Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Dear Deist Christians
From the wikipedia site on Deism, here is a generalized introduction to it:
"Deism (/ˈdiː.ɪzəm/ or /ˈdeɪ.ɪzəm/, derived from the Latin word deus meaning "god") combines a rejection of religious knowledge as a source of authority with the conclusion that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator of the universe. Deism gained prominence among intellectuals during the Age of Enlightenment – especially in Britain, France, Germany and the United States – who, raised as Christians, believed in one god but became disenchanted with organized religion and notions such as the Trinity, Biblical inerrancy and the supernatural interpretation of events such as miracles. Included in those influenced by its ideas were leaders of the American and French Revolutions.
Deism is a theological position concerning the relationship between "the Creator" and the natural world. Deistic viewpoints emerged during the scientific revolution of 17th-century Europe and came to exert a powerful influence during the eighteenth century enlightenment. Deism stood between the narrow dogmatism of the period and skepticism. Though deists rejected atheism, they often were called 'atheists' by more traditional theists. There were a number of different forms in the 17th and 18th century. In England, deism included a range of people from anti-Christian to un-Christian theists.
Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world in any way, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature. For Deists, human beings can only know God via reason and the observation of nature, but not by revelation or supernatural manifestations (such as miracles) – phenomena which Deists regard with caution if not skepticism. See the section Features of deism, following. Deism is related to naturalism because it credits the formation of life and the universe to a higher power, using only natural processes. Deism may also include a spiritual element, involving experiences of God and nature.
The words deism and theism are both derived from words for god: the former from Latin deus, the latter from Greek theós (θεός).
Prior to the 17th century the terms ["deism" and "deist"] were used interchangeably with the terms "theism" and "theist", respectively. ... Theologians and philosophers of the seventeenth century began to give a different signification to the words... Both [theists and deists] asserted belief in one supreme God, the Creator... and agreed that God is personal and distinct from the world. But the theist taught that God remained actively interested in and operative in the world which he had made, whereas the Deist maintained that God endowed the world at creation with self-sustaining and self-acting powers and then surrendered it wholly to the operation of these powers acting as second causes."
Notably, I briefly addressed this in my blog post that was discussed last night, but I did not fully point out or make the connections that were present there. In reference to the back stairs of the White House, I said: "The idea was that on special occasions, important citizens (not kings, of course) would descend the stairs together and in rhythm as in a dance. Men and women, in tandem with literary sheet music, literally become the smoothly operating machine of the planetary orbits determined from a distance by a Deist god." But, I was referring to Newton's notion of the Clockwork Universe, which I had discussed previously in the blog post. Newton was really the stimulus for the birth and/or rise/culmination of Deism.
And, speaking of Newton, Moses has also said that God is CONSTANTLY at work in the world's circumstances and in the heart and life of the believer. Implied here, I think, however (based on other things Moses has said), was the idea that the basic physical laws of the universe generally march on as God originally set them up in the beginning, barring God's intervention to change them for some reason that He has in mind.
Anyway, the basic point here is that Moses' statements last night about the relationship between God and the natural world are basically the same statements made by Deists.
MY ISSUES WITH DEISM (FOR CLARITY OF WHERE I'M COMING FROM):
As the wikipedia article noted: "There were a number of different forms in the 17th and 18th century. In England, deism included a range of people from anti-Christian to un-Christian theist." Not spoken there was that, in France (England, France, and America were the three main loci of Deism), most all Deists were far more explicitly and militantly anti-Christian. But, the ultimate point is, Deism is simply not Christian, however militant of a stance the Deist decides to take against the Christianity he or she rejects.
The real question becomes, though, what is the Deist rejecting? WHY does the reaction to Christianity among Deists range from un-Christian theists to anti-Christian? What is it about Christianity that separates it from Deism?
Well, last night, when Moses said (something like) "God might intervene in the world sometimes, but..." At that point, I interjected, and said, "Always." That was when Moses said (something like): "He might intervene sometimes, maybe even more than we realize, but He lets the universe run according to the laws that He designed." I interjected with the ALWAYS, not because of my preference for philosophy (I think of Deism as a philosophy, pretty much), but because the truth of Christianity is OPPOSED to what, as Wikipedia noted, is a theological stance taken by the Deist. Although, more properly speaking, the Deist stance is in opposition to basic Christian truth. What are those truths?
Basically and foundationally, what I am referring to is found in Job 34:
"If he [God] should set his heart to it
and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,
15 all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to dust."
