Tag Archives: principles of sacred theology

Is Science Superior to Art? (Is That Why Kuyper Wants Theology to be ‘Science’?)

It’s easy to bemoan the fall of Theology, from being the ‘Queen of Sciences’ to merely being a subsection of the Religious Studies department (if it has a place at universities at all). For example, R. C. Sproul laments, “in the classical curriculum, theology is the queen of the sciences and all other disciplines are her handmaidens. In the modern curriculum man is king and the former queen is relegated to a peripheral status of insignificance.”*

Now, why lament this? Is it because ‘science,’ as we conceive of it today, is so distinguished that we want to associate theology with it, and more than that, assert theology’s dominance over it?

No one should assert theology as the queen of science because they want to rescue theology from falling into the realm of ‘art.’ ‘Science’ is not superior to ‘art.’ It is of a fundamentally different character. Theology falls into the realm of science (according to the older, more full definition of science–science as ‘knowledge orderly arranged’) not because science is superior, but because of the character of theology.

Obviously, Kuyper has a quote on this: (Yep, still reading his Principles of Sacred Theology):

The theologians who, depressed by the small measure of respect cherished at present by public opinion for theological study, seeks favor with public opinion by loudly proclaiming that what he studies is science too, forfeits thereby his right to the honourable name of theologian.

Suppose it were demonstrated that Theology is no science, but that, like the study of music, it is called to enrich our spiritual life, and the consciousness of that life, in an entirely different way, what would this detract from its importance? Does Mozart rank lower than Edison, because he did not work enchantments, like Edison, with the data of the exact sciences?

The oft-repeated attempt to exclude Theology from the company of the science, and to coordinate it, as something mystical, rather like the world of sounds, was in itself entirely praiseworthy, and has commanded more respect from public opinion in general than the scholastic distinctions. If thus it should be shown that Theology has no place in the organism of science, it would not lower it in the least, even as, on the other hand, Theology would gain no merit whatever from the fact (if it be proved) that it has its rank among the sciences.

In no case may Theology begin with renouncing its own self-respect. And those theologians who are evidently guilty of this, and who, being more or less ashamed of Theology, have tried, by borrowing the scientific brevet, to put it forth in new forms, have been punished for their cowardice. For the non-theological science has compelled them to cut out the heart of Theology, and to transform it into a department of study which shall fit into the framework of naturalistic science.

Hence we definitely declare that our defense of the scientific character of Theology has nothing in common with this questionable effort. No Calvinist takes part in the renunciation of our character as theologians. And now to the point.

Oh, Kuyper! Wasn’t that already your point? 😀

In other words, we can bemoan the demotion of theology to a lowly sub-discipline in academia, but not because it has been categorized under the heading of “the arts.” The heading is not the problem. Arts are not less important.

For Kuyper theology is science because science is the study of order, and the very character of theology is knowledge of an orderly God. That’s it. Art uses materials–words, clay, paint, etc–to generate something new. This is legitimate and absolutely wonderful, and human beings were created to do this. But the character of this art is incredibly different from the character of theology. In theology you study what’s already there.

I love how theology gains no rank in Kuyper’s thought from being either art or science. Neither art nor science has to prove its own worth, nor do they grant more value to theology by including theology under its umbrella. No, theology has its own self-respect.

So we have the freedom to just let theology be what it is. And the freedom to respect both art and science, without elevating the contributions of Mozart over Edison, or Edison over Mozart, as if that was the controversy that really mattered.

 

*The Heart of Reformed Theology, by R.C. Sproul

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Bringing Order to Chaos–Can Human Achieve Actual True Knowledge?

You may’ve expected my next post to continue with Augustine, and I certainly would like to get back to Augustine, but since I currently am attending seminary to sort out the tangle of thoughts in my head about theology, I may blog about several different Christian classics first, before getting back to dear Augustine.

Now consider theology–would you consider it crazy, or maybe presumptuous, to argue there are basic underlying principles of the subject that naturally appear if you investigate it enough?

It’s utterly outdated to talk like that in the modern world. After all, are there not thousands of denominations, each with their own strongly held beliefs that they argue are deeply rooted in the Bible? How can anyone argue for any principles of theology at all? Are we not all groping in the dark, all equally as likely to be correct about some things and wrong about others, and all equally without hope of putting our beliefs into any kind of concrete order?

