Liberal Education After the Fall

Must a student be baptized before pursuing the true, good, and beautiful? That questioned occurred after reading Fr. James Schall’s summary of Tracy Rowland’s lecture on Roman Catholic education.

For Rowland and Schall, the Trinity informs the study of everything and so Christianity is at the foundation of any genuine education:

…the basic Catholic approach to education is that there “exists a relationship between the human intellect, the theological virtue of faith, and the transcendental of truth; there also exists a relationship between the human will, the theological virtue of love, and the transcendental of goodness, and there exists a relationship between the human memory, the theological virtue of hope and the transcendental of beauty.” The transcendentals—one, being, good, true, beautiful—are predicates we can apply to everything that is. They reflect in our being the inner relation of the three persons within the Trinity.

It is possible to pass through schools, even at the graduate level, and not really learn much of truth or of what is important. This result can happen also in Catholic schools. Thus, we need graduates who actually have “Catholic intellects, Catholic wills, Catholic imaginations, and Catholic memories.” They need to be conjoined in a proper order of soul. We want to know the truth, to control our own disorders, to imagine what can enlarge our vision. A Catholic memory will know of its saints and their foibles, of glories and tragedies.

But I wonder why a Christian approach to education, one that takes Genesis 3 and the triumph of Augustinianism over Pelagianism seriously, wouldn’t first start with fallen human nature and the incapacity for those, either unregenerate or unbaptized (depending on your communion), to see the Trinity in the true, good, and beautiful because unbelievers are turned in on themselves. In other words, doesn’t a Roman Catholic view of education presuppose that professors and students are baptized and belong to the same communion?

Schall goes on to explain that Rowland acknowledges that not all students have the same intellectual capacities:

This is not an evil, but an aspect of a common good that makes it possible to participate in a broad range of goods and fruits of labor, and insights of others. Some will be more gifted intellectually than others. Some will have greater hearts, be more insightful, or possess skills or virtues that are good. Not everyone is a genius. Indeed, studies show that only about twenty percent of students are able to grasp subtle abstract points of knowledge. The teachers and schools must know and attend to the differences.

An educational egalitarianism that presupposed that all students have the same capacities, talents, and discipline will probably end by teaching very little to neglect the real needs and skills of actual students. Some students will be more attracted to truth, others to goodness, others to beauty, and still others to all sorts of practical and unexpected things. “Human lives can turn into narrative wrecks if educators produce people who can think at high levels of abstraction but are emotionally retarded or who lack sapiential experiences, or who conversely are emotionally sensitive but have no intellectual framework with which to make judgments about their inner life.”

But imagine the narrative wreck that comes with a failure to acknowledge that students can’t understand the Triune God without a prior work of grace, that all students try to suppress the truth in unrighteousness apart from God’s saving work.

If Christian education is going to be redeemed, doesn’t redemption need to be part of the conversation?

The Spirit Neglected

I’m not sure what branch of Protestantism Father Dwight belonged to before he converted, but surely you don’t need to be a speaker of tongues to know the importance of the Holy Spirit in accounting for true faith Protestant-style. Somehow, though, Father Dwight believes that faith invariably proceeds from reason (and not from the mysterious operation of the Spirit):

Like most Freemasons, Franklin had a spiritual blind spot. There was nothing wild and mystical in his life. Passion and romance in religion were alien to him. His creed was one of common sense, mild-mannered good works and human virtue. As such it was not only blind. It was bland.

I came across a quotation of his the other day which sums it up. He wrote, “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.” It is the sort of sophomoric bromide one expects from rationalist, and it doesn’t stand up to even the mildest of objections.

It is understandable, however. Ever since the nominalists suggested that material things had no connection with the unseen world and were no more than what you call them, a divide had been growing between the physical and the metaphysical realms. The Protestant Revolution confirmed the break, and the Enlightenment hammered it home with the French and American Revolutions.

If there was a divide between the spiritual and the physical realm, then preachers could have nothing to say about science, and scientists had no concern with religion. Science and reason dealt with this world and religion with the world to come, and that was that.

