Article of the Month
by Cornelius Van Til
To confess Jesus Christ is both to believe and to proclaim to all men everywhere the good news expressed in John 3:16. In it we have what Mark calls the “gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1).
Jesus Christ Speaks to Us
Christ himself told his disciples—and through them, his church— how to confess him before the world. To obey this command the church must first sit down at Jesus’ feet to hear from him just who he is, what he did, and what he is doing to save the world. The New Testament constitutes this witness of Christ both to himself and to his work of redemption. Moreover, the New Testament, which is Christ’s witness to himself, is based upon and presupposes the Old Testament. “Search the scriptures,” said Jesus to the Jews, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). Again, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:45-47).
Commissioned by Christ as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul says “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3,4).
For Paul, to confess Christ means to speak in Christ’s name, calling sinners unto him. Says Paul: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (II Cor. 5:20, 21).
To those whom God “hath reconciled ... to himself by Jesus Christ” he “hath given . . . the ministry of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:18, 19). Through their words the world should constantly anew hear the pleading voice of Jesus, spoken while he was on earth: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
To confess Christ before men is, then, to proclaim his name as the Hope of the world. There is, said Peter before the high priest, “none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The Natural Man. However, during Christ’s ministry, not all men received him as the light of the world and as the bread of life sent down from heaven. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:10, 11). Jesus knew the reason for this. He “needed not that any should testify of man; for he knew what was in man” (John 2:25).
What is in man? Paul sums it up when he says to the Ephesians that they had been “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and to the Romans that “to be carnally minded is death” (Rom. 8:6). Accordingly, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).
It is not just some men that are carnally minded. Paul traces the origin of the natural man’s enmity against God back to the first man, Adam (Rom. 5:12).
Christ Will Triumph. How then can this same Paul be so sure that any men will hear and accept Christ as their Savior? He tells the Corinthians that all men, by virtue of their sinful nature, hate God and man. On the other hand he cries in jubilation: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place” (II Cor. 2:14).
The answer is that God the Father gave his Son so that he might save his people from their sin. Said Jesus: “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19). Jesus knows what is in man. “But I said unto you, that you also have seen me, and believe not.” Does that discourage him? Does he fear that his coming into the world to save men may be in vain? Not at all. His answer to man’s unbelief is this: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
No one can accept the Son except the Father should “draw him” John 6:44). The Father will draw men, and the Son will then, like the Father, quicken them: “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will” (John 5:21).
No man believes unless the Father draws him, unless the Son quickens him, and unless the Holy Spirit regenerates him. The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, work together within the hearts of the natural man to enable him to believe. Christ gives unto men of his Spirit to make his Word of reconciliation effective among them.
Therefore, all the powers of hell cannot prevail against the establishment of the kingdom of heaven among men. Christ came to destroy the power of darkness. He did destroy it. Even Satan’s efforts against the work of Christ were determined by God (Acts 2:23) and used by Christ to establish his kingdom (Acts 2:23-27). The nations may rage and the peoples devise vain things. The kings of the earth may stand up and the rulers be “gathered together, against the Lord, and against his Christ” (Acts 4:25, 26).
In view of the fact that the triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each in his own sphere, and working as one in Sovereign grace—has overcome the works of darkness, those who confess Christ may promise themselves and those who, with them, will believe in him, eternal joy and peace in the presence of their Redeemer in the life to come. They may properly speak of the “finished work of Christ” (John 14:1-3).
To confess Christ is to believe, to live by, and to tell this story to the nations. The individual believer will say with Paul: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
The irresistible power of Christ will work through his church to the establishment of his kingdom in the hearts of men. The Holy Spirit, poured out upon the church, will make its members fearless before governors and kings. That self-same Spirit will make them challenge the wisdom of this world, that wisdom which in the wisdom of God has been made foolishness by him.
The Good Confession
In confessing Christ to the world, the church finds two types of opposition. There is, of course, the general opposition of the world at large. As already noted, all men are sinners and, as such, hostile to the truth. When the name of Jesus Christ is placed before them as the Way, as the Truth, and as the Life (John 14:6), then their reaction is negative until they are regenerated by the Spirit and the Word of God. They then repent and believe (Titus 3:3-7). But there is a second type of opposition. It is the opposition that appears within the confines of the official church of Christ itself; it is the enemy within the gates. It is with this second type of opposition that we shall first concern ourselves, and we shall meet it again at the very end of our discussion.
The Good Confession of Jesus. The nature of this opposition can best be learned by looking at it as in operation during Jesus’ ministry. Jesus came unto his own. His own received him not. He came to seek and to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Many of them would not hear the shepherd’s voice (John 8:42-45). They listened to their false shepherds (cf. Ezek. 48) who, through the mouth of Caiaphas, finally accused Jesus of blasphemy because he “was calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18; cf. 8:56-59; 10:33).
Caiaphas, inspired by Satan, brings down upon himself the wrath of the Lamb by insisting that all the teaching of Jesus is false, a merely private interpretation of Moses and the prophets. How could all the scribes and Pharisees be wrong when they saw the promised kingdom of the prophets as that in which they would rule, when they saw the temple as the center of the worship of the God of Abraham? Caiaphas demands, “I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63).
Hear now the great confession before the Sanhedrin, of him who is the high priest after the order of Melchisedek, of him in whom the great high priest and the great king and the great prophet are one. Behold him first in his silence before he speaks. But he is swift to speak, this silent one. To those to whom alone the oracles of God were committed, to those who alone were the custodians and the official interpreters of Moses and the prophets for the rest of the sons of men, he directs his declaration. He speaks to them as he had first spoken to Satan. He speaks through them to Satan again. Do you still ask me, after all my teaching, whether I am the Son of God? Do you make me swear as though my words had not always and only been Yea and Amen? Who of you ever convicted me of a lie? (cf. John 8:46).
Yes, I am the Son of God. Soon I shall be your judge (Matt. 26:64). I shall soon receive my kingdom. It will be established upon the ruins of Satan’s kingdom. Thou sayest that I am a king, so I am (John 18:36, 37). I am the king of the kingdom of truth and righteousness. I am your king too, and will soon be your judge. Thus Jesus witnessed the good confession before the “church” and before the “world.” For so doing he was crucified by both.
Opposition from Within
But how did it come about, we ask, that those who claimed to be the true followers of Moses should fail to see that Moses spoke of none other than this man Jesus of Nazareth as the great prophet that should come? We already have the answer. Jesus tells us that their hearts were hardened. In his wisdom the Father had not quickened them unto repentance and life.
