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- A New Reformation -
& the Foundations of Christian Faith
F. Earle Fox
I. The Continuing Need for Reformation
Every so often, we need a New Reformation, that
is, a new mining of both the Scriptures and whatever other knowledge we have
gained for insight on how to deal with
(1) challenges raised by secular or pagan people over the last <whatever> period of time, & with
(2) whatever faults might have arisen within the Church itself.
The Reformation of the 1500's did just that, going back to the early Church fathers and the time of the New Testament to find a plumbline for their theology and practice. The attempt was successful in some ways, but failed in others.
The Bible was written so as to carry the Good News to any age whatsoever, including our own modern era. So, we need (once again) to catch up with the Bible -- reformation is a continuing process.
And things have changed since the 1500's. New problems have been thrown at us, and we are a bit more knowledgeable about the human race and its condition. The basics of Christian faith have not changed, but how we generally understand them has, for good or ill, definitely shifted. The Post-Reformation result of the Christian response has not been pretty, it has been often chaotic, divisive, and self-destructive within the Church itself.
Tragically, both sides, reformers and counter-reformers, made two of the greatest mistakes in the history of Christendom.
First, the contending parties pulled back into defensive positions rather than venturing out to be mutually cooperating truth-seekers. They, in effect, claimed themselves to be infallible in their positions, and often condemned their opposition to death. That was typical among Muslims -- but Christians?!?.
It became increasingly (and wrongly) believed that reason and revelation are opposed to each other. They did not have the faith to see that truth-seeking, not position-defending, is the royal road to God. Why? Because only truth-seeking can lead to the true position. God holds the intellectual high ground and invites His people to join Him there. That is illustrated all through Biblical history (see for example, I Kings 18:17 ff., Elijah on Mount Carmel; and, 2 Corinthians 4:1 ff.).
Second, partly because of the first error above, both sides used coercive force to defend their views, and to punish or convert opponents. It was for the most part assumed as a fact that a people, a society, could have one and only one religion, and that the government was responsible for maintaining that unity of religion. Thus, often when the government was in the hands of a differently believing ruler, there would be heresy trials, burnings at the stake, and even war with one's neighbors. The 30 Years War between Protestant and Catholic devastated Europe.
Christians knew better how to deal with Caesar (civil government) as their enemy prior to Emperor Constantine, than they did after Constantine gave them access to the power of civil government, with Caesar now as their friend . The way of the cross was often replaced by power struggle.
The answer to that problem was centuries later being sought and developed by many of the Reformed scholars, leading to the "city on a hill" founded in America, and given acknowledgment and support in the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution. [To see how our Declaration and Constitution helped form this "city on a hill", take the 10-lecture course (with its 5-lecture intro.) at www.hillsdale.edu -- a superb analysis of the issues.] Our political freedoms come from God just as do our personal salvation freedoms. But that project begun in America lost its way and was overtaken by the secular enlightenment and positivist law in the 1800's -- leading to our present disaster.
These two fatal errors, opposing reason and revelation leading then to an unGodly use of coercive force, more than anything else, fueled the rejection of Christian faith and practice over the post-reformation centuries. If having Jesus in one's heart leads to mutual slaughter, who needs Jesus in their heart? Jesus would have agreed.
Furthermore, reformation is not only about
it is equally, and maybe even more importantly, about
Reformation is not about only the
of the 1500's doctrine of the great reformers. It is about continuing the
process which they employed, namely going back to the Bible and early Church
fathers for an accurate plumbline on Biblical teaching and doctrine. New
faults arise in the Church, new challenges are thrown at the Church.
Contemporary Christianity has shown itself mostly incompetent to deal with the
current secularized/paganized culture. So,
the Biblical foundations must be mined yet again in order to clarify how we
have strayed from course, and to remedy that tragic situation.
