Searchlights on Contemporary Theology by Nels F. S. Ferré
Dr. Ferré was for many years Abbot Professor of Christian Theology at Andover Newton Theological School. Copyright 1961 by Nels F.S. Ferré. Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. All rights reserved by Harper & Brothers. This material has been prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter18: Contemporary Theology and Christian Higher Education
Higher education is especially important during periods of rapidly changing culture. Then, teachers of higher education have a peculiar opportunity to help chart civilization. Major discoveries of fact and decisive new contexts of interpretation eventually remold the basic assumptions for culture. In both manner and intensity, our age is exceptionally transitional and consequently open to significant impact from higher education. Our assigned task is to survey and to appraise the field of contemporary theology for its capacity for constructive impact on higher education. Even a sketch can be of value if it highlights what is important; conciseness can gain the power of concentrated focus.
Farthest on the right stand the fundamentalists. A few years ago even to mention this position might have seemed quite irrelevant to the problem of higher education, both because of fundamentalism’s external standard of authority and because of its belonging to a bygone era. As far as the first of these liabilities goes, there is always a natural chasm between fundamentalism and higher education. Fundamentalism accepts literal, biblical authority; higher education requires an open inquiry. No cleft was apparent, radically and finally, until scientific method and the historical consciousness showed us that truth separates literalism and open inquiry. No matter what minor concessions it might make to the historic conditionedness of the Bible, fundamentalism’s basic position must remain because of the nature of its authority: "We know what we believe; don’t confuse us with facts!" But fundamentalists are changing rapidly. They are giving up fundamentalism with its inflexibility and becoming what they call "evangelicals."
In a fundamentalist periodical, Christian Life,(The issue of March, 1956. Illustrative of the best offering of this group for higher education is Christian Education in a Democracy by Frank E. Gaebelein, and, on a more popular level, his The Pattern of God’s Truth. Both books should be taken seriously by open-minded educators.) a strongly representative group of young conservative leaders signed an article saying that they no longer want to be called fundamentalists or to be tied down to a narrow interpretation of inspiration but that they want to be called evangelicals, who make Christ as holy love their final authority. Similarly, in Christianity Today article after article disclaims obscurantism and calls for an honest facing of intellectual issues. Insofar as this tendency continues, we can conclude only that fundamentalism as a position shows itself less and less tenable to those competently educated. Resurgence to conservative Christianity in our day seems to be accompanied by its maturation. While respecting its devotees in higher education for their intention of integrity and for their loyalty to an intrinsically difficult situation, we must nevertheless maintain that there is an inherent tension between higher education and fundamentalism: external authority and open inquiry are hard to reconcile.
Let it be said, however, concerning fundamentalism, that with regard to its main positive Christian contentions it stands in the solid line of historic Christianity; and it may even be that in the far future we will come to see that liberal accommodationism could not get rid of true, evangelical supernaturalism because of the intransigence of fundamentalism. Therefore, we honor it while we recognize that our task goes beyond it: to find a theology that both maintains the heart of the full Christian faith and communicates constructively in give and take with higher education.
The theological tendency that is the strongest throughout the world today is Kierkegaardian neo-Calvinism as represented in different ways and degrees by Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Thomas Torrance, among others. Basically, this position is Calvinism as reinterpreted through Barth after his immersion in Kierkegaard and consequent conversion by him from liberalism. Actually, through Kierkegaard it is also touched by a strain from Martin Luther as well as by existentialism. This drive differs vitally from other returns from liberalism, for instance from that of P. T. Forsyth who maintained throughout an understanding and appreciation of God’s work in human reason, in human conscience, and in the order of creation as a whole, which neo-Calvinism rejects.
Nevertheless, this leading theological position is both right and needful in its main affirmations. It claims at its center that the Christian faith in its biblical position is ultimate and cannot, therefore, be classed as a religion or compared with other religions. In the Bible, and only in the Bible, God, focused and fulfilled in the Christ, has revealed himself. This revelation is not a matter of ideas but of God’s mighty acts, of saving events. Revelation is not propositional truth. Neo-Calvinism furthermore claims that such faith cannot be verified in terms of reason, experience, metaphysics, or history. The less certain and the less real cannot demonstrate or prove what is absolute and eternal. It proclaims that God is not to be found in man or in nature, for God is "wholly other," eternally different from these, and is in no way part of what is created. Barth has backed away from his own extreme position, and some of his followers have also become modified "Barthians," but the movement as a whole owes its distinctive nature and power to the emphases we have noted. Throughout the world, it is maintaining and in some places gaining strength.