Seeing this, we seek now for some light from history as to how the leaders of the Jews developed this attitude of hostility toward the true Moses, and therefore to Jesus and, indeed, to God (cf. John 8:42-44). We soon discover light in the fact that the Jews had, in the course of the centuries, developed the concept of an “Unwritten Torah.”
Between the time of Ezra and Jesus, according to R. Travers Herford, there were two movements of thought within Judaism. There was first the movement of thought represented by the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings, in which there is great stress on apocalyptic matter. There was, second, the movement of rabbinical teaching, at first oral and afterwards collected and written down in the Talmud and the Midrash. In this rabbinical teaching the great stress is upon ethics rather than upon apocalyptic teachings.1
According to the rabbinical view, the Torah is “invested with divine authority.” But obviously, says Herford, “some of its contents were ethically higher than others.” In this fact of inequality the “advancing ethical consciousness” had its task mapped out for itself.2 “The Torah, as the primary source of ethical teaching, offered all that it contained to all who studied it, and they naturally drew from it that to which their own ethical consciousness responded.”3
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of what Herford here tells us. He is anxious to prove that the “free spirit of prophecy” finds its central expression in the idea of the autonomy of man’s “ethical consciousness.” It is the advancing ethical consciousness among the leaders of the Jews that enabled and compelled them to introduce the principle of gradation into their view of the Old Testament. The advancing ethical consciousness is, for the Jews after Ezra’s time, the supreme authority in all moral decisions.
This assumption of the autonomy of the advancing ethical consciousness among the Jews did not, in the view of the rabbinical school of thought, imply any independence from the Torah as the law of Moses and therefore as the law of God. In fact, the rabbis were sure that they carried out the intention of Ezra. With obvious enthusiasm for the idea of the Unwritten Torah, Herford thinks that the “Great Assembly” of which Nehemiah speaks undertook, as had never been done before, a true, spiritual, and inward observance of the Torah.4 Ezra wanted a voluntary acceptance of the Torah, Herford argues, and the sopherim, convinced by Ezra’s plea, were out to teach the people this.
So they set out to reinterpret the Torah. In order to do this they could no longer regard the Torah as a law above them. To obtain a voluntary response to the Torah, the sopherim interpreted it according to their own independent sense of right and wrong.
Herford therefore argues rightly that there “never has been in Judaism any declaration of belief holding the same position as the Creed holds in the Christian religion.” “There were,” Herford adds, “certain limits beyond which a Jew could not go and still remain a Jew.” One of these was the Unity of God. But “within these limits belief was free.”5
We can well understand this. By assuming the self-sufficiency of their “ethical consciousness,” the sopherim had, to all intents and purposes, rejected Moses and ultimately the God of Moses.
When their descendants came face to face with Christ, who knew the hearts of men, there was bound to be an absolute conflict, an absolute ethical antithesis.
The autonomous ethical consciousness of the Jewish leaders postulated the “Unity of God” as an all-comprehending formal principle.God was for them an abstract principle of unity which did not and could not come to direct expression in the world. All “revelation” of this God in history was relative. In practice, this meant that the rabbis, carrying on the work of the sopherim, were able “to find a sanction in the Torah for the new customs and practices which had established themselves in the community, at all events such as involved religious acts. . . .”6
In practice the members of the Sanhedrin—established in 196 B.C. “to be the great Council of the Jewish people,” with its formal adherence to the Unity of God and with its conviction of the relativity of any revelation of such a God—were free to make such ordinances and regulations as they themselves, according to the requirements of their own ethical consciousness, saw fit to impose on the people.
Assuming the self-sufficiency of their own ethical consciousness, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day, in practice, did not worship the God of Moses but a theistic projection of their own ethical ideals. By their tradition, as Jesus told them, they made void the law of God (Matt. 15:2,3,6). They made over the image of Moses so as to have him speak what their sinful hearts wanted him to speak. Their supposedly voluntary submission to Moses was based on the notion that man is not what Moses and the prophets said he was, a creature of God who had broken the covenant of the promised Redeemer. Man should rather work out his own salvation by observing the precepts that his own sinful heart had made.
Jesus therefore pleaded with them to forsake their supposed ethical self-sufficiency, and accept “in spirit” the covenant God had made with Abraham, by owning Jesus as the promised Messiah. Jesus tells them that he will be their judge.
Opposition from Without
Richard Kroner on the Greeks, Especially Socrates. How different was the atmosphere of Corinth and of Athens from that of Jerusalem! How different the market place from the synagogue! No fanaticism at Corinth and at Athens, we think. No danger of Paul’s being crucified or stoned anywhere among the Greeks. He could sit down quietly with them and together with them search for wisdom. Or do we merely think that he could?
Paul already knew from his early training how the Greeks had struggled upward and onward from belief in a crude hylozoism to a teleological concept of reality. He knew that the great philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, sought to interpret the lower aspects of reality in terms of the higher. He knew that Aristotle’s god was referred to by him as “Thought thinking Itself.” Richard Kroner observes that here then, it may seem, was the beginning of a genuine spiritual interpretation of man and his world apart from his “own individual character, faith and ideals.”7 He says that “the Greek mind was entirely free.”8
“Hegel,” observes Kroner, “has called the state of Hellenic culture the ‘paradise of mind.’ This is particularly true with respect to the state of the thinking mind, which, unimpeded by State or Church, was free to investigate and inquire, to argue and assert whatever seemed true to it.”9 It appears then, argues Kroner, that the mission of Greek speculation was to pave the way for the recognition of the Lord of the Bible. “This is the great tendency of the history of Greek philosophy.”10
Better than all others among the Greeks, Socrates contends that “the task of philosophy is to seek the truth without ever holding it fast.”11 Those who desire to know the truth but feel that “the truth is too high to enmesh in any system or any set of doctrines” will always be fascinated by Socrates.12 For Socrates, “the greatest wonder is not the outer world” but “the soul of man.”13 “If any access is to be had to the deepest ground of existence, it is to be found in the inward part of man himself, in the center from whence springs the ability to control and govern one’s own life. In that inner center man encounters the deity; here is the source of all virtue, devotion, loyalty, courage, justice, veracity, and moderation. It is here that wisdom has its roots.”14
By thus appealing to the autonomous moral self, thinks Kroner, Socrates brings to Greek speculation an element “that might be called revelatory, in the sense of the Bible.”15 For Socrates, philosophy “was a new life, a renewal of the heart as well as an instruction of the mind.”16 SØren Kierkegaard, therefore, quite properly spoke of “the attitude of Socrates as ‘passion of inwardness in existing’ and an ‘analogue of faith,’ definitions hitting the heart of Socrates’s philosophy and individual character and conduct.”17
One can now understand why Kroner thinks of Greek philosophy as leading by way of monotheism toward Christianity. According to Kroner, it is the idea of the inward self-sufficiency of the human moral-religious consciousness that informs the spirit of Greek philosophy. This is basically Plato’s approach. Plato reinterpreted cosmology in terms of the new dimension—the dimension of inwardness introduced into Greek speculation by Socrates.
