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.
Fragmentation of Knowledge: From Modernism to Postmodernism
Medieval as well as modern universities saw Theology as the queen of all sciences. When Isaac Newton (1642–1726/7) came to Cambridge, there was no department of science. What we call science was, for Newton, a study of the book of God’s works. It was called ‘Natural Philosophy,’ meaning wisdom and revelation concealed in God’s creation but available to all.
The current fragmentation of knowledge began when Europe’s Protestant philosophers surrendered to a Roman Catholic heresy that gave to the book of reason the controlling authority over the books of God’s words and works. Reason is necessary to understand scriptures, nature, and culture. However, reason’s job is to understand, receive, interpret, synthesize, apply, and articulate revelation, not to judge it.
Enlightenment Rationalism began as a Roman Catholic heresy. The Catholic theology affirmed the ultimate authority of the Scriptures and the Church. The Church’s interpretation of the Scriptures was infallible. It did not grant final authority to individual reason because it believed in Original Sin. Therefore, it was not traditional Catholicism but a heresy to think that Adam and Eve’s “Fall” affected the heart but not the mind. Therefore, the mind (reason, logic) could discover truth without grace, without revelation or inspiration.
Rene Descartes’s rationalism ignored Total Depravity and exalted the book of reason above the books of God’s words and works: this was beginning of humanist hubris. For revelation is the only reason a section of the Roman Catholic Church had trusted reason. The Orthodox Church failed to develop universities because it did not fully embrace Augustine’s biblical perspective on human reason as God’s image.
The Protestant reformers were theologians. Through thinkers such as Luther and Calvin Protestantism inherited the best of Catholic thought. European thinkers built upon that foundation. Tragically, however, some their European followers, mainstream Protestant philosophers, theologians, and apologists, surrendered to rationalist arrogance. They too put reason above revelation and undermined the authority of Scriptures, Logos (become-flesh), and quickly of reason itself.
Modernism failed to give us the knowledge of truth because it destroyed revelation – the only available ground of our confidence in reason. Its overconfidence in reason quickly degenerated into skepticism, ignorance, unbelief, immorality and defiance of God’s authority. Western rationalism (including theological “modernism” or liberalism) undermined confidence in the Scriptures because it was oblivious to the fact that it was sawing off the very branch upon which it sat. That, however, was a lesser tragedy.
More disastrous was Christian “Fundamentalist” (i.e., evangelical) reaction to “liberal” modernism. During the 20th century it abandoned the university in favor of Bible institutes/seminaries. That means: evangelicalism threw the baby out with the bathwater. In reacting against rationalism, Fundamentalism abandoned studying the books of God’s works and reason. The reformer’s slogan Sola Scriptura (Scriptures alone) began to be misunderstood to mean “Study only the Scriptures.” A theologian may learn Greek, but he does so to study the Bible, not Plato.
Why Seminaries Plunged Universities into Intellectual-Moral Darkness
In 1944, the Socratic Club in Oxford invited C. S. Lewis to speak on the theme, “Is Theology Poetry?” No one writes theology in verse. So the question was not whether theology should be classified as poetry. The issue was whether Christians believe the creeds because those propositions are true or because they satisfy poetic imagination.
Lewis concluded his magnificent speech with a statement that has become classic: “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the rising sun. Not simply because I see the sun, but because through it I see everything else.” Lewis’ argument was that theology was the university’s queen of sciences because the Bible was the sun that gave light to every branch of inquiry. God’s word gave confidence in (humble) reason. Together, Scriptures and reason made sense of everything else. That epistemology of rational revelation enabled the university to develop a coherent life-and-world-view. Without the Bible, the university is without a central or common source of light (a sun) through which each department can comprehend its subject and connect it with other branches of knowledge and with life outside the academy.
Postmodernism completed the fragmentation or silofication of knowledge. Without the sun, without revelation, it had to discard the very notion of truth – VERITAS. Education ceased being the pursuit of truth. It became merely the acquisition of information, skills, and degrees in the quest for employment and power (sometimes, mainly an opportunity for sports, fun and networking). This turned every university faculty into a silo. Deprived of the sun every silo had to invent its own light, which took the form of a distinct vocabulary; creeds and initiation rituals that could not be questioned by novices or non-initiates. The Bible seminary started the problem. Two illustrations may help bring clarity:
- Can God turn water into wine in an instant? Can He make Eve a fully grown woman at the moment of her creation? If so, He can also create in an instant, a fully developed universe. But did He? How is that question to be investigated? A Young-Earth Creationist may maintain that about 4000 years before Christ, God created the universe in six days, each of 24 hours. Did he arrive at that conclusion because he carefully synthesized all the information gleaned from the books of God’s word, works, and reason? Or, does he hold his belief as a dogma, because he believes that we know truth by reading only the Scriptures? Is it biblical to not study God’s works (science) objectively?
- Why does an evolutionist believe that a professor of law, logic, or mathematics cannot understand or question the evidence for macro-evolution? It is because Evolution – a great theory – has become a dogma. Evolutionists do not allow non-specialists to scrutinize their dogma because postmodern biology, geology, and paleontology are silos – dogmatic, occult sciences accessible only to the initiated, not accessible to outsiders.
Why is the postmodern university sinking into intellectual and moral darkness?
The sad answer is: because of Bible institute/school/seminary movement. This movement put university’s sun – the Bible – into an academic silo. Instead of seeking truth by synthesizing knowledge revealed in the books of God’s words, works, and reason, the Bible seminary isolated God’s words from his works and reason. Silofication of the sun pushed other departments into darkness.
The Gospel and Plough School of Theology is uniquely placed to begin reversing the destructive epistemology of previous centuries. GPST can chart a new path for global theology if it takes seriously the Vice Chancellor’s call to equip and enable theology students to go to other departments to study books of God’s works and reason. Likewise the theology faculty must equip itself to welcome students of agriculture, science, technology, and humanities to take courses in the book of God’s words. The day must come when Professors of physics, anthropology, and medicine will pursue post-doctoral research in theology, not to become pastors, but in order to synthesize information gleaned from God’s three books.
– Vishal Mangalwadi
On Sam Higginbottom
- The Gospel and the Plough: Or, The Old Gospel and Modern Farming in Ancient India (Sam Higginbottom, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1921)
- Sam Higginbottom, Farmer: An Autobiography (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1949)
- Sam Higginbottom of Allahabad: Pioneer of Point Four to India (Gary R. Hess, The University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1967)
On William Carey
- The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture (Vishal & Ruth Mangalwadi, (Good Books, Mussoorie, UA, 1993 & 1999)
On Why Christianity Lost America
- Fundamentalism and American Culture (George M. Marseden, Oxford University Press, 2006)
- The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Mark A. Noll, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994)
On the Place of Reason in Christian Education
- God and Reason in the Middle Ages (Edward Grant, Cambridge University Press, 2001)
- Christianity and Classical Culture (Charles Norris Cochrane, Oxford University Press, 1940)
- David Scott’s paper “A Vision of Veritas: What Christian Scholarship Can Learn from the Puritans’ ‘Technology’ of Integrating Truth” at: http://www.leaderu.com/aip/docs/scott.html
On Biblical Theology and the Making of the Modern World
- The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Vishal Mangalwadi, Thomas Nelson, 2011)
Other posts on this topic: