VERITAS – The Puritan Pursuit of Truth

The Puritans, preserving the line of faithful and orthodox Christians, have always had a passion for Truth. This pattern was established in the story of the Bereans who asked if what the Apostle Paul was saying was true (Acts 17:11). And how would they know? They searched the scriptures.

There are two sources of Truth: God’s work and his word. Psalm 148 reminds us that all creation communicates about God’s existence and his nature. Paul reiterates, in Romans 1:20, that all human beings can know that God exists and something about his nature through the things that he has made.

Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin spoke of two books: God’s Word – the Special Revelation comprised of scripture, and His Works – the General Revelation of Creation.

Three other reformers–Campenella, Comenius, and Alsted–spoke of three books:

  • The book of revelation – Special Revelation – The Bible
  • The book of nature – General Revelation – Science (a la Aristotle)
  • The book of the mind – Reason or Logic – Philosophy (a la Plato)

Truth is found at the intersection of the books of Scripture, nature, and reason. Comenius writes of the tripartite revelation for truth: “the only true, genuine and plain way of Philosophy is to fetch all things from sense, reason and Scripture.” Puritan Historian Dr. David Scott says that “Comenius went on to say that the end of scholarly endeavor is not to merely add to the wood pile of human knowledge, but to grow a living tree that from its roots to its boughs and fruit reflects the image of the words and works of its divine Creator.” [1] (For more on this subject see Dr. Scott’s excellent paper A Vision of Veritas: What Christian Scholarship Can Learn from the Puritan’s “Technology” for Integrating Truth .)

William Ames (1576-1633), the French Huguenot Educational Reformer, wrote of the three books,

Thus, let us not become the slaves of anyone, but performing military service under the banner of free truth, let us freely and courageously follow the truth …. Testing all things, retaining that which is good, let Plato be a friend, let Aristotle be a friend, but even more let truth (veritas) be a friend.

When, eight years after landing in New England, the Puritan fathers established Harvard College (now Harvard University) to educate pastors and civic leaders, they enshrined VERITAS with the three books in the college’s shield.

truth in Harvard logo

Harvard’s first mission statement was explicitly Christ centered:

Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17.3 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.

Christ is the focus of all of life and vocation. It was this that laid the groundwork for their Christian culture and self government.

Sadly, the Western world today is no longer founded on a Biblical worldview. And only the Biblical Worldview provides a foundation for free, just, prosperous, and compassionate nations. The four dominating worldviews today are Biblical Theism, Secularism, Evangelical Gnosticism, and Monism.

In a Biblical worldview, all truth is God’s truth! There is One God and one reality – created and fulfilling His design. Truth is comprehensive and integrative, a unified field of knowledge. Truth is integrated; no dichotomy exists between the sacred and the secular.

With the rise of the Enlightenment in Europe and Darwinian science in the West, the Biblical worldview was abandoned for that of Secularism or Atheism. As the West became increasingly secularized, the general population, as well as many Christians, denied their roots in the Biblical worldview. Living in fear of Atheism, and wishing to avoid engaging with Atheism in the playing field of ideas, Christians adopted the ancient Greek Dualistic worldview as their own. This allowed a separation of the spiritual from the secular, and faith from reason, what could be called Evangelical Gnosticism. As the spiritually dead Atheistic Materialist worldview dies in the West, people are looking for a new paradigm that allows for the “spirit.” Because the Sacred/Secular dichotomy of the modern Western Church does not offer a comprehensive framework to answer life’s basic questions, Western culture is drifting into Neo-Paganism or postmodern Animism.

These worldviews see the relationship between reason and revelation in fundamentally different ways.

Revelation and Reason – Biblical theism acknowledges that reason and revelation from God’s Word lie at the heart of Veritas. There is a unified field of knowledge that all people should come to understand. Truth is objective. Veritas is what brings freedom and economic prosperity to nations. This is the framework of orthodox Christianity. It was held by the early church, the early church fathers (Augustine and Aquinas), the Reformers (14th-16th centuries) and their Puritan successors. This led to the rise of modern science and the founding of the United States.

Reason without Revelation – Biblical theism gave way to Rationalism – reason without revelation. This was the paradigm of both Deistic Enlightenment (17th-18th century) and Modern Atheism (19th-20th century), the belief that all knowledge begins and ends with man. It was promoted by Kant, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Hume and provided the framework for the French Revolution. Darwin’s theory of evolution made life without the Creator seem plausible. Reason without revelation became the framework. Truth, morals, and beauty became relative. Mainline Protestantism was born by the adaptation of Christianity to this framework.

