Seminary training, for the most part, has failed to integrate the study of the Bible with the study of God’s works and God’s reason.
Vishal’s paper was presented to a faculty forum at The Gospel and Plow School of Theology where he serves as Honorary Professor of Applied Theology. GPST is part of the Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences in Allahabad, India.
We are happy to publish Vishal’s paper, edited for length, in three installments. Go here to read it in its entirety.
Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk and a professor in the Augustinian university of Wittenberg. For a thousand years, his theological tradition had believed that in order to know truth, one had to study God’s two books: the book of God’s words and the book of God’s reason, reflected in His image – the human mind. The first book (Scriptures) is understood through the second (Reason).
Luther’s iconic declaration at the Diet of Worms in 1522 articulated this worldview.
Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.
The Book of God’s words – Scriptures
Jesus confirmed the Old Testament view that truth and falsehood are both communicated in words, and God’s word is a source of our knowledge of truth.
- The Sidonian widow of Zarephath said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17: 24).
- The Lord Jesus said, Thy word is truth (John 17:17); Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35); If you abide in my words . . . you will know the truth (John 8: 32) etc.
The apostles reinforced the Lord’s teaching:
- Paul affirmed: All Scriptures in breathed out by God . . . (2 Timothy 3:16).
- Peter taught: No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).
The book of God’s Reason
Luther taught Aristotle and considered parts of his writings to be a corrupting influence upon Europe’s intellectual life. Yet Luther – one of history’s most important champions of God’s word – agreed with Aristotle that learning truth requires studying and using reason, including logic and mathematics. This aspect of medieval education came via Augustine. He considered Reason to be God’s distinctive gift to man. That is why Augustinian tradition believed that the mind must be developed, just as we multiply other talents given to us:
Augustine’s theology of reason was grounded in the Apostle John, who presented God as a rational person. For very good reason, Reformed theologian Gordon Clark translated John 1:1 as “In the beginning was reason [logos, word], reason was with God, and reason was God.”
What makes word different from mantra? A word is a sound with sense. A proposition makes sense only because it is a logical arrangement of words and sentences.
Many Bible schools no longer teach logic. Traditionally however, theology required the study of logic. Timothy’s pastoral role required him to study to show himself approved unto God, one who exegetes the word logically (2 Timothy 2:15).
Paul did not ask Timothy to memorize his words, for the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are not mantras to be memorized and enunciated correctly. God’s word is His wisdom. Therefore, Paul commands Timothy to “think” over his words (2 Tim 2:7). To do theology is to think and interpret revealed data logically. It calls one to cultivate a logical mind.
The book of God’s works
William Carey taught astronomy and botany, Sam Higginbottom taught agriculture, science, and technology because by their time Protestant theology had improved on Luther. Luther studied the books of God’s words and reason, but these could not teach him the truth about the solar system. In his usual bombastic style, Luther (1483–1546) wrote a pamphlet denouncing Copernicus’ (1473–1543) theory that the earth revolves around the sun, not the sun around the earth. Soon afterwards, Galileo’s (1564–1642) careful observations of God’s works – the actual motions of the planets – confirmed Copernicus’ theoretical model.
Galileo took pains to exegete the Bible and argue that his sun-centered view of the solar-system was consistent with the Bible. Yet, his discovery challenged Luther’s epistemology as much as it challenged the Pope’s infallibility. Protestants and Catholics had to come to terms with the fact that it was not enough to study God’s word and reason. God asks us to study his works also. That study is necessary to rule over the earth (Psalm 8:6; 64:9; 72:12; 92:5 etc.). It was Francis Bacon (1561–1626) – often called the father of modern science – who forcefully championed the necessity of studying God’s works.
The Scriptures say that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). In Romans 1:19–20, Paul says that God’s works reveal the truth about God and His attributes, including His power, wisdom, and glory (See also John 9:3; 11:40). The Lord Jesus said to the Jews: ‘You search the scriptures and they point to me; you sent inquirers to John the Baptist and he testified about me; but I have greater witness than John: this is the works that I do. Believe in me because of my works’ (John 5:39).
Bacon’s exposition of the Bible was the reason why Cambridge University inscribed Psalm 111:2 at the entrance of Cavendish Laboratory – history’s first scientific lab: Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. The Psalm celebrates God’s work both in nature as well as in culture. The Old and New Testaments record God’s works so that we might study them in our quest for truth and then teach them to others. God’s works reveal His love as much as His words. That is why the church established research universities.
Christian scholars researched all three books of God: the book of God’s words; the book of God’s works; and the book of God’s reason (including logic and mathematics) because, as Bacon reminded Christian scholars, God reveals as well as conceals truth. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2). The rising and setting sun conceals the fact that day and night are caused by the earth’s revolution, not the sun’s.
Evangelicalism was America’s dominant force during much of the 20th century. Yet it did not build a single research university during its heyday. Why? One reason was its truncated epistemology that in order to know truth Christians should study only the Scriptures. Another factor was the belief that revelation means that God is in the business of revealing, not concealing matters. Research universities and labs were built on the knowledge that God’s words and works conceal matters; we are endowed with reason in order to discover hidden treasures.
- Vishal Mangalwadi
… to be continued
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