Thielickeian Contestations of Cartesian Theology:

Thielickeian  Contestations   of   Cartesian  Theology:

Radically rearranging the macro-divisionary theological landscape and traditional Classifications of Christian Theology in Light of the Proposed Influence of René Descartes with Reference to a Foundation of Scripture, Pluralism, and the Origins of Faith.


I think, therefore I am.



I am thought, therefore I am.

Franz Von Baader


He is – therefore I think.

Johann George Hamann[1]



Preliminary Considerations, Part 1: Understanding assumed theological-structural divisionary dichotomies, past and present – ‘Modern vs. Liberal,’ ‘Progressive vs. Conservative.’


If one were to consider the flow of Christian history – it is indeed a succession of ideological and epistemological assertions, counter-assertions and refutations and then subsequent alienations. And while the modern day theological practioner may hold dear the hope that this represents an ‘advancement’ – this may at times be true; yet, unfortunately, more so often it represents yet another doctrinal division or denominational fractionalization. This divisionary process has a decidedly bifurcated nature; in that it has taken place not just on a micro-level but also on a macro-scale as well. A micro-level example would be the diversity of conservative, Pentecostal denominations – such as that of my own background. The United Pentecostal Church[2] division,[3] which emerged out of the now much larger Assemblies of God[4] denomination, and the Church of God[5], then their own seceding Church of God of Prophecy[6], and – of course – then the even later splinter group of the Church of God of Jerusalem Acres. [7] A friend and I once joked that were going to start a new church denomination and call it The Assemblies of the Church of God of Prophecy at Jerusalem Acres Pure Holiness Anointing With Signs and Wonders Following; as it seems so much the nature of such subsequently re-splintered groups: the longer the name, the more legitimate the endeavor. And while this divisionary process is ever ongoing – sometimes with legitimate purpose – other times bordering on the absurd – the macro-level stratifications taking place upon the larger body of theological polity, are just as active and contested. It is this process that we will take a look at  – and make an attempt to clarify both generally held divisions/classifications, and the iconoclastic endeavors of the German theologian Helmut Thielicke; which if taken to heart – radically rearrange one’s macro-divisionary theological landscape in relation to them.


Traditionally, theological macro-historical divisions fall along certain lines. These are the Modern vs. Classic schools, as proposed by J. Gresham Machen[8] in the 1920’s and various Evangelical authors such as Karl F. Henry[9] in the 1970’s. In more modern times, this division is referred to in terms of a Liberal vs. Conservative dichotomy or even Progressive vs. Traditionalist; depending on the perspective or agenda at hand. Thielicke makes the argument that regardless of whether you use the title “Conservative” of “Fundamentalist” to describe them – one side will be primarily concerned with salvation and holiness, and the other – the “Progressive” or “Liberal” faction – will be more interested in Justice, Peace and ‘how one’s faith makes one feel’ vs. ‘where one’s faith will posit one’s soul a thousand years from now.’ Each side generally ignores and potentially even denigrates the concerns of the other side – as alluded to in Henry’s introspective caution when he wrote

The average Fundamentalist’s indifference to social implications of his religious message has been so marked, however, that non-evangelicals have sometimes classified him with the pessimist in his attitude toward world conditions.[10]


It is not fair to say that the ethical platform of all conservative churches has clustered about such platitudes as “abstain from intoxicating beverages, movies, dancing, card-playing, and smoking,” but there are multitudes of Fundamentalist congregations in which these are the main points of reference of ethical speculation. In one of the large Christian colleges, a chapel speaker recently expressed amazement that the campus newspaper could devote so much space to the all-important problem of whether it is right to play “rook,” while the nations of the world are playing with fire.[11]


This stands in sharp contrast to the ‘Social Gospel’ of Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918); who taught that man rarely sinned against God – but more so often against society and his fellow brother[12] or the theology of Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who’s theology – as described by the great German theologian Karl Barth – concerned itself with how one’s faith made one feel; in his words – a “theology of feeling, of awareness.”[13]



Preliminary Considerations, Part 2: Thielicke’s Restructurement in light his Cartesian vs. Scriptural Foundations.


