The question of the existence of truth has been in debate for centuries and the subject will not be answered to everyone’s satisfaction. Of course there is an answer, and reformed theologians all know what the answer is. That’s why we don’t argue too much about it. But I digress.
Truth is one thing; framing truth is another. The matter of framing truth presented one of significant characteristics of 20th century theology and its relationship with secular theology. Specifically, there is this thing called dialectical theology and its ramifications, both direct and indirect, are far-reaching. It is these questions of construct that concern the theologian; matters of evidence are reserved for technicians. (1)
The Christian framing of truth is the systematic attempt to present the truths of revealed Scripture in such a way as to reflect the content and intentions of God as accurately as possible as far as these have been revealed. Thus today’s framing is subject to the framing used by Scripture and modern framing methods which may find themselves in conflict with the method of Scripture are reject out of hand. During the last two centuries we have seen the modernist framing (with reason as the guide), the liberal framing (with sentiment and ethic as the guides), and most recently the growth of dialectical theology.
Dialectical theology – just the name conjures up images of conflict and other traits that go along with the more popular versions of dialectical philosophy and practice. But in this case it is not necessary what we look for. This dialectic of crisis (ala Barth) is more about existential conflict than social conflict. The available understanding God of this crisis is made into a product of humanness and is then reduced to something so other that an understanding of God that is taken from revelation becomes impossible.
The dialectics of theology parallels other disturbing dialectical movements. What I will call, for lack of a better term, dialectical linguistics, as seen in the efforts of Derrida, has produced a similar result. The deconstruction of language has brought a definition language to unnecessary lows and a preoccupation with minimizing content and thus a great deal of lost content. The same happens in dialectical theology – God is reduced and minimalist views of God take center stage. (This seems a legitimate reason to “fear” postmodernism.)
Liberal theology is hallmarked by the dialectic of a better world. The goal is to better the human condition by attacking need and resolving the external condition so that the person and society may blossom into the best possible world. The millennial fervor of the 19th century was more than a premillennial theological movement. The premills (including dispensationalists) looked for the fulfillment of prophecy and the soon return of Christ to establish His kingdom. But the postmills looked to establish the kingdom. The theological postmills would do so through the power of the church to better lives. Likewise the liberal postmills worked to produce a better human condition.
The idea of improved external conditions and adaptationism fit so nicely together that many of today’s evolutionists have a difficult time rejecting the teleological problem of building a better humanity and better world. It sounds so nice that it must be true. After all, will we not have a better humanity if we are better able to adapt to better conditions? Will we not evolve to become better people? Yes, they even believe that evolution defines moral senses and other sentiments.
This coupling of dialectical framing with everything else, even including evolution (at least as a method of applying it to life), leaves the secularist with a problem. If it is not possible for an improperly functioning being to attain the capability of properly justifying a conclusion (2), then how can the mechanisms of their dialectical approach be justified? They cannot. The dialectics of conflict, of redistribution, and of statism sit as walls without a foundation.
It would seem that Hegel had a bit of a grasp of this when he saw the need to redefine the Atonement in secular terms. He needed Christianity – or at least components of it. He needed a dialectical spiral to describe human progress as he saw it. Maslow (3) took this and applied it to psychology in order to better a person’s internal sense of self worth. Marx employed it in his effort to better the collective workers’ conditions. They all depended upon a Christian construct. There are few wholly secular constructs.
The damage of the dialectical approach is to reduce Christianity to a conflict instead of a resolution. I believe it is a false sense of the dualisms of Christianity that leads to these ends. Yes, I think life may be viewed in terms of dualism, but not as unfathomable (Platonic/Aristotelian), conflict-based (Hegelian), or permanent (Hindu, et al). Our dualism is what I might term a proximal dualism which does not end in a stalemate or endless cycle, but instead ends in the resolution of righteousness. It is entirely temporal. It remains teleological.
The secularist who presents Christianity as the servant of the state does not resolve anything. He merely fulfills a conflict-based dialectic. The liberal who persists in seeing the church as the servant of humanity’s betterment cannot reach the end because he has no end to be reached; no end to evolution. The dialectical theologian, it seems, ends his crisis by deconstructing God. The misframing of truth leads to all sorts of errors.
(1) VanTil, C., Christian Apologetics, p. 19, Evidences deals largely with the historical while apologetics deals largely with the philosophical aspect. Each has its own work to do but they should constantly be in touch with one another.
(2) Plantinga, A., Warrant and Proper Function, p. 193ff. Here Plantinga establishes his principle that the evolved mind cannot function properly and so cannot attain justification. He defends this against evolutionists in a series of essays which follow in Naturalism Defeated?
(3) Fraser, Ian, Hegel and Marx: the concept of need, pp, 50-51ff. For Hegel, (his equivalent to) self-actualization occurs when needs are met. Whenever a drive of need takes place then one is not free to be fully self-aware – one is distracted.