Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Accepting the World's Theories

Once upon a time there was a thing called Neo-Platonism. And it was the great enemy of Christianity. Not only was there a tendency for our enemies to embrace it, but Christian thinkers time and time again fell into this way of thinking. But now this philosophy has been relegated to obscurity, and most people have no idea what it even taught. And we can be puzzled why anyone was even tempted to incorporate this belief into their faith. It is very easy for Christians to fall into the mindset of their time. It is all around us; it seems obvious; it is the only reasonable way to think. We can think it is obvious; certainly all these scholars cannot be wrong; certainly we do not want to be looked on as stupid and unintellectual. But the things one age sees as obvious are often the very things the next age sees as ridiculous. The Neo-Platonists thought change was a bad thing, and therefore the physical world that was fraught with change was inferior to the unchanging world of mental ideas. Today we see change as a good thing and deplore anything unchanging as stagnant. And the irony is that both groups have claimed their position to be obviously right and have felt that no reasonable person could possibly think otherwise.

The Scripture has many pointed things to say about trust in human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 3:18-20; Colossians 2:8). We are also are told not to be conformed to this present world, which is hostile toward God (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). Therefore, the Christian can never simply assume that what everyone knows or what all the scholars say is true. During the Middle Ages, in order to stave off the attack of Neo-Platonism, the established church adopted the philosophy of Aristotle. This philosophy became firmly entrenched in their theology and in their view of the world. The result was that when there later arose Copernicus and Galileo, who questioned that view, they were opposed by the ecclesiastical authorities. (The issue was more complicated than that and tends to be simplified in popular lore, but the main issue was whether you were for or against the Aristotelian view of the world.) And the moral that is so often drawn from this is 100% backwards. The real moral is that we must careful of baptizing any secular philosophical view, no matter how congenial it may seem at the time. Now I am not suggesting we be anti-scientific or anti-intellectual. I am, however, suggesting that we need to carefully study such things to determine what is and is not really proven and that we not be too quick to assume that because the scholars say it, it must be true. And I particularly think we should be very wary of revising our theology to accommodate the current belief system. For in a few hundred years (if the Lord tarries), the whole thing could be totally irrelevant.

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