II. Three Basic Issues - three challenges
There are three issues with which we must deal in a current New Reformation (there may, of course, be more, but these make a good start):
1. Epistemology - Science, Faith, & Truth-Seeking: Christians must come to terms with the rise of science and become truth-seekers above all else, that is, be willing to say, "If I am wrong, I want to know". Or as Elijah said on Mount Carmel, "If Baal be God, we will follow him, if the Lord be God, we will follow Him." And then an empirical test to see who in fact was God (I Kings 18:17 ff.). The only way to be a truth-seeker is to look carefully at the relevant evidence and reason accurately to a conclusion. That is what Elijah did -- as instructed by God. God insists on our putting His case to an open contest of truth. We must discover and make plain the union of reason with revelation, science with faith.
A challenge: no way of life other than the Biblical can successfully support, and be supported by, a truth-seeking approach to life. That statement is either true or false. We Christians need to show why we think it to be true.
Truth-seeking is the royal road to God, who is the Truth. How could it be otherwise? Truth-seeking is the first step of faith, beginning with the curiosity of a small child. Despite the nearly concurrent rise of science, which was all about being truth-seekers, the Reformation of the 1500's did not get this principle clear. In fact, in many cases, Christians went the wrong direction, we became hardened "position-defenders" rather than truth-seekers. Afraid that honest science might disprove our faith, we could not honestly say, "If I am wrong, I want to know," -- which in turn led quickly to the splintering of Christendom. Without a focus on truth-seeking, we splintered into hardened defensive positions, and lost the battle for the soul of the West. Some will object that that is putting truth ahead of God -- as though that were an insult to God. And, indeed, in a sense it is "putting the truth ahead of God".
One is saying that "I will not believe in God unless He is real." Does God object to that? Are there not false gods? And if that is so, ought we not carefully distinguish between the false and the true? What is the alternative to truth-seeking -- but to become idol worshippers or totally confused? That is St. Paul's point in Romans 1:18 ff. Only by careful inquiry and reasoning can we sort out the false from the true. Is not that why the writer of I John tells us (4:1) to "test the spirits to see whether they are of God...," and why Paul puts "subversion of truth" at the core of the Fall in Romans 1:18?
Refusing to be truth-seekers puts us into the position of being untrustworthy witnesses with no believable testimony, no matter what the subject. We become arbitrary position-defenders, just what Christians are ridiculed for all over the West today -- "fundamentalists" in that unhealthy and nasty sense of the word.
"Johnny, did you put your hand in the cookie jar?" Truth-seeking is not only about academics and science, even three-year-olds know the difference between true and false and between right and wrong. Truth-seeking is about every aspect of life.
So, being truth-seekers
does not degrade or belittle God, just the opposite: it exalts Him. It
leads to proclaiming Him the True and Only God -- not arbitrarily, but with
integrity and honesty. The God of the Bible does not object to that, He
insists on it.
If we can imagine the two edges of the Sword of the Spirit (Hebrews 4:12) to be reason and revelation welded back to back, then we can use that image to show what happened to the Christian mind and spirit as both Christians and secularists began to split reason against revelation, pitting the Sword against itself. A house divided.
It was just that split which was inherited by the American founding fathers as they struggled to put together their "new experiment" in civil government.
The masses of the American people were fairly unified in their Christian faith, and so were most of the politicians. But the intellectuals in the colleges and universities were drifting ever more strongly toward what looked like the new intellectual wave, "enlightened" secularism, or a religion at least without revelation or a Trinity. Reason alone, without revelation, would take care of us.
Hence the rising influence of Unitarians and Transcendentalists. The
problem was that both sides, pro-reason and pro-revelation, had a piece of the
increasingly divided truth, but could not see that the two were complementaries,
not opposites, and so began to conclude, disastrously, that reason and
revelation were inherently at odds.
The truth is that reason cannot survive without revelation because science has a moral commitment to truth-seeking, without which it descends into just another facet of the current power struggle -- as evident all through the late 19th and then 20th centuries among Nazis, Communists, and all government centralizers. Science became just as corrupt as religion, politics, etc. But, only God can provide a morality, so the truth-seeking project cannot succeed without Him.
And likewise, revelation will not survive without reason. Is one to read the Bible unreasonably? That would destroy the purpose of revelation -- which is to reveal and clarify. Are we not to read revelation logically and factually, making sense of it? Revelation reveals with clarity, it does not muddy the waters and throw dust into the air.
