, the economy of salvation -- these are miraculous, extraordinary events, not events in or of nature."


Okay, I think Zuckert's point is that when they invoked God as a POLITICAL matter they invoked God as far as Nature (via reason) could understand Him. This didn't necessarily EXCLUDE orthodox notions of God, but they purposefully did NOT rely on the orthodox idea of God, i.e., "the God of the covenant of grace,...the incarnation, the resurrection, the economy of salvation...not events in or of nature." The result was relying on God as he appeared in naturalistic or rationalistic (as opposed to orthodox or revealed) parameters for political (indeed, politics is EARTHLY) terms.

I'm not sure how I am misreading these quotations. But, as I noted, among learned scholars, it's not just me. It's also for instance Marvin Olasky who wrote:

"[T]he expression 'nature's God' even made it seem that nature had created God and now owned Him."

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Learned scholars" means nothing to me. That McGrath guy you just quoted is an idiot. Further, "learned scholars" disagree all the time. We could play dueling "learned scholars," but best to make our points on our own.

The Olasky quote is interesting though. I'd like to read him in context, since a google turns this up:

But Mr. Olasky and his followers believe separation of church and state is based on a misinterpretation of the Constitution. In his books, he offers a rereading of U.S. history in which such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are replaced by more spiritually minded early Americans.

"The government was meant to be secular in the sense of not preferring any religion. That's what the First Amendment was all about," Mr. Olasky said yesterday. "The founders would have seen what we've done to the public square not as neutrality, but as nakedness."

As for your further explication of Zuckert, I probably agree. However, your original argument had the Founders rejecting revelation for reason if need be, which is not so. They simply used natural law arguments, entirely fitting for politics.

Yes, King, Aquinas called natural law "general revelation" and all the supernatural stuff "special revelation."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

How anyone can say the definition of "christian" is irrelavant is illogical. What we commit to is something that we believe to be true, whether that belief is based on reason or revelation. Reason is what the real world survives on and revelation is what faith is about. Whether one believes in a supernatural realm that is above, beyond or transcendant of natural reality/experience is a matter of faith.

Each man should be so convinced in his conscience....which is faith. People of faith will disagree on matters of faith, as they are not things that can be proven in an experiment. Experiments are based on outcomes, and sometimes these outcomes do not correlate with the hypothesis and the meaning of the experiment is misunderstood, if not meaningless, when it comes to matters of personal identity, faith, values, etc. Individuals are no "formula", but are complex entities that evaluate (using reason) to come to conclusions, opinions, and convictions. These are all based on some aspect of reason, but formulate what faith is grounded in...

Supernaturalism is a belief that reason is not to be trusted, but God. But, God cannot be proven, as we do not know about that realm, unless we adhere to some particular message in a "revealed" text or tradition. Paul unified tribalists with his appeal to a "moral model figure" in Christ, as Christ undermined Paul's orthodoxy, but stood for something much more universal than orthodoxy....reason.

Reason is faith's handmaiden, or should be. Revelation is the embodiment of reason's convictions and commitments. The Logos enfleshed, as in Christ.

The problem so often is presumption on the part of others in their attempt to force a certain bent in an individual, without allowing that individual to develop 'naturally' as god innately made them. Personal interests, gifts, talents, can be used in diverse ways. Parents should be aware of this in supporting and encouraging their children.

So, the bible is not some supernaturalistic revelation, but people who wrote with certain expectations, prejuidices, attitudes, worldviews, and experiences. They were humans writing about the human condition within a certain historical time period and within a certain context.

So, reason is to be followed above "revelation", otherwise, we are at the mercy of whoever is in power and their particular "revelation".

Human reason is a common factor that can be appealed to as it has a basis in rationale. Though one may disagree with another, at least there is an understanding of where another is "coming from" and an agreement to disagree can be unifying.

King of Ireland said...

Jon,

No need to respond. Just food for thought.

Tom,

Why did he call the Bible "special revelation" what separated it from "general revelation" I think he is right but I do not totally understand the whole concept.

Tom and Jon,

Great discussion I am learning a lot by reading the back and forth here.

Pinky said...

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Helloooo, Angie.
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You wrote, The problem so often is presumption on the part of others in their attempt to force a certain bent in an individual, without allowing that individual to develop 'naturally' as god innately made them.

Could you believe a very good case can be made that the very concept of what it is you refer to as an individual was unknown during the Founding Era? If that is true, think of how hard that plays on any discussions we are having here.
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.....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
Irregardless of what the Founding Fathers believed, isn't the modern understanding of persons valid in understanding the basis of the issue of nominal versus devout Christians?

Biblical Christianity is not definable, as even the terms are understood differently within different denominations and each denomination has different distinctives.

I thought I was on course in the discussion as it seemed to curve around the issues of what evangelicals or conservatives understood to be "their mandate" to "take the nation" back to the "good ole days" of Christian faith in the founding of our country, as that was what "saved our nation" or made our "the city set on a hill".

Jonathan Rowe said...

