Tearing Down the Temple

Reactions to reading the book of Romans

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Romans 3:4 -- Is Christianity intellectually respectable?

Some people, because of their commitment to a naturalist point of view or other forms of unbelief, are not able to entertain the Gospel. For the Gospel to reach them, the other ideas must first be smashed out of their heads. (By the way, God has raised up some “smashers” here and there. John Ankerberg is one who debates the world’s views with care and integrity. The late C. S. Lewis was also an important and outspoken opponent of worldly philosophy, and his works continue to inform. A particularly able champion today is University of Southern California philosophy professor and author, Dr. Dallas Willard.) God will take care of that, as He wills, according to His plan. It is the evangelical Christian’s task to present the facts as accurately and faithfully as they are known. Inevitably, this leads to the Bible record.

Liberal theologians, like Bultmann and others, have denatured the Bible and Christianity itself so that it can become intellectually respectable, in their view. In doing so, I think that they have lost the Gospel. One phrase that occurs over and over in Liberal theology and writing that concerns the Resurrection is “Jesus was raised into the meaning of God.” (...taken in this instance from Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong’s essay, "A Call for a New Reformation," twelve theses about the end of theism. This was paraphrased from Bultmann in an essay by E. Ellwein, cited by Paul Althaus in his commentary on Bultmann, Fact and Faith in the Kerygma of Today [1959].) This phrase is meant to suggest a substitute interpretation of the Resurrection, one in which the role of the believers is thought to have carried out a transformation and placed the figure of Jesus in a transcendent state (I hope I do their views no injustice), so as to make the Resurrection palatable to those who cannot abide miracles but still want religion. But the heart of the Gospel is that Jesus’ return from death was not metaphorical or analogical or parabolic, but actual (Rom. 10:9). So what does that do to Christianity’s intellectual respectability?

Still, people will judge Christianity by external standards, because mankind is sinful and has not adopted the Paul’s worldview. The wide acceptance of this kind of thinking is another indication of how firm a grip paganism still possesses on the popular intellect. Nevertheless, if one starts with the assumptions of humanism, that all religion is an attempt by men to ascertain the transcendent, and that all conclusions about transcendence are subjective, Liberal theology is what one arrives at with Christianity. It rests on the assumption that Christianity is a religion, that it represents the projection of human thoughts toward God.

Jesus turns that viewpoint around completely: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Christianity witnesses to the fact that God has revealed Himself, that He has projected Himself into history, has declared Himself master of it, in fact, and has entered into the lives of believers particularly. It is a completely different viewpoint from religion.

I would turn the question we began with around: Is intellectual respectability a Christian idea? In one sense, it is: intellectual integrity is the basis for intellectual respectability, and intellectual integrity is a natural extension of the honesty and truthfulness that Christianity has always taught, false witness being one of the primordial sins. In another sense, though, intellectual respectability is a worldly value if it makes one distort or fudge on the truth for the sake of retaining the good opinion of one’s colleagues. (No sin is so easily excused or entertained in today’s intellectual professions. C. S. Lewis describes the approval of colleagues in his novel, That Hideous Strength, as having the power to “make one do very bad things before one has become a very bad man.”) In most people, one would suppose, it is an ideal that must, from time to time, be bent or forced to accommodate more important values. The City would like, and in fact it strongly promotes, the exchange of intellectual integrity for intellectual respectability, because the latter is far easier to corrupt.

Whatever the conclusion from such a controversy, Paul’s insistence, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” (Rom. 3:4) gives a powerful answer. It is God to Whom we must look for truth (if we are truly interested in finding it), not sinful man. Hence Luther’s insistence that “It is for Christ's sake that we believe in the Scriptures, but it is not for the Scriptures' sake that we believe in Christ.”

The City’s response is, “Let’s vote on it. By the way, I own the ballot boxes.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding John Ankerberg: ("John Ankerberg is one who debates the world’s views with care and integrity.")

You might want to check out a DVD set released by Answers in Genesis (a non-denominational creation science ministry) entitled, "The Great Debate". John Ankerberg hosted a debate between two young-earth proponents and two old-earth proponents. Ankerberg was to be the "unbiased moderator" who would keep things fair. He failed miserably in that, instead choosing to side with the anti-biblical old-earth view. IMHO he lacked integrity in any form in this enterprise, and I have lost all respect for him.

A summary by an independant observer is available here: http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2006/0606ankerberg.asp

12:31 AM  
Blogger Robert McAnally Adams said...

