Monday, November 17, 2014

Trinities: "podcast episode 52 – John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity, Part 1"

There are a number of these up now. Since my posting has been light of late, I'm going to link to them one by one.

Here is a taste from Part 1:
But what are the essentials? Specifically, what are the essential teachings which one must accept to be a Christian? Many have a rather expansive view of those. But Locke suspected they had inflated something simpler. In the winter of 1694-5, he decided to be a good Protestant and to go back to the sources. What does the New Testament, he wondered, demand of us, as far as beliefs are concerned? Does it require, for instance, believing “grace” as taught by Calvinists? Or the contents of the “Athanasian” creed about the Trinity and the two natures of Jesus? The simplified but vague “deity of Christ” so insisted upon by present-day evangelical Protestants?
Locke examined this question, and found an explicit answer in scripture. All that Christians must believed, he argues, can be summarized like this: Jesus is the Messiah.
This relates to the study of the American Founding in the sense of whether the key Founders were "Christians." Under a more generous standard -- one that could, for instance rope Mormons who believe Jesus is the Messiah in -- the key Founders including arguably Jefferson were "Christians." Under stricter standards, like those conservative evangelicals tend to hold, the key Founders weren't "Christians" but something else.


Tom Van Dyke said...

the key Founders including arguably Jefferson were "Christians." Under stricter standards, like those conservative evangelicals tend to hold, the key Founders weren't "Christians" but something else.

Since the operative term is often Judeo-Christian, the wrong question is being asked.

FTR, Jefferson doesn't express a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, or in the Bible as Holy Writ.

Jonathan Rowe said...

He called Jesus "Our Savior."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jonathan Rowe said...
He called Jesus "Our Savior."

Are you saying Jefferson believed Jesus was his savior?

Jonathan Rowe said...

You tell me what you think he meant here, which btw, wasn't during the "period" that David Barton is trying to latch onto and claim when TJ was a "Christian."

This was during Jefferson's most militant unitarian period. And if taken literally his comment synthesizes Locke's notion of God requiring a simple formula for salvation with militant anti-Trinitarianism, anti-Calvinism.

Jonathan Rowe said...

BTW: This could have been an esoteric "wink" trying to speak in a similar language to the hearer without really believing Jesus a "Savior."

Likewise when Franklin said to Stiles that as with "most the present Dissenters in England" -- the ones of whom he was familiar with in the Club of Honest Whigs, who in fact denied the Trinity -- he had "some Doubts as to his Divinity," he was in an esoteric wink, denying the Trinity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't read Franklin that way. I take him at his word that he leans against Jesus' Divinity, but then he goes on to say that he's not studied it much, and [at age 83] soon will find out the truth of the matter with little Trouble.

[Which he does. He dies a few months after writing that letter.]

I usually take Franklin to be agnostic on most matters of doctrine, neither for or against, just basically uninterested.

As for Jefferson, I think Barton accidentally lights on some truth, that the early Jefferson never embraces the Trinity or any of the accompanying "Saviour" doctrines, but in later years comes to firmly reject it.

As for Jefferson's use of "Our Saviour" in the 1818 letter you link, yes, I agree he's using it advisedly if not promiscuously, that Jesus "saved" man from the theological errors of the Jews, the papists and later the Calvinists, but in no way means to add the metaphysical dimension of Jesus being sent from God as the Messiah, to start a church or die for our sins or any of that other stuff.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well one thing for sure about Jefferson is he rejected the Resurrection. That distinguishes him from Priestley and the Mormons. Dale Coulter also noted that he thinks Locke's "Jesus is Messiah" minimum implies the resurrection.

I think Jefferson was some kind of Socinian. But the more religious of them (Priestley) believed in the resurrection of Jesus -- God doing for the most moral man what He promises to do in the future for all good men.

Here's the kicker: Jefferson, I think, did probably believe, in some way, in the resurrection of men in the future.

Jefferson believed in the afterlife. And like Locke and Priestley he was a materialist. You had to have a resurrection to have an afterlife.