Every sentence of the Bible is written with the grammar of some language. Grammar is the way a language structures meaning, both logically and factually -- the very basis of any reasonable discussion. The reading of anything, Bible included, requires grammar because grammar is the foundation for understanding both fact (the particulars of the empirical world) and logic (the abstractions of the philosophical world). The mere reading of the Bible thus requires reason -- so the reader and/or hearer can understand what it reveals. A standard principle of Biblical interpretation is that one part of the Bible cannot be interpreted in contradiction to another part. What can that mean but that we are to interpret with both factual and logical consistency?
So, reason and revelation are eternally wedded in God. We had better make it so among ourselves. There is no other way to have clarity about God, the world, or ourselves.
But secularists continued to get more influence over the 19th century, and then won victory after victory during the 20th against an increasingly unreasoning Christian community. Christianity was effectively run from the public square, mostly by secularists illegally capturing the already illegal government-run school system. And most Christians joined them, unable to say, "Do we not have a lie in our right hand?" (Isaiah 44:20)
However, toward the end of the 20th century, and
now increasingly in the 21st, Christians are at last catching on that God, not the
secular folks, holds the
intellectual high ground (as well as the moral and the spiritual high ground), and that
is indeed the only fully reasonable way of understanding the cosmos and
ourselves. This becomes the more obvious as the
community does its work. Secular and/or pagan evolution is a
The reunion of reason to revelation, the two edges of the Sword of the Spirit,
will provide a well-nigh invincible weapon against the utter nonsense into which
the West has descended, on its trek through secularism -- to where? back again into
2. The Biblical Worldview & Gender in God: Sexual engagement has always been the chosen "sacrament of selfhood" for both the pagan and secular worlds. There is a built-in need for human beings to "find their other half", that is to unite with the opposite gender.
In such a time of sex & gender chaos, we must explore the Bible and the Biblical worldview regarding both the masculine and feminine in God. (See The Biblical Worldview, How is God a Trinity, and Psychology, Salvation, & the Ordination of Women.) The Biblical worldview lays the foundation for understanding the nature of God, man, and the Good News; and the Image of God, the Imago Dei, is the most stable, enduring, and reliable of all things. The Image of God has been the focus of Christian theology, but, to our great loss, not much in modern times.
There is often strong, but not well explained, resistance to the notion that God is our mother just as He is our father. It has often been hinted and suggested that the Trinity is a family, but seldom, if ever, developed theologically.
One suspects that the resistance, especially among men, most of whom, if not all, struggle with sexual temptation. The pagan/secular association of women with sexiness, seduction, and promiscuity is far from being eradicated from among Christians, both men and women. Internet pornography is epidemic among college students, Christians not excepted. But the problem is not beyond the resources of God to resolve.
The Biblical image of femininity is mothering -- which means life-giving, faithfulness, and support, not sexiness and seductiveness. Like reason and revelation, masculine and feminine necessarily imply each other. And though the Bible does not call God our mother, there are passages from start to finish where God is described as relating to us in feminine, mothering ways. God often through the Bible uses marital imagery to describe His relationship with His people.
Seeing the feminine in God opens up vast resources for personalizing our relationship to God, resolves a host of issues which have arisen in our gender-contentious society, and will not allow itself to be drawn into the pagan and secular scheme of things. The Biblical view of motherhood is the best defense against the pagan/secular view of femininity, and the Biblical view of family is the best defense against the attack on family life. Only the Biblical worldview can give us an answer to the perennial "war of the sexes", which then provides a substantial and reliable answer to the sex and gender issues of our time.
The family life in God (hinted at in Genesis 1:26-28), when developed theologically as part of the
Imago Dei, gives a built-in counter-point feminine creator,
life-giving, healing, softness and supportiveness to the masculine
sovereignty of God which otherwise drifts (as history shows) often into a
harsh and unforgiving legalism. God is both
creator and sovereign.
He is sovereign because
He is creator. Being creator He can define the reason for our
existence, which is the basis for all moral principle and thus for sovereignty.
There is therefore a necessary logical
connection between being sovereign and being creator. A marriage, one
might say. The masculine and feminine logically imply each other, so their
union is inescapable.