While right and essential in its main contentions, neo-Calvinism suffers from a false all-or-none analysis. Its primary either-or lacks a secondary both-and. The Christian faith is ultimate; revelation cannot be reduced to propositions; God cannot be proved by anything less than himself; and God is ever other than the creature. Therefore we must ever live by faith in loving obedience. On the other hand, neo-Calvinism is wrong in its repudiation of reason in its rightful place and legitimate manner. Albeit revelation is a matter of God’s self-revelation in events, in history, and supremely in a Person, yet that revelation by its very nature cannot be equated with propositional truth; nevertheless, revelation must be apprehended, understood, and communicated by means of concepts and propositions. How can people believe unless they have heard, and heard the proclaimed Word? As we said earlier, Barth’s theology can perhaps best be called the Theology of the Word, the Word transcending all meaning, surpassing all understanding, and yet also it must be recognized, communicable within and for faith by means of inescapable concepts and sentences
As for reason’s incapacity to prove God, reason does not exist either to create or to establish revelation but to find it, to clarify it, and to apply it. God reveals himself; that is God’s part. Man responds to revelation in faith by reason; that is man’s part. Revelation and reason are on different planes. One cannot take the place of the other. There is a positive relation between revelation and reason or between reality and man’s need. In order to discover this relation man must first decide for, and develop integrity of, the whole man in actual life and thereafter study as best he can to find what is true and false revelation. In his able Fides Quaerens Intellectum, Barth goes so far as to accept the inferential use of reason from the basis of revelation. Such acceptance assumes that revelation has a nature that lends itself as a total context for knowledge or to a central focus of perspectives.
Beyond this expansion of his standpoint he should have gone on to see that from within this perspective man has the competence, by reason on its own plane, to check and to challenge candidates for revelation and even to be creative in the interpretation of truth. Unless this is so, the cord between revelation and all other truth is cut, and we are left with completely arbitrary faithjudgments or with a Spirit of Partiality who gives revelation to some and withholds it from others. Man’s reason then cannot either create or establish revelation. But reason can help "test the spirits" whether or not they be of God. Similarly, by means of experience, history, and nature, man cannot prove God, but God’s revelation can be self-authenticating in terms of these, providing for us the only true light of what ultimately is, what ought to be, and providing the road between them. God’s revelation through events can therefore provide a meaningful total context for interpreting our existence, values, and aims not only intellectually but especially in terms of judgment and salvation.
Similarly, neo-Calvinism is wrong in its denial of God’s presence and revelatory work on the level of creation. Its transcendence does not allow for God’s both being himself in a peculiar way and coming into history in his unique Presence while also being present in man and history in a preparatory and pedagogical way. This all-or-none view has too little understanding of the nature of Spirit to remain one unit and yet be capable of different modes of adaptation by means of which God creates and preserves inviolate the conditions for man’s self-being and freedom.
The main contribution of this group to higher education is the existentialist grasp that truth in terms of ultimates or of over-all contexts is more decisional than informational. It cuts to shreds the pretexts of an objectivist, rationalistic metaphysics or of any system of ethics that fails to see and to heed the fact that there is no presuppositionless thinking and that in matters of total contexts, configurations, and dimensions of knowledge we live more by faith than by knowledge. This genuine and vital contribution we accept gratefully. All-or-none transcendence, however, pulls down the curtain of irrelevance between the Christian faith and higher education. Higher education cannot by field or function deal with revelatory realities within a merely redemptive context. It deals with a world of actualities and problems which it must interpret and on which it must throw specific light. There must be a real measure of continuity between revelation and education or else they are unrelated. Complete or even basic continuity between them, however, is not necessary. It is not even possible if revelation is on a different plane from reason.
Neo-Calvinism lacks contextual relevance (in terms of explanation) as well as a relevant standard of judgment. There is no organic relation between revelation, redemption, and creation or between faith and reason that allows for a fruitful exchange between the Christian faith thus interpreted and higher education. Brunner’s Christianity and Civilization comes the closest to providing a meaningful focus for looking at the problems of civilization and to offering concrete help. But even here Brunner fails to make available a central Christian pattern and to depict over-all organic relations. With his comparatively recent acceptance of agape as the distinctive and determinative motif of the Christian faith, he is in position to move into such relevance, but if he does, he will also leave with finality a position to which he is even now only ambiguously related.
The leading theological tendency of today has sacrificed far too much relational truth to social and religious relativism. When reason is repudiated, the result is relativity among claimed authorities. Therefore there is no basic hope for higher education from neo-Calvinism. There is much activity within this position and many vital things are being said by its adherents about higher education. But at its heart neo-Calvinism stands with fundamentalism in creating an unbridgeable gulf of irrelevance between the Christian faith and higher education.
Another movement that has been gaining ground in recent years is the Lund school, the kind of Swedish theology advocated especially by men like Gustaf Aulén and Anders Nygren. This theological position is best known in America through Aulén’s The Faith of the Christian Church and Nygren’s Agape and Eros.
