Monday, October 8, 2018

From Reformation to Enlightenment

Continuing an examination of N.T. Wright’s Gifford lectures, with Lecture 2 The Questioned Book: Critical Scholarship and the Gospels.

The Reformed appeal to ‘original meanings’ in order to renew the Christian faith.  Rationalists appeal to ‘original meanings’ in order to undermine the Christian faith.

It is an interesting connection made by Wright, perhaps offering one of the most disastrous examples of a revolution (unintended by Luther though it had been) being hijacked.  Certainly a case where the enemy of my enemy is an even worse enemy?

Since both Reformers and Rationalists were opposed to medieval Christianity, they effectively combined bringing a Protestant energy and style to the skeptical task, leaving Protestants who wanted to hold on to the Christian faith with a largely ahistorical platonic idealism.

Do you believe in the Virgin birth?  Do you believe in the physical Resurrection? “Yes” is not allowed in polite company, in the rational and reasonable west.  The Rationalists have torn such ideas to shreds, leaving those who want to hold on to the Faith with a bag of rocks.

The debate has manifested as “the confused noise which follows from the pursuit of social and cultural agendas by other means.”  These are seen in the debates between right and left; we see the signs of this in the political discourse.

Wright discusses the current state of Christian eschatology: for heaven to come on earth, the current earth must be destroyed.  The view is based on prophecies in Daniel and Ezra.  Wright offers that this is a new idea, and one not held by those who wrote and lived at the time of the authorship of these books – who instead were considering a way out of the current condition: the exile.

Whatever one’s belief on end-time theology, it is certainly clear that many Protestants today cheer on war in the Middle East, offer unqualified support for the state of Israel, and look at the current situation as the sign that Armageddon and the 1000 years is imminently upon us.  The current earth must be destroyed.

If the world is coming to an end, to be replaced by the Kingdom of God, the chances of inferring anything about the latter from the former are effectively nil.  If heaven is coming, earth has to be abolished.

Since the current world must be destroyed to bring on God’s Kingdom, why bother looking for evidence of God’s Kingdom in the current earth?

And, when Europe was set ablaze by Queen Victoria’s squabbling grandchildren in 1914 – the Kaiser, the Tsar, the King – with all the rest cheerfully trundling off to war, it all came true: Valhalla fell…

…and the dying cheered. 

A result of the rationality and reason of man set free from both the mystery and the history of God and Christ.  The world had to come to an end so that something new could be born.  Given that this end-of-the-world event was wholly created by man, we see that what was born was not God’s heaven on earth, but man’s hell: communism, fascism, liberal democracy, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, firebombing, the nuclear age. 

Technology unchained from morality.  We can only pray that this hell extends its reach no further.  Sadly, in too many churches across the west, other prayers are being offered.

By the late 1930s – and believing that the Great War had done its cleansing, end-of-the-world duty – many believed the utopia was here, “either through Hegelian progress or the Marxist Revolution.”  And when it didn’t happen – for example, when Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the Nazi-Soviet pact – hope crashed to the ground.

So much for progress; so much, too, for Hegel.


Starting from the Enlightenment and its path to Epicureanism, heaven and earth were set radically apart from each other.

There is this dark side of the Enlightenment.  It seems that the dark side begins and ends with man subtracting God from the equation – subtract the Light and what is left but dark?  Nietzsche, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, announced the already-transpired event. 

And what did man replace Him with?  After chastising man for killing God, Nietzsche’s madman saw the future well, in 1888:

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out.

"I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."

You can decide which part of that would benefit from adding italics.

The “tremendous event” can be found beginning in 1914 and continuing to this present day.  The deed that was done long before?  The Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the valid reasons for the Reformation – all played a role. 

Take your pick.


Genesis 11:4: Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Proverbs 11:2: When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.


  1. Yet again bionic you knocked my socks off, I think your work needs more recognition. Elaborating on these topics is fundamental, and while I regard NAP as the same it matters not without foundation. Perhaps the separation of church and state isn't such a good thing, but I grew up in a religious home, I grew to dislike it until I matured, can you touch on what else might govern, because not all people are as God fearing as i

    1. Thank you, Dave.

      When I am thinking of things like Christian leaders acting like Christian leaders, I believe I leave room for the non-God-fearing.

      Christian leaders: if they speak out against war, militarism, torture, unquestioned support of Israel, unlimited government spying...all quite consistent with Christ's teaching, this would be a start toward a more free society.

      My point is not to look for converts; my point is that the culture would slowly change. Many non-believers live as if they believe. It would help if Christian leaders preached as if they believe.