Kroner sees in Socrates the same thing that we found in the case of the Pharisees. In both cases it is the assumed self-sufficiency of the moral consciousness of man that is taken to be the source of all truth. In both cases this autonomous ethical consciousness projects a monotheism, which precludes the possibility of the truth of Christ’s claim for himself. The Pharisees rejected the claim of Jesus when he said he was the Son of God. They said that he blasphemed. Those inspired by Socrates rejected the plea of Paul when he asked them to accept the name of Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
The Son of God speaks through Paul to the Greeks. Through Paul, Christ comes to the Greeks with condescending love and with an uncompromising demand. He comes to the Greeks with the same love and the same demand with which he came to the Jews.
Through Paul, Christ speaks first and basically of the love of the Father, who sent him into the world to save it from its sins. He shows to the Greeks and to all men how the “goodness of God” revealed in nature is calculated to lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Speaking for Christ, Paul does not say that if they will only look for truth in terms of the principles in which they have so far been looking for it, they will eventually find it. Paul does not argue that if only they follow the “principle of inwardness” of Socrates, and with it the primacy of the teleological interpretation of the cosmos after the manner of Plato and Aristotle, they are then any nearer to finding the Creator than were their polytheistic ancestors. Paul does not argue that the highest god that they have found is any more like God the Creator of men than the lowest god whose worship they despise. The god of Aristotle is a pure form reached by pure negation. When he is thought of as in relation to men and the world, then he is made correlative to them. The form-matter scheme of the Greeks, as it finds its climactic expression in the thinking of Aristotle, is not to be thought of as being a theism that can furnish a true foundation for a Christianity that is built upon it. No one comes to God the Father except through Christ the Son. There is no true theism unless its God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To be sure, Paul tells the Greeks that God has overlooked the times of their ignorance. But this does not mean that Paul did not think of this ignorance as culpable. Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Peter told the Jews that they crucified the Son of God in ignorance. He went so far as to say that this was true also of their leaders. But the ignorance of the natural man is always a willful ignorance. No man anywhere but lives in the light of God as Creator of himself and of the world. Paul tells them that their ignorance is self-imposed, when he reminds them that the true God “is not far from each one of us” and that the very governing of natural events by God was calculated to urge them to seek and find him (Acts 17:26-29). If they had sought him, they would have found him; but they did not seek him. If their ignorance was not a guilty ignorance, then why should they repent? (Acts 17:30).
The blindness of the natural man is always the blindness of those who have taken out their own eyes. It is to sinful men that God in his love sent his Son to be their Saviour. There are no other men than sinful men. The only name given under heaven by which these sinful men must be saved is the name of Jesus. It is this name that must be declared unto men. It cannot be presented otherwise than by proclaiming it. It must be presented in terms of the infinite compassion of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It must be declared with pleading voice by those who themselves have first been snatched from the burning. It must be declared in the way that Paul declared it, always mindful of the glorious appearance of his Lord to him on the way to Damascus, transforming him from a persecutor into an apostle. All men are inherently persecutors of that name. It is only when Christ himself, through the power of the Spirit, appears to them and opens their eyes, that they will understand the revelation of God in nature and in Scripture aright (cf. I Peter 1:2, 3).
Creation, Resurrection, and Judgment. When Paul came to Athens and there confessed the name of Jesus, he could therefore expect nothing but hostility so far as Greek speculation was concerned. So long as they were true to their common monistic assumption, they could not consistently accept the idea of creation. But if they could not accept creation, how could they accept the idea of the resurrection and the judgment? By the time Paul came to Athens, Greek speculation had virtually run its course. It consisted now of a balanced combination of abstract rationalism and abstract irrationalism. The Parmenidean assumption, that only that can exist which can be logically penetrated by the intellect of man, was still the accepted principle. But then Aristotle worked out the principles of formal logic. He insisted that first principles of reasoning, such as the law of contradiction, cannot themselves be proved. He warned his followers against the definition-mongers. We must then have the Parmenidean principle of logical penetration as the measure of what is knowable to man, but we must have this principle as correlative to an equally ultimate principle of pure matter. Pure contingency must have a place. Unless contingency is given a place, the laws of logic will be entirely separate from the facts of space and time. So runs the argument of Aristotle.
But how then, we ask, are the ideas of pure rationality and of pure contingency to be related to one another? The only way they can be related on the assumed monism of Aristotle is by means of the idea of correlativity. In the case of Aristotle this means that his logical activity operates on a bottomless and shoreless ocean of Chance. The reality with which this logic deals is a reality that appears only from moment to moment, for some utterly unknowable reason. Pure or abstract being comes into correlative contact with pure or abstract non-being. It is this moment-by-moment interaction of pure being with pure non-being that Aristotle speaks of as the analogy of being. Holding to such a view of reality and logic, the Greeks could not consistently accept the biblical record of creation. To accept the biblical view of creation they would have to reject their basic monistic view of reality and of logic.
What then would the Greeks do with the idea that Jesus died for the sins of men and rose again for their justification? They would reduce Jesus and his ministry to an instance of the principle of mediation which they had already developed. For them, mediation involved mutual cancellation of abstract universality and abstract particularity. Since Ulysses has intellect, he belongs to the gods; since he has also something lower than the intellect, he belongs to the foxes. Every man is a hybrid; he is composed of two elements that tend to cancel each other out. As soon as pure matter comes into contact with the intellectual activity of man, it is absorbed by logic. As soon as pure form, pure logic, comes into contact with any type of human awareness other than that of pure intellection, it is completely lost in pure matter. Aristotle’s form and matter stand in a purely dialectical and mutually destructive relation to one another and therefore cannot allow for the biblical view of the mediation between God and man through Christ, the God-man.