Consequently, the Protestant religion became either an abstract debate about theology or a subjective, emotional experience. In other words, you could be a bookish Bible nerd or a hellfire, “come to Jesus!” weepin’-and-wailin’ preacher. Neither had much to do with the material realm, and neither had much use for science and reason. Thus Benjamin Franklin’s conclusion that to “see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”

Fideists and fundamentalists distrust the man of reason as much as he distrusts the man of religion. Therefore, even today many Protestants take an intentionally anti-intellectual stance, agreeing with the rationalists that faith and reason are incompatible. Blind Benjamin Franklin is father to them all.

Standing in contrast to this impasse is the Catholic religion which has always contended that faith is reasonable and reason requires faith, or as Pope St. John Paul II put it, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

Perhaps, but if you take the fall seriously (which is arguably the bottom line difference between real Protestants and Roman Catholics), reason doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. As the British divines explained (but Father Dwight apparently did not read):

5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. (Confession of Faith, chapter 1)

Nevertheless, Father Dwight thinks that a belief in the resurrection, for instance, is not that different from testing a cat for feline leukemia:

From that foundation of personal observation and reliance on tradition the scientific enquirer proposes a theory to explore and discover further. So does the religious enquirer. Both devise a theory to meet the facts and answer a question that has arisen. The enquirer then tests the theory with experimentation–gathering data and experiences and processing them through intuition, reasoning and further reliance on tradition. Should the experiment fail, he uses the error to refine the theory and continue his exploration until he finds a satisfactory answer.

This is precisely what the informed and intellectually engaged religious enquirer does. He has certain experiences which are analyzed and filtered through tradition and he goes on to explore further, analyze experience, test reality, reject what is false and affirm what is true, and as he continues his exploration and experimentation he uses a combination of personal experience, tradition, reason and intuition to analyze and construct a working hypothesis.

Then, for both the scientist and the religious explorer there comes a step which we can call “faith.” The homework is done, the data is collected. The experience is analyzed, the tradition is accepted, the guesswork is completed, and the theory has been tested as thoroughly as possible. The scientist or the religious enquirer then changes his actions based on the new belief which he has come to accept based on this process.

In point of fact, a much better explanation for faith comes from the side of an affirmation of total depravity and the inherent limits it puts on human reason. As J. Gresham Machen explained, the miracle of the resurrection makes a lot of sense if you consider the enormity of the human predicament post-fall:

In one sense, certainly, miracles are a hindrance to faith − but who ever thought the contrary? It may certainly be admitted that if the New Testament narrative had no miracles in it, it would be far easier to believe. The more commonplace a story is, the easier it is to accept it as true. But commonplace narratives have little value. The New Testament without the miracles would be far easier to believe. But the trouble is, it would not be worth believing. Without the miracles the New Testament would contain an account of a holy man − not a perfect man, it is true, for He was led to make lofty claims to which He had no right − but a man at least far holier than the rest of men. But of what benefit would such a man, and the death which marked His failure, be to us? The loftier be the example which Jesus set, the greater becomes our sorrow at our failure to attain to it; and the greater our hopelessness under the burden of sin. The sage of Nazareth may satisfy those who have never faced the problem of evil in their own lives; but to talk about an ideal to those who are under the thralldom of sin is a cruel mockery. Yet if Jesus was merely a man like the rest of men, then an ideal is all that we have in Him. Far more is needed by a sinful world. It is small comfort to be told that there was goodness in the world, when what we need is goodness triumphant over sin. But goodness triumphant over sin involves an entrance of the creative power of God, and that creative power of God is manifested by the miracles. Without the miracles, the New Testament might be easier to believe. But the thing that would be believed would be entirely different from that which presents itself to us now. Without the miracles we should have a teacher; with the miracles we have a Savior. (Christianity and Liberalism, 103-104)

Father Dwight may have a point about Ben Franklin’s blind spots (is shooting fish in a barrel really intellectually compelling?). But did Father Dwight miss the log creating his own blind spot?

