Saturday, December 29, 2012

John Perry on Vindications of the Reasonableness of Christianity

John Perry from University of Oxford reviews John Locke, Vindications of the Reasonableness of Christianity, Victor Nuovo (ed.), Oxford University Press, 2012.  A taste:
 Rather than a general defense of the Reasonableness, both Vindications are targeted more narrowly at the Presbyterian John Edwards, who had accused Locke of being "all over Socinianized." (As the Reasonableness was published anonymously, Edwards could not at first be sure of its author, though he knew the rumors that it was Locke.) Their disagreement largely revolves around a relatively narrow concern: what to make of Locke's claim that the only necessary belief is that Jesus is the Messiah. (As he had written in Reasonableness, chapter five: "So that all that was to be believed for justification, was no more but this single proposition, that 'Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, or the Messiah.'") 
According to Edwards, this excludes all sorts of important doctrines, such as the Trinity and the atonement. Locke rejects this, though with a rather scattered shotgun blast. He identifies places that his text had implied something like the atonement; he points out that even those incapable of understanding complex theology can yet be saved and so the absolute doctrinal minimum must be quite low; and he argues that the doctrinal criteria were meant to function as membership criteria. That is, believing Jesus to be the Messiah is what it takes to become a Christian, but not all that a Christian must believe and do, just as a citizenship oath might make me an Englishman but would not be all that I must do to obey English law. 
The problem in wading through all of this is that most of the substance is lost in quibbles about who said what where. Put bluntly, Edwards' and Locke's quarrel is long, boring, and repetitive. (The Second Vindication alone is a grueling 90,000 words; far longer than the Reasonableness  itself. Such tedium was an unfortunate feature of Locke's other rebuttals. The three sequels to the Letter concerning Toleration are equally dull.)


Tom Van Dyke said...

And of course, all Locke had to do is make some acknowledgment of the Trinity and the Atonement to get the bishop off his back. That he pointedly did not rings the "Straussian" bell of close reading---when someone pointedly does not say what you would otherwise expect them to say, they're making a point [although Locke sensibly denies Edwards the rope to hang him with].

How many Straussians does it take to change a light bulb?

None. The light is conspicuous by its absence.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yup. Locke was quite slippery with Rev. Edwards.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Second Vindication alone is a grueling 90,000 words; far longer than the Reasonableness itself.

Yo, Locke-o. Dude.

And we all think our internet battles are excruciatingly obtuse. We 21st Centurians are pikers!

BTW, one of our erstwhile commenters is pastor of a Disciples of Christ church, a spinoff of perhaps the first uniquely American religion/sect of Protestantism, the Second Great Awakening's non-creedal

also known as the Stone-Campbell Movement.

The Stone-Campbell Church of Christ remains Trinitarian [Barack Obama, Fred Thompson], however, the Disciples of Christ--if I understand them correctly---employ the Lockean minimum, that of believing Jesus is the Messiah prophesied by the Old Testament, although not necessarily the divine second Person of the Trinity, nor that he "dies for our sins" as the Sacrificial Lamb.

Pastor Bob Cornwall uses a Lockean formulation:

"For those of us who are part of non-creedal churches (Disciples, Church of Christ, Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, many Baptists) this is a bit awkward to have our faith defined for us in this way.

Ours is what John Locke called a simple but reasonable faith. It rests on the Good Confession made by Peter (Mt. 16). No where in Scripture do I see anyone required to affirm the aforementioned creeds."

I would not support anyone calling pastor Cornwall not-a-Christian, either theologically, or especially for socio-historical purposes.

Ponderings on a Faith Journey
The Thoughts and Opinions of a Disciples of Christ pastor and church historian.

I was raised in the Roman Catlick Church. Our studies @ AC have led to the conclusion---the fact---that America's history cannot be understood without understanding Protestantism.

And the most interesting thing to the outsider, the "civilian," is that Protestants so seldom understand each other. In fact, the best thing about the Founding in a socio-political sense was that a Trinitarian could sit in the same pew with a unitarian as long as they were united as Protestants in their opposition to Rome.

Think about it. It's really quite funny. God, how I love this blog sometimes.