  2. "Given that this end-of-the-world event was wholly created by man, we see that what was born was not God’s heaven on earth, but man’s hell" - Bionic Mosquito

    This reminds of that wonderful Omar Bradley quote:

    "We live in a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants, in a world that has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. We have solved the mystery of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about dying than we know about living."

    "It seems that the dark side begins and ends with man subtracting God from the equation" - Bionic Mosquito

    I'm thinking more and more that this is the key issue. Without God, there is no law above the institutions of Mankind and thus no effective check on earthly power and vice. It's as if a master builder came among us and started building for us wonderful houses and assembly halls, and before he was through, in our hubris, we decided to outcast him and use his tools for ourselves to complete the buildings according to our own vision, with tragedy as a result.

    "One who substitutes the master carpenter to chop the wood,
    Rarely does not hurt his hands." Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

    Hoppe and Rothbard both have created their own marvelous rational proofs and delineations of the libertarian ethic, and I believe if implemented, each would work, at least for a time, but how are we to bring a non-aggressive society into being, and how are we to keep it that way? Most people don't know Hoppe or Rothbard nor would they have the patience to read through and understand their impressive (and perhaps irrefutable) logical and empirical arguments for peacefully competitive and consensual authority. People as a whole are just moved by something other than Reason, and when Reason is given sovereignty, it usually ends up in the hands of much less disciplined practitioners than the likes of Hoppe and Rothbard and tends to have as its result the reign of madness rather than of rationality.

    “A madman is not someone who has lost his reason but someone who has lost everything but his reason” - G.K. Chesterton

    1. "Without God, there is no law above the institutions of Mankind and thus no effective check on earthly power and vice."

      ATL, I personally agree with you, but so others around here don't get the idea that I am after establishing a theocracy...I am just fine with culture and tradition playing the role, as traditions that enhance life will naturally survive.

      Further, allowing culture and tradition to play this role removes the possibility of man-made legislation - the most dangerous situation that we find ourselves in today..

    2. So when God ordered His people to commit genocide and mass rape that made it okay?

  3. Yeah, Wright says here that the expectation of the earth to end is incorrect. But in his 4th lecture he seems to be at least defending an intense event as he looks through apocalyptic writing and genre.

    Part of what he means might be that the Kingdom of God doesn't wait until the earth is destroyed to be "inaugurated". It won't come to completion until that destruction, but the Kingdom was birthed at the Resurrection. We live in the Kingdom now in a subtle way. Your point about Christian leaders I think bears out this idea of Wright's. We live as the Kingdom is on earth today even though Jesus isn't on the earth today like at the end.

    I encourage you to watch the 3rd as he discusses what history is and how accurate history must be built. It is only through this proper building of history that we can understand the Gospels and Natural Theology, etc.

    1. The third lecture is on the agenda for the next day or two.

  4. "Do you believe in the Virgin birth? Do you believe in the physical Resurrection? 'Yes' is not allowed in polite company, in the rational and reasonable west."

    The "rational" and "reasonable" West has established its own theocracy. To wit:

    In at least a dozen different European countries, Holocaust denial is illegal. In those same dozen European countries, Resurrection of Christ denial is not only legal, but celebrated.

    No matter. The chattering classes have taught me well. I live in constant fear of the encroaching Christian theocracy.

  5. As if the establishment of God's Kingdom on Earth, once and for eternity, is in our hands! Vanity indeed.
    His Day will come as a thief in the night.

  6. I would love to read your comments to the Peter Thiel and N.T. Wright conversations. There are two of them on Youtube.

  7. This might be worth your time. Very similar back-and-forth.

  8. So the Medieval age was the best: the uneducated, short-lived masses wouldn't question the powers that be or how the world really works?

  9. "If the world is coming to an end, to be replaced by the Kingdom of God, the chances of inferring anything about the latter from the former are effectively nil. If heaven is coming, earth has to be abolished."

    Earth does not have to be abolished, and will not be. Man will run riot, under the direct influence of Satan, and the earth will be badly damaged, so much that if the Lord does not intervene, no one would survive. See Revelation chapters 19 & 20.

    The Lord will rule for 1000 years and during that time the earth will be healed, and the abundance that existed right after man was cast from the garden, will exist once more. People will live long lives, so long that person who dies before they are 100 will have done so because they rebelled against the Lord.

    This universe will, in the end, be destroyed after one final rebellion soon after the 1000 year reign of Christ. The heavens and earth will be recreated, and God will come to earth to live among His people. Heaven will then exist on earth.

    1. This is one interpretation of many, and a debate I prefer to avoid here.

      I presented this point as was presented in the N.T. Wright video. Because I do this should not suggest endorsement.