Nygren shows us how Kant’s Copernican revolution of critical philosophy was decisive for consequent thought. Critical philosophy after Kant was seen to deal not with realms of ultimate reality but with principles of validity; not with the region of the transcendent but with the reality of the transcendental; not with a supernatural world beyond this one but with necessities and universalities within experience and for experience. Critical philosophy deals with the preconditions for experience, those necessities with out which experience itself is unthinkable. As unconditional necessities, they are not beyond our realm of experience because they do not exist, nor can they be in experience and remain unconditional; they are rather the presuppositions unconditionally of and for experience. Immanuel Kant found three such realms of experience: the theoretical, the practical, and the aesthetic, each with its own kind of transcendental forms. Not all normativeness for experience in his thought, therefore, was rational, but there were different types of unconditional categories of and for experience. Nygren accepts Kant’s position and builds on it. He goes back of Kant’s analysis critically to a category of categories, to an ultimate unity of logical necessity, "the category of eternity." The all-inclusive, ultimate presupposition of experience is, therefore, the religious category of eternity.
This category of the absolute presupposition for experience, however, is forever inaccessible to rational metaphysics. Reason cannot deal with ultimate reality, only with principles of validity; not with any transcendent realm, but only with transcendental necessity. Therefore, according to Nygren’s analysis, choice of ultimates must be made from within experience, from the stuff of history. In history, choice must be made among religions that are seen to be organic wholes, with centers from which each religion must be understood. Each religion has a regulative pattern, an organic wholeness from a center, a foundational pattern, or Grundmotiv in terms of which alone its distinctive and determinative nature can be understood. The center of Judaism is nomos, or law; of Hinduism, karma, or deed (and consequence); of the Christian faith, agape, or God’s unconditional, spontaneous, uncalculating, groundless love creative of fellowship, centered not in the worth of the object but in the unceasingly forgiving nature of the Subject, pictured most vividly in the forgiveness of and redemptive love for enemies.
The task of Christian theology according to this method is not to build a system of search for God from experience, not to construct a metaphysics nor an apologetics but to find in history, by a faith-judgment which is invulnerable to reason, the Grundmotiv of the Christian faith which actually is agape, and to describe the implications of this motif as they have been developed concretely by the faith of the Church throughout its history. Theology according to the Lund school is as objective, scientific, and intellectually acceptable as physics or biology. The theologian never judges what is ultimate truth or reality, nor does he ever defend the faith rationally, but merely describes it as competently as possible. No concrete confession of faith as such can be proved necessary to history, but faith itself is inescapable. Therefore, faith should choose true revelation by the eyes of faith, but it should never make the mistake of thinking it can or ought to be proved by reason. Can any method be more scholarly and congenial to higher education?
The strength of this position is obvious. Kant rightly pointed out that the traditional arguments for God rested ultimately on the ontological in some form, which simply assumed the identity of thought and being in line with classical thinking.(See Arthur Lovejoy’s excellent discussion of this assumption in The Great Chain of Being, [Harvard University Press, 1936.]) The evidence, however, does not support conclusively such an assumption. Therefore, rational metaphysics in the traditional sense, especially theological metaphysics, is impossible. At this point the Lund school stands on firm ground. It also maintains correctly that faith selects its religious content from history. Decision among historic faith-judgments is determinative for faith. Practically always, however, except in the case of the founders of new religions, the contents of faith are found in concrete historical religions. The Lund school contends convincingly that religions are organic in nature, having concrete centers from which they must be viewed, and that therefore theology in a decisive sense is the description of historic faiths from within their own distinctive and determinative natures.
The faults or shortcomings of this method are grave. As in the case of neo-Calvinism, the method severs all rational relation between the transcendent and the transcendental. The filling of "the category of eternity" by content from history becomes entirely an arbitrary affair. We are once again left with complete religious relativity in the realm of knowledge. The living cord between religion and truth is cut. Consequently, higher education is left with a choice for or against a religion that has no rational claim on education and provides no empirical foundation for it.
Then again, although the distinctiveness of faith is valuable for the contextual ordering of knowledge and communication, the distinctiveness of the Christian faith according to the Lund theologians consists in God’s revelation of agape. This is a heavenly reality come into history. But no account is taken of the realms of eros or philia (seeking and mutual love respectively), the realms of our actual problems, and no way is opened to account for these realms or to relate the heavenly to the historic. The relation is cut between the realm of redemption and that of creation. The whole aim of the Lund school is to distinguish the Christian faith at its own genuine center from all other religions and human thinking, not to relate the faith by providing a context of explanation, judgment, or renewal. Therefore, this method does not lend itself naturally to become the framework of meaning for Christian higher education, but it could if the aim of the method were to become relational, contextual, and renewing.
It should be added, moreover, that the new generation of scholars, with Gustaf Wingren as their leader, are cutting off the philosophical preamble to Lundensian method.(Cf. his Theology in Conflict.) Dew-fresh creations, moreover, are still possible from within this movement. It has much to offer contemporary theology, but apart from its radical reconception it is hard to see in it a real hope for a full and organic relation to Christian higher education.
