Monday, September 2, 2013

Other Paradigms

Perhaps I should add a little clarity to my last post where I wrote "I think [Dr. Gregg Frazer] provides a very useful analytic paradigm supported by solid research. Though, I admit there are many other potentially valid paradigms." But then, I wrote
But what if such a theist and a rationalist didn't even believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement? (The first four Presidents and Ben Franklin!) Then, it seems to me, that they don't deserve the label "Christian" for historical purposes. Those tenets have historically been viewed as more central to the faith.
When I wrote that passage I was speaking within Dr. Frazer's paradigm. If someone disbelieves in the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement but still thinks of themselves as a "Christian" in some sense, I don't have a problem terming them such with all of the scholarly qualifications.

David L. Holmes and Joseph Waligore term them "Christian-Deists." Gary North who does have a PhD in history from University of California, Riverside terms it small u unitarianism, that is theological unitarianism not denominational Unitarianism. Though we should probably credit more mainstream scholars with that paradigm. Cushing Strout, for instance.

And of course, there was that classic note that my friend and noted attorney and Unitarian Universalist Eric Alan Isaacson sent me cautioning me to be more generous in my understanding of who gets to be a "Christian." As he wrote:
Hi Jonathan, I’m troubled by those who insist that only people who believe in one way can be “true Christians.” If Mormons consider themselves followers of Jesus, that’s good enough for me to regard them as Christians. If Trinitarian Evangelicals regard themselves as followers of Jesus, I’ll consider them Christians too — even though, so far as I can tell, Jesus never claimed to be God. 
If someone like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley honored Jesus and endeavored to follow his teachings, they should not be denied the name “Christian” merely because others who claim that name have embraced any number of extra-biblical doctrines.
Mr. Isaacson then went on to discuss the classic case of Hale v. Everett, which we've discussed before but should revisit and examine in more detail.

22 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

To me, the question of religion is the question of revelation--in this case, whether a person believed the Bible is the Word of God or not.

A universe where God speaks directly to man is qualitatively different from one that is not.

wsforten said...

It's funny that you should mention that, Tom. Jim at Our Founding Truth asked me to go over some of Frazer's comments on James Wilson for him, and I noted that Frazer admitted Wilson's belief in the deity of Christ as well as his belief in the resurrection. In fact, the only one of Frazer's list of ten doctrines that he claimed Wilson rejected was the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures. Frazer claimed that Wilson was a theistic rationalist solely because he used his reason to determine which portions of Scripture were inspired and which were not. Even in this claim, however, Frazer was forced to rely on very weak equivocations in order to support his argument.

Jonathan Rowe said...

If I remember correctly from reading the original, Wilson does believe in the Resurrection; but I didn't seem to recall the evidence that Wilson believed in Christ's deity. If Frazer concluded that he did, I disagree with him on that point.

You can believe in the resurrection and not believe in Christ's full deity. Arians and some (perhaps most?) Socinians believe in the Resurrection. Joseph Priestley was one such Socinian and believed the Resurrection was God the Father doing for the most perfect man what He would do one day for all good men.

wsforten said...

Here is Frazer's comment on Wilson's belief in the deity of Christ:
One very interesting statement by James Wilson on this subject may distinguish him from other adherents of theistic rationalism. As a rule, theistic rationalists denied the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Though Wilson never mentioned Jesus by name, in his discussion of the importance of sensory evidence, he referred unmistakably to Jesus as ‘him by whom our nature was both made and assumed.’ An Arian might possibly refer to Jesus ‘assuming’ the nature of a man, but if Jesus ‘made’ us, then He was, presumably, the creator – and God. This would appear to be an affirmation of the deity of Jesus and of belief in at least two-thirds of the Trinity. This somewhat cryptic remark is intriguing given that Wilson did not make any reference to Jesus by name or make any claim to be a Christian. If he did believe in the deity of Jesus, then he differed from theistic rationalists in general on that point.” (pg. 185-186)

Jonathan Rowe said...

Wilson's apparent belief in Jesus as "him, by whom our nature was both made and assumed" is indeed compatible with Arianism.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2013/01/james-burgh-explains-his-arianism.html

Tom Van Dyke said...

So I guess Wilson wasn't a theistic rationalist. Whatever that is.