There is also, of course, Job 38-39, where God's rebuke of Job includes some of the many ways in which God is intimately and presently at work throughout all the workings of the cosmos, including in what we now take to be basic physics. Some of what is mentioned in Job 38-39 is discussed as though in reference to how things were set up originally and in the distant past, but much of what God brings to Job's attention in those chapters are ways in which He is present and at work in the current works of nature that we now, generally thanks to Newton, take to be explained away by the laws of physics, to the exclusion of the current working and presence of God. "Have you commanded the morning since your days began?"
In other words, as I read Job 34 and Job 38-39 (and as I have experienced in my few experiences of "being taken up into the third heaven," I suppose one might be able to say), God's Spirit is alive, active, and present in everything, including the basic physical laws and workings of the universe. And, if that were not the case, the universe would, instantaneously, cease to not only operate in an orderly fashion but to exist in the first place. Also, considering Job 34: 14-15, it is not a leap to suggest that the hyperbolic language of the parts of Job 38 and 39 that speak of God's acting in the distant past - such as, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth...or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" - are not really about God's working exclusively in the distant past, anyway. "Have you commanded the morning since your days began?"
More specifically, Deism stands in opposition to Christianity because of these Christian truths:
I discuss this more in my blog series, as well, of which the previously referenced blog post was a part. I also mention the importance and relevance here of the Incarnation below, concerning the authority of scripture.
The Incarnation is, in the big picture through time / eternity, about God coming to dwell with humanity within and in the midst of His creation, as was intended from the beginning. More on that in the second to last blog post of my blog series on the History of Heaven and Earth, but, again, see Revelation 21:
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the DWELLING PLACE OF GOD IS WITH MAN. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I AM MAKING ALL THINGS new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the BEGINNING AND THE END. To the thirsty I WILL GIVE FROM THE SPRING OF THE WATER OF LIFE without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son."
The basic point here is, this does not paint the picture of DEISM, which is that of a distant God at work through "secondary causes", which are the laws that He designed. Rev. 21 paints a picture of the living God actively at work as the very source of all life - as per the verses from Job 34 that I quoted earlier, as well. "Beginning and end" implies everything in between, also. "The spring of the water of life" is not only spiritual salvation but simply life (ALL of life, not only humans) itself - eternally. And, obviously, the scriptures say "I AM MAKING" rather than "I DID MAKE." And, it says "I AM MAKING ALL THINGS NEW" as opposed to only making the hearts and lives of believers new. I take this to include all of creation, which obviously includes the "nature" that we now take to be subject to the "natural laws" to which the Deist refers to as "secondary causes."
As Rev. 21: 23 says, "And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb." Obviously, that is not in accordance with natural laws as we now know them. But, relevantly, one must keep in mind that Revelation is not only a revelation of future events but of the eternal truth(s) and original intentions of God for all of creation.
I discuss this more in the second to last post of my blog series, as well as in the 13th post - and here is a link to the index of said blog series, if interested - but here is what the wikipedia post on the modern de-emphasis on the resurrection of the dead (link provided only for reference) has to say:
"Early church fathers defended the resurrection of the dead against the pagan belief that the immortal soul went to the underworld immediately after death. Currently, however, it is a popular Christian belief that the souls of the righteous do go straight to heaven.
At the close of the medieval period, the modern era brought a shift in Christian thinking from an emphasis on the resurrection of the body back to the immortality of the soul. This shift was a result of a change in the zeitgeist, as a reaction to the Renaissance and later to the Enlightenment. Dartigues has observed that especially “from the 17th to the 19th century, the language of popular piety no longer evoked the resurrection of the soul but everlasting life. Although theological textbooks still mentioned resurrection, they dealt with it as a speculative question more than as an existential problem.”
This shift was supported not by any scripture, but largely by the popular religion of the Enlightenment, deism. Deism allowed for a supreme being, such as the philosophical first cause, but denied any significant personal or relational interaction with this figure. Deism, which was largely led by rationality and reason, could allow a belief in the immortality of the soul, but not necessarily in the resurrection of the dead.
Notably, when wikipedia says, "Although theological textbooks still mentioned resurrection, they dealt with it as a speculative question more than as an existential problem," it means to refer to the fact that people began questioning whether or not the Resurrection of Jesus really happened rather than digging into questions about how the Resurrection changed the nature of revealed Reality forever and gave shape to the mission of the church. Obviously, it was the skepticism of Deism that influenced said shift.
