This is a transcription of an address given by Dr. Willard on February 28, 1998, at Biola University in La Mirada, California, at the academic symposium on "The Christian University in the Next Millennium."
Iím speaking this morning on "The Redemption of
Reason" because I think that is the most salient thing I can talk about
from the point of view of my work as a philosopher. The task assigned to me by
Dean Wilkins was to address the philosophical pitfalls and prospects of the
attempt to interface reason and revelation in a Christian
university. I think one of the greatest needs today is to help people understand
how the situation between reason or understanding and revelation has changed in
our time, and specifically to understand that what is in trouble on our campuses
today is reason itself. Reason is in big trouble!
The task of the university in the next century is to redeem
reason and bring it fully into the camp of God. When I first began to
contemplate the topic of "reason in the university in the next
century," my first thought was "I hope it does better in the next
century than it did in this one!" And I believe it can by the power
of God. My claim will be that only the body of Christian knowledge and
intellectual method can redeem reason.
Please forgive me, but Iím going to plod along here for a bit.
Iíll just have to ask you to, in Biblical language, "gird up the
loins" of your mind and stay with me. So Iíll say that to you again: only
the body of Christian knowledge and intellectual method can redeem reason.
Now if you had said that in most places of intellect and knowledge in the
Western world at any time up to the First World War, the response would have
been, "Yes, what else is new?" But in the last fifty years or so, the
cultural transition has followed the wave of intellectual ideas that has been
developing for some centuries. In the words of Max Picardís wonderful little
book, there has been a "flight from God"óa cultural flight from God
and all of the automatic assumptions about life, intellect, truth, knowledge,
and so on, that prevailed in culture generally.
Bishop Butler, in the preface to his Analogy of Religion,
commented in a rather wry manner, that "certain advanced intellectuals seem
recently to have found out that Christianity is a hoax." Well that group of
intellectuals is extremely small, through the years it has grown, and only in
recent decades has it come to have the weight of cultural assumption on its
side. Once that came about, then reason itself, which was thought to be the
bulwark of humanity, for good and against evil, began to crumble. Then, for
reasons which I shall try to explain, reason could not sustain itself, and Iím
going to repeat for the third time, only the body of Christian knowledge and
intellectual method can redeem reason, in our time, and for the future.
Now let me give you a preliminary survey of the ground: The
contest now, in our culture and in our universities, is not between
revelation and reason. Reason is in as much or more trouble in the
academic world today, as revelation. Now I admit that in some cases this is
because the people who are attacking reason donít think revelation is worth
troubling with. But generally speaking, the human enterprise that is taking a
beating is reason.
The opponent of the Christian understanding of reality today
is a set of socially powerful ideas or prejudices. At one time they were called
"empiricism," and you have the fruit of that in the philosophy of
David Hume. A little later they were called "positivism," and you have
the fruit of that in the work of thinkers like Ernst Mach and Nietzsche. More
recently we find the "logical positivists," and the
"existentialists" in the middle of this century. The name for reasonís
current opponent is "naturalism." Naturalism is a form of what can
also be called "scientism"óthe idea that truth, and reality, is
marked out by the boundaries of the concretely existing sciences, and their
future. The central opposing idea to both reason and to revelation is that the
sense-perceptible world is reality. The so-called "public
world" (which is really not very public on most accounts when you get right
down to it), the sense-perceptible world, is reality. Now we can go
various ways from there, but thatís the basic idea. On this view, reasonóand
knowledge itselfóbecomes incomprehensible.
This is the fundamental fact of our time, from which reason must
be redeemed: the incomprehensibility of reason and knowledge in naturalistic
terms. Reason and knowledge are not to be found in the sense-perceptible
world. Itís just that simple. If you have to understand everything in terms of
the sense-perceptible world, reason and knowledge are gone. That is why you have
the many strained and forced interpretations of knowledge and consciousness and
reason, including all of the creative arts, and all of the areas of expression
of the human spirit that we study in the academyóthe forced interpretations of
these as sociological, as behavioral, or even chemical. Even the interpretation
of love has to be put in a naturalistic mold. Iím reminded of a man who said
"Sawdust is wonderfully nourishing if you will substitute bread for
it." When you try to put truth into the naturalistic mold, itís
gone. It is the same when you try to put evidence, when you try to put logic,
logical relationships, probability, all of these fundamental things into
a naturalistic mold. There are many dimensions of evidence, and many of them
fall in a very variegated way within what we would call
"sense-perception," but not sense-perception in the narrow sense that
the naturalist wants to take it. And so we have to simply understand that the
sociological, behavioral and chemical attempts to treat knowledge, reason, and
creativity are due to the fact that the only categories available are the ones
posed by the naturalistic world-view.