Regeneration, Intelligence, and Philosophy

May we have a little clarity on the nature of regeneration, puh-leeze? Sorry to pick on the neo-Calvinists again, but a common construction of regeneration among those who stress the antithesis is to attribute to the supernatural work of the Spirit the intellectual genius of believers. This interpretation is strongest among the neo-Calvinists who are philosophically inclined. Because they can unearth the epistemological roots of an idea or argument, and because they operate in what at times seems like a Manichean universe divided between the knowers (of Christ) and the ignorant, these neo-Calvinist philosophers believe they hold the keys to discerning the work of the Spirit. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of the fall and now allows Christians to interpret reality correctly, and even see the philosophical basis for all things.

Never mind that the arguments for Christian schools contradict this understanding of regeneration. If regeneration does produce a new w-w, then why is education necessary? Shouldn’t the regenerate already have the tools, by virtue of the illuminating power of the Spirit, to understand all things correctly? But if covenant children and the w-w challenged need to appropriate the value added material that comes from the w-w cognoscenti, then is the Spirit’s work in regeneration really responsible for a new outlook on the world? Or could it be that a w-w is much more the product of human instruction about the fundamental truths of epistemology and metaphysics, or Christian teachers who give a faith-based reading of the arts and sciences?

Another wrinkle here, by the way, is the folly that apparently afflicts believers not only about the world but also about the faith. Remember that Paul call the Galatians and Corinthians foolish even while considering these folks to be saints, that is, people who had experienced the work of the Spirit in regeneration. Also, consider that a w-w does very little justice to catechesis. In fact, in communions where w-w has expanded, catechesis has generally declined. At the same time, regeneration is no solution to the hard work of memorizing a three-figure set of doctrinal answers. It takes time, discipline, and memory.

So what we need is clarity about the noetic effects of regeneration. And we also need to distinguish among those effects, the native intelligence of persons that comes providentially from genes, family environments, and temperament, and academic proficiency in a particular area of human investigation. Clarity may start with a reminder about the nature of the spiritual illumination in regeneration. According to the Shorter Catechism:

Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. (WSC 31)

. . . when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds. (Dort III/IV, 11)

What sure seems clear to me is that regeneration has a narrow effect — it allows a person who had no interest in Christ to understand his need and to trust the work of Christ. It is a kind of knowledge, but it is not even necessarily knowledge of well-formulated doctrine. At the same time, regeneration does nothing to take someone from a low to a high IQ. Nor does regeneration place someone all of a sudden as a graduate of a Masters-level curriculum in western philosophy. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of sin. It does not change the brain or a person’s mastery of a body of thought.

At the same time, neo-Calvinists enraptured by western philosophy may want to remember what Calvin and Kuyper, Mr. Paleo- and Mr. Neo-Calvinist, had to say about the learning of pagans.

If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws, and all useful arts. Those men whom Scripture [I Cor. 2:14] calls “natural men” were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true good. (Institutes II.2.15)

. . . the unbelieving world excels in many things. Precious treasures have come down to us from the old heathen civilization. In Plato you find pages which you devour. Cicero fascinates you and bears you along by his noble tone and stirs up in you holy sentiments. And if you consider your own surroundings, that which is reported to you, and that which you derive from the studies and literary productions of professed infidels, how much more there is which attracts you, with which you sympathize and which you admire. It is not exclusively the spark of genius or the splendor of talent which excites your pleasure in the words and actions of unbelievers, but it is often their beauty of character, their zeal, their devotion, their love, their candor, their faithfulness and their sense of honesty. Yea, we may not pass it over in silence, not infrequently you entertain the desire that certain believers might have more of the attractiveness, and who among us has not himself been put to the blush occasionally by being confronted with what is called the “virtues of the heathen”? (Lectures on Calvinism, 121ff)

What is important is that Calvin does attribute to the Spirit the knowledge that pagans possess. Truth, wisdom, and intelligence do not exist independent from God. At the same time, the wisdom of pagans is spiritual work that does not include regeneration. It is in effect another iteration of the doubleness that 2K tries to maintain. In the same way that Christ rules the work of redemption differently from the order of his creation, so too the Spirit works upon the minds of people differently, with the illumination of regeneration providing a knowledge distinct from understanding politics, the liberal arts, or even neo-Calvinists’ beloved philosophy.

So once again, neo-Calvinism’s failure to follow Kuyper and figure out how to affirm a common realm that exists somewhere between the holy and the profane bites them in their argumentative backsides. Without that common realm, believers — whether fundamentalist or neo-Calvinist — will try to baptize everything and turn all truth and wisdom into the blessings of redemption and special grace.

