Saturday, December 20, 2014

Discussion: A World Split Apart #2

PIU faculty member M. James Sawyer has recently published his book, A World Split Apart: Dualism in Western Culture and Theology, on Kindle. As promised, we are discussing this book here and on my Facebook page (easier to manage comments there). The first half of the book discussion was posted last Sunday with the second half here. You can pick up Jim’s book for $2.99 at Amazon here and read it on your Kindle or computer. You can then join the discussion. Today I am looking at the rest of the book (17-34 in my copy) which continues from the discussion about Augustine through some application of Jim’s main point.

Jim continues with a discussion of the influence of Augustine and dualism on Western theology. Of course the key figure here is Thomas Aquinas who saw “a full-blown conceptual divide which sought the essence of God behind the Trinitarian Persons” which resulted in a “abstract and philosophical discussions about God that have virtually nothing to do with salvation history.” (18)

(Thomism) rescued theology from the otherworldliness of the Augustinian Synthesis and gave it a more earthly focus. At the same time, however, it introduced a rationalism which was in turn characterized by a dualism between natural and supernatural knowledge.

This also had a great effect on Reformation scholars…

What emerged through the Reformation was again a theology conceived and built on Augustinian-Neoplatonic dualistic categories, woven together with a Protestant reading of Scripture.

The next development in this dualistic epistemology was the application of Isaac Newton’s scientific dualism, which “posited a massive disjuncture between absolute time and space ,”gave rise to deism” and “bore the fruit of a mechanistic universe totally determined by natural law,” to philosophy in Immanuel Kant’s phenomenalism. Kant “drove a wedge between science and faith, separating them into two separate realms.”

To this day Kantian phenomenalism pervades Western culture. We see it not only in biblical and theological studies but also in the cultural insistence that faith belongs in the private and spiritual realm, the realm of the non-empirical and therefore irrational. 22


Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity showed the fallacy of Newton’s distinction between absolute time and space and relative time and space. Einstein showed that the only absolute physical constant or value in the universe is the speed of light. In fact, physicists have observed that light occupies a unique metaphysical place in the universe. This has in turn shown that the universe is contingent and open rather than necessary and closed.”  

This shows that the way to understand reality is not that there are “two unrelated and irreconcilable realms, … the natural and the supernatural, eternally opposed to one another; there is only one.” This has always been the biblical perspective…

Cosmic reconciliation of these two realms, the natural and the supernatural, is at the heart of Christian theology, and is portrayed vividly in the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21–22.

Though our sensory information is incomplete (and our revelatory information as well) we must have one basic approach for all of our thinking. God the Trinity is fundamentally relational and his observable universe reflects this. Thus,

We cannot maintain that there are two separate realms, “science” and “faith,” which are separated by walls and cannot be touched by one another. 26

Neither can we pit science against the Bible as is done by virtually all fundamentalists and a large majority of evangelicals, who read the surface of Scripture without delving into its deep structure. 26

As Athanasius observed, God can be apprehended but not comprehended; i.e., we can have a glimpse of the eternal inner being of God as Trinity. That glimpse comes through Jesus and his relationship with the Father. We as finite and fallen human beings cannot grasp the being of God in the intimate fullness of his eternal glory, but we can know God truly as he is in himself. 27

The application is that the Trinity must be the “starting point of all theological understanding.” God in relationship and connected to his created world must be the “ground and grammar” of all theology. Secondly, because this Trinitarian God is ultimately revealed in the person of Jesus Christ he must be the center of all theology. All of our thinking should be an outgrowth of this.

It is not dualism and separation that characterizes reality but interconnectedness, from the quanta at the most basic level of existence up through the complex and stratified systems that characterize the cosmos. This holism is not just physical—it extends to the spiritual. Rather than humanity and God being separated, with humanity struggling to get to God, humanity and God are now in union with one another through the incarnation of the eternal Logos, Jesus Christ. He is the integration point of reality. 29

It is interesting to me that while the world has been moving away from this modernistic, dualist, enlightenment epistemology, much of the American church has not only continued to embrace it, but insists that it is the only way to think about “the faith once delivered to the saints.” Dr. Sawyer has done us a great service to point out the fallacies of this type of thinking. 


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