So of course, thatís why I say only the Christian
knowledge-tradition can save knowledge in our time. If we donít have that, we
have a constant struggle within our Christian schools with what one
writer has called "the problem of stemming the drift". The question
comes up, "What is it about higher academic life that seems to make it such
a hard-and-fast rule that given enough time, any institution, no matter how
rooted in orthodoxy, will sooner or later slip away from its anchors?" In
an article that appeared in "World Magazine" in May of 1997, Joel
Beltz tries to address this. He quotes Gaylen Byker, President of Calvin
College, on the problem. "The problem" is: How do you secure faculty
for first-class programs in Christian colleges, without losing them to the
secular mindset? When youíre hiring faculty you begin to think thoughts like,
"Is it really important that a math professor hold to his schoolís
theological position?" With regard to experts in the various subject
matters, Byker commentsóand itís very true in this simple statement he makesó"Itís
hard to justify hiring a third-rate Christian when you can get a first-rate
non-Christian." Those are his words, and I think we all understand this is
a serious problem, not something to be dismissed.
In that article, Joel Beltz comes up with a formulaic response
that is simply in terms of being faithful to a high doctrine of Scriptural
inspiration. Heís actually commenting a bit about Calvin College and the
debate that got underway when professors at Calvin and other folks in their
sponsoring denomination got wobbly on the doctrine of Scripture. Thatís when
the underpinnings get knocked loose. I agree with that. The question is what are
you going to do about it? I have a friend who says when he goes to France he
just speaks English louder. When weíre dealing with this problem, do we
just affirm the doctrine louder?
You see the real problem is how do we integrate a high
doctrine of Scriptural inspiration into the body of knowledge that makes up our
academic life? That is the real problem back of "drift." We
speak of the integration of life and faith, and of learning and faith, but that
means in practice we must have a theory of knowledge that incorporates an
authoritative Scripture. How does that fit in? With no special pleading, no
dodging, no evading, Ö how does that fit in?
Now you may feel like Iím taking unfair advantage of you
because Iím about to drag you through some of the hardest patches in
philosophy. And the reason for that is you simply cannot deal with these
questions unless youíre ready to face up to the question of "What
constitutes knowledge?" One of the reasons why people drift on the
authority of the Scripture is because they have been taught that somehow it is
in a separate category from other types of knowledge, so thatís what
they do: they put it in a separate category. They do their mathematics,
and their Slavic languages, and philosophy, etc., as if it were knowledge,
and then when they come to the authority of the Scripture and the contents of
the Scripture, suddenly thatís not treated as knowledge.
In fact, it isnít so much that it isnít treated as
knowledge, as that it doesnít even appear in the same category. That is
a compromise that has been worked out over a long period of time: first among
philosophers such as Spinoza, and later on thinkers such as Kant and Fichte, who
developed the view that the historical content of the religious traditions was
only a Faison de Parleóit was a manner of speaking, a way of saying something
that could be said better if you laid it aside and did it on the basis of
reason. So you have a compartmentalization, an idea that "Yes, we tell the
Biblical stories and all of that but we all realize that they teach something
which we all Ďknowí on a different basis." We can get past all of the
sectarian divisions, and we can have peace by making this little division here
so that religious faith as traditionally understood and realknowledge
never meet." That is the circumstance in which drift occurs, and drift
occurs because that is a falsehood - religious faith
and real knowledge do meet. You cannot keep them from meeting.
Just the fact that you have one person whoís trying to play both sides of that
street means that it can never succeed as a device.
What we have to do is recognize that. We have to
understand that the content of the Christian tradition stands on all fours with
any other knowledge tradition, and where they deal with the same thing, stands
as a knowledge claim on the basis of evidence. Authority is not opposed
to evidence; authority is a form of evidence. But we have to have a theory
of evidence that brings them together!
With that said, now Iím ready to begin. I want to tell you what
reason is. I want to tell you what knowledge is. I donít do this in
any high-handed way, I trust, but we need to have definitions before us to work
from. So letís just begin with reason itself. Iíll give you a very simple
description; I will not split and start all of the available hairs.