Full points to Gregg Frazer for acknowledging this obscure passage, however. It does indeed seem to associate Jesus with the Creator as well as the Incarnation [our human nature both "made" and "assumed" by him].

I avoid making a conclusion around a single passage from a thinker, but the whole passage does seem to be a digression from his main point about human understanding, more a religious meditation than a purely philosophical argument.

More explicitly religious than one comes to expect from James Wilson.

"In the sacred history of the resurrection, a beautiful and emphatical reference is had to this distinct but corresponding and reciprocally corroborating evidence of the senses, by him, by whom our nature was both made and assumed.

"Behold," says he, to his trembling and doubting disciples, who supposed they had seen a spirit, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see me have: And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet."401 To the unbelieving Thomas, he is still more particular in his appeal to the evidence of the senses, and in the manner, in which the appeal should be made.

"Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing."


http://www.constitution.org/jwilson/jwilson2.htm

Tom Van Dyke said...

IMO, the above is "Christian" enough for rock'n'roll. The rest is hairsplitting.

wsforten said...

I agree, Tom, and to support my accusation that Frazer relied on equivocation in order to claim that Wilson rejected the inspiration of Scripture, let me also provide the following excerpt from Frazer's book:

Elaborating on revelation’s support and assistance of reason and conscience, Wilson explained: ‘Their weakness is strengthened, their darkness is illuminated, their influence is enlarged by that heaven-descended science, which has brought life and immortality to light. In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, Preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the Holy Scriptures.’ Consistent with the theistic rationalist view, Wilson represented God’s revelation as contained in the Holy Scriptures but not the Scriptures in their entirety. Put another way, some of the Bible was God’s revelation, and some was not. As Wilson continued, ‘On some important subjects, those in particular, which relate to the Deity, to Providence, and to a future state, our natural knowledge is greatly improved, refined, and exalted by that which is revealed.’ Unlike orthodox Christianity, this perspective that only some of Scripture was God’s revelation; unlike deism, it held that there was some legitimate revelation from God. (pg. 187-188 emphasis Frazer's)

It should be obvious to anyone reading Wilson's statements that he was not saying that "some of the Bible was God’s revelation, and some was not." His use of the phrase "contained in" meant nothing more than that the revelation of God's laws is found in the Scriptures. Of course, there are other things in Scripture as well such as historical accounts of the nation of Israel and of the Church, songs and proverbs, parables and much more. None of these are considered the laws of God, and yet Frazer would require Wilson to claim that they were in order for him to be a Christian.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mr. Fortenberry, as I noted in another thread, the problem is with your "therefores" or in this case, with your "meant nothing more thans".

I will admit that Frazer's understanding of Wilson's passage is an "interpretation." But so too is yours.

And it's not just Frazer, but also our friend Jim/OFT and many other Christians of the evangelical stripe who believe the "other things in Scripture as well such as historical accounts of the nation of Israel and of the Church, songs and proverbs, parables and much more" are all dictated by the Holy Spirit, 3rd person in the Trinity. And that you have to believe every word is dictated by God Himself in order to be a "real Christian."

Tom Van Dyke said...

It should be obvious to anyone reading Wilson's statements that he was not saying that "some of the Bible was God’s revelation, and some was not."

My reading of the above-mentioned Wilson quote certainly squares with yours.

And as you've previously pointed out, Protestantism [via Luther] rejects certain books of the Bible that Roman Catholicism accepted/accepts.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deuterocanonical_books

"Canonicity."

Further, at the time of the Reformation through the Founding, early manuscripts of the Bible kept turning up, putting the existing translations of the Bible into question.

In fact to this day, one of the most beautiful stories of the New Testament, where Jesus saves the adulteress from a stoning, is under question as authentically Biblical.

http://www.bible-researcher.com/adult.html

"Biblical scholars are nearly all agreed that the Story of the Adulteress (also known as the Pericope Adulterae or the Pericope de Adultera) usually printed in Bibles as John 7:53-8:11 is a later addition to the Gospel. On this page I present some extended quotations from scholarly works that explain the reasons for this judgment. On another page I give an extract from one of the few scholarly defenders of the passage. To give my own opinion, it seems clear to me that the story does not belong in the Bible."

Now, fundamentalists hold that the Bible is the Bible--what's in it is because the Holy Spirit put it there. So, to a fundamentalist, any modern Biblical scholar that doubts the authenticity of John 7 must be a "theistic rationalist," not a Christian.