3. The Sovereignty of God, Morality, & Godly Civil Government: Christians, for most of the last two centuries, lost their grip on what reformed theologians were beginning to understand in the 16- and 1700's, and on what God provided for us in our own Declaration of Independence and Constitution: a limited government for a free people under God, based largely on the Reformed tradition. We have long lost sight of the fact that the Declaration and Constitution could have been written only by a Biblically literate and faithful people. The authority of civil government rests wholly on the prior moral law of God, our reason for existence, including for the existence of civil government. A limited Biblical government has been replaced by the secular so-called "liberal democracy" (which is neither liberal nor democratic).
Both the Reformers and the American founding fathers understood that any helpful limitation of the powers of civil government over the people would require the sovereignty of God behind those doing the limiting. Without God, civil government looks to most people Big Enough to replace God. That is logical nonsense, of course, but an unsaved people have lost personal touch with God, and the image of Big Government, with its near monopoly of coercive force, looms larger than life for most of them. So they are easily convinced that Government Nanny is a good thing -- when (as for at least two centuries in the West) believers have lost their intellectual, moral, and spiritual credibility.
The task was not complete with the signing of the Declaration and Constitution, but the intellectually eroding Christians of the 1800's failed to finish securing and explaining those Biblical foundations. So with the rise of "positivist law" over the 1800's, denying any relation of civil law to the law of God or to natural law, combined with control of a government-run school system and thus of the minds of our children, the secularists were able to “gently” nudge God out of the picture, with hardly an audible peep from the still majority of Christians in America. Christians "won" the so-called Monkey Trial, but lost the public relations war.
American (and Western) Christianity had lost its
way. But the political disasters of the 20th century have awakened
Christians to the need to revisit our political foundations, that the
"separation of Church and State" is not what either God or the constitution had in
mind. There is
separation between Church and State -- they have different tasks, but God
rules over both.
These three issues (and maybe others), truth-seeking, gender in God, and civil government, must be dealt with in a New Reformation for our time. As with the 1500's, a true reformation goes back to mine the Scriptures for ways of dealing with our straying from the Biblical path and new insights into how to deal with current issues. The nature of truth, gender, and government are key issues awash everywhere in the world today. The Bible alone (and no other religion or philosophy) has good answers to all of them.
Christians are typically today unable to explain their faith in public. They stay inside the church walls, for the most part at least, and almost never appear in the political back rooms or on public stage with an audible faith. That is primarily because, as noted above, Christians in the 1800's began to oppose "reason" to "revelation", unintentionally painting God as an arbitrary, tyrannical, hyper-masculine, intellectual despot -- much like the Muslim version of Allah. The problem actually began early in Christian history, leading to a distortion of the Image of God which has plagued Christendom right up to the present.
God cranked up the intensity of the discussion by giving
us the rise of science overlapping with the Reformation. That challenged
Christians to a deeper understanding of intellectual credibility -- as part of
the Imago Dei,
and truth-seeking at the foundation of Biblical faith. But for the most
part, Christians (like the Hebrews rejecting the entry into Canaan - Num. 13-14)
did not get it, failed God's test, and rejected both science and the development
of due process in government as being "secular". They were not. They were
specifically by God for His people.
III. Nine Foundation Stones of Biblical Faith which need (and have) adequate defense:
There are signs that Christians are getting fed up with this nonsense, but we have a loooong way to go. The Road to Emmaus is aimed to provide a clear explanation of the basics of the Biblical worldview and Christian faith which is logically seamless, no contradictions. I have believed that to be possible since my junior year in college, and at 76 ever more strongly believe it to be possible. The already finished works on this website (see Shopping Mall), I think, provide that logical consistency. Some Christians might have to let go of a favorite doctrine to attain that consistency -- as I have on occasion. Let the reader decide.
If we are truth-seekers, we will reject statements contrary to known fact, and reject illogical statements as inadequate and/or unfinished. We might hang onto the two ends of an apparent contradiction until it can be resolved. That is the intelligent way to handle a contradiction -- do not throw it out, rather put it on a shelf until the conflict can be resolved. That has happened over and over in my quest for this seamless garment of Christian faith. I recommend it for all truth-seekers.