Ah, this is why it is so refreshing to read a book that says no, no, no. There is not chaos, only order, and it is the mission of humanity to seek it out. This is what Abraham Kuyper argues in his classic Principles of Sacred Theology, written in 1898.*

Now, the date gives a strong clue about the reason for his confidence. He belonged to the modernist era, when academics in general believed they could categorize all of human knowledge, and one day we’d achieve a full knowledge of our world. As the world revealed itself to be more and more complex, more and more people fell away from this idea. And as the disputes about the fundamental nature of reality multiplied, many people came to the conclusion that we cannot really ever know… And thus postmodernism entered the picture.

However, back to Kuyper, who was writing with confidence before postmodernism was born. He is the very exemplar of C.S. Lewis’s charge to read old books, because where can you find such confidence in humanity’s ability to gather knowledge, except in someone untainted by our atmosphere of postmodernist thought? There’s no explanations for why relativism doesn’t work. He doesn’t even consider anyone would argue for relativism. He just gets right to the point.

And his point is–humans should assume order is present in creation. If you accept a theology that states all creation is created by an orderly God, it naturally follows that we can find our way through the chaos of knowledge that lies before us. More than that, it is part of our goal as humans to bring order to chaos. Anything which first presents itself to us as chaos will possess an underlying order upon inspection.

Now, this still sounds kind of crazy, so I’ll let him expand on this thought:

“Here we merely state that in our bringing about of Encyclopedic order in the chaotic treasure of our knowledge, we are governed in two respects by a compulsory order which is separable from our thinking. First, because the treasure of knowledge which we obtain by our thinking does not originate first by our thinking, but exists before we think; and, on the other hand, because the knowledge to be arranged in order stands in relation to a world of phenomena which is independent of our thought…. Thus our human spirit is not to invent a certain order for our knowledge, but to seek out and to indicate the order which is already there.”

Astounding. As someone deeply bathed in postmodern thinking (which I truly do not regret, by the way), this is mind-blowing to hear. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. It turns my brain around down an avenue of thinking I could have never entered otherwise. What if I did accept that we can bring a system to our knowledge? How would it change everything?

Because I have to admit, order does arises from nature, consistently. Not always the order we expect–when science discovers the planets rotating around the sun, for instance, or the crazy calculations involved in the theory of relativity (yet it can be described with equations, for some reason). Having our own previous fixed ideas about the order we should find does interfere with our ability to see what is already there, but even the craziness of what we discover fits into a framework. We can categorize knowledge of creation. We can quibbled about the interference of our subjectivity, our human bias, and its effect on categorization of knowledge, but to dismiss any scrap of information humans have ever arranged as a pretense of order is to give up on attaining knowledge entirely.

In other words, while postmodernism is incredibly useful to critique systems of knowledge, it is really only useful for tearing down, and not offering any solutions to replace what it has destroyed.

Then it occurred to me how chaotic our modern knowledge is–how Wikipedia is a maze compared to the encyclopedias of old, and how the internet (perhaps our greatest repository of human knowledge) is a sprawling mass of contradictory streams of information. Our guide through this mess is usually Google, but Google cannot be conceived as bringing true order to our chaos. We’ve allowed our enthusiasm for gathering knowledge to result in a sprawl we know how to wade into, but not how to organize it.

I’m not arguing we should return to the days of printed encyclopedias, which were out-of-date the day they hit the store shelves. However, as humanity, we should start the discussion about the nature of knowledge. We should consider bringing order to it. We reinvented how we stored knowledge, so maybe we can reinvent a new way to lay it all out. We might draw out connections between different disciplines that we gloss over right now. We might have ideas about what should be done, and start acting instead of just reacting the first search result on our screen.

Anyway. Just a thought.

 

*Note: In case you’ve never heard of Abraham Kuyper, or Principles of Sacred Theology, and do not believe it to be a classic–as far as I know, it is more well-known in European systematic theology studies, rather than North American ones, and originally was written in Dutch. Hope that helps! It’s fully available online here.

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