Revelation without Reason – As the influence of Rationalism spread and segments of the church adopted it, the majority of church leaders reacted. These wanted to remain faithful to the orthodox teaching of the church and identified themselves as Fundamentalists. But instead of defending the Biblical worldview that establishes orthodoxy, they abandoned Christianity’s foundations to opt instead for the sacred-secular dichotomy of the ancient Greeks. As mentioned above, this movement may be called Evangelical Gnosticism (which began at end of the 19th century and remains today). Most Christians today regard the spiritual realm as the only thing of importance. All things secular are deemed “worldly,” of inferior value to things sacred, as opposed to the biblical view which recognizes that spiritual and secular are different yet equally important. This was a move to Fideism – revelation without reason. Its fruit included anti-intellectualism and eventually an abandonment of the culture. Without VERITAS, the church became orthodox in name only.

Neither Reason nor Revelation – As we enter the 21st century, the soullessness of Rationalism is causing people to reevaluate their lives. As mainline denominations mimic the world and Evangelical Gnosticism abandons culture, a vacuum waits to be filled. The West is now turning to Irrationalism – denying both revelation and reason – for solace. Rooted in animistic worship of creation, this Neo-Paganism does not look for Truth, believing there is no such thing, but instead seeks personal well being and feeling good. God is conceived as one undivided spirit. The search is for the “god within you.”

Orthodox Christianity is born from seeking Truth through God’s works and His word. It has rejected the malformed:

  • Fideism – revelation without reason
  • Rationalism – reason without revelation
  • Irrationalism – neither revelation nor reason

The Puritans, inheritors of Christian orthodoxy, were what Dr. Leland Ryken called secular saints. They pursued Truth – VERITAS, and understood it to be comprehensive and integrative, with no separation of nature from grace, nor science from technology. They reasoned from the moral and metaphysical grand narrative of scripture.

Their technologia is not to be confused with the modern concept of technology – applied science, or technique, which separates the technical from the moral. Technology and technique deal strictly with, “Can we do it?” They raise no moral question such as, “Ought we do it?”

The word Technologia is derived from techno – “skill” or “art,” and logia – “the study of.” It means “the study of the theory of the integration of all the arts and science.” In their usage, technologia was a Latin transliteration of a word … an applied system of relating all knowledge and its proper use in life. They provided us with our outlook on all Creation and the inner life of the spirit.

To say it a little differently, technologia is the organizing principle for a virtuous life, a life of purpose (connecting life to the advancement of the kingdom of God).

For self-governing citizens who would build a free, just, compassionate, and prosperous society … the concept of technologia is imperative.

-          Darrow Miller

 


[1] David Scott A Vision of Veritas pg 14/24

 

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8 Responses to VERITAS – The Puritan Pursuit of Truth

  1. Dennis Warren says:

    When speaking of how God reveals Himself, I seem to remember while reading the “Emancipating” book (I’m a little over half way through) about Jesus being the living word (revelation) … and I think also something about the Holy Spirit playing a role in revelation. I guess I’m wondering why in this post we don’t also see something like a third word beginning with the letter ‘R’ :

    For instance:

    — Revelation, –Reason, and –Relationship

    where “Relationship” might entail communication through prayer (perhaps involving the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing to our remembrance the things Jesus said).

    btw – Thanks! – the “Emancipating the World” book is helping me understand some things which have been difficult for me to understand previously.

    -Dennis

    • admin says:

      Dennis, it is always good to hear from you and to hear your thoughts. Great idea if I were working on an alliteration. But the content was specific around the “three books”: special revelation, general revelation and reason. Another reader wrote that she had heard that “Psalm 19 illustrates vividly the general revelation (verses 1-6); reason and the mind (vs. 7-11) and special revelation (vs. 12-14).” David got it right long ago.
      - Darrow

  2. Dennis Warren says:

    Just a quick follow up thought;

    Perhaps our conscience, or our moral sense, might also qualify to some lesser extent as a factor in our quest for arriving at some absolute truth, rooted in the nature of our creator.

    I suppose our conscience be considered a part of the “works of God”, but I’m thinking it might fit better into the concept of “Relationship” I mentioned earlier.

    Given a lack of belief in a real holy God who stands outside our existence, I guess some of the worldviews don’t really provide much of an explanation about the phenomenon of our being conscious of our own lack of moral character .

    • admin says:

      Dennis, I agree. In a world without God, things like morals, love, beauty–things that have their existence in God’s existence–will evaporate and have only fleeting meaning to the atheist. It seems to me that a professed atheist who holds tightly to things that have a transcendent grounding is acknowledging the Reality that their profession of faith denies them.
      - Darrow

  3. Amazing! Darrow, thanks for writing about this topic.. we need to rescue the biblical worldview. Sadly, Chile is full of Evangelical Gnosticism, God give us the grace to change this things in our society.

    Edison Ovalle.

  4. Interesante reflexión… la separación del “Can we do it?” con el “Ought we do it?” revela estragos hoy en la sociedad. Por ejemplo, en biología molecular se plantea la mutación para la optimización de la alimentación, pero ¿acaso el problema del hambre son los recursos? ¿O será que se quiere optimizar para suplir el ser mediante el tener más ganancias? son preguntas que me surgen con la lectura… interesante reflexión

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