Analytical linguistic philosophy or verificational analysis is not theology! Even so, it should be included because of its immense importance for both modern theology and higher education. It has challenged us to a radical rethinking of Christian language, method, and the relation of Christian faith to other subjects in the curriculum. Incidentally, it has kept countless good students from entering the ministry or has undermined the vigor of their faith. The preministerial students have seen no way around its claims that theological language, if not the whole enterprise, is meaningless.
Nevertheless, we must understand this movement sympathetically. It seems to have arisen primarily because the special sciences took over all the fields of knowledge. In giving birth to and bringing up these children, philosophy made itself a superannuated mother with nothing to do. For these thinkers, Kant’s critical philosophy debarred it from metaphysics; and plain humility (or loss of nerve) kept it from tackling the job of synthesizing all the data from all the sciences. Analytical linguistic philosophy that actually started as logical positivism accepted as its premises that philosophy is empirically uninformative, that it deals with meaning as its sole province, and that meaning is not to be dealt with psychologically as the denotion of particular words as such but logically within propositions. The task of philosophy became the analysis of the meaning of language, for language was its field and analysis its method. Meaningful truth, this position claimed, must be either certain, that is, totally analytical or tautology, or probable in terms of experienced sense data. Verification by sense data became a basic principle, even a criterion, of true philosophy. The ideals of mathematics in analysis and of inventory in the realm of experience underlay the whole movement. It is nominalism carried to its full extreme. A. J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic, especially in the first edition, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus illustrate generally the earlier stage of this point of view.
In the second edition of his book (1946), Ayer has come out for a different kind of verification principle. He now admits a permissible inference from sense experience, such as the study of the past from manuscripts and all the necessary inferences of modern physics. "Tough" verification has given way to "weak" or "soft" forms of it. Wittgenstein, again, has shifted from verification to "usage" philosophy in his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations (1953). In this view, language is not so much a convention to be cleansed by analysis as an organic growth which must be considered for legitimate use. Verification is only one test and kind of usage. The disciplines of analysis and verification, in other words, have taken on wider contexts.
The appraisal of this point of view in relation to Christian higher education is not easy. It has done us all a service by cutting the ground from under a rationalistic, objectivistic metaphysics which illegitimately assumed the role of theology. It has also focused philosophy on its main task: the study of meaning. But above all, it ought to help us cut down much unfounded and foolish theological speculation. A flabby faith uses much slippery thinking. Most Christian apologetics is too weak-minded and softhearted to pass the bar of competent, fair-minded thinking. We should be well and lastingly rid of it.
On the other hand, linguistic analysis provided a convenient refuge from the kind of faith that is properly related to reason. Men seek concealment both against and through their own knowledge. They found it in logical positivism and its successors. One way of reasoning God away, for instance, was the following: Certainty has to do with logical propositions or with analytical truth only; all existential truth is contingent; therefore the claim that God exists, that a necessary being exists, confounds logical categories and is literally meaningless. Some even tried to prove the nonexistence of God by such logic! Philosophical analysis, in the second place, also removed faith from truth, religion from knowledge, and led to the full extreme, the split between the realm of form or thought and the realm of fact or experience. This bifurcation is perhaps the gravest cause today of our lack of religious and social leadership in intellectual realms. Christian higher education with its need for synoptic vision and contextual wholeness is therefore definitely threatened by this severing of faith from truth and by this depicting of religion as entirely arbitrary and not subject to knowledge and legitimate education.
What can we do about this position with reference to theology and higher education? The answer is partly that it is itself changing, and becoming self-critical. Its advocates need only keep on extending the realm of experience to be explained far enough, and they will find themselves right in the midst of theological problems and methods. The experience out of which the analysis comes in the first place is contingent. Therefore the all-or-none split between logical certainty and empirical probability is itself impossible for human beings. With that insight, the brittle bifurcation withers at its heart. Or we can show not only that we cannot experience "the whole," the world, God, or any other such category completely (one of the main contentions against theology on the part of verificational analysis), but that no scientific theory is ever experienced completely. The position has the appeal of the cleanliness of limited data and of a preconceived and confined method, but after its first, intoxicated blindness to the fuller problems of truth, it is already beginning to sober up and will doubtless gradually return to the central concerns of the relation of man’s meanings to his existential problems. Christian educators can learn much from linguistic analysis without being either floored by it as the destroyer of theology or fooled by it as a revolutionary reorientation of man’s total knowledge.