What is reason?Reason is the power to determine, by
thinking, what is the case. Really, it is the capacity to discern necessary
connections, hypothetical connections. This is true when you are balancing your
checkbook - you are using reason. You are saying if
this happened, and that happened, and the other happenedÖ I wrote this check,
I made that deposit, there was this service charge, thereís this much going
in, this much coming outÖ then thereís this much in the bank. Thatís a use
of reason. (Some of us may not be familiar with that particular case.) Anytime
youíre trying to puzzle out what is happening in the middle of an event on the
freeway sometime, youíre using reason. Other examples include trying to
understand your child, or grading a paper. Of course those are loving
activities because we want to be able to find contact with the mind of
the other person involved, and itís a great use of reason.
Reason is the power to determine or discover what is the case
by thinking. We see it in its formal properties in Logic. One of the
indicators of the sad state of reason in our culture today is thereís almost no
training in logic now in our universities. I have to take my undergraduates
aside and say "Now I know you donít have to take a course in logic but I encourage
you to take a course in logic." And to those who are Christians, I use the
old saying of L.T.Hobhouse, the old English philosopher who used to say
"All that religion requires of philosophy is a fair field and no quarter
given," because thatís exactly right, and when you learn it on that
basis, youíve got something. But these days, you can earn a Ph.D. and
never know the difference plied between non-sequiter and post hoc ergo
propter hoc - youíre never required to
learn those things.
Now you more or less fit into a particular field and you learn
how the ball bounces in that field and you try to keep the ball bouncing. Thatís
often thought to be good method. Thatís one reason why in the Academy today
people are judged in terms of where they come out, rather than by how they got
there. And that is a fundamental failure of intellectual virtue, which should
indeed judge where you come out by how you got there, instead of judging
how you got there by where you come out. But increasingly in our culture, reason
is put in a position of defending a corner of the academic map for oneself, and
reason, as Freud might say, has degenerated into "rationalization."
What is knowledge?Knowledge is the capacity to
represent things as they are, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience.
That definition is purposely designed to incorporate the authority of tradition
and the authority of scripture, properly chastened. We learn a lot about
evidence by looking at how the tradition of knowledge has developed in the Bible
and from there on. When God comes to Moses, he identifies himself in terms of a
previous experience with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then Moses is a point of
reference as the "structure of verification," if you wish, for
religious authority, and revelation moves down through time until it comes to a
head in Jesus Christ himself. When Jesus comes, he fits himself perfectly into
the revelation that had already been given and completes it. That is an
appropriate basis of thought and experience. If you want to know what God is
like, you have to take it in those terms. Youíre not going to be able to
derive a knowledge of what God is like simply from a blast of your own
experience or from some clever thinking that you did one day after breakfast.
We have to understand the nature of evidence. That is a large
part of the task that stands before the Christian universities today: to
reinterpret and come to an understanding about the nature of evidence. All
of the professions today, in my judgement, are in epistemological crisis because
any solid sense of evidence has departed and been replaced by "good
professional practice." And so evidence has become a Ďsociologicalí
reality, and then what do we do with the verse that says "Thou shalt
not follow a multitude to do evil"? Well if youíre following the
multitude for your evidence, you donít have much choice left, do you?
Now, we need to say, because of the history of our circumstances
at this point, that reason is not inherently bad. Knowledge is not a bad
thing, it is a good thing. Reason is simply a natural ability; the ability to
know is a natural thing. It is like the ability to grow corn, cook chicken, and
do all the other things that we need to do to stay alive -
thereís nothing wrong with it, itís good. God made it, it is
good. Like all of the aspects of the human being that God has created, theyíre
good. But it may be taken as a place to stand independently of God, and even
against God, which it also has in common with all other human abilities.
And that is what has happened in the last one hundred years in our academic
culture. If you have not read George Marsdenís book, The Soul of the
American University, go out and read it immediately. One of the bookís
most telling passages is where he explains the encounter between William Graham
Sumner and Noah Porter who was president of Yale in the 1890s. The heart of that
discussion is very simple: Sumner wanted to use a book by Herbert Spencer, on
sociology, and Porter objected that Spencerís book did not include discussions
of God. Sumnerís reply is like the point where you go over the waterfall. His
reply was simply that the subject matter had "nothing to do with God."