Try telling the Greeks that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Son of man. They will say: “That is fine; we too think of our wholly other God as coming into this world and as being wholly revealed in it. We too think of pure form as coming into this world as the purely hidden. No doubt your principle of mediation must be similar to ours. How could it be anything basically different? We too are looking for some great one who will show us how we can escape the antinomies into which all our reasoning about the combination of the purely rational and the purely irrational always run. If your Jesus claims to be such an expert as we have long been looking for, we shall be glad to hear what he has to say. When you proclaim to us this Jesus and the resurrection, this is interesting indeed. Aristotle already has talked about monstrosities, events from the abyss of Chance. How interesting, too, your idea that the ‘fact’ of the resurrection points to the coming judgment. Your eschatology is as interesting as is your theory of origins. But, as you well know, all theories about the transcendent, whether about its activity at the ‘beginning’ or about its activities at the ‘end’ of the world, whether about its activity in regard to the usual or in regard to the unusual in the space-time world, can at most be pointers toward something of which neither you nor we can know anything. This is why we have our altar to an ‘Unknown God.’ No doubt your Jesus, like our Socrates, believes in the primacy of the moral consciousness. You, as well as we, have to work with the principle of contradiction. Those who would do without this law must still presuppose it. So we are perfectly willing to accept your view of a wholly transcendent God and of his activity in relation to the world of space and time. We are willing to accept the activity of this wholly unknown and unknowable God at the beginning of history. We have to allow that nobody knows anything about beginnings. We use the word ‘God’ for that activity which took place ‘before’ the world was. We know of course that the word ‘before’ is an intracosmical concept and therefore can be used only as a limiting notion when we apply it to God. As Aristotle has told us, the law of contradiction when applied to time demands that time and change and therefore matter be everlasting. Again we are quite willing to accept your idea of the wholly transcendent God as actively intervening in the ‘middle of’ history and that for our redemption. Of course, there has to be mediation between the pure thought thinking itself and pure matter. Of course, we all want the good to be predominant over the evil. We too seek to interpret reality in terms of the primacy of the moral consciousness. If Socrates has taught us anything he has taught us this. It is interesting to note that your Jesus and our Socrates teach essentially the same thing. The idea of the wholly transcendent as coming back at the ‘end’ of history in the person of this same Jesus who came in the ‘middle’ of history; this too is quite agreeable to us. This too, as well as the idea of creation and atonement in history, is no doubt for you as well as for us a limiting concept.”
But Paul was not interested in winning the Greeks to the acceptance of the name of a Jesus whom they could reconstruct in terms of their form-matter scheme as fast as they heard about him. He was interested in their acceptance unto life of Jesus as the Lord of history. He insisted that they cast away their whole view of reality and of logic as centering in man. He was interested in their rejection of the idea that the sinful man’s moral consciousness is itself the final criterion of right and wrong. He wanted Socrates to admit that he did not know himself—and could never know himself—since he did not think of himself as a creature of God and as a covenant-breaker before God. He wanted Socrates to accept the name of Jesus as the presupposition of intelligible predication in any and all fields. Paul wanted the Greeks to admit that they needed a “Copernican revolution” such as they could not of themselves accomplish. He wanted them to plead for mercy and forgiveness at the foot of the cross of Christ. Paul therefore challenged the wisdom of the Greeks as having been made foolishness by God. Could these Greeks not see that on their principles of logic, resting on the assumption that man is not a creature of God but a participant in the “divine,” all predication is without meaning? Paul did not claim that he had of himself a deeper insight into the nature of reality than they had. He himself had been taken out of the Stygian darkness of the cave in which they lived. He himself had been a persecutor of the name of Jesus and of “The Way.” He could therefore understand their hostility to this name. Paul could understand them as they of themselves could not understand either themselves or him.
Accordingly, Paul proclaimed the name of Jesus as the one through whom the whole man, the intellect as well as the will, is to be saved. Paul confessed Christ as the one through whose action as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge the whole activity of man alone can have meaning. Paul proclaimed the name of Jesus as the one through whom alone man can really “know himself.” For Jesus is God. Through him the world was made and is sustained. Through him the world is redeemed. To him, as Mediator, all power in heaven and on earth is given. He will judge the quick and the dead in righteousness. He will give to every man according to his deeds. Have men responded, as those created in the image of God should respond, to the revelation within and about them? Have they responded properly in godly sorrow and in true faith to this name of him who came to save them from sin and to be their Lord? If so, they will enter at last into the Father’s house prepared for them by their Saviour. If not, Christ will be their judge at last and condemn them to everlasting darkness.
Paul seemed to find little response among the Greeks, but he was not discouraged. His Saviour had not been discouraged before the Sanhedrin. Jesus knew that the Father quickeneth whom he will and that he himself could quicken whom he would. God will send his Spirit into the hearts of men so that they will make a complete repentance, turning to God from idols, from Aristotle’s world-view to Moses’ world-view. God will honor Paul’s preaching if first Paul honors Christ as Lord. By God’s grace there will be those out of every nation and kindred and tribe who will forsake Socrates and trust in the only name given among men whereby men must be saved, the wonderful name of Jesus!
Socrates and Christ
Christ appeared to Luther through the words of Paul. Luther learned from Paul that he was “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). He learned from Paul that there is now “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” He learned that he had been saved through faith alone, not through faith and works.
What then could he do but meditate upon the Word of Christ? In that Word, Christ was daily speaking to him. By meditation on that Word, Christ appeared to him ever more clearly as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Again, what could he do further but proclaim the name of Christ just as Paul had proclaimed it? What liberation from the bondage of sin came to men when, through the words of Luther, they truly understood and therefore believed the Word of Paul and of Christ!
But as soon as Luther confessed the name of Jesus before men, the official church and the political powers of the time set out to destroy him. As Caiaphas and Pilate joined hands against Jesus, so the pope and the emperor joined hands against Luther. As the Pharisees called upon the Jews to reject Jesus in the name of the authority of the living Torah, so the churchmen of Luther’s day called upon him to deny the name of Jesus in the name of the ultimate authority of the living church. But Luther’s conscience was now subject to the living Lord speaking in his Word. In this Word, and in this Word alone, had he heard the voice and seen the face of his Saviour. To obey the voice of a living church, a church itself not subject to the Word alone, would be, for him, to betray his Saviour and to lose the peace of mind that he had found. As fearlessly as Peter had stood before the high priest and his council, so fearlessly Luther stood before the Diet of Worms, refusing to retract what he had spoken.