Liberal theology is presently under a cloud. It should not be so, more than others. Its advocates were great in faith and scholarship. Little apology needs to be made for old-line liberals like Walter Rauschenbusch, William Newton Clark, William Adams Brown, and Edgar S. Brightman or for new-line liberals like John C. Bennett, Robert Calhoun, and Walter Horton. Liberalism is characterized by an openness of spirit that is urgently needed. My former colleagues, Roger Shinn and Langdon Gilkey, have pointed out how dangerous can be the people who pass from fundamentalism into neo-orthodoxy without the mellowing influence of liberalism. Liberalism stands for fairness, for understanding and appreciation of positions other than one’s own. Liberals at least profess to believe that we are to learn from others, not just to oppose them. Liberalism stands also for unity of truth both within and between all levels of it, as, for instance, between faith and reason and between confession and conduct. Liberalism has also evinced an emulative social concern. Men like Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden, and the Niebuhrs in their early years illustrate this natural combination between the liberal emphasis on truth, reason, experience, love, and social responsibility. Evangelicals of the middle of the nineteenth century evinced both social vision and concern, but the overwhelming credit for the acceptance of the organic relation between Christian faith and social ethics must be given to the liberals. For them social improvement, especially through education, became second nature. What are more important to higher education than an open spirit, respect for truth, and concern? Christian higher education owes a debt of gratitude beyond estimate to its liberal spirits, even its radically nontheological liberal spirits like John Dewey and Alexander Meiklejohn.
Liberalism failed, all the same, because of its omissions and mistakes. Idealistic in attitude, the liberals for the most part never took keenly enough to heart man’s actual sinfulness. Therefore, they developed a theory of objectivity of knowledge that fails to take into account the fact that, as far as ultimate and personal involvements go, men tend to rationalize rather than to reason, that is, to use reason primarily as a means of self-justification, defense, and attack. "The cult of objectivity," as we now see, was largely an ideal. Men will not readily see the saving truth when it is also the demanding judge. There was also a false continuity of method in liberalism where the ultimate nature of faith (of there being, for instance, no presuppositionless thinking in ultimate matters, of selective truth being more real than aggregative truth, of decision often being more important than information to education) was not clearly perceived and applied.
Nor was there a vivid, positive zeal among most liberals. They were more interested in fighting backwardness and narrowness than in paying the costly price of positive zeal, particularly when this meant resolute opposition to partial and killing causes. Liberals were too willing to please. They lacked an effective principle of exclusion. To oppose, to refuse, to deny, to take the persecution for the commitment to absolute causes -- such decisive action seems, to easygoing good will, to be intolerance. But at many of these points the neoliberals have changed while also preserving some of the best features of liberalism. We can hardly be thankful enough for its good points, but, educationally, we never dare to forget that an absolute demands decision for the pursuit of a certain course, no matter what. Educationally, too, growth is mostly the persistent following of such a course.
One of the most important theological movements for Christian higher education is neonaturalism. In one form or another this drive in theology is best represented by men like Alfred North Whitehead, Daniel Day Williams, Henry Nelson Wieman, Paul Tillich, and Rudolf Bultmann. These men accept the best in science, and aim for adequacy of thinking through philosophy, acknowledging besides the need for mystery as the penetrating counterpart and the constant companion of knowledge. Whitehead, Wieman, and Williams believe that religious thinking must wait on scientific data and philosophic interpretation for intellectual adequacy. Tillich and Bultmann also insist that religious knowledge must not be prescientific. For all of them, the organic and relational stress of knowledge is of critical importance. Religion as an evaluative response to reality is part of personal, social, and cosmic experience. The stress of the first three thinkers on the organic nature of reality and of knowledge, on the fact that no subject can find its fullest truth apart from the consideration of its relation to other subjects and to the whole, on the togetherness of reality and of value, and on the synoptic approach in general, have made their thought of inestimable importance to higher education, while their stress on integrity of knowledge, life, values, truth, and the religious life has resulted in the creation of a very high form of religious thought.
Along with Whitehead, Tillich is at the very front of constructive thinking. Tillich’s elucidation of the Christian faith, his expounding of philosophy, his grasp of historical thought, his understanding of non-Christian religions, his at-homeness in art and culture generally, his immersion in depth psychology, and his capacity to communicate with even hostile spirits in a secular university set him apart as a minister to higher education. Nathan Pusey, president of Harvard, has related how completely Tillich won over a group of Harvard professors who met him with pronounced skepticism with regard to his religious position. Tillich is more than a profound thinker, however; he is both a prophet and a systematic pioneer.
At a time of confusion or regression in constructive thinking Tillich has forged ahead with both deliberate care and accelerating speed. The center of his position is the relation between the unconditional and the conditioned. Religious reality is the dimension of the unconditional. God does not exist as a Being among beings, but is the unconditional reality, nowhere existing as such, yet everywhere available as the power to resist nonbeing and to make for harmony of being. The central scene for Tillich is history, where meaning is translated into concrete experience through freedom. Christ is the center of history as the picture in history of the unconditional. Thus, essence and existence meet in him, not in such a way that the unconditional becomes conditioned but so that the conditioned becomes completely transparent to the unconditional by the full acceptance of the right relationship between the unconditional and the conditioned. The Cross is the symbol and power of this relation; and the resurrection is the declaration in history of the victory in life of eternity. Eternal life is the releasing and creative participation in this reality. Love is the symbol that most fully explains and makes available true power and justice.