Against this classical dichotomy of classification, Thielicke proposes a bold move. He proposes that both theological movements, especially the “Modern,” are essentially rooted back into Descartes’ idea of the Ego. They are, in the words of Paul C. McClasson, rooted back into the “cannons of Rationality” to which the church “owes nothing whatsoever.”[14] But what then forms the basis for any theological thought? Both McClasson and Thielicke propose that the nature of the work of theology must center – not upon man’s own thought of it – but rather an uncompromising view of Scripture. The argument does hence arise – is this purported view a merely a regurgitated fundamentalism? The argument that both McClasson and Thielicke make is that the soteriological urgency of Fundamentalism and Societal concern of Liberalism are merely “two sides of the same Cartesian coin[15]” – in that they are both true and need not be so needlessly separated from one another. Reason – or our ability to think and digest and understand both scripture and doctrine – are to be firmly grounded in the foundation of the Scripture – not or own potentially fanciful logical outworking of it; no matter how thought-out and thorough they might be, to both the actual and the perceived shortcomings of scriptural admonitions.


Thielicke proposes two theological dynamics – each of which represent alternate potentialities of doctrinal formulation in relation to Christian scripture: Actualization & Accommodation. Actualization is “ a new interpretation of truth, in it’s readdressing, as it were. The truth remains intact. It means that the hearer is summoned and called ‘under the truth’ in his own name and his own situation.” Accommodation, on the other hand, represents truth “under me” and is essentially pragmatic in its nature.  Beginning with Descartes, truth is subjected and potentially countermanded by the “I” or the cogito of self. Rather then “Self” being under the “Truth” – Truth is interpreted and authorized by man’s own affirmation of it.  “Descartes paves the way for making the relevance of the knowing self the center of thought.”[16] Essentially – the dynamic in play becomes “ ‘Reason’ or ‘Self’ seeking understanding” contra the classic Augustinian/Anselm dictum of fides quaerens intellectum – faith seeking understanding. Descartes based every potentiality for understanding on his own self-awareness; whereas Augustine based a capability to reason on the motto credo ut intellegam – I believe (have faith) in order to understand.[17]


Neither Thielicke nor McClasson reject the value or the potential of Reason or ‘self-awareness’ – rather they assert that there will always be an teleological foundation in any theological epistemology – and that for all it’s limitations – Scripture is the only suitable foundation, and Reason should remain what it is essentially in relation to it – a tool.


As a nontheological foundational epistemological basis for dogmatics, any form of human philosophy, from Aristotle to Wittgenstein, is absolutely to be rejected. To any that would set the agenda or determine the parameters of Christian truth, our answer is simply no![18] However, as a set of tools that may bring some clarity to the process of faith seeking understanding, any form or human philosophy and culture may be legitimately brought to bear upon the questions at hand, provided the usage is in accordance with the inner logic of the subject matter as learned from the scriptures. The church theologian should be fully educated in the history of human culture and fully conversant with the issues of the day, but the theologian is absolutely free from the imperialistic claim of any human system.  [19]


The style and understanding of Christianity as advocated by Thielicke and McClasson is not the ‘check your brain at the door’ varietal – a precursory reading of any works penned by their own hands reveal both men to be astute and their own writings and their respective work far from the palladium offered by many self-proclaimed modern philosopher-kings. Rather, perhaps, their efforts mark a correction to the Enlightenment’s efforts to make one’s own self-awareness and Reason the ‘end-all’ & ‘be-all’ for theological formulation. Their contestations of an unchecked Cartesian self-centric and ego-authenticated epistemology perhaps echo the words of the Judeo-Christian cannon of Scripture itself, which warns that the Deity which it purports to reveal to the reader is in no way beholden to the logic or the common sense of anybody, anywhere – and if anything, He would rather use “foolishness” and “brokenness” to achieve the revelation of Himself to those who will find Him in it’s pages, confounding the wise and using weakness to outwit the strong.[20]