Here is an article by Olasky which sources the quotation, originally found in one of his books:

http://krla870.townhall.com/columnists/MarvinOlasky/2002/07/02/building_the_independence_day_coalition

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, there's no controversy here, Jon. Chauncy and most of those outside a few outliers like Jefferson would accept the latter explanation, exactly as key Founder formulated it.

[Strangely enough the Founding era went further in linking the natural law to the will of God than did Aquinas, Suarez and Grotius!]

Olasky: "Jefferson's first artful sentence declared that Americans were basing their case on the "laws of nature and of nature's God." Those critical of Christianity could sign onto a document that emphasized the course of human events without explicit reference to Jesus Christ; the expression "nature's God" even made it seem that nature had created God. Christian legal scholars, though, long had argued that "the law of nature means ... the law of God." The standard law book in the 1770s, William Blackstone's "Commentaries," states that "the will of (man's) maker is called the law of nature."
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King, "general" revelation is available to all men employing "right" reason, say Aristotle, who had no access to the scriptures.

However, even right reason cannot derive salvation, or Christ's nature, or all those other zillion supernatural things.

King of Ireland said...

Tom stated:

"However, even right reason cannot derive salvation, or Christ's nature, or all those other zillion supernatural things."

Why not? What other route toward understanding the "unknown God" did the people of Athens have? I believe whole heartedly that the natural points toward the supernatural. You do not?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Points toward it? Yes, but only points. Even Jefferson observed that people tend toward belief. And the "proofs of God" that Jefferson's U of Virginia was to teach were part of the ethics---moral philosophy---class, not religious instruction.

[Perhaps Aquinas' proofs?]

However, the men of Athens, although arriving at the notion of God, could tell little about Him and His nature or the afterlife, which is why Paul told them the "good news" about Jesus, the Resurrection, all that stuff.

So, what the men of Athens had at first would be called "general" revelation; what Paul brought them was "special" revelation.

bpabbott said...

There's a good point in the above last comments. Specifically that Tom and King have both applied reason and reached nearly incompatible conclusions.

I think this is a good point because it demonstrates how individualistic supernatural belief is. There simply is no objective/verifiable/reliable measure of the propriety of supernatural claims. If there exist supernatural truths, it is only known to "God" ... sorry for the "scare" quotes, but what do you expect from a atheist ;-)

Man must rely upon faith as explicit knowledge of the supernatural is beyond our grasp. However, that does not imply that reason cannot be applied as a determination of what the individual finds to be reasonable.

... and in the event my words are confused with theological arguement, that is not my intent. Rather I agrue for the propriety of liberty of individual to form his own personal theological opinion.

King of Ireland said...

Tom,

What about the nomad in TIbet that has never seen a Bible, would not be able to read it if someone gave it to him because it is not in his language, has not real concept of the Western idea of religion, and no Paul to explain all this to him?

This is not hypothetical there are millions in this position. Most nations(ethne) of people do not have any of the above. Many who have heard some of the message still do not have the whole Bible translated into their language.

I think this is what Frazer misses with his thesis. It does not account for these people. We know that God can be known(I would assume personally in this context) through what is made and through conscience. Is there a place for special revelation in that context in your mind? In other words, what about the poor bush man who never hears? Can God reach him through nature and conscience?

I am hope I am being clear. I am not real sure what my answers would be to these questions but I think they are real relevant to this discussion about Nature's God vs. God of the Bible.

I think the wrench that could be thrown in the engine of Frazer's thesis is that Reason and Revelation are possible outside of the Bible. So we have "Reason", "General Revelation", and "Special Revelation". I am still not sure what the differences are. I will take a look at what you linked from Aquinas and see if he answers this.

Pinky said...

Maybe you have to forgive me as I keep bringing up Barry Alan Shain and his book.

Regarding the question at stake this is my take on what his thesis amounts to so far as I have read:
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Founding Era America seems to have been influenced by the idea that God relates with humanity through two venues, His Word--the Holy Bible--and His Behavior--Nature.

Both were seen as equally legitimate measures of God's sovereignty. The problem is about how that gets to be understood. Founding Era Americans were most heavily influenced by three equally strong forces; Early Modern Rationalism, Reformed Protestantism, and Republicanism, each of which informed the other as though they were all one and the same force and all under the watchful eyes of an intrusive way of life.
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_________________

That's what I'm getting from Shain.

King of Ireland said...

Bpabbott stated:

"There's a good point in the above last comments. Specifically that Tom and King have both applied reason and reached nearly incompatible conclusions."

In what way? Please be more specific.

Pinky said...

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In What way?
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Shain works hard to make the point that Founding Era Americans never conceived of themselves in the sense that they were individuals. More so, they were brothers and sisters in the local villages and congregations where they lived out their existence. And, they upheld each other to live what they considered to be the "good life".
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So the "way" was a highly intrusive and watchful eye of each person over the other to help them live life as it was ordained to be lived by God.
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"Localism" ruled them.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

King, your "nomad in Tibet" was of great concern to the Christian thinkers of the 16- and 1700s, whether salvation could be theirs.