It had nothing to do with God! Now Noah Porter realized the significance of
this, and thereís a wonderful statement that Dr. Marsden includes in his book,
where Porter is saying "Everything teaches theology, itís just a
question of which theology," and he cites Spencer and others. We all
face this issue today. Itís a question of whether weíre going to teach the
theology of B.F. Skinner, or Carl Sagan, or somebody else. Teachers of any
subject need to understand that we allteach a theology, because when you
teach a subject matter in a way that God is irrelevant, you are teaching a
theology. And the Christian theology is precisely that God is not irrelevant to anything.
(More on this later.)
The problem is that reason can be socially corrupted. And
what you see in Sumner is the result of two or three centuries of the social
corruption of reason. The deeper issue here, as always, is "What is to
count as knowledge?" You see, Spencer and Sumner, and now nearly
everyone in the academic world, simply define knowledge in such a way that what
can be known is something that God has nothing to do with. But that isnot
a discovery! That is a decision. They did not discover
this, they decided it! The weight of history had pushed them along, itís
true, to the point where they thought, for their own professional
respectability, they had to make that decision. And it is important to
understand that the skids really began to move at this point because the old
model of responsibility for knowledge before God ó which was basically that
the president, or perhaps a community minister, or some of the more
distinguished members of the faculty would interpret the whole college career to
the student in the light of Christian revelation ócould no longer sustain
itself in the face of specialized knowledge. Noah Porter could not
convincingly come back to William Graham Sumner and say, "You donít know
what youíre talking about." You see, the growth of specialist
knowledge posed a problem for Christian intellectual leadership in the
Academy which it was never able to get over.
So the deeper issue here is "What is to count as
knowledge?" And the decision that you see in Spencer and in Sumner has its
roots back in people like Spinoza. Spinoza wrote a book called Tractatus
Theologicus Politicus (or Politico Theologicus) on the relationship between
theology and politics. It is worth your time to read it because Spinoza
more than anyone else gave great impetus to what is called "higher
criticism," and the function of higher criticism is very apparent in
what Spinoza has to say in his book. Its function is basically to disarm
historical traditions and authoritative texts, and to put them in a position
where they can be reinterpreted as having a local cultural significance,
but not significance as conveying truth about reality. That now is going
to be left to the sciences, and to philosophy of course, and the State will
stand back and not enforce theological truths, which of course is a major issue.
In Holland, where Spinoza lived at that time, Mennonites where hunted down and
burned at the stake. This is not a small thing is it? But with the good
comes a time-bomb, and it ticks away: the irrelevance of the content of
historical revelation to reality.
Then we have the positive side which is seen most clearly
in a piece of writing by a Frenchman named Condorcet, that he entitled
"Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind."
This is a very ironic piece. Condorcet wrote it while he was in hiding from the
French Revolution, which he had earlier sponsored, but which killed him before
he got the book written. Itís full of confidence about the progress of the
human mind on the basis of scientific knowledgeóknowledge of scientific laws.
Scientific laws are of course to be interpreted precisely in the naturalistic
way which I have described already. This is how weíre going to solve every
conceivable problem, including the problem that we still talk about today -
itís so amusing to see how these things keep going -
that weíre going to overcome aging and death on the basis of natural law. We
will also learn how to make people virtuous and happy. Thatís the positive
side. What do you need religion and priests for, if you have science?
Well, this has not exactly worked out. But Liberal thought (I
donít use that in a derogatory term, but descriptively), Liberal thought as itís
historically understood, including Liberal theology, adopted this course that
you see both in Spinoza and then later in Condorcet. It buys into the idea of
the scientific, and of knowledge as defined by the scientific, and puts it in
another category in opposition to faith. I think many of you know that story.
The reaction, on the part of Fundamentalism (again I donít use
that as a term of derogation but rather as a descriptive term), was mistakenly
to attack reason. I was educated in Christian colleges, and I know how bad this
can be at times. The very idea that thought is wicked (and you can quote verses
on that), that the imagination is evil, and the idea that there is nothing good
in human beings, leads to trying to blot out every element of creativity in
thought and action. I was in a very confused tradition: Iím Southern Baptist.
In that tradition, we will preach to you for an hour that you can do nothing
to be saved, and then sing to you for half an hour trying to get you to do
something to be saved. That is confusing!
