Re: Fragility and tendentiousness

From: Dr. Blake Nelson (
Date: Thu Sep 18 2003 - 20:53:09 EDT

  • Next message: George Murphy: "Re: formation & incarnation"

    Well, you raise a really big issue that others can
    speak to as well, here are some thoughts interspersed.

    --- Steve Petermann <> wrote:
    > > I think the simple answer is that you cannot look
    > at
    > > salvation as a mechanistic sort of thing that you
    > can
    > > describe like physics.
    > This I agree with. However, I'm not sure the bulk of
    > Christendom would agree
    > with you. Mechanisms are all about constraints.
    > Obviously statements like
    > "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes
    > to the Father but by me"
    > seem pretty mechanistic.

    The problem lies in what this statement means. Aside
    from translation issues, the broadly understood
    christian tradition is that everyone comes to the
    Father through the Son, the second person of the
    trinity. This is a theological point, but it is
    critical to christianity and why the creeds go to
    great lengths to specify that Jesus was both fully
    human and fully divine. Yes, you only come to the
    Father through Jesus, through the Son, but that does
    not historically mean in the Christian understanding
    that everyone who has not heard about Jesus is damned.
     In modern understanding, even leaving aside
    universalism, mainline protestant denominations and
    the RCs and I believe E. Orthodox, none of those say
    that you must profess belief in Jesus of Nazareth as
    the Christ in order to be saved regardless of whether
    you ever heard of Jesus of Nazareth, etc. One needs
    to look at the theological understanding of salvation.

    It is the most simplistic to say that only those who
    profess that Jesus is their Lord are saved, but I
    don't think that that is necessarily borne out by
    scripture and the converse is certainly not true by
    Jesus' own words.

    So the first problem here is theological and more
    importantly the misunderstanding that is probably all
    too rampant of various theological positions on
    salvation. There are lots of detailed discussions on
    Salvation, one of them being The Mystery of Salvation:
    The Story of Godís Gift. A Report by the Doctrine
    Commission of the Church of England. I only mention
    this one in passing since it is in print and I have
    looked at it recently, even though I am not Anglican.

    > Even your "second person
    > of the trinity" sounds
    > pretty science like(the second law of
    > thermodynamics). Then, of course,
    > there are all the different salvation "formulas" the
    > get bandied around. And
    > what about the creeds?

    Well, the creeds emphasize that Jesus of Nazareth, the
    fully human being is also the Son of the Father, the
    second person of the trinity. So it is science to the
    extent that theology is scientific. As to His role,
    let's see:

    Apostle's Creed:
    he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
    and he will come again to judge the living and the

    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, light from light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father;
    through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven,
    * * *
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
    he suffered death and was buried.
    On the third day he rose again
    in accordance with the Scriptures;
    he ascended into heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again in glory to judge the living and
    the dead,

    These creeds do not specify who salvation is for and
    how it is accomplished. Indeed, this is a dividing
    point among christian denominations at various levels.

    Likewise, the later Chalcedon definition was for the
    purpose of clarifying that Jesus was both fully human
    and fully God. It's only statement re slavific action
    of Jesus is: "Before time began he was begotten of the
    Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these
    "last days," for us and behalf of our salvation, this
    selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is
    God-bearer in respect of his humanness."

    It is only in later creeds, such as the Athanasian
    Creed that the mechanism of salvation gets more
    definitely expressed. That creed, states in relevant
    parts: "WHOEVER wishes to be saved must, above all,
    keep the Catholic faith For unless a person keeps this
    faith whole and entire, he will undoubtedly be lost
    forever." Now, that is not a direct statement about
    God, either. The creed goes on to say "He, therefore,
    who wishes to be saved, must believe thus about the
    Trinity. It is also necessary for eternal salvation
    that he believes steadfastly in the incarnation of our
    Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the right faith is that we
    believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the
    Son of God, is both God and man." Of course, the
    creed goes on to say that "At His coming, all men are
    to arise with their own bodies; and they are to give
    an account of their own deeds. Those who have done
    good deeds will go into eternal life; those who have
    done evil will go into the everlasting fire. This is
    the Catholic faith. Everyone must believe it, firmly
    and steadfastly; otherwise He cannot be saved. Amen."
    Of course this creed is not one of the ecumenical
    creeds, written around AD 500.