Protestantism is the realistic power for self-criticism and creative renewal. The Church is community in the full, inclusive sense revealed in Jesus as the Christ, but all community, whether secular or non-Christian, exists and has its reality in the true community of the Church as the representative of the Kingdom of God. The theologian must live and think within the circle of a concrete religion, but he lives also in the total life around him. Therefore, he mediates between religious and secular thought. The secular world has enough moral and spiritual sense even to be the conscience of the empirical Church which is always tempted by idolatry and self-adulation. Between theology and the secular world, therefore, there can be creative co-operation.
Tillich’s theology relates itself exceptionally well, by its very nature, to higher education. His exposition of the faith is centrally Christian in a descriptive and creative sense. It has a piercing quality of firsthand insight. His faith in the general presence of the logos provides us with unitive meaning and synoptic vision without reduction of differences, and yet, even so, all meaning is subject to the infinite mystery of the unconditioned. Few theologians have fuller or truer appreciation of secular learning and culture than Tillich.(Surprisingly, Karl Barth also has such appreciation, but it does not come as the natural outgrowth of his central theological position.)
Bultmann represents the existentialist kind of neonaturalism Ontologically he is basically at one, he claims, with existentialist philosophers like Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger. The real difference between them consists in the fact that, whereas the philosophers believe man can make a free, positive decision, Bultmann understands that man must accept passively "by grace" the working of God in human life. God is the power available to man in the ultimate mystery of being who through man’s acceptance of grace can relieve him of anxiety and give him a free decision for the future. Christ exhibited this reality in the Cross and in the resurrection. These are not objective events in the sense of bare, historic occurrences but are, rather, meaningful events that can and should be re-enacted in the present in response to the proclamation of the Gospel.
Christ saves insofar as we know for ourselves the present reality of the losing and finding of self by the overcoming of anxiety and the reception of faith freely open to the future. Insofar as they are meaningful, past and future are both part of the present tense, of the moment for acceptance. Those who have found this reality of overcoming anxiety by a power not of themselves are "in Christ," "in faith"; what counts is the original reality of the experience of Jesus and of his disciples. They interpreted these experiences, to be sure, in objective, supernatural terms of a God beyond this world who literally came to earth and paid for man’s sin by the shedding of his own blood and by literally rising from death. Modern man trained in science, Bultmann holds, rejects such primitive thinking, but the original rather than the objective reality of the New Testament Gospel remains: "to offer man an understanding of himself which will challenge him to a genuine existential decision."(H. W. Bartsch [ed.] Kerygma and Myth, p. 16)
The early Church succumbed, however, to Stoicism and made a world-view out of the Christian faith. This intellectualizing of the faith was a basic mistake. The New Testament speaks genuinely of a Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection as the power of a new kind of life and community "in Christ" or "in faith." Weltanschauung is no part of the Gospel. Bultmann’s theology, therefore, has no contextual capacity for higher education; its power, rather, is to break down static structures of interpretation imposed on experience in the past that hinder the creative activity of the spirit in its constant need to appraise happenings, to decide concerning their significance, and to provide freedom from anxiety and the motivational connection with "the stream" of reality of which Bultmann speaks in his Essays, Philosophical and Theological.
What should be said of neonaturalism in its relation to Christian higher education? Already we have stressed its high and significant relevance. We have also emphasized how profoundly and seminally Christian it is on its descriptive side, especially in the case of Williams, Tillich, and Bultmann. Why, then, can we not come to rest in the neonaturalist position? The real problem is created by Christian theology and concerns the nature of transcendence. This term or its obvious equivalents can be found in the writings of the men just mentioned. None of these men is a humanist. Saving reality, God, is radically more than human experience or effort. Nor are they reductionistic naturalists in the sense of employing a limiting scientific method. The closest to such a view of science is Bultmann’s, but he goes beyond scientific naturalism in the narrow sense even in his ontology. They all reject unequivocally, however, the supernaturalism of Christian classical theology. God, for none of them, is the supernatural creator, the self-sufficient ruler of plants and planets who is other and more than the best we know both in human experience and in cosmic description, the One who from beyond the world became incarnate in it, who died for man’s sin in his full identification with man and who rose victorious over sin, law, and actual death by the deathless power of his supernatural love. Classical Christianity with its objective supernaturalism can be treated as symbol or myth but never as factual history or as true ontology. Tillich and Bultmann are most emphatic on this point.
Is this shedding of supernaturalism, however, not a riddance and relief for honest faith and competent education? Does it not remove from the Christian theology of today the largest false obstacle separating it from higher education? Has not the demythologizing of the Bible been our biggest task for several generations, now at length recognized and effected? Is it not also true that many who confess to belong to other theological tendencies in fact belong here ontologically? Modernity of assumption is more pervasive of the inner man of education than appears on the surface of confession.