So there are real problems here. Mistakenly, the Fundamentalistsí
general reaction was interpreting the problem to be reason, not wrong
reason (of course there were exceptions). Itís like the people who quote Paul
from Colossians II about "vain philosophy," and suppose that the
answer is to respond with no philosophy at all. I hope if I advise you
against vain clothing you would not suppose it is appropriate to respond with no
clothing at all! So there was a progression that really went on, by and large,
the disowning of particular fields from the authority of the Christian
tradition. The disowning of knowledge as such, regarding it as outside of scope.
So many times in Christian institutions the idea was that, "We really do
spiritual life here and we protect our students from those bad people in the
other universities. We do what is necessary to qualify them for jobs, but we donít
think of honoring the intellectual or artistic life in its own right because
somehow that would be ungodly."
The next stage is how reason itself, left on its own, left
without the life-giving sustenance of the content of Scriptural revelation,
falls victim to Empiricism and Positivism. Itís a long story; I donít have
time to tell it. The patron saint here is Nietzsche. Nietzsche himself was the
dupe of all kinds of shallow and unconvincing philosophical positions, most
notably Phenomenalism or Positivism. He simply buys the whole bag. The weight of
authority falls on him, and actually he gives a theory which justifies it anyway.
(Thatís always nice to do if youíre going to be irrational: give a good
reason for it.) But Nietzsche is now the patron saint of irrationalism on the
campuses generally. The idea is that everything is an expression of power, so
then all of the very real problems in our culture about diversity, oppression,
and so on, are brought to bear on this, and the idea comes to be now that even truth
is oppressive. Logic is a "male conspiracy"Ö You actually hear these
Reason itself is a part of the problem, because reason gets
formed in a cultural way, so that those in power can oppress the weak. And guess
what? Thereís a lot of truth to it. A lot of truth. But fundamentally,
it is used to undermine the role of reason as an authority, and reason cannot
sustain itself because it does not fall within the naturalistic world view. So
it is pushed over into that world view, and standards of reason and rationality
are then treated sociologically or behaviorally. Itís only when you get into
philosophy that you find any attempt to even say that they are chemical, but
thatís quite a stretch, so standards of reason and rationality are usually
treated sociologically or behaviorally and, frankly, they are lost.
Reason cannot sustain itself on its own, as no natural created power can. Reason
was never meant to function on its own, any more than any other of our natural
powers - sexuality, abilities to cultivate the
landscape, to work with chemicals and physical powers, and so on. None of that
was ever meant to stand alone. Reason wasnít either. It wonít stand on its
own. And so we come to the point now, that reason must be redeemed.
Reason must be redeemed because it falls under the influence of
fallen patterns in our social context. Letís look at a passage from C.S.Lewisí
wonderful book, The Screwtape Letters. This is a prophetic book. Iím
stunned when I read Lewis, especially these letters. I see Lewis as standing
mid-stream, where everything weíre discussing now is sweeping past him and heís
standing there knowingly watching it come. What he says is prophetic because it
has become increasingly true.
In the first letter you have Screwtape saying:
My dear Wormwood,
I note what you say about guiding your patientís reading,
and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are
you not being a trifle naÔve? It sounds as if you suppose that argument was
the way to keep him out of the Enemyís clutches. That might have been so if
he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time, humans still knew pretty
well when a thing was proved and when it was not, and if it was proved they
really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared
to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what
with the weekly press and other such weapons, weíve largely altered that.
Your man has been accustomed ever since he was a boy to having a dozen
incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesnít
think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as
"academic" or "practical," as "outworn" or
"contemporary," as "ruthless" or "conventional."
Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the church.
Donít waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true.
Make him think it is "strong" or "stark" or
"courageous," that itís the philosophy of the future, thatís
the sort of thing he cares about. The trouble with argument is that it moves
the whole struggle onto the Enemyís own ground. He can argue too!
Whereas in really practical propaganda of this kind Iím suggesting, He has
been shown for centuries to be greatly inferior to our father below. By the
very act of arguing you awake the patientís reason, and once it is awake,
who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be
twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have strengthened in
your patient, the fatal habit of attending to universal issues, and
withdrawing his consciousness, his attention, from the stream of immediate
experience. Your business is to fix his attention on that stream. Teach
him to call it "real life," and donít let him ask what he means by
You see, the flow of human events around academics proves that
they too are sinners. They too are ready to give in to the pulls and pushes of
the social context. Another little piece by Lewis called "The Inner
Ring" is one of the most important things for any Christian academic to
read. It is a story about how we hunger all of our life to be included. And that
is one of the main reasons why reason has to be redeemed. I often jokingly say,
but not so jokingly, that the lie most commonly told in my context is "Oh
yes, Iíve read that book." Now why do we say that? Because we want to be
included, we donít want to be left out. We want to be "in." The
whole word "party" is an interesting word; it means "to be a part
of." We like to be included; we like to be brought in. Only the strength of
a greater community that is provided by Jesus Christ can stand against that. And
thatís why Paul refers to the church as "the pillar and ground of
truth" (I Tim. 3:15).
It is only the person in a redeemed relationship to God that can
stand for truth. Truth is too hard. You often hear the verse quoted to the
effect that "The truth will make you free." The truth will not
make you free! That verse doesnít say that! Read the whole thing! Itís about
discipleship: "If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples
indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
(John 8:31-33) But today we no longer have to know the truth. On the
elevator in the Humanities building at USC it just says "ÖThe truth will
make you free." Truth will not make you free -
itís probably better said "the truth will make you flee."
Truth is hard to live with. And that is one reason why there has to be a
community of redemption that comes down to earth and provides a context in which
people can truly walk free, in the truth, because they are supported by their
spiritual redemption before God in relationship to Him. Theyíre living in what
I call "a conversational relationship with God."
I want to spell out in rather full detail just exactly why
reason has to be redeemed. Iíll give you just three premises and a conclusion.
First of all, standards generally cannot be maintained unless you can
maintain ethical standards. Standards generally cannot be maintained -
and reason in a social context is a matter of sustaining standards -
unless you can maintain ethical standards. Why? Because courage is
required, as well as justice and compassion. I have learned that you can be
completely rigorous with your standards and people will still respect you, love
you, and not drop your course (which arenít necessarily all the same thing,
but theyíre all important), if they understand that you are being courageous
and fair and loving about something of vital importance. Weíve lost that in
our culture! A recent newspaper article stated that "Fs" have
apparently totally disappeared from the grades at Princeton. Now you and I know
thereís something wrong when that happens. It reminds you of that line from
Garrison Keeler about Lake Wobegone, "Where all the children are above
average." This wonít work mathematically, but I presume itís good
social policy. So standards cannot be maintained unless you can maintain ethical
Secondly, you cannot maintain ethical standards unless you
can effectively present them as grounded in reality. Socially ethical
standards must be founded in reality, that is, as an expression of what is the
case, of how things are. The Ten Commandments are an expression of truth about
human lifeótheyíre truth about the human context, thatís why God gave them
to us. Itís important to keep this in mind when we think about all the
oddities of our educational system. I often point out that we can be thankful
that God didnít give the multiplication tables to Moses, because then we
wouldnít be able to teach them in our public schools. Unfortunately, the Ten
Commandments couldnít wait.
Third: You cannot present ethical standards as knowledge of
reality if knowledge and reality must be interpreted within the empiricist,
positivist, naturalist framework of ideas. Again itís back to the case of
sawdust being nourishing if you substitute bread for it. What you get
substituted for ethics in the naturalistic framework is not ethics. You look at
so-called "professional ethics" today and thereís nothing,
classically, that you would call "ethical" about it. Itís all about
how to stay out of troubleÖ with your clients, with the law, and with your
fellow professionals. Thereís nothing in professional ethics about how to use
your profession to be a good person. Nothing! And if you know of something
contrary to that would you please tell me? I go around the world saying these
kinds of things and Iíd like for it to be tested against experience. If you
show me an ethical code of any of the professions that says anything about being
a good person, Iíll buy you lunch. You cannot present ethical standards as
knowledge of reality if "knowledge" and "reality" must be
interpreted within the empiricist, positivist, naturalist framework of
I feel very cheap to just dump that on you. I teach ethical
theory constantly, and Iím prepared to reason with you about that if you have
Now because those three premises are true, it follows, reason
cannot prevail within the naturalist paradigm. And reason will not
prevail. Of course generally now, if youíre familiar with post-modernist talk,
you know itís ordinarily assumed that reason goes along with technology and
you have two magical words which you chant when the topic of reason comes up:
Hiroshima and Auschwitz. And these are taken to prove that reason has failed,
from the other side.