And so – one could conclude – that it is not contrary to the “inner logic” of the Scripture, that even if Descartes was in fact under the full influence of his proposed “evil genie” – that even such a condition could not necessarily preclude the capacity for a divine God to use the situation for his own glory, self-proclamation and revelation. Thielicke and McClasson might well ague with Descartes that his Method of Systematic Doubt fails at the onset with the assumption that his ‘evil genie’ precludes any potential revelatory capacity itself. Whereas Descartes attempts to use constriction and weakness as a limiting factor of awareness – the scripture makes clear that we, as humans, need not be ultimately foundationally dependent upon our own capabilities for either life, or our own theological ruminations. Through strength – or weakness, comprehension – or deception – God’s grace is omni-sufficient for any conceivably proposeable task.



Secondary Considerations, Part 1: Where then from whence a Foundation?  The Interpretation Thereof.


The point of this essay, thus far – has been to illustrate both the contentions and the divide between those who would either directly or indirectly embrace logic or rational thought as a foundational structure for faith, vs. those who would seek to rather ground belief and the attendant religious structure thereof upon a scriptural foundation. The ensuing dilemma is not all that unlike that of Antony Van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723); who solved a number of mysteries and problems in his discovery of bacteria and single-celled organisms; such as what causes infections and eventually how to prevent them during surgical procedures – but in opening this door, he truly opened the gate to a veritable universe of more unknowns and further, successive challenges – which proved to be exponentially greater in their number and illusiveness, then to the problems and their solutions that he had successfully closed the door to and put behind him. Today, every hospital lab has a department dedicated to the science of Microbiology, which comes with a trained and dedicated staff who work 24/7 inside it, laboring to find and then isolate which antibiotic a given patient’s infection will respond to. The technology and knowledge of just the medical wedge of this field alone continues to grow exponentially – and no one can dare guess how advanced or mature it may or may not be in the years to come, let along the light years it as advanced from when Leeuwenhoek first gazed through his primitive microscope. What often happens to the biologist, who finds yet another lay of biochemical complexity – or the astrophysicist, who finds yet another division in the intergalactic orderings of planets, constellations, and universes in his view of the night sky – the same is also true for the theologian. Once we challenge Reason and assert a foundation of the Scripture – then we are asked – whose scripture and method? The problems that challenge us are greater then those that we have put to rest. But we cannot go back. Advancement – in any field of study – demands that we potentially allow more mystery for every puzzle that we unlock.


In the 5O’s, the German Neorthodox Theologian Rudolf Bultman popularized the notion of “Demythologization” – through which he assumed that the stories of the bible were told as stories, and our job for today is to merely find their ‘meta-narratives’ and then correctly reinterpret them for today within the scope of modern epistemological frameworks and current cultural ideological references. Another Neorthodox Theologian, from the same time period – Paul Tillich – used an Existentialist tool-set to interpret scripture, through which he described God as ‘The Ultimate Concern” and how that related to one’s own “Ground of Being.” Another giant in the arena of theologians, Karl Barth – who wrote the incredibly long-winded, 14 volume series entitled Church Dogmatics; and was still writing/working on it the day he died – was once asked impromptu by an eager news reporter, in so many words, ‘Professor Barth, tell us something very deep and theologically profound about your work,’ to which he responded, with the nursery rhyme – which arguably succinctly distilled all the endless pages that he had himself written; “Jesus Loves me – this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Can something be so complex that it cannot fit into 14 volumes; so much, that the entire productive life of a theologian is yet not enough to write it – and still yet can it really be so simple as to be capable of being conveyed in the silliness of a nursery rhyme? More Doors unlocked – and still more mystery.


