Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Warfield on Rationalism

The cultural pressures faced when articulating, proclaiming, defending and preserving Christian doctrine change. The most insidious threat comes not from overt unbelief seeking to batter down the walls of the Church, but from the internal weakness and fear caused by the external pressures of unbelief. If we lose our nerve we can end up reconfiguring Christian doctrine so that it makes peace with the dominant thought forms of contemporary unbelief.

Knowing something of the impact of unbelief on Christian doctrine, especially as it has occurred over the last two hundred years, is far from being an academic exercise. The nature of the unbelief causing pressure changes (modernism and postmodernism), but the process of unbelief realigning doctrines around a different epistemology and locus of authority remains.
"Rationalism" never is the direct product of unbelief. It is the indirect product of unbelief, among men who would fain hold their Christian profession in the face of an onset of unbelief, which they feel too weak to withstand.

Rationalism is, therefore, always a movement within the Christian Church: and its adherents are characterized by an attempt to save what they hold to be the essence of Christianity, by clearing it from what they deem to be accretions, or by surrendering what they feel to be no longer defensible features of its current representations.

The name historically represents specifically that form of Christian thought which, under the pressure of eighteenth century deism, felt no longer able to maintain a Christianity that needed to appeal to other evidences of its truth than the human reason; and which, therefore, yielded to the enemy every element of Christian teaching which could not validate itself to the logical understanding on axiomatic grounds. The effect was to reduce Christianity to a "natural religion."
B. B. Warfield, "The Latest Phase of Historical Rationalism," in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield vol. IX Studies in Theology, p. 591

1 comment:

rgmann said...

Of course, “rationalism” itself is not the culprit, but rather an unbiblical man-centered rationalism that wickedly rejects God’s inescapable revelation (Rom. 1:18-32). In other words, the problem stems from sinful men choosing an arbitrary and unjustifiable “axiom” or “first principle,” not with rational deductive reasoning itself. Only the Christian “first principle” -- the Bible alone is the word of God -- is able to “validate itself to the logical understanding on axiomatic grounds,” to use the words of Warfield. As Vincent Cheung points out:

“A rationalistic worldview with an arbitrary first principle cannot succeed. Although the deductive rationalistic approach is far superior to the inductive empirical approach, it also results in failure… Our strategy for biblical apologetics begins with the recognition that Christianity is the only deductive system with a self-consistent and self-justifying first principle that has been infallibly revealed by an all-powerful and all-knowing God, and that is broad enough to yield a sufficient number of propositions to construct a comprehensive and self-consistent worldview. Christianity is the only true worldview, and it alone makes knowledge possible. All other systems of thought collapse into philosophical skepticism, but since skepticism is self-contradictory, one cannot remain in such a position, and Christianity is the only way out of the epistemological abyss.” (Ultimate Questions, p. 22)