But did not the church of Luther’s day itself confess the name of Christ? Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin had spoken out openly against Jesus. They said that he “blasphemed” when he called himself the Son of God. But in Luther’s day, the pope and the church claimed to speak for the name of Jesus. Did not the pope, as spokesman for the church, profess belief not only in Moses and the prophets, but also in Jesus Christ, of whom Moses and the prophets had spoken? Had not the church collected the New Testament canon in order to preserve for itself and for all men the true voice of Jesus, her Saviour and Lord? Was not the church of Luther’s day ready to join with the fathers who at Chalcedon said that Christ is both truly God and truly man? Was not the church in Luther’s time ready to use the Chalcedon Creed as a bar against both those who would, like the Eutychians, confuse the divine and human natures of Christ, and those who, like the Nestorians, spoke of the two persons of Christ? Was not the church of Luther’s time ready to call Pelagius a heretic and Augustine a saint? What more could Luther want?
What Luther wanted was a renewed submission to Jesus Christ as the only name given under heaven by which men must be saved. What Luther wanted was submission to the Scriptures as alone the Word of Christ. Luther called himself and the church to repentance from its divided allegiance. The church sought to be loyal to Christ and to the developing ethical consciousness of sinful man. The church of Luther’s day professed utmost love and loyalty to Christ, but at the same time, in practice, she loved the Greek spirit, the spirit of Socrates, the spirit of the self-sufficient moral consciousness of apostate man. The church of Luther’s day sought to be loyal to the Chalcedon Creed as a genuine expression of biblical truth and to the deliverances of the developing ethical consciousness of the Greeks.
But no one can serve two masters. The Pharisees were, in the last analysis, loyal exclusively to their own self-sufficient ethical consciousness. Accordingly they had, as Jesus told them, betrayed Moses and the prophets who spoke of him.
We are not suggesting that the leaders of the church of Luther’s day were exclusively loyal to Socrates instead of to Christ. Luther was truly confessing Christ when he called back the church from its self-conscious attempt to combine Christ with Socrates. Luther was calling back the church to a genuine loyalty to the Chalcedon Creed. So long as the church itself suffered from divided loyalty, how could it effectively proclaim the name of Jesus as the only name given under heaven by which men must be saved?
The Christian Socrates. How did the church’s commitment to what may be called a Christian Socrates come about?
As was the case with the Pharisees, so here too there is a good historical explanation for this. The church of Luther’s time was the heir, not only of Augustine and his theology of grace, but also of Pelagius and his theology of salvation by works. Pelagius represented the Greek spirit, the spirit of Socrates.
We must, very briefly, trace some of the high points of the ever-increasing influence of Socrates in the history of the church till, in Luther’s day, it virtually dominated the scene.
Who expected help from Socrates, the pug-nosed husband of Xantippe? All that he told the Athenian youth was to look within. He said to everyone he met: Know thyself. Although the Athenians despised and rejected him, a few disciples such as Plato and Aristotle believed in him. They started a “Copernican revolution.” This precursor of Kant gave them their vision of unity. They saw unity beyond the “phenomenal world.” They projected a unity into the “wholly other” and called this unified wholly other “God.” They “explained” the fact of human knowledge by the vision they had of man’s intellect as participating in God as a cosmic intelligence.
Moreover, as they saw the wholly beyond “above” them, so they also saw the wholly beyond “below” them. Wholly above them was the universal, the all-unifying principle. Wholly “below” them, deeper down than anything the senses could perceive, was the utterly discrete, the completely disparate, purely contingent principle of individuation, pure formless matter.
They saw further that the wholly other “above” them was the Good and the wholly other “below” them was Evil. The Good and the Evil were, as they visualized it, correlative to one another. This correlativity of the wholly Good and the wholly Evil manifested itself “to” man in dialectical interaction, and this dialectical interaction had its focus in man.
Socrates sought to know himself as the focal point of interaction between the Good wholly above him and the Evil wholly beneath him.
The message of salvation that he brought to men was that the Good is “more real” than the Evil. If man participates in the Evil below him he also (and this is more important) participates in the Good above him.
When the disciples of Socrates look within themselves, what do they see? They see the glorious vision of the triumph of grace as built into reality. All men are saved zum vornherein by virtue of their basic participation in the Good. Their immortality is their deiformity.
Here then we have, as it were, a pre-Kantian primacy of the practical reason. Kant only expressed more fully what is in reality the cornerstone of the rational edifice of the natural man. There is in the Greek vision, as there is more overtly in the Kantian vision, a basic dualism between the phenomenal and the noumenal. Socrates, as well as Kant, “sees” himself as essentially free because he is above the “antinomies” of the phenomenal world. His moral consciousness relates him to the “wholly beyond.” Nothing but antinomy and relativity can be found in the phenomenal world. But never fear. In his moral consciousness man stands, with God, “wholly above” the phenomenal world. Even though he is also enmeshed in the chain reactions of the phenomenal world, his real, true, “deeper” self is inherently divine.
As ethically free, man stands above, man transcends, the phenomenal world. If this be dualism, the remedy for it is “dialecticism.” By dialecticism the “higher self” in Socrates rules supreme over the “lower self” in Socrates. When this lower self is at last absorbed in the higher self, as it surely will be, then God shall be all in all.
A word must now be added about Plotinus. Living in the early part of the Christian era, Plotinus took what he thought was the highest and best product of Greek speculation and molded it into one grand and comprehensive view. It is not first of all logical reasoning that leads Plotinus to accept his final view of reality. If Plato and Aristotle kept up the pretense that they believed in their “wholly beyond” because logic demanded that they do so, the approach of Plotinus is frankly visionary. Plotinus began with his vision of the wholly beyond. Frederick Sontag says that for Plotinus the “principle of identity is suspended” because it is derivative from and not applicable to the “wholly beyond.”18 Richard Kroner says, “Plotinus tried very hard to comprehend the Supreme Being logically and ontologically, but he knew very well that logic finally breaks down; only ecstasy can fill the gap that separates the human intellect from the mystery of the divine.”19 Like Socrates before him, Plotinus sees that although it is true that according to logic Evil must be as ultimate as the Good and non-being as ultimate as being, yet the Good must somehow triumph over Evil. Although, as far as logic is concerned, man must be thought of as constantly torn apart by the two equally ultimate forces, man’s moral consciousness simply must postulate that the good in him will be victorious over the evil in him.
One might think that the followers of the self-attesting Christ of the Scriptures would, from the first contact with it, have sensed the deathly danger involved in any form of negotiation with this Plotinian vision. There is, in the Plotinian vision, no place for the self-attesting Christ of the Scriptures. The Christian “vision” and the Plotinian-Socratic “vision” constitute two mutually exclusive totality-views of reality.20
In spite of this fact, Pseudo-Dionysius offers a third main “vision,” a synthetic vision in which the Socratic and the Christian visions are blended into one. But it is the former that has the dominance. To be sure, Dionysius professes absolute adherence to the Scriptures as the Word of God. We are, he says, not to say anything about the (Godhead “except those things that are revealed to us from the Holy Scriptures.”21 But that such words express little more than a formal declaration on the part of Dionysius is apparent. The fact is that he proceeds forthwith to press the whole story of human redemption through Christ into a framework that is unmistakably that of the Plotinian scale of being.