Forensic Friday: Who's Lutheran Now?

From Luther’s sermon for the seventh Sunday after Trinity (1534):

Thus St. Paul says: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey: whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” and this means, as you now through grace are bound to obey God and live according to His Will. For you must be in the service of one master, either of sin which brings you into death and the wrath of God, if you remain in it it, or of God in grace, to serve Him in newness of life. Therefore you must no longer be obedient to sin, for you are now released from its power and dominion.

Sin will not be able to rule over you, for you are no longer under the Law but under grace. That is, you can now resist sin because ye are now in Christ and have received the power of His resurrection.

Either Luther was reading Vos, or the forensic-centric reputation of Lutherans is a caricature. Or maybe the priority of justification was biblical after all.

Hi, I'm A Christian So I Can Be Trusted

Well, that’s actually a complicated assertion since the holders of 2k do not appear to be trustworthy people from the perspective of 2k’s critics. Let me explain.

A repeated contention against 2k is that it relies too much on general revelation or the light of nature. Not only is general revelation apparently insufficient for unbelievers who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. But supposedly the only way to interpret general revelation is through the lens of special revelation. In response to the assertion that Christ rules the kingdom of the world by the work of his Spirit through general revelation and common law, 2k critics objected as follows:

Are we to understand from this that Christ only rules the Church directly, by his Spirit and Word? And that He rules everything that is non-church (or the whole of culture itself) through an undefined work of His Spirit in general revelation and through the consciences of the unenlightened people of Romans 2:15? Is this the second kingdom of light? Incredible. . . .

To imply that a Biblically undefined work of the Spirit, and the enlightened consciences of the unconverted referred to in Romans 2:15 can “restraint eveil in those outside the church” . . . is a “stretch” unknown to the Reformers and to us. Therein lies the core problem of NL2KL. (Letter to the editor, Christian Renewal, Jan. 12, 2011, pp. 6-7.)

(NL2KL refers to natural law and two kingdoms of light, and implies that to hold to two as opposed to one kingdom of light is incredible.)

Like so much in the neo-Calvinist and theonomic schemes, this looks good on the screen and appears to make sense. But it’s a lousy philosophy for living in a world where we have neighbors who not only suppress the truth of general revelation but also can’t begin to fathom the teachings of Scripture apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. I mean, the critics of 2k don’t really intend to suggest, do they, that my unbelieving neighbor can open her curtains and see the glory of God and perceive some elementary principles of justice only if I give her a Bible and she begins to read it? Don’t 2k critics believe that a proper understanding of Scripture can only come from the work of regeneration? In which case, my neighbor will never see God’s glory until she believes.

In which case, the anti-2k complaint against the sufficiency of general revelation goes much deeper than a point about the relationship between the two books of revelation. That deeper level is that unregenerate people cannot be trusted. They don’t have the Bible or the Spirit and so cannot see the truths and order God has revealed in creation or their consciences.

One implication of this at the level of everyday life is how Christians can summon up enough trust to venture on to the roads and highways with unbelievers? Will the unregenerate or biblically illiterate see the signs and obey traffic laws? Do Christians go to the public library and expect to find the books placed on the shelves incorrectly because of a disbelieving shelver? How could unbelievers ever pull off such quotidian conduct without interpreting general revelation first through the lens of Scripture? And how could they do this apart from saving faith?

At the upper ranges of human existence – those having to do with justice – could Christians ever allow for non-saved police, judges, legislators, governors, or presidents? In fact, doesn’t this way of understanding the relationship between general and special revelation force 2k critics to require a religious test for holding public office? In which case, do 2k critics ever vote for non-Protestant politicians? And do they inquire of Protestant candidates if they have really been saved? Gilbert Tennent wanted accounts of conversion experience from prospective pastors. Now we want them from political candidates?