Which is a valid theological debate, but not a very good historical one for the 2/3 of humanity that's not Christian and doesn't give a damn.

wsforten said...

Let me provide a little bit of the context surrounding Wilson's statements on the Scriptures. The full context spans more than 20 pages of his Lectures on the Law, so I will just present a few excerpts. One of Wilson's premises is that Reason is an insufficient guide for determining man's moral duties. In regards to this point, Wilson said:

“If the rules of virtue were left to be discovered by reasoning, even by demonstrative reasoning, unhappy would be the condition of the far greater part of men, who have not the means of cultivating the power of reasoning to any high degree. As virtue is the business of all men, the first principles of it are written on their hearts, in characters so legible, that no man can pretend ignorance of them, or of his obligation to practice them.”

...

“Though good and ill, right and wrong are ultimately perceived by the moral sense, yet reason assists its operations, and, in many instances, strengthens and extends its influence. We may argue concerning propriety of conduct: just reasonings on the subject will establish principles for judging of what deserves praise: but, at the same time, these reasonings must always, in the last resort, appeal to the moral sense.”

Wilson then proceeded to consider reason and conscience (or the moral sense) together, and once again, he determined that these were inadequate for determining man's moral duties, and it was in this context, that he turned to the Scriptures as the method for overcoming the failures of reason and conscience:

“Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance. They are useful and excellent monitors; but, at some times, their admonitions are not sufficiently clear; at other times, they are not sufficiently powerful; at all times, their influence is not sufficiently extensive. Great and sublime truths indeed, would appear to a few; but the world, at large, would be dark and ignorant. The mass of mankind would resemble a chaos, in which a few sparks, that would diffuse a glimmering light, would serve only to show, in a more striking manner, the thick darkness with which they are surrounded. Their weakness is strengthened, their darkness is illuminated, their influence is enlarged by that heaven-descended science, which has brought life and immortality to light. In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the holy scriptures. The moral precepts delivered in the sacred oracles form a part of the law of nature, are of the same origin, and of the same obligation, operating universally and perpetually.”

...

“On some important subjects, those in particular, which relate to the Deity, to Providence, and to a future state, our natural knowledge is greatly improved, refined, and exalted by that which is revealed. On these subjects, one who has had the advantage of a common education in a christian country, knows more, and with more certainty, than was known by the wisest of the ancient philosophers.”

Wilson was not in any way saying that the Scriptures must be subjected to reason. He was claiming that the perfection of the Scriptures was sufficient to correct the errors in our reason, but he still recognized that the laws given in the Scriptures presuppose that men have both reason and a conscience:

“One superiour advantage the precepts delivered in the sacred oracles clearly possess. They are, of all, the most explicit and the most certain.”

...

“Thus it is with regard to reason, conscience, and the holy scriptures. Where the latter give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick. But whoever expects to find, in them, particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality.”





Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Fortenstein, I know you're very familiar with Locke and his "Reasonableness of Christianity." Wilson is here echoing Locke's thesis that God had mercy on mankind, who just weren't getting it on their own.

"We see how unsuccessful in this, the attempts of philosophers were, before Our Saviour's time. How short their several systems came of the perfection of a true and complete morality, is very visible.

And if, since that, the Christian philosophers have much outdone them, yet we may observe, that the first knowledge of the truths they have added are, owing to revelation; though as soon as they are heard and considered, they are found to be agreeable to reason, and such as can by no means be contradicted.

Every one may observe a great many truths which he receives at first from others, and readily assents to, as consonant to reason, which he would have found it hard, and perhaps, beyond his strength to have discovered himself. Native and original truth, is not so easily wrought out of the mine, as we who have it delivered, ready dug and fashioned into our hands, are apt to imagine. And how often at fifty or threescore years old, are thinking men told, what they wonder how they could miss thinking of?

Which yet their own contemplations did not, and possibly never would have helped them to. Experience shows that the knowledge of morality, by mere natural light (how agreeable soever it be to it), makes but a slow progress, and little advance in the world. And the reason of it is not hard to be found in men's necessities, passions, vices, and mistaken interests, which turn their thoughts another way. And the designing leaders, as well as the following herd, find it not to their purpose to employ much of their meditations this way.

Or whatever else was the cause, 'tis plain in fact, that human reason unassisted, failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never, from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the law of Nature. And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the new testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by Our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen.