It appears then that in the Middle Ages the principle of the natural man as it appears in the vision of Socrates seems about to be victorious over the Word of the self-attesting Christ. The first love of Dionysius and of Erigena seemed to be Socrates rather than Christ. They subordinated the doctrines of grace as Augustine had set them forth to the Plotinian scheme of the scale of being. Starting from the would-be self-sufficient moral consciousness of man, they projected a dialectical view of reality in which the Good is said to draw all men up into itself. This upward pull of the Good is itself a projection by self-sufficient man. It is the Ideal by which man lifts himself up to absorption into pure goodness. All men are potentially perfect already; they need only to realize their better selves. All men can do this. Of course, room must be left for ultimate freedom.
Thomas Aquinas. But what of Thomas Aquinas? Is he not seeking to prove the truth of theism in order then to build Christianity upon it? Is there anything to criticize in that? There is in Thomas, says Lovejoy, an unqualified acceptance of the purely determinist notion that God, “in willing himself,” of necessity “wills other things.” Nothing less than the “sum of all genuine possibles could,” on this view, says Lovejoy, “be the object of the divine will, i.e., of the creative act.”22 Yet Thomas also says that God can will the non-existence of any being except himself. Here we have pure determinism and pure indeterminism placed in the very center of the divine being. Herewith the God of Thomas resembles, in its basic components, the ineffable being of Plotinus. Herewith, too, the world and man of Thomas are essentially similar to the world and man of Plotinus. Thomas constructs his man and his world by means of the Aristotelian form-matter scheme. Man, he says, is created by God. But this means that God his Creator is the first cause of man’s existence. Aquinas virtually identifies the biblical teaching on creation with the Aristotelian notion of cause. Having God as his first cause, man participates in the being of God. But it also means that man is not identical with God but only participates in him and therefore has an existence apart from God. This separate existence is due to his participation in pure matter, pure nonbeing, pure contingency.
How, then, on this view, can Christ be true God and true man? Rather, how can man, once he has been told of the mystery of the incarnation by revelation, see it to be the most irrefragable truth of reason? The nature of God as pure form is wholly expressed in its correlative relationship to pure matter. This being the case, that which can be said of the God-man can and must also be said of every other man. In every man God is wholly revealed and wholly hidden. Finding himself thus swinging back and forth on the pendulum of pure rationalism and pure irrationalism, the Thomistic man, like the Plotinian man, will seek for his “realization” by means of the postulation that his participation in absolute being, that is, in the Good, is prior to and more important to him than his participation in pure nonbeing or Evil. Thus, to all intents and purposes, we have reached a total vision of reality similar to that which Kant constructed many years later for us by means of his concept of the primacy of the practical reason.
Following in the footsteps of the medieval synthesis and particularly that of Thomas, the church of Luther’s day expressed its loyalty to Christ with vehemence. At the same time, it was also loyal to the growing ethical consciousness of man speaking through the infallible authoritative pronouncements of the church. The Christ of the Bible was permitted to teach only what the living church said it could teach. This meant that Christ was allowed to teach nothing that was out of accord with the Socratic-Plotinian vision. The synthesis of nature and grace, involved at every major point of doctrine, is in great measure a reduction of the biblical teaching to that of the self-sufficient moral man.
Luther had himself been nurtured on this synthesis view. As was the case with Augustine, so it was with Luther. The Socrates within him was slow in dying. Luther struggled long and hard against the scholasticism which continued to plague him. Who does not? For all that, the Christ of the Scriptures ruled at last in Luther’s heart. He knew that as a creature made in the image of God, he had sinned against God and was therefore subject to the wrath of God. He knew this because Christ had told him so in the Bible. In telling him this, Christ had also told him that it was through his blood and righteousness that he was reconciled to God and saved from the wrath to come. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had redeemed Luther and made him conscious of his redemption. He knew that now he was free, free in Christ. So he would have God’s people with him stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free.
Out he went to proclaim freedom from sin and freedom for service unto Christ, to those who were still in bondage to Socrates as he himself had been. He would reform the Church to an exclusive loyalty to the Christ of the Scripture. For this he was persecuted by those who were loyal to both Christ and Socrates. Rome said, in effect, that he must not do what Paul did at Athens. Luther must not teach men of the freedom that comes through faith in the Christ of Scripture. He must not preach Christ crucified and risen again according to the Scriptures. He must not teach that only those can proclaim the name of Christ who by the Spirit have learned to call him Lord. He must not tell men that there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus and that there surely awaits them, along with Paul and Peter, the crown of glory which the Righteous Judge, their Saviour, will give unto them in the final day.
Oh, yes, the church allowed him to teach all these things. It even required him to do so. He may proclaim loyalty to the Christ of the Scriptures if only he will then explain Scripture the way the church had explained it, according to the growing ethical consciousness of man. Luther may preach that man is a creature made in the image of God if only he explains that this is consistent with the idea that man participates in divinity. He may tell the masses that they are sinners against God if only he explains that this is true and, in fact, inevitable because of their participation in the realm of pure contingency. He may even proclaim that Christ came into the world to save sinners, even all sinners, if only he explains this as being consistent with the Plotinian idea that such an offer can be resisted by any man inasmuch as the Holy Spirit cannot regenerate him unless he, from the vantage point of his freedom derived from non-being, sees fit to accept it. Luther may say with Paul that he always triumphs in Christ Jesus, who makes known the savor of his knowledge by him in every place, if only he explains this as being consistent with the idea that all men are inherently participants in deity and therefore in Christ. He may only, therefore, preach Christ as one who, like Socrates, acts as a midwife to bring out the truth and salvation that is within men, and then adds to this a revelation of an unknowable God.
For all this opposition on the part of those within and without the church who shared the Caiaphas-Socratic vision, Luther continued to preach the Christ of Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit. With Paul, he made known the savor of Christ’s knowledge in every place. He did not throw his ink bottle at the devil in vain. The love of Christ constrained him, and his pity for Christ’s little ones impelled him to oppose the gospel of synthesis and to bring the Christ of Scripture to all men everywhere.
