Friday, January 30, 2009

Christianity, Sola Scriptura, State of Nature, & Evolution:

I turn our attention to my friend and Positive Liberty co-blogger, Jim Babka, who posted on the "Two Books Approach to Christianity." Babka is an orthodox evangelical Christian. He believes the Bible as God's revealed Word. Yet, he rejects Sola Scriptura and calls for a theology more "open" to the discoveries of nature, science and reason. When reading Babka's post I'm reminded of Benjamin Rush (a Trinitarian Universalist) who described his faith as "a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches."

As Babka writes:

There is a presumption amongst reformed and fundamentalist Christians, that revelation reigns Supreme and Alone — Sola Scriptura. The fundamentalist who then insists that man’s “helpmeet,” woman, was literally built from the rib of man, sometime on the sixth (24-hour) day of creation, serves as the cliche example of this principle taken to its logical conclusion.

Skeptics — atheists in particular — mount a counter-charge (often with pomposity), that they eschew revelation and embrace Reason.

Not all Christians embrace Sola Scriptura at the expense of Reason. All truth is God’s truth.

There are two problems here to be addressed when looking at the fundamentalist’s view. First, the Bible itself does not advocate Sola Scriptura. Second, this need not be a stricter either/or situation, but rather can be a fuzzier both/and. There is a middle ground, if you will.

Explicitly, Romans 1 says that all mankind should recognize God in the creation. No one is permitted the excuse of not recognizing God because the creation “testifies.” Atheist Bertrand Russell was asked how he would respond, if after dying he was brought face to face with God. His reply: “There wasn’t enough evidence.” Romans 1:18-20 suggests that we know today as “science” is, in part, actually the study of God’s world.

Implicitly, most conservative Christians will instantly recognize what I mean when I refer to Hebrews 11 as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” In it, appears Abraham, who precedes Moses on the historical timeline. Moses is (from the fundamentalist perspective) the author of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, including Genesis) which tells Abraham’s story. Thus, Abraham was a man without a book of revelation. Yet he followed God. Abraham is the greatest figure of “faith” because he acted, without a book of revelation.

Sola Scriptura is strictly a religious construction. It is a Reformation doctrine that arose in response to the corruption of the Catholic Church. That response is understandable and was, initially, liberating.

What's notable about Babka's approach is that he uses it to defend the compatibility of Darwin's theory of evolution and orthodox Christianity. I'm writing about this because I spend a great deal of time critically analyzing the "political theology" of the American Founding and I have concluded (after some more notable scholars) that, arguably, such political theology is not "Christianity," but not "Deism" either. Yet, American political theology often presented itself as "rational Christianity." And this kind of "Christianity" oft-turned out to be theologically unitarian, universalistic, and rejected the infallibility of the Bible. It also excessively relied on "nature" and "reason" as much as if not more so than the Bible. But, this "political theology" (that may or may not be properly termed "Christianity") was not exclusive; it didn't seek to exclude orthodox Trinitarian Christianity (or non-orthodox faiths). Yet, it wanted all faiths to be open to the discoveries of nature, science and reason.

So while American political theology is not necessarily hostile to orthodox Christianity, the orthodox Protestant Sola Scriptura crowd who 1) rejects natural law discoverable by reason that has its foundations in Aristotle and 2) embraces "Sola Scriptura" as a "closed system," are likely to be anathematized by said political theology. Francis Schaeffer comes to mind as a theologian whose "Christianity" does not accord with the political theology of the American Founding. In short, if "Christians" want their faith to best resonate with American political theology, they don't necessarily need to reject the Trinity or other orthodox doctrines, but they do need to embrace a more "open" theology -- "open" to the findings of science, nature, and reason.

Thus, Jim Babka's Christianity is closer to the political theology of the American Founding than is Francis Schaeffer's.

A "Christianity" that is open to the scientific discoveries of Darwin, for instance, is closer America's Founding political theology than is a closed, Sola Scriptura system that rejects Darwin (or whatever science discovers), because such "Truths" seem not to accord with what the Bible, on the surface, teaches. The Founders, of course, weren't Darwinists because Darwin's theory had not yet been discovered (in the same sense that they didn't believe in Einstein's theories either). Yet, they embraced Locke and Locke posited theories that were as foreign to the Bible as were Darwin's.

Leo Strauss quite properly termed Locke's state of nature theory as "wholly alien to the Bible." As Gregg Frazer put it:

The biblical account of Eden and the origin of human society bears little resemblance to [Locke's] world of free agents restrained only by natural law forming society on the basis of voluntary consent. (Ph.D. dissertation, p. 369.)

Now, because of the difference between what Locke teaches and what the Bible teaches, one might conclude that Locke's theories are "anti-biblical." As legendary political theorist Walter Berns put it: "[T]he idea of the state of nature is incompatible with Christian doctrine." Or, if one believes in a more "open" form of Christianity (that goes beyond "closed" Sola Scriptura) one might conclude Locke's idea of the "state of nature" (which concept was first posited by Hobbes and also articulated by Rousseau) is compatible with "Christian doctrine." But in that sense, it would be "a-biblical" not "anti-biblical."

I think we can say the same thing about Darwin's theory of evolution. Because of the differences between what Darwin teaches and what the Bible teaches, many orthodox Christians, most notably so called "young earth creationists" who believe in a literal six day creation, argue Darwin is incompatible with Christianity. In this case, Darwin's teachings are categorized as "anti-biblical" and it is no coincidence that Dr. Gregg Frazer is a literal, six day young earth creationist. Yet, to a more "open" form of Christianity, Darwin is compatible with the Bible and Christianity, properly understood. In this sense, Darwin's teachings are "a-biblical," not necessarily "anti-biblical."

We could analyze John Locke's "state of nature" teachings almost exactly as we do Darwin's. The concept of Locke's, Hobbes', OR Rousseau's "state of nature," central to American Founding thought, was either "a-biblical" or "anti-biblical" depending on whether one possesses a closed "Sola Scriptura" understanding of Christianity or a more open understanding. America's Founders, as Lockeans, obviously possessed the more "open" theology. Indeed it is what founds America's democratic-republican political order.

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