In his Presidentís Report to the Harvard Corporation for
1986/87, Derek Bok comments on the problem of teaching and fostering moral
development in the university. He has reason to do this because several
outstanding graduates of Harvard had recently been escorted to jail from Wall
Street. And so heís reflecting on this. In this report he states that,
"The churches no longer succeed in forming character." Interesting
observation. "But," he says, "perhaps the universities should
look into this matter." Well, you almost want to say, "Wrong
turn!" But on the other hand, Bok realizes that the universities have
had responsibility for this. He knows the tradition well enough. As a very well
informed man, he knows that in the past universities did assume a lot of
responsibility for this. (Again, read George Marsdenís book to see the depth
to which this is true.) So he wonders about this and sort of chides Harvard and
other universities for not doing it. Now unfortunately, if he had walked across
to Emerson Hall, and inquired of the people who perhaps are thought to be most
knowledgeable about this, he would have discovered that there is no such thing
as moral knowledge. And itís very hard to have "development"
of anything of which you have no knowledge!
Now why is there no moral knowledge? Again I just have to lay
that on you, and I would be happy to try to say more about it later, but thatís
the situation weíre in today, there is no moral knowledge. People often
wonder, "why has there been such a fuss about Ďpolitical correctnessí?"
Answer: there isnít any other kind of correctness. Thatís disappeared as a
topic of discourse.
Now in my final moments, Iím going to try to say very
specifically what we, as Christians, might begin to do about this. How are we to
be redemptive? How are we to redeem reason and understanding? How are we to
bring back a social framework within which reason can fulfill her God-appointed
function? Please understand my claim: Reason cannot stand on its own. It cannot
stand on its own. It will be swamped by the sinfulness which is present
as an actual reality in the most exalted corridors of learning. What one finds
today is there are no original sins. It would be refreshing if we could find one
sometime. But when youíre standing around with the highest levels of learning
you find that itís drearily present, and this desire to fit in, the desire to
advance oneís self, the desire to be secure and so on, which are of course are
valid needs, they simply corrupt the power of reason and make it serve at the
mills of the Philistines like blinded Samson.
Hereís what we must do: using Lewisí terminology, we must
institutionally and individually treat the content of mere Christianity as
a certified body of knowledge. This is going to be a tremendous effort, and
nothing Iím going to say now in these closing moments is going to be easy. But
I say it again: treat the content of mere Christianity as a certified body of
knowledge. Lewis used that phrase basically to shear off all of the odd
accretions that usually come to us from our more or less recent history -
you know, which way you get baptized and so on. The doctrine of the Trinity, the
incarnation, the presence of Christ in his people, the authority of the word,
and so on, thatís "mere Christianity." Treat it as a body of
knowledge and stop acting as if it were something else. Strip that gear in your
transmission which allows you to intellectually shift over when you come to the
doctrine of the Trinity, the resurrection of Christ, the origin of matter from
mind, and so on. The Biblical tradition is a tradition of knowledge. Many of you
may be getting uneasy at this point, wondering "Whatís happening to
Grace?" You know: work, knowledge, effortÖ Grace is not opposed to effort,
itís opposed to earning. Jesus said "without me you can do
nothing," and you can be sure if you do nothing itíll be without Him. So
in all firmness, in love, in openness, in humility, we say "This is
knowledge, it is certified, it is certifiable to anyone who will look
into it." You hear of people who decided to look into the resurrection, and
how many of them believed. Now I donít know, there may have been some that
werenít converted ó they didnít write a book. But Marsden and Wallace and
all these other famous people looked into it. You see, it just needs to be
looked into! We donít need to be high-handed, we donít need to be
arrogantówe must not be arrogantówe must live in the spirit of
Christ. We must love our neighbor as ourself. If my neighbor is Jaques Derrida
or Nietzsche, heís still my neighbor. I will love him as myself, and Iím
going to be faithful to him in truth.
Secondly, confront the main issue at every turn. Again, I
say institutionally and individually because we cannot go this alone.
Individual faculty members can do a lot, and thank God for the heroes, but we
need to stand together and we need our institutions to encourage us. On the
other hand, we canít send Clyde Cook out front and let him get his pants shot
off, if weíre not prepared to stand behind him in our fields. That is often
what happens to college presidents. They stand up for stuff that the faculty
wouldnít be caught dead defending in their professions. I donít mean to be
unpleasant, but my heart goes out to these men and women who stand up like this.