Kant and Christ
In our own century the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen wrote a book under the title Christianity and Liberalism.23 Machen’s contention was that Christianity and Liberalism were two mutually exclusive religions. Of course Liberalism professed loyalty to Christ. But Liberalism interpreted the Christ and his work according to the principles of the modern consciousness theology of Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, and their followers. For these men the growing ethical consciousness of man was the final standard of what was right and wrong and of what was true and false.
Their views on this matter rested on Immanuel Kant’s idea that the moral consciousness of man is autonomous.
Accordingly Machen called the church to which he belonged and, beyond that, the Protestant church as a whole, back from its divided allegiance to Christ and the supposedly autonomous ethical consciousness of man to an exclusive allegiance to the Christ of the Scriptures.
The Liberalism of Machen’s day believed in a still more abstract monotheism than did either the church of Luther’s day or the Pharisees. As therefore Christ called the Jews and their leaders to himself alone and as Luther called the church and its leaders to Christ alone, so Machen also, in his day, called the church and its leaders back to their confession and finally back to Christ alone.
In short, as the Sanhedrin believed in Moses as interpreted through their idea of the living Torah, the living Old Testament church, and as the Diet of Worms believed in Christ as interpreted by the living Roman Catholic Church, so the leading theologians of the Presbyterian Church of Machen’s day believed in the Bible as interpreted by the living Protestant church. In each case the idea of the living church means the rejection of the Christ of the Scriptures, the Christ of history, as the Son of God and Son of man who secured the salvation of his people in history. In the name of an abstract principle of monotheism, the Sanhedrin said that Christ blasphemed when he claimed that through the events of his crucifixion and resurrection in history, he would accomplish salvation for his people. In the name of an equally abstract principle of monotheism, taken from Aristotle, the Diet of Worms said in effect that Luther blasphemed the name of Christ when he maintained that men are, even now, in history, justified by faith in that Christ who died on Golgotha and rose again for them in history.
The Christ of Consciousness-Theology. The Christ of Consciousness-theology is a “Protestant” Christ. That is to say, he is patterned after the schematism of Kant, “the philosopher of Protestantism,” instead of after Aristotle, “the philosopher of Romanism.” The Christ of Roman Catholic theology had too much “objectivity” to it. Patterned after the “moderate realism” of Aquinas and Aristotle, this Roman Catholic Christ was given permission to retain a measure of transcendence. Not so with the Christ of Kantian “Criticism.” He is a projection pure and simple. There is no transcendence left in him.
This Christ simply cannot have any transcendent reality. How could he, since man cannot know such a Christ? Away then with all “natural theology.” Causation and purpose are intra-cosmic categories. If you attempt to extend them beyond the “phenomenal” realm, then you invite intellectual ruin. Then you involve yourself in antinomies and paralogisms.
But do not be disheartened. Kant has done you no harm. On the contrary he has done you much good. It is through his limiting of reason that he has made room for religion.
Do you remember your first airplane ride? What an exhilaration when you took off into the blue yonder. When you were young, you never thought that such a thing could happen to you. And now you are a pilot. You have your own plane. You take off any time you please. Now you have gone into orbit and now you realize that your true, your real, self is not bound to terra firma at all.
But how inadequate an illustration this is. Kant’s noumenal self is utterly free. He is free in complete contrast with his phenomenal self. All other men, as noumenal, are free. They are free from the necessity and even from the possibility of saying anything about their freedom to anyone else. They are free so far as they are in complete isolation from one another in the I-thou dimension. So far as they speak of their exhilarating freedom to one another they find themselves bound to the categories of the space-time continuum. When they speak of their freedom to one another, then they cannot help but fuse into the I-it dimension.
As utterly beyond the I-it dimension, Kant’s free man is as inherently diffuse as is the Good of Plato or of Plotinus. The “free man” of Kant is inherently gracious. The “free man” draws all men unto itself. The “natural man,” i.e., the phenomenal man, can only be amazed when it finds itself lifted up on high by the “spiritual man,” i.e., the noumenal man. But no, it cannot be amazed, for when it is lifted up, it is lifted up beyond itself by the power that comes from above. And how can nature comprehend or even apprehend this grace? If we are not to fall back into the nature-grace scheme of Romanism, the modern-Protestant must make full use of Kantian schematism. By means of it alone, argues the Neo-Protestant, can the beyond be really and wholly beyond. When the beyond is really and wholly beyond, then and then only can this beyond be also really and wholly within. Not until, with Kant, we set the free man of the noumenal realm in utter dualism over against the slave man of the phenomenal realm are we free to postulate the sovereignty of grace. For then grace is freedom and freedom is grace. Then grace and personality are one.
The self-sufficient inwardness of Socrates has at last in Kant worked out its full implications. The moral consciousness of Kant need no longer, as the Pharisees pretended to need to do, submit itself to the law of Moses. The moral consciousness of Kant need no longer with Plato or with Aristotle seek for greater participation in the divine which is eternally above it. The moral consciousness of Kant projects its own law and its own God upward and asks men to adore it as it comes down to earth.
Senkrecht von oben. Is there then room for Christ in the ethics of Kant? Of course there is. But then the Christ, as well as the God, for whom Kant makes room by limiting science is the Christ of pure mysticism. It is a projected Christ. The Messiah of the Pharisees and the Christ of the Roman Catholic Church were also primarily projections of the advancing ethical consciousness of man. But in Kant the ethical consciousness of apostate man has advanced to still greater inwardness. Accordingly his Christ is a pure projection.
The most spiritual and therefore the most effective way of crucifying the Christ of the Scriptures has herewith been invented. The whole story of redemption, from creation to consummation as told by Paul, by Luther, by Warfield, Hodge, and by Machen can now be said to be inherently absurd unless it is used as the hypostatization of a projection by means of which man lifts himself moment by moment in ever-closer approximation to an ever-advancing Ideal, which, by definition, man can never reach.
The “Theology of Jesus,” the “Theology of Paul,” and the “Theology of Luther”—it is all acceptable. The jurors of Jesus, the jurors of Peter and of Paul, the jurors of Luther and the jurors of Machen condemned their victims zum vornherein, in advance, in the name of the ideal Messiah, the ideal Christ, which, like the horizon, lies always ahead, the Messiah who cannot make himself intelligently known to man in history.