    I am sorry to hear that.

4:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Adams:
Your statement: "All of us can be coaxed into virtue by the belief that it is profitable", rang another bell this morning. My church is building a school. A major motivation of doing this is evangelism, i.e., to reach the children, and their parents, for Christ via quality education.
I fear most people will not be led by the Spirit but be led by economics and might join the church (re: club). They want quality education at a bargain price, and saying a confession is a small price to pay.
But then, I am no Job, so who am I to critize.

4:56 AM  
Blogger Robert McAnally Adams said...

    I am afraid we must all remain philosophical about the specifics in cases like this. It is likely true that we have not personally suffered much for the Gospel, so we must not be quick to throw stones at those who think more about their ease than their mission (for instance, us).
    At the same time, it is worth looking at where the incentives are placed and how they are placed. If the incentives are designed for those who might be attracted to hear the Gospel, it is one thing. But if they are situated so that those already possessing the Gospel are least troubled or discomfited, with indifference towards those who might hear the Gospel for the first time, then it is clear what the objective is.

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the path is honesty and truthfulness to intellectual integrity to intellectual respectability, then ultimately the goal is respectability. You argue later that the City is trying to get us to trade our intellectual integrity for intellectual respectability. If the goal is respectability in such that you are trying to maintain a good standing with your colleagues, then I propose you would lose your integrity with yourself and God. At which point respectability has nothing to rest upon and the whole thing collapses. If the goal is integrity, then who really cares if there is respectability. The real goal is to maintain your integrity. The respectability may or may not come. If you maintain your honesty, truthfulness and intellectual integrity, then you still have your foundation. An example of all of these traits would be Mother Theresa. She could give a speech that would ensure we understood how miserably selfish and misguided we all are, and yet she would still be intellectually respected. So, I would argue the goal is never intellectual respectability, but rather intellectual integrity. Jesus did not strive for, nor did he have, intellectual respect from the Pharisee’s. But, being the Word made man; he had honesty, truthfulness and intellectual integrity. I am not sure you can have intellectual respectability when you are a radical thinker. What Jesus said and did was very radical, but in the end, it was the truth.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Robert McAnally Adams said...

I grant what you say. Intellectual respectability is a base motivation in itself. Intellectual integrity is clearly a far superior goal. I am suggesting that (1) intellectual respectability is more easiy corrupted than intellectual integrity; but (2) intellectual respectability should spring from intellectual integrity, in the sense that conduct which springs from integrity is worthy of respect. It does not always receive it, of course.

To the degree that Christian thought has fostered integrity in thinkers, it is worthy of the kind of regard that thinkers have for well-formed systems of thought, whether they agree with them or not.

Of course, whether it is agreed with or not, the Christian claim that God is sovereign is true, even when it universally lacks respect.

8:47 PM  
Blogger p-russ said...

Regarding your comment in the Romans 3:4 -- Is Christianity intellectually respectable?

"Some people, because of their commitment to a naturalist point of view or other forms of unbelief, are not able to entertain the Gospel. For the Gospel to reach them, the other ideas must first be smashed out of their heads."

If the wrong ideas need to be smashed out of their heads so that the gospel can reach them, then what has God given us to use to do that? Surely it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation and nothing else. If evidence of God in creation, or as Paul puts it in Romans 1, the invisible qualities of God in creation were to smash wrong reasoning out of their heads then why do the following verses teach that such evidence does not do that? Rather people purposely suppress the truth in spite of the evidence. So arguing or reasoning won't do it - the gospel of God is the "power" of God unto salvation and nothing else. To say what you have said suggests that the gospel is some weak message that needs the way cleared and all arguments defeated before it can be believed. It is not the "flower" of God so that it needs a clean bed to survive and grow in. It is the "power" of God and it shatters the hardest of hearts and brings the greatest of sinners to repentance. Paul was one of them.

2:25 AM  
Blogger Robert McAnally Adams said...

What has God given us to use to smash bad ideas out of some people's heads? well, for one, He has given you your persuasive powers. There is that in the Gospel for which we are to "contend" (Jude 3).

The Gospel is not just words but the acts that the words describe. There is no magic in reciting the words. Millions of people have received the words multiple times to no discernable benefit.

But if commitment to a naturalist point of view is an obstacle to entertaining the Gospel, as it appears to be in so many cases, why not try to get rid of it. One may not succeed, but I fail to see how the Scriptures can be thought to condemn the attempt.

Thank you for your comments.

9:38 PM  
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