    Even if we accept this creed as authoritative for
    belief about God's action here (and not all
    christendom does), it still says nothing about
    salvation of ETs if we take it seriously. Nor does it
    address salvation of, inter alia, those who lived
    before Christ, which the major traditions accept at
    least some or particular individuals as capable of

    > I know, I know it is possible to contest all my
    > objects with some
    > theological nuance. The bottom line in the point I
    > was trying to make is
    > that Christianity is becoming less and less
    > compelling for a many people.
    > Why is that?

    I think it is due to several factors.

    First, ignorance of dogma and theology. There is so
    much misunderstanding of what terms mean, in addition
    to how those terms are applied. Most atheist screeds,
    for example, talking about how ridiculous christian
    belief is a strawman caricature of christianity and
    are just plain theologically ignorant and wrong.
    Sadly, there are people whose beliefs probably
    coincide in a folk religious way with those strawman

    Second, I think that it is not due to "rational"
    reasons why people leave. Among other things, there
    is in modern culture several competing factors that
    perhaps have caused the falling away, including the
    ability of consumerism to distract people nearly
    endlessly from important questions, the unfamiliarity
    with terms in and forms of worship due to the
    aforementioned ignorance, the concomitant lack of
    ability to relate what goes on in church to daily
    life, etc.

    > Although I'm not member, I see a
    > virtual revolving door of the
    > newly disillusioned going through the local
    > Unitarian Universalist church.
    > My questions may sound like scholasticism but that's
    > because the premises
    > lead to a plethora of follow up questions. And they
    > are, by the way, not
    > irrelevant to the thinking persons I know. The
    > scholastics may have been
    > able to "reason" through each question but in the
    > final analysis was
    > anything compelling about their system? Did they
    > convince by their
    > gymnastics of logic?

    Here is part of the problem, while belief in God is
    rational and reasonable for a whole host of reasons
    apologists through the ages have proposed, the
    affective commitment of belief does not necessarily
    follow from rigorous logic. While it takes too much
    time to go into, among other things, the coherence and
    triangulation of multiple indicators make belief in
    God eminently rational, but each of those arguments on
    its own can be ignored, etc. It seems to me when you
    take the holistic case it is compelling, but
    christianity originated not as a systematic theology
    but in the act of commitment to Jesus and following
    Him. That is in many ways an alogical choice. Or
    arational as William James refers to it in the Will to
    Believe, which I think encapsulates part of the
    problem very well and which I wont go into here at the

    > Christianity may not be that
    > fragile as a whole now,
    > but what about 100, 500 years from now. The
    > populace is becoming more and
    > more educated and critically thinking.

    I have found that as a professor, more education does
    not necessarily lead to more critical thinking.
    Sadly, I think the average student today is not
    well-equipped for critical thinking.

    Regardless, critical thinking is certainly no threat
    to christianity and if employed more would hopefully
    weed out more bad theology.

    > The
    > scientific worldview is sweeping
    > the globe. All it will take is something new to come
    > along that speaks to
    > their needs but is less intellectually objectionable
    > and there may be a mass
    > exodus.

    Well, it has swept the globe and swept Europe a long
    time ago. There is nothing about the scientific
    worldview that is inconsistent with christianity
    unless one sneaks into the realm of metaphysics out of

    Here is the main problem -- people like Dawkins and
    Sagan spread scientism which is just plain silly as a
    philosophy, it is even more absurd than logical
    positivism of which it is a pale caricature. The
    problem to begin with is if you think critically about
    it, there is no such thing as a "scientific worldview"
    nor is there such a thing as a single, unitary
    "scientific method". The idea that there is some set
    of methods that you can use for quantum physics and
    literary interpretation that is certainly wrong. As
    Comte pointed out there is no such thing as *the*
    scientific method. To the contrary the methods of
    each discipline of science are largely different,
    indeed, each discipline's methods have changed over
    the years, and indeed, there is no one method of
    knowing that can be applied to all questions of life
    as the scientism proponents like to suggest (which is
    showing either lack of critical thinking, ignorance,
    outright duplicity, or insanity on their part). As
    Kant pointed out so long ago there cannot even be a
    rule of good judgment, because if there were it would
    take good judgment to interpret the rule.

    Scientism is just plain bad philosophy and uncritical
    thinking. I am all for people thinking critically
    about what science means and does and what it doesn't.
     It is only in bad theology or ignorance of theology
    that a scientific worldview has much of anything to
    say about religion.

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