Admittedly, the real problem is not whether neonaturalism is genuinely biblical or Christian in the historical sense. If it is true, we should all come to it. Radical translation of terms is then justified and we have no right to accuse these men of dishonesty in their use of them. Has not Kant, furthermore, made it impossible ever again to show critically that supernaturalism is true? Kant himself, of course, is a complex problem at this point, considering the whole history of his writings, and to try to refute him easily is foolish, but the following line of reasoning makes me believe that at its heart classical Christian supernaturalism is not only biblical and historical but actually true. At least, I find no equally convincing alternative for faith.
I grant that along the usual lines of thinking, naturalism has a right to say that any thought, experience, or fact, human or cosmic, may be defined as natural. Aside from these facts, we can know nothing. What is revealed, naturalists say, is only the fuller dimensions of human nature and of the cosmos in which we live. In terms of human experience or thought as such, therefore, there is no proving of a world beyond this one or of a being beyond natural beings. Naturalists also have a right to say that trust in unexamined revelation is completely arbitrary and eventuates in intellectual relativism, a choosing of ultimates at will, without check or challenge from evidence or reason. Along such lines of procedure the Kant of the first Critique remains unanswered; and supernaturalism is mere primitive thinking or, at most, precritical philosophy.
There are objective facts, however, that Kant was in no position to consider. We are not left with the choice of either disavowing the cosmological proof entirely or of assuming the ontological along with it. This Kantian cornerstone of modernity is not hewn out of the granite of fact nor is it built on the marble of reasoning. The facts, according to science itself, are that we live in a cosmic process that has come to be in the course of unimaginably long ages, by means of new levels of development which, as they become added to previous process, are found not only to fit into it organically but to fulfill it. To believe that such an accumulative series of appearances that have added up to an organic unity of the universe and of the universes has come to be and has come together without cause and without reason is to believe in miracle with unrestrained credulity. When there is added the astounding fact that from the point of view of life, personality, and creative community (our relevant data for the criterion of meaningfulness) this process is almost brand-new, the abruptness of the process becomes overwhelming.
However many ways there are of approaching or of explaining these facts, they are pivotal for any thinking concerning ultimates. They break all reductionistic naturalisms except as these are accepted either as ignorant assumptions or as credulous faiths. These facts also forbid all easy assumptions that the description of present process best indicates the nature of reality. Such a freezing of the process goes contrary to the overwhelming indication of process as on the move, awaiting further development. There are, therefore, solid facts which bridge the gap between the cosmological reasoning and the ontological.
Where, however, does this insight leave us? There is no returning to a rationalistic inductive or deductive reasoning that "proves" God. Kant is right that all reasoning from experience to ultimate reality does in the end in some way use the ontological "proof." Kierkegaard also correctly contended that nothing relative (historical, ethical, or metaphysical) can ever prove God. That the less certain should prove the more certain is obviously logically false. Dorothy Emmet, therefore, in The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking has properly dismissed deductive and hypothetical analogies, retaining only those that are existential and co-ordinating. However, she dismissed projective analogies too quickly. In case the projective analogies are merely the absolutizing of something in history which is obviously relative, Kant and Kierkegsard stand guard against such projective thinking. When the actual bridge between cosmological and ontological reasoning stands forth strong, then projective thinking changes its intent, status, and effectiveness.
In such a case, the entire problem is altered. To make no deliberate choice of ultimates if a person is mature enough to make such choice, is to retreat from reality and from responsible intellectual and religious leadership. But all thinkers have assumed presuppositions, some posture toward reality, some configuration of experience that indicates what they actually consider to be most important and most real. The right response to reality is consequently to have as true and effective an interpretation of ultimate reality and meaning as possible.(This argument is worked out at length in my Faith and Reason.) All must live by faith, the only question is by what kind of faith they live. William James is right that there are live, forced, and momentous options among which we must actually take our choice.
Brand Blanshard in his presidential address before the American Theological Society in 1956, made a strong reply to William James, however, to the effect that it is unethical ever to go beyond the facts or to make any leap of faith at all not warranted by the facts, for such choice is actually the confusion of faith with, or the substitution of faith for, knowledge. At this point, we all have to be utterly scrupulous and critical. No leap into ultimates gives us new knowledge, but such a leap may put us into position to receive new knowledge from beyond present process. After all, new knowledge has come into process in the past, and we are in no position to deny that new facts do appear or that new insights might throw fuller or different light on ultimate questions. Since no leap gives us knowledge, however, we can say no more than that we must have some co-ordinating presupposition or presuppositions for thinking, for the total configuration of life, and that therefore we should choose the one that seems least arbitrary.