We must stand with them: weíre the ones who have to deliver the goods.
I said we never got over that hump of specialist knowledge that effectively shut
the mouths of the people who stood as spokesmen. People like Noah Porter. When
you stand up as president youíve got to have people backing you who say,
"Yes, Iíll deliver the goods. You write the order, and I will deliver the
goods. Iíll deliver it in sociology, Iíll deliver it in Slavic literature, Iíll
deliver it in algebra. I will deliver the goods."
We confront the main issue at every turn. The main issue is the
reality of the Spirit- the reality of the Spirit and
of the Spiritual. We have many people teaching, even in some of our Evangelical
seminaries, who will dodge this like it was a silver bullet. The reality of the
spirit is (and here we come back to the very heart of theology): God is spirit.
Itís often shocking to people when I tell them God doesnít have a brain. But
He is spirit, and He doesnít have a brain. He doesnít miss it,
doesnít need itÖ Everything is a "no-brainer" to God.
Thirdly, make a point of specifically treating our subject
matter in relation to God. I suggest that at least one whole lecture in each
course in a Christian university should to be devoted to the relationship of the
subject matter to God. One whole hour, specifically devoted to a consideration
of how the specialized knowledge of the academic discipline being studied in
that class fits into the comprehensive whole of the reality of our
knowledge of God.
You canít force people to do this, and Iím not talking about
that. Iím talking about leadership opening the way. Suppose the members of the
Christian Coalition of Colleges and Universities took this as an ideal, created
a web page, and started a discussion. Iíll tell you, it wonít be hard once
you get into it. Itís like jumping into a cold swimming pool: itís hard when
youíre entering. But this can be done, and Iím suggesting that every
Christian faculty member should, as appropriate, develop one lecture for each
course which explicitly relates their subject matter to fundamental Christian
doctrine. "What does Pascalís theorem have to do with the Trinity?" -
it might be more interesting than you expect. No jive, no forcing, just hard
honest thinking accompanied by the grace of God.
Fourth, devote one week of research each year to exploring the
connection of my subject matter to fundamental Christian doctrineó"mere
Christianity." After a few years you might not need this and thatís good,
you can go fishing or whatever you like to do. But keep at it until itís
done,Ö until itís done.
And fifth, institutionally and individually, we must refuse
to allow the secular mind to continue to define what counts as knowledge.
This is the bedrock issue: what counts as knowledge. Thatís why William Graham
Sumner said what he did about using Spencerís book. What counts as knowledge?
Donít farm this out to your Philosophy or Theology Departments. Each of us
needs to work it through. Ministers desperately need to work this
through, and work it through carefully. It isnít an endless task and you donít
have to have a Ph.D. in it. On the other hand, Christian faculty need to lead
the way. Thatís what weíre Christian faculty for, isnít it? We need
to lead the way. But if ministers began to teach and talk about this, as some
do, then weíd have a lot less Christians coming to our universities and
hanging on by the skin of their teeth, if at all, until they have finished their
requirements and gotten out to where they can begin to practice their religion
privately, and conduct their profession in secular terms.
If we approach it this way, we will solve the problem of
freedom in the Christian academy. The problem of freedom of thought is an
absolutely crucial one. One of the things we know is that it cannot be settled
by force. You cannot stuff things down peopleís throats, and thank God
you canít. The problem of freedom in the Christian academy is solved by
intellectual leadership. That is what can stop the drift and set the students
freeóthe strength of the leadership of intellect on the campus.
Well I must finish. Thereís a brochure out in the foyer about
the C.S. Lewis Foundationís upcoming conference. It has a wonderful title:
"Loose In the Fire." That would be a good thing to put on your
bathroom mirror. "Loose In the Fire," isnít that a wonderful phrase?
You know where the story this is fromÖ (break in the tape) Öall the academic
music. You hear this music and youíre going to bow down, or youíre going in
the fiery furnace. And these guys said "We donít even need to have a
committee meeting! Weíre going in." And you remember the king, after he
threw them in (and some men even got burnt throwing them in), said, "What?!
We put three in there. Thereís four! Loose, walking in the fire!"
The power of God will be with us, as we walk loose in the fire.