But as for the moment, I'd like to get back to "right reason," which Aquinas would say prepares a person to accept the Christian faith. In fact it was axiomatic among Protestants as well that the person of right reason would accept the Gospel as soon as he heard it!

However, Aristotle's reason only got him to a deist God, the Roman Stoics, whose view of natural law was entirely compatible with Aquinas', were polytheistic, and the Buddha, a righteous dude, didn't come up with anything resembling the God of Abraham at all!

Hence, the limits of reason and the need for revelation.

Somewhat related, as it touches on salvation---I think Rev. Richard Hooker, one of Locke's influences but much more Thomistic, religious and therefore not as claimable for the Enlightenment, requires much more study than he gets. This article on his "A Learned Discourse of Justification, Works, and how the Foundation of Faith is Overthrown," has whetted my interest...

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/236959/christian_duty_and_difference_crypto.html?cat=37

King of Ireland said...

Tom,

I will check out the book. I do not want this to nose dive into a discussion of salvation(though it often goes there) I am just attempting to understand the definitions that you guys are using.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm working on the concept of tolerance for another venue, and the prevailing narrative is that it was a product of the Enlightenment, in no small part due to Locke.

However, there's Hooker [with whose work Locke is very well acquainted, as he quotes it often], opening the door 100 years before!

And yes, this right reason and natural law stuff is a language no longer spoken or understood even by most Christians. However, it was the lingua franca of the Founding era, and that's why applying reason to scripture wasn't a [poof!] Founders thing or an Enlightenment thing, but a process that was already 500 or more years old in Christianity.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

I'd be interested in seeing Hooker's case for tolerance. My understanding is while Locke quoted him favorably, he didn't get his ideas for tolerance from Hooker (because that's not what Hooker preached).

Roger Williams, interestingly enough, predated Locke and gave a fundamentalist rationale for liberty of conscience (that actually exceeded Locke's initial vision). But he had some odd reasons for doing so. Both Philip Hamburger and Martha Nussbaum do good work on Williams. However, Nussbaum doesn't deal adequately enough with Williams' odd rationale for separation/religious liberty. She promotes the concept of equal dignity and Williams didn't personally believe in the dignity of the pagans and unregenerate whom he wanted the civil state to tolerate.

Hamburger does a great job at exploring this angle. However, he wants to portray Williams as an oddball and a nut, because Hamburger wants to minimize uses of the term "separation."

I've written on Williams before; but perhaps I should do another post which plays up on the irony that he was a man of great ideas, but in many ways was a fanatic who had strange motives behind the great concepts which he was among the first to pioneer.

Tom Van Dyke said...

More to come as I get into it, but see see page 33 onward, especially the reference to "A Conference betwixt a mother a devout recusant, and her sonne a zealous Protestant" (1600).

Fascinating. Orthodoxy says Mom's going to hell.

Brad Hart said...

Jon:

Interesting points about Roger Williams. My understanding is that he basically had a Joseph Smith type approach to the Bible. He eventually came to believe that no person had any authority to act in the name of God or discover the will of God without God first RESTORING the apostleship to the earth. This of couse was one of the fundamental reasons for his being expelled from Mass.

I think Tom is right on Hooker. From what I have read o him (not a lot but thanks for the links, Tom) Hooker maintained some similar views as those held by Abelard several centuries before. Abelard was, of course, the primary mentor of John of Salisbury...I'm sure TVD is making the connection.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, I'm not, Brad. I'm just dialing back to Hooker, and now I must dial back even further to Abelard. Thx.

As for Roger Williams, it might be fairly said he was right for the wrong reasons. Dude was wack.

But on the whole, history doesn't care. The above comments also apply to Winston Churchill.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Peter Abelard.

His girlfriend became a nun, he became a monk, and fought with everybody. Dude was wack.

Abelard also studied Aristotle and "dialectics," which became Aquinas' method.

Abelard also had an interesting concept of sin, that it's all about your intention, and if you go through with it, your sin isn't in the act, it's in your contempt for God.

These medievals weren't all that medieval, were they?

Brad Hart said...

I agree, Tom, this stuff goes back way before Hooker.

I won't agree with you on the "Roger Williams was wack." I actually think he was a smart dude and in many ways ahead of his time.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Perhaps, Brad, and I certainly don't dispute you.

However, he had his share of troubles and so his agenda was a natural outgrowth of it.

Perhaps William Penn set up Pennsylvania as theologically tolerant because of the heat Quakers took back in England. We could say he "grew" as a result of his persecution, but on the other hand, the accounts we read from John Adams and others in that era was that Quakers were quite quarrelsome, and not the mellow fellows in the funny hats who make such an ace oatmeal for PepsiCo.

It appears it wasn't the Quakerism.

Pinky said...

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Perhaps William Penn set up Pennsylvania as theologically tolerant because of the heat Quakers took back in England.
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Professor Guelzo will tell you that two of the main reasons involved (1) the sale of real estate and the (2) change in America's intellectual "center of gravity".
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