We are then led back again to our facts concerning the origins of the world we know. Not to acknowledge a creative ground of cause and reason behind, before, or inexplicably within process which is more than present process and which accounts the least arbitrarily for it, is to be facing the past by infinite reduction or to be parochially frozen within the present. When our faith stands on whatever best accounts in process for its development, its unity, its meaning, and its fulfillment, it is the least arbitrary. Not that we have therefore cleared up the mystery of the new or of creation. But transcendence (Obviously, transcendence need not be conceived of directionally, only dimensionally, or even in nonspacial terms altogether.) becomes the least arbitrary content of our faith if it can be shown to have organic relations to the other levels and if it can be seen to explain inclusively the meaning of the total process with the richest explanatory adequacy we can find.
Translated into theological terms, this means that incarnation and eschatology are primary to thinking. Knowledge of ultimates must be had from within experience and process. God becomes man, enters human experience and process to reveal himself. It means also that knowledge is eschatological in the sense that in carnation points forward toward the consummation of creation. The redemption of creation by means of incarnation takes place in time directed toward the future. Such theology springs out of our actual knowledge situation. We as Christians believe in the Incarnation, that God came in Christ as the fullness of time. In such a case, eschatology becomes the fulfillment inclusively of what has come once for all conclusively in Jesus as the Christ. God is the personal Spirit who is holy love. We do not know him in his eternal glory, but we do know him as such love from within our bounds of time and space. Furthermore, it is important for education that the Holy Spirit is biblically defined as the Spirit of truth. When God came in Jesus Christ as the personal Spirit who is holy love, he came as the personal event that is also the center of meaning. The living Christ then becomes the context, judge, and transformer of all knowledge. If this is correct theology, how does our analysis refer to all the contemporary tendencies we have described and evaluated?
In the light of our analysis we can see that it is possible to keep the fundamentalists’ emphasis on "evangelical supernaturalism" without their obscurantist literalism of biblical inspiration and of propositional revelation that shuts them off from the open inquiry of higher education. We should also rejoice in the neo-Calvinist stress on the transcendence of God and on his revelation in event, particularly in the history of salvation and in the Christ, without accepting its pitting of redemption over against creation, and event over against meaning. As a protest movement to establish the primacy of the transcendence of God and of his self-revelation in the Word, we have needed this movement, but now it is time to see how transcendence and incarnation are related to God’s ubiquity and to his work in creation and history. The Lund school of theology can teach us about the distinctiveness of the Christian faith by means of its dominant and determinative motif, agape, and the need for patience and critical care in the description of what is truly Christian, but we need not with them deny to reason its proper place of interpreting and of relating the faith. If we release the full power of the Christian faith, however, we shall in all three of these movements find a classical Christianity which, while remaining itself, can be related both contextually and motivationally to the needs of Christian higher education.
In the case of the last three movements discussed -- linguistic analysis, neoliberalism, and neonaturalism -- the problem has been a forfeiting of the transcendence, or the distinctiveness of the Christian faith. We have seen, however, how it is possible competently and honestly to go beyond the strictures on faith inherited from Kant. We share with the linguistic analysts their revulsion toward slippery Christian apologetics, and we covet their drive for cleanliness of thought. We believe, too, that the day of an objective, rationalistic metaphysics as a legitimate approach to ultimate questions is over, but we know that the position of linguistic analysis is the extreme illustration of a false bifurcation between thought and fact and that fact cannot be tied down to sensationalism. We are therefore hopeful that beyond their function as a cleansing fire, the linguistic analysts will become creatively constructive within the bounds of their genuinely critical insights. The liberals need to encourage us to openness of spirit, breadth of view, and unity of truth both in thought and in life. Their accommodation of spirit makes for co-operative inquiry with those in higher education, but we need not on that account lose decisiveness of truth or distinctiveness of theological method.
The naturalists we have already appraised by means of our own constructive analysis. What they lack is an effective method for understanding of, and pointing to, adequate and effective transcendence. They, above all others, are offering higher education relevant stimuli and contextual suggestions. Whitehead’s influence should grow in the field of higher education, and there are some indications that it is growing. Tillich’s The Dynamics of Faith shows how much a dynamic and creative religious thinker can offer motivationally as well as intellectually to Christian higher education. We share with these thinkers their horror for an arbitrary revelationism, unsupported by genuine data or by reasoning from within the processes of our modern educational activities. These processes can be opened up to the truth of classical Christianity precisely by the use of legitimate reasoning about the facts already established by modern educators. We need primary thinkers for this task.
Creative Christian higher education is a noble challenge during these days of rapid intellectual and cultural transition. No facile solution will do and no fixed formula will ever satisfy the constantly dynamic enterprise of education. I am convinced, however, that a new age of constructive leadership for civilization can come if we appropriate the universal truth of the Christian revelation in Christ and apply this with both experimental caution and bold creative courage to the ever expanding and deepening problems of higher education. Only such a constructive undertaking can entitle us to use the term Christian higher education.
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