Well, actually, at one time in U.S. history we wanted some sign of regeneration for citizens to be able to enter into the simplest aspects of life as a citizen – and this is another one of those implications the 2k critics don’t seem to consider. In a very good book on church-state relations in nineteenth-century America, The Second Disestablishment, Stephen K. Green reminds readers of the barriers to the judicial system posed by distrust of non-believers:

. . . for a witness, juror, or declarant to be competent to testify or undertake a legal obligation, he had to assert a belief not only in God but also in the accountability of his soul after death for swearing falsely. The rule was far-reaching, extending beyond the competency of judicial witnesses to include all forms of oath taking, including will execution and office holding. In contrast to the federal Constitution’s ban on religious tests, all of the original thirteen state constitutions had imposed or retained various religious requirements for public office holding and civic participation that included oath taking. The oath requirement was viewed, according to one advocate, as a “means of divine appointment for securing faithfulness in official station.” Because of these requirements, religious nonconformists could not aspire to public office, enter into many legal agreements, bequeath property, or file suit and testify to enforce their legal rights. . . . nonconformists were barred from testifying as witnesses or serving as jurors. Many of the important attributes fo citizenship were thus closed to non-Christians. (p. 178)

So in an ideal world, where the magistrate did not tolerate blasphemy or idolatry, not only would non-Christians be prevented from worshiping but also from participating in public life. Is this the kind of society that anti-2kers want? This would, of course, be heaven, but haven’t 2k critics heard of the dangers of immanentizing the eschaton?

And just to make my complication complete, how do 2k critics deal with those who hold the 2k position? Some of the reception that 2k receives is great distrust. In fact, the distrust heaped upon 2kers seems to exceed that held against politicians in the Democratic Party. One explanation could be that 2kers don’t begin political and cultural reflections with appeals to the Bible. But another could be that 2kers are actually unregenerate.

I don’t mean this as a joke. It is a serious matter. And the reverse is just as serious. If I am regenerate, then the 2k position disproves the anti-2k argument because 2k shows that regeneration does not require beginning and ending reflection on the natural order with Scripture. If regenerate people can appeal to general revelation instead of the Bible for understanding some matters of morality and social relations, then how can 2kers be untrustworthy? Obviously, the anti-2k position is that 2kers should not appeal to general revelation without starting with special revelation? But if 2kers are regenerate and therefore, from the anti-2k perspective, trustworthy, they why the distrust? Shouldn’t regeneration make 2kers trustworthy?

The easy answer to that riddle is to say 2kers are not regenerate. And that may explain the Gilbert Tennent-like histrionics that so often greet 2k.

Forensic Friday: Machen on Paul

There could be no greater error, therefore, than that of representing the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith as a mere afterthought, as a mere weapon in controversy. Paul was interested in salvation from the guilt of sin no whit less than in salvation from the power of sin, in justification no whit less than in the “new creation.” Indeed, it is a great mistake to separate the two sides of his message. There lies the root error of the customary modern formula for explaining the origin of the Pauline theology. According to that formula, the forensic element in Paul’s doctrine of salvation, which centers in justification, was derived from Judaism, and the vital or essential element which centers in the new creation was derived from paganism. In reality, the two elements are inextricably intertwined. The sense of guilt was always central in the longing for salvation which Paul desired to induce in his hearers, and imparted to that longing an ethical quality which was totally lacking in the mystery religions. And salvation in the Pauline churches consisted not merely in the assurance of a blessed immortality, not merely in the assurance of a present freedom from the bondage of fate, not merely even in the possession of a new power of holy living, but also, and everywhere, in the consciousness that the guilt of sin had been removed by the cross of Christ. (Origin of Paul’s Religion, p. 279)

Where's Waldo Wednesday: Machen on Regeneration

Regeneration, or the new birth, therefore, does not stand in opposition to a truly scientific attitude toward the evidence, but on the contrary it is necessary in order that that truly scientific attitude may be attained; it is not a substitute for the intellect, but on the contrary by it the intellect is made to be a trustworthy instrument for apprehending truth. The true state of the case appears in the comprehensive answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to the question, “What is effectual calling?” “Effectual calling,” says the Catechism, “is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel.” That does justice to all aspects of the matter; conviction of sin and misery as the prerequisite of faith, the enlightening of a mind blinded by sin, the renewing of the will; and all these things produced by the Spirit of God. (What is Faith? pp. 135-136)