Spooked by the Enlightenment

March 13, 2014

Hart

D. G. Hart

Since I often enjoy Darryl Hart’s writings, even if not always in full agreement, it is about time that I post something from him. Here are some thoughts worth pondering, related to my own criticisms of “worldview” on this blog:

…Christian “conservatives” insist that philosophy precedes religion, which of course is remarkably ironic since these believers (both Reformed and Roman Catholic) are arguing for the ultimacy of faith. But to do so they use philosophical arguments about incoherence, epistemological foundations, and moral consistency that wind up making human reason, not faith or Scripture or tradition or Christ, the answer to life’s most difficult questions. Mind you, the question, “how am I right with God?” is hardly the same level of difficulty as “how do I know?” or “how do I become virtuous?” …

[There is a] great affinity that neo-Calvinism and pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism have in privileging philosophy. Both of those traditions grew up spooked by the French Revolution and carved up the universe between theism and atheism, both fought the Enlightenment with Christian philosophy or w-w, and both left a legacy of antithesis — intellectual, cultural, political. If a gateway drug for Protestant converts to Rome (the anti-revolutionary anti-modern one) exists, it could be neo-Calvinism with its bending the knee to philosophy.

[“Religious Tests for Having an Opinion”]

Hart has done a significant amount of work demonstrating that worldview-ism is what happens when pietism supplants Reformed theology proper. Where I disagree with Hart, and his kith at Westminster California, is their too uncritical identification with scholastic Protestantism. The subjective ills which they identify in pietism can also be detected in scholastic moves to “secure” theological foundations.

5 Responses to “Spooked by the Enlightenment”

  1. Seems like this is basically boiling down to a question of how Christianity deals with modernity/postmodernity – or just existing in the modern world in general.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yes, and the “existing in the modern world” aspect is what has driven the popularity and attraction toward “cultural apologetics” or “worldview apologetics,” including whole degree programs (bachelors and masters) at Bible colleges and seminaries on “Christian Worldview,” which is the evangelical equivalent to identity studies (women, black, queer, etc.) at secular colleges.

  2. CarterS said

    Hi Kevin, good link. I find I can only read Hart occasionally, as I alternate between amusement, edification, and extreme annoyance. But he is always provocative and, I agree, has some poignant and important critiques of some of evangelicalism’s more trenchant absurdities.

    All that said, I wonder what you think of Herman Bavinck with regard to Hart’s (and your) critique of worldviewism? I have seen you laud Bavinck here before, as have many others, including Hart. As a first-gen neo-calvinist, it seems like he would be subject to this criticism. What are your thoughts?

    • Kevin Davis said

      That is a good question about Bavinck but also very difficult to answer! My concern with worldviewism is that it overextends the competence of theology. I have little or no problem with “natural law” if we are talking about secular pursuits, whether the “hard” sciences or even anthropological sciences (like the rudimentary work of a sociologist or psychologist). Rather, my problem is when natural law, or natural theology more broadly, predefines God anterior to positive theology. If I am interpreting Bavinck right, this was also his concern with natural theology (in RD I:87ff.). He affirms general revelation as ontologically prior to special revelation but epistemologically posterior. This alone does not make him a “Barthian,” but he is definitely anticipating Barth. The question/concern, however, is when Bavinck talks about positive theology assimilating general revelation and even finding “points of contact,” which would obviously make Barth nervous (though his discussion of “little lights” in IV.3 seems to be saying much the same). See especially Bavinck’s RD I:320-321 and then compare with his criticisms of natural theology in I:87ff.

      “Now special revelation has recognized and valued general revelation, has even taken it over and, as it were, assimilated it. And this is also what the Christian does, as do the theologians. They position themselves in the Christian faith, in special revelation, and from there look out upon nature and history.” (I:321)

      This has the potential of being exploited by worldviewism, but Bavinck does not take it in that direction. He does not talk about Christian presuppositions that underwrite all findings of nature and history. We do have a “privileged epistemology,” so to speak, in the sense of seeing God’s glory and providence and harmony in nature and history, but we do not have a privileged epistemology in the sense of having the only presuppositions upon which any truth claims can be claimed. The latter is the unique contribution of Van Til and his varied disciples to this day, but I do not know how much of this may be blamed on Kuyper’s “every square inch” vision.

      In short, let theologians be theologians.

  3. Thanks for this post. I’m a student at WSCAL and I appreciate your blog. It’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on why you think A) WSCal is too quick to identify with Protestant Scholastics, and B) Why you would not do so.

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