Below is a list of the central beliefs of the Christian faith in generic terms, as I would state them for a New Reformation. These are what need to be defended reasonably and gracefully in a New Reformation. They are "generic" in the sense of being non-denominational -- the issues which are central to the Christian faith -- but not how the details might be stated. The denominational differences are the details to be worked out -- still in that logically seamless and factually accurate way:
(1) Objective truth - the foundation of both reason and revelation. (See Epistemology Library)
Christians rail at those who promote "relative" truth -- which is a logical contradiction and is almost always manipulative. But we have often ourselves failed to be true to the goal of logical consistency. If truth is objective rather than relative, then we ought to be able to get at truth by the normal means of investigation which we learn as we grow up into adulthood. That is the Biblical position.
We live in a sacramental cosmos, in which the temporal, physical, spatial are all mixed up with the spiritual, metaphysical, and eternal. The words 'truth' and 'true' together occur about 250 times in the Bible, always with positive meaning. Truth is never denigrated. It is taken for granted that truth-seeking and truth-speaking are expected and required by God (see, for example, 2 Cor. 4:1 ff; or, I Kings 18:17 ff.).
As above, we must be truth-seekers before trying to be position-defenders. Positions are very very important, but one gets to the true position only by being open to the truth, and a truth-seeker. When we become position-defenders at the expense of truth-seeking, our positions petrify so that no helpful discussion can take place. No one is then willing to risk the hard work of truth-seeking, nor the chance that "my" position just might need some adjusting. That attitude has been a primary cause of the fracturing and hence the demise of Christian faith in the public arena. Why would any society with common sense want a religion which rejected reason? Such an attitude is betrayal of Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. God is not interested in or honored by intellectual cowardice parading as "faith".
(2) the Biblical worldview, i.e., the Doctrine of Creation. God is both Creator of, and Sovereign over, all things and circumstances.
He is Sovereign because He is Creator (see The Law & the Grace of God). Being both creator and sovereign defines the meaning of "being God" for the Bible. The Biblical worldview, as distinct from the pagan/secular worldview, is defined by this reality. See also Theology Library.
If the Biblical worldview (in opposition to the secular/pagan random evolution worldview) cannot be shown to be the truth, then neither the Bible itself, nor the Christian notion of salvation and redemption, have much chance of making sense.
The Biblical doctrine of creation is the foundation of the Biblical worldview, forming a watershed between the Biblical view and the two primary other views -- pagan and secular (see Worldview Library and also Personality, Empiricism, & God for the Cosmological argument for God -- which establishes the Biblical worldview over and against the pagan and secular views).
(3) The Good News, the personality of God, and His intention for His creation -- to be in fellowship with Him and one another, atonement, forgiveness of sin, and restoration to wholeness and holiness.
(4) Man made in the Image of God - male and female, leading to the objectivity and stability of gender roles.
Every human being, from conception to birth, in or out of the womb, also is therefore of unalienable value, and given by God the same inalienable protection for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as anyone else.
(5) The reality of the Fall, sin, and the corruption of the human spirit, unable to save itself.
(6) A final moral judgement between heaven and hell to happen with infallible accuracy in every life.
(7) The Bible as the definition of the Christian faith interpreted through the lens of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds -- (go to The Authority of the Bible in a Scientific Age).
(8) The uniqueness of Christ as the Way to salvation (see Christology Library).
Given the Biblical worldview (with persons, not things, as the basic entities of the cosmos), the uniqueness of Christ is not a self-serving, narrow-minded belief, it makes perfect logical and factual sense. See The Law & the Grace of God.
(9) The holy and undivided Trinity as the
fundamental nature of the Godhead. See
Every one of these points can be defended Biblically, logically, and factually. If any one of the points is missing, the fullness of the Good News picture will be compromised. As my college religion professor taught, only the Biblical worldview has dependable logical consistency, all other worldviews fall into contradiction.
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Date Posted - 07/01/2011 - Date Last Edited - 05/21/2013