In context of the current discussion of how to interpret and apply the Scripture-as-Foundation precept – McClasson favors the work of Brevard S. Childs, a Yale theologian known for his Old Testament work and commentary. Childs advanced the term “Canonical” in regards to an understanding of ‘the whole of scripture’ and not just a select part of it; as both Liberals and Fundamentalists are prone to do. He advances a concept or understanding of seeing the scripture itself as speaking to us regarding a revelation or knowledge that is itself beyond just the Bible itself: the actuality of God and the knowledge of Him, as revealed through the scripture. Through this process – Childs advanced the notion, that the scripture – though it be a foundation to us – to God, it is a merely a tool; as the Scripture, while it may be a theologically true statement to say that “the Word (The scripture) became flesh and walked among men (Christ), the Bible itself, as it is posited upon paper and endlessly rewritten in a variety of languages – is not God himself. Essentially, Childs argues that we must remind ourselves that the Bible/Scripture may be our only way to ‘see’ God’s revelation – but it is still – nonetheless – a window, and not God himself. God is not to be confused with the revelation of Himself. As ‘alive’ and ‘dynamic’ as we may assert it to be – we will eventually come back to the issue of faith in regards to the perceived limits of that revelation in regards to the things that we wish it did speak to and of, but does not. It is far beyond the already stretched scope of this paper to offer an extended analysis of Bultman, Tillich, and Barth, and even Henry and Machen, and all of their diverse theological methods both in regards to theology and the scripture, or even their own self-perceived positions inside the theological Conservative vs. Liberal assumed normative & divisionary dichotomies of their respective times. But it may be safe to say at least this much, each – and many others for that matter – saw and wrote from a unique perspective and both closed and opened doors to both mysteries and solutions. And all would probably agree in as much as this, as has already been asserted: for all the answers that we given, again, many more remain.




Secondary Considerations, Part 2: Where then from whence a Foundation?  The Diversity & Plurality Thereof.


Several nights ago, I sat in a Mexican restaurant and glanced up to see the big screen television hanging from the ceiling, in the corner. It was tuned to CNN, and the focus was on a group of hair-bunned, plain-faced women in long pastel-colored dresses. Some of whom were visibly distressed. Larry King was interviewing them on national television. The caption on the bottom of the screen read “FLDS Mothers Speak Out: We want our Children Back!” I stood up from my table and walked over to where I could read the teletyped conversations, as they drifted across the screen. At least one of the women seemed near tears. The conversation seemed to revolve around the question – ‘are you aware that you have broken the law?’ 416 children had been more or less forcibly removed by Child Protective Services from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saint compound named, “Yearning for Zion” a few days earlier. They were being placed in foster homes by the state, with DNA paternity tests to soon follow. A bed found in their “temple” was reasoned to be where “spiritual” marriages were consummated between very young girls and appreciably older men; with the goal of preserving and perpetuating the sect’s practice of Polygamy. The droning, succession of talking heads that followed the muted cries for help by the mothers, made statements like, ‘it might take ten years of intensive therapy, before they or any of their children can function within normal society.’ I thought to myself  – was the State just in what they did? And if they were just in their actions there – could the same reasoning send them to my church with goals of someone doing something likewise, even as seemingly unthinkable as splitting up scores of families? After all, we may not believe in Polygamy; but what if laws were passed against the practice of Glossolalia[21]? That is as odd to some people as Polygamy would be perverse to anybody. There is seemingly no limit to the eccentricity, or at times perversity, that some will engage themselves in, under the guise of the alleged scriptural admonition, in the practice thereof of ‘this or that’. But how far is too far? How open can we be both within the realms of Religious and the Secular? There have never been any easy answers. It is doubtful there ever will be. The vast majority of orthodox theologians who work in the Judeo-Christian tradition concur that the essence of the scripture is an allowance of interpretive and religious freedom. You are free to do what you want – but the future and penalties for the wrong choice are potentially clear -depending in the question at hand. A scholarly pastor friend once said; ‘all paths may or may not lead to God, but God is not on all the paths’.