Though yet, if any one should think, that out of the saying of the wise heathens, before Our Saviour's time, there might be a collection made of all these rules of morality, which are to be found in the Christian religion; yet this would not at all hinder, but that the world, nevertheless, stood as much in need of Our Savior, and the morality delivered by him.


Reason gives assent to the scriptures, which contain more truth than man's own limited moral imagination could come up with.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Wilson was not in any way saying that the Scriptures must be subjected to reason."

Except that is exactly what he is stating and why you cut Wilson off just when he starts to make that point.

"But whoever expects to find, in [Scripture], particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil."

"These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually what he's saying here is that the Bible doesn't cover everything that comes up in life, that reason--and the "moral sense"--will still be necessary.

Likely in answer to those who claim that everything's in the Bible if you look for it.

"These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense."

He is not saying that reason and the moral sense supercede the Bible, nor will you find that anywhere in his writings.

wsforten said...

Jon, we've discussed Wilson's "supercede" comment before, and that conversation concluded with me providing a lengthy explanation which you dismissed as mere sophistry. If you would care to offer a more substantive response at this time, I would be glad to give it my full consideration.

wsforten said...

Tom, in regards to Wilson's view of Locke, I am reminded of the following comment from Wilson's Lectures:

I am equally far from believing that Mr. Locke was a friend to infidelity. But yet it is unquestionable, that the writings of Mr. Locke have facilitated the progress, and have given strength to the effects of scepticism.

The high reputation, which he deservedly acquired for his enlightened attachment to the mild and tolerating doctrines of christianity, secured to him the esteem and confidence of those, who were its friends. The same high and deserved reputation inspired others of very different views and characters, with a design to avail themselves of its splendour, and, by that means, to diffuse a fascinating kind of lustre over their own tenets of a dark and sable hue. The consequence has been that the writings of Mr. Locke, one of the most able, most sincere, and most amiable assertors of christianity and true philosophy, have been perverted to purposes which he would have deprecated and prevented, had he discovered or foreseen them.

Jonathan Rowe said...

WS: Yes I remember and no I am not interested in reviving the discussion as I don't see it going anywhere.

Tom: Yes I understand there is a larger Thomistic tradition of viewing the Bible as inspired, indeed perhaps the entire canon infallibly true, but still incomplete, in need of support from reason/natural law.

I also understand it's possible to read Wilson that way.

I think Frazer's reading -- that Wilson flipped the dynamic so that the Bible supports the findings of reason and the senses -- is also fair.

If you look at the verbs and adjectives Wilson uses to describe scripture, it is a fair reading to conclude he sees scriptures role as supportive or secondary: support, confirm, corroborate, improve, refine, and exalt. But not "supersede."

This is what scripture was designed to do to our "natural knowledge" ascertainable from reason and the moral sense.

wsforten said...

The point which you are overlooking, Jon, is that both views are valid within orthodox Christianity. The one view is that God provided reasoning and natural law so that we would be able to properly understand His inspired Word when we are confronted with it. The other is that God provided His inspired Word to correct our flawed reasoning and inadequate knowledge of natural law. Neither view requires one to deny the inspiration and authority of the Bible. They are merely two different suppositions regarding the reason that Scripture was written in the first place.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Mr. Fortsen is blowing huge holes in Frazer's thesis and I am not seeing them being closed here Jon.

Especially astute is his last comment about how both views have had a long history in Christianity.

From what I read Augustine believed that parts of the Creation story were oral myth designed to tell a story not to be used as History. That is heresy to Calvinist and literalists.

Starting Christianity with Calvin and forgetting the 1500 years of argument and debate that proceeded him is absurd. Nothing post Calvin as far as doctrinal disputes is anything worse than pre Calvin.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The other is that God provided His inspired Word to correct our flawed reasoning and inadequate knowledge of natural law. Neither view requires one to deny the inspiration and authority of the Bible. They are merely two different suppositions regarding the reason that Scripture was written in the first place.

This view is Fortenberry's, Locke's, and James Wilson, well and exactly stated.

In terms of the American Founding, it works for me as Christian enough, and it worked for the Founders as "Christian" enough.

The Bible contains God's truth, sent to man via Jesus Christ, not just the wisdom of men covered over with some fairy tales.

God speaks to man directly, through the Bible. A world where God never ever spoke to man is quite a different world.

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