3. Authority of scripture
Again, I address this elsewhere in my blog series, in the 13th post, while discussing the interpretation of scripture. But also...and before I jump in here...to again quote the wikipedia post on Deism, two of the basic features of Deism were as follows:
• Rejection of religions based on books that claim to contain the revealed word of God.
• Rejection of religious dogma and demagogy.
These clearly and logically follow their basic picture of a Clockwork Universe, run by natural laws set up by a distant creator.
So, anyway, more directly speaking to the issue of the authority of scripture than what I previously addressed in my referenced blog series, here is what one of the most prominent theologians of the 1900's did with it:
"Although Barth's theology rejected German Protestant liberalism, his theology has usually not found favour with those at the other end of the theological spectrum: confessionalists and fundamentalists. His doctrine of the Word of God, for instance, holds that Christ is the Word of God, and does not proceed by arguing or proclaiming that the Bible must be uniformly historically and scientifically accurate, and then establishing other theological claims on that foundation.As the quote mentions, Barth was doing battle with the Fundamentalists, who were militantly bent on apologetically defending Christianity - against a line of thinkers who were and who owed their ancestry to Deists - with the doctrine of inerrancy. My point here, however, in the context of our discussion on Deism, is mainly to point out that said Fundamentalists, as part of their position of inerrancy of scripture, ARE "arguing or proclaiming that the Bible must be uniformly historically and scientifically accurate, and then establishing other theological claims on that foundation." They also, "believe the written text must be considered to be historically accurate and verifiable." What that boils down to, as far as I'm concerned, is this: in both reacting to and absorbing the truths of Deism, science, for the Fundamentalist, ends up having authority over scripture and Christ.
Some fundamentalist critics have joined liberals in referring to Barth as "neo-orthodox" because, while his theology retains most or all of the tenets of their understanding of Christianity, he is seen as rejecting the belief which is a linchpin of their theological system: biblical inerrancy. Such critics believe the written text must be considered to be historically accurate and verifiable and see Barth's view as a separation of theological truth from historical truth. Barth could respond by saying that the claim that the foundation of theology is biblical inerrancy is to use a foundation other than Jesus Christ, and that our understanding of Scripture's accuracy and worth can only properly emerge from consideration of what it means for it to be a true witness to the incarnate Word, Jesus.
The relationship between Barth, liberalism, and fundamentalism goes far beyond the issue of inerrancy, however. From Barth's perspective, liberalism, as understood in the sense of the 19th century with Friedrich Schleiermacher and Hegel as its leading exponents and not necessarily expressed in any particular political ideology, is the divinization of human thinking. This, to him, inevitably leads one or more philosophical concepts to become the false God, thus attempting to block the true voice of the living God. This, in turn, leads to the captivity of theology by human ideology. In Barth's theology, he emphasizes again and again that human concepts of any kind, breadth or narrowness quite beside the point, can never be considered as identical to God's revelation. In this aspect, Scripture is also written human language, which bears witness to the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Scripture cannot be considered as identical to God's self-revelation, which is properly only Jesus Christ. However, in his freedom and love, God truly reveals himself through human language and concepts, with a view toward their necessity in reaching fallen humanity. Thus Barth claims that Christ is truly presented in Scripture and the preaching of the church..."
That is WHY Barth referred to "the divinization of human thinking. This, to him, inevitably leads one or more philosophical concepts to become the false God, thus attempting to block the true voice of the living God. This, in turn, leads to the captivity of theology by human ideology." What is being referred to there as "philosophical concepts," in particular, are the modern scientific precepts that lead Christian Fundamentalists to take on the foreign burden of trying to prove that the scriptures are historically accurate and verifiable.
When it comes to DEISM in particular, which is basically what Barth was arguing against, in a sense, I wanted to point out this: "Barth could respond by saying that the claim that the foundation of theology is biblical inerrancy is to use a foundation other than Jesus Christ, and that our understanding of Scripture's accuracy and worth can only properly emerge from consideration of what it means for it to be a true witness to the incarnate Word, Jesus." In other words, the basic point is that God is present - ALWAYS - in and through the Spirit, working to bring His presence and reign to His creation through His Word made flesh, who is Jesus Christ. This Christ is living and active among the church, who is His body, and is the One "through whom all was made" and who we "will see coming on the clouds of heaven." Notably, clouds in the scriptures are symbols of God's PRESENCE. As noted earlier, this is not only about the presence of God "in our hearts" or at work in the lives of believers, although these are primarily where we now see God at work. See above on the Incarnation.
