Re: choking on RFEP, a "post script" on deism

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Thu Apr 01 2004 - 10:05:23 EST

Those who read my abstract (see previous post) might tend to conclude that I
would classify Howard's theological approach (as seen in the RFEP) as a type
of deism. Let me forestall the direct claim along those lines, with some
further comments. In past years I've commented more fully about this; I'll
try not to go on long here since folks can search the archives about this.

Genuine deism, that is the historical animal the corresponds to the
position articulated by people like Jefferson or Franklin or Hume, is
characterized by at least two quite different things. (1) A very deep
suspicion of the biblical picture of God--a God who acts in the present, and
especially a God who acts even now to seek and save those who are lost.
Deists denied both sin and redemption, as well as important elements of the
ongoing personal relationship between God and us (though deists would pray).
 (2) Deists did *not* deny the "thenness" of the doctrine of creation,
namely that God acted in the past to create the universe and living things,
including ourselves. However the "nowness" of creation was effectively
denied; see point (1). In a limited sense, one can say that deism affirms
creation over redemption, while denying the plausibility of the scriptures.
Jefferson's Bible was pretty slim, consisting of the life and moral
teachings of Jesus without the miracles and prophetic utterances; that's all
we have.

Whether a modern thinker would fit the category "deist" is sometimes a
tough call. The term has different meanings to different people, sometimes
quite divorced from the real historical animal. For example, many liberal
theologians use the term "deist" to describe me, since I believe that God
has acted miraculously in the history of the universe and salvation. (They
associate deism with a God who does miracles, since deists believed in the
miracles of the old creation.) This is ludicrous, as I've pointed out to
them from time to time; rather, it is they, who effectively deny the
testimony of scripture about miracles in salvation history, who are really
*functioning* as the deists. But try convincing them of this, reason is not
sufficient for the task; what they know about history is distorted through
the lenses of naturalism in theology, a product of the 19th century that
dominates modern theology. IMO, at least.

Howard's RFEP, by itself, is not necessarily deism. It really depends on
whether or not it's coupled with the doubts about salvation history that
have traditionally lain at the core of deism. In other words, if God really
is a constitutional monarch *and* if people aren't really sinners redeemed
by God's incarnational activity, then we have deism.

Received on Thu Apr 1 10:06:47 2004

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