Here then is the Christ of Kant’s critical philosophy. “From the practical point of view,” says Kant, “this idea is completely real in its own right, for it resides in our morally-legislative reason.”24
It will readily be realized that herewith we have reached a climax. Internalization cannot go any further. To be sure, philosophers and theologians have gone beyond Kant. But the only way they thought they were able to go beyond him was to apply his principles more consistently than he had done. Jacobi said that in Kant’s thought one cannot do with and one cannot do without “things in themselves.” Henceforth we must resolutely do without. If Kant retained something of the character of his rationalistic ancestry, let us not follow him in this. Let us insist that, according to his own principles, the law of contradiction need never stand in our way when we wish to speak of a totality view of reality. Henceforth there is movement in logic as there is movement in reality of which logic speaks. By all means let us hold on to rationality as a limiting concept, as an ideal. Only if we do hold to rationality not as a determinative but as a limiting concept, can we retain the genuine primacy of the spirit over matter. Only then are we at last rid of that troublesome notion of antecedent being. Only then can we finally say, without blushing, that truth is subjective.
Robert G. Collingwood gives striking expression to this idea in his discussion of the meaning of history. Collingwood thinks that a modern historian should follow Vico, the Italian philosopher of history, in holding that verum et factum convertuntur.25 “The fabric of human society,” says Collingwood, “is created by man out of nothing, and every detail of this fabric is therefore a human factum, eminently knowable to the human mind as such.”26 But then, if the human mind is to create the fabric of our developing human society, it must itself be thought of as growing. The human mind must not be thought of as in any sense static. It is the concept of development and change which must be applied to human nature itself. Human nature must be free to change itself. It was Kant who helped us on this point. He saw that the human mind has power to make laws for itself and for nature. “This enabled him to put forward a new interpretation of the idea of history as the education of the human race. For him, it means the development of humanity into a state of being fully mind, that is, fully free.”27 “The purpose of nature in creating man is therefore the development of moral freedom; and the course of human history can therefore be conceived as the working-out of this development. It is thus Kant’s analysis of human nature as essentially moral nature or freedom that gives him the final key to his conception of history.”28
Collingwood concludes, “Kant has here achieved the remarkable feat of showing why there should be such a thing as history; it is, he shows, because man is a rational being, and his full development of his potentialities therefore requires an historical process.”29
With this idea of man’s developing inward moral consciousness as the source of all differentiation in the universe, man has attained to a completely inward teleology. If Socrates could only have lived to see this vision! He would at last have seen the Idea of the Good for what it is, regardless of what gods or men say about it. If Plato could only have lived to see this vision. He would at last have seen that “reality consists neither of isolated particulars nor of abstract universals but of individual facts whose being is historical.”30 History is none other than the “life of mind.”31 If Aristotle could only have lived to see this vision! He would have seen that the teleology he looked for in the beyond is wholly within. If Plotinus could only have lived to see this vision! He would have seen that his elevation above and beyond himself was really an intensification of himself within himself. If the pre-Kantian critics of Scripture could only have lived to see this vision! They would have seen that all their efforts to disprove the story of man’s creation and redemption through a Christ who, as the Son of God and Son of man, lived in Palestine many centuries ago, were needless. The whole story can be shown to be, not false, but meaningless by pointing out that all “facts of history are present facts.” All experience whatever is present. Of course the chroniclers may and must continue to speak of the past as merely believed-upon testimony, but in so doing the chroniclers deal with “mere events,” with the “outside of an event.” In contrast to the chronicler, the historian seeks for “the unity of the outside and inside of an event.” This sort of unity is action.32 If the Pharisees could only have lived to see this vision! They would no longer need to trouble about Moses at all.
“In its motive of freedom,” says Dooyeweerd, “Humanism requires absolute autonomy for human personality. This implies a rejection of all faith in authority and of any conception according to which man is subject to a law not imposed by his own reason.”33 Wedded to this religion of autonomous human personality, post-Kantian theologians worship a Christ who is wholly beyond them and as such wholly within them. This Christ is nothing that they cannot themselves ideally become. This Christ says nothing to them that they do not themselves ideally know. As such, this Christ stands over against the Christ of Scripture, the Christ in whose name Paul, Luther, Calvin, and Machen spoke.
The Christ-Mysticism of modern Protestant theology developed from Friedrich Schleiermacher through Albrecht Ritschl to Karl Barth. Ritschl wanted to escape the mysticism of Schleiermacher by returning to the Christ of the Scripture. Barth wanted to escape the mysticism of both Schleiermacher and Ritschl by a real returning to Christ of Scripture. But Barth escapes Kant no more than do his predecessors. Ludwig Feuerbach would smile about how Barth’s undercover anthropology is doing duty for theology as much as he laughed about the nineteenth-century theologians.34
The ecclesiastical implications of this modern dialectical form of consciousness theology are overwhelming.
In terms of it the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America wrote a new confession.35 And this confession is said to be not for Presbyterians only. It can in fact include all Protestants— except such as believe in the Christ of Luther and Calvin.
Beyond this there is the fact that outstanding Roman Catholic theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar and Hans Küng have expressed essential agreement with Barth’s idea of the primacy of Christ. Thus the primacy of Christ as conjoined with Socrates and the primacy of Christ as conjoined with Kant are about to take up arms together against the Christ of Scripture.
In consequence Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Dietrich Bonhoeffer with their Christ-Mystique may well become the patron saints of modern Protestantism and modern Romanism alike.36 Following the example of the Pharisees, modern Protestants and modern Roman Catholics appeal to the advancing ethical consciousness of man as the final judge of men.
This advancing ethical consciousness of man has now, in its present stage, neutralized the teachings of Scripture with respect to man’s sin and redemption by reinterpreting them in accordance with the principles of modern critical philosophy.
Man can now as never before determine the nature of the “good” regardless of what gods or men say about it. Said Josiah Royce, the American idealist philosopher: “I shall permit none of the gods to forgive me. For it is my precious privilege to assert my own reasonable will by freely accepting my place in the hell of the irrevocable, and by never forgiving myself for this sin against the light.”37 Royce was speaking in terms of the advancing ethical consciousness.
The modern Christ-Mystique of modern Protestantism and modern Romanism has nothing to set over against this.
Looking at the present situation might well bring the believer in the Christ of Scripture to despair. But then he takes a fresh look at Christ witnessing the good confession before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate. He, with Luther, takes a fresh look at Christ’s little ones. Then the love of Christ constrains him to follow the example of Peter before the Sanhedrin, of Paul at Athens, and of Luther at Worms. God so loved the world that he sent his Son to redeem it. The Son redeemed the world. All power is given unto him. He will be the victor.
In the name of his Lord the believer will plead with all men, including those who profess but compromise his name, to repent and believe to the saving of their soul and to the praise of their Saviour.
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