4. The issue of miracles
Again, according to the wikipedia site on Deism, one of the basic features of Deism was as follows: "Skepticism of reports of miracles, prophecies and religious 'mysteries'." And, again, this fits quite well with their basic idea of the universe as being run by a set of laws established at creation by the rather distant creator.
According to traditional Christian teaching, miracles are not breaks in the originally established pattern of how the universe works. Instead, according to Christianity, miracles are simply revelations of what is ultimately true. As per the above on the resurrection, the authority of scripture, and the incarnation, miracles are simply revelations of what is ALWAYS ultimately true and not only or simply what is true at the moment when the miracle is performed. To consider miracles to be revelations of God at work only in the moment when the miracle is performed is - again, as Barth pointed out concerning inerrancy - to give authoritative priority to empirical, observable, objective, measurable phenomenon as the source of truth. And, again, empirical reason as the source of any and all authority lies at the very basis of Deism - and not Christianity (although observation of the works of Jesus and of the Resurrection clearly plays a role in Christianity).
In terms of the way our society's history has played out, Deism belongs to and fits well with the world view that sees PROGRESS as the end or goal of mankind or of society. This search and expectation for progress is explicitly founded on human reason and modern empirical scientific knowledge. In Deism, man's role in this progressive view of man's history is that God gave man the ability to reason and improve the world in which he lives.
This PROGRESS which Deism represents and asserts stands antithetical to the ESCHATOLOGY of Christianity. One simple definition of "eschatology" is as follows: "a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind." These final events were discussed above in reference to the Incarnation. God has always intended to dwell here with man, to fill creation with His presence and beauty. Man's role in this "eschaton" ("end") is to be obedient to and hopeful in the Son's promise that is latent in the Great Commission. God sends His disciples to build up the church, which is a foretaste of His kingdom - inaugurated with the Resurrection - as it is present through the Spirit, through whom Jesus promised to be with us.
The end or goal of PROGRESS, which was taken up by Western society, culminated in two great World Wars that ended because of a weapon capable, through the reason and knowledge of modern science, of destroying the entire earth. Progress marched forward to the inevitable ends of sin and death through the domination of worldly powers. Since then, progress is less explicitly discussed as the goal of our society, but the idea still tends to dominate our thinking.
I take the actual (rather than idealized) "end" of "PROGRESS" to be a revelation of Christian truth, which stands antithetical to Deist sensibilities. The Christian truth to which I am referring is man's sin and corresponding need for God - in other words, the Cross. The world of the Deist has no room for the Cross, because the whole of the world is overtaken by human reason. As David noted numerous times in the Psalms, he does not trust in man's technologies to save him. As I am noting here, the weapon that ended WWII is a human technology, born of his reason. The whole point of Deism's vision for society stands in opposition to the heart of David and of the Kingdom of God. This truth of David, found ultimately in his seed and Lord, was paradoxically revealed in a mushroom cloud of hate and violence that is part of a self-fed cycle. Compare the image of that mushroom cloud to the image of the King of the Universe dying violently at the hands of worldly powers on the cross only to overcome and shame them through the Resurrection. "The cross shocks us into the devastating realization that our system of violence murdered God! The things hidden from the foundation of the world have now been revealed. The cross shames our ancient foundation of violence. The cross strips naked the principalities and powers." - Brian Zahn.
As Moses noted last night, reason can be beneficial - with God. But, ultimately, there are two different MISSIONS on which humans have been sent. One is to improve the lot of man through his own reason; the other is to make disciples of all nations, proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom through the blood of God in the flesh - in other words, through the Incarnation. Through Emmanuel, "God with us," who took the form of a suffering servant.
Applying what I said above about the Incarnation, then, to say that "God probably intervenes more than we realize" - and for those interventions to be breaks in the natural system that He set up from the moment of creation - is to assert a basic picture of reality that is determined precisely by the Deists rather than by Christianity. And, I don't intend to bash Moses - nor any other Dear Deist brother or sister - for that. I hope this blog post is not interpreted in that way! But, instead, the point of why our relationship to Deism is important is because of God's presence, love, and work in all of creation within and through all of history to overcome sin, death, and the powers of this world. And, obviously, each of us is included in "all of creation." In other words, my hope is that we all come to know God more closely and intimately rather than keeping God at the distance that is determined by foreign influences (i.e. - Deism). In accordance with the scriptures, I think that is God's intention and purpose, as well.
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