And so in speaking of the question of a Scriptural Foundation contra one of Cartesian Reason, and it’s respective position in relation to the interpretation of the Scripture within such a proposed theological dichotomy – in regards to it’s application as commonly accepted today, even among those who would consider ourselves to be “Fundamentalists” – we see our own faith as essentially an underlying cultural meta-ethic which informs but does not force it’s control over our society at large. Family members, who have grown up in my own family, were not seen as “lost or damned” if they began to attend a different church, one which potentially interprets the scripture differently. Even in its more austere forms – such as my own – a degree of religious pluralism is an essential underlying and openly accepted dynamic[22]. The results of this is a decidedly non-hedgemonic theological atmosphere; wherein an understanding of a universal catholic church embodies the existential identity of each individual believer: I may attend Grace Assembly of God, in Cleveland; a church in the Assemblies of God denomination – and yet I am just as much a Christian as someone else who attends Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic church, in Chattanooga. Our respective churches may differ on various doctrinal aspects, but in light of eternity, we feel we know where we will be 10 thousand years from now.


It should be further pointed out – that even in my own denominational background, which at times is seemingly guilty of borderline culturally successionary practices; we don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance – and certainly – don’t go to movies – growing up, we heard a constant stream of stories from missionaries overseas[23], who told tales of people killed or brutally repressed for nothing more then changing their religion from Muslim to Christian[24]. I myself, in my own overseas missionary work, have worked with those who have put their lives in danger and even fled from those trying to kill them – such as the Marxist ‘Shining Path,’ in Peru[25]. And whether it was purposeful or inadvertent, this understanding of a capacity for an allowance of a sense of Religious Pluralism embodies the theological identity of our given denomination and many others. We are free to choose our own interpretation – because we are Christians – and even further then that – because of the Scripture and the liberty that comes from it and not from men alone, nor anyone’s understanding of it[26]. And so – whereas there is a seemingly an ever-expanding diversity of churches – as joked about in the beginning of this paper – it is a part of the underlying theological ethic: Pluralism is not just allowed – it is a part of the DNA of an authentically scriptural-based church. If you look at it under the microscope; this truth will be seen. The closer that you are to the scripture theologically, the closer you are to genuinely understanding that diversity is allowed and not just healthy, but welcomed. Churches who deviate on critical orthodox doctrines[27], such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others – will by the nature of this deviation, become themselves Hegemonic in their theology, either directly or eschatologically and isolatory in their relation to the rest of the world and the church. Much controversy remains and will no doubt continue on in much of the current geo-political conversations in regards to the role of both America in World affairs and Faith and it’s role not just in Politics but in the foundational essence of Political Thought itself – Philosophy. Certainly many seek to isolate Religious influence from both Political and Philosophical thought, with both constructive and sometimes malfeasant directives; but – regardless of anybodies assertion or attempts – the two remain inextricably intertwined with one another in a variety of contexts and dynamics; regardless of how far they are removed from each other in a given epistemological apprehension or attempted framework. The assertion that Pluralism is an inherent tenant of the Judeo-Christian Tradition has been contested by many so-called Post-Modern, self-described Post-Colonialist/Post-Imperialist, Post-Patriarchal thinkers; but regardless of which historical/epistemological reconfiguration we attempt; the conversation will, no doubt, be both controversial, introspective, and ultimately – hopefully – illuminating for both ideological sides, and on both sides of the issue of the role of Faith/Scripture in Politics/Philosophy.



Secondary Considerations, Part 3: Where then from whence a Foundation?  The Faith Therein.


If we accept the premise that faith must precede understanding – as has been argued in this paper – then how are we to understand faith itself? And if belief is a part of the rational process, then how – outside of Reason – can we even believe in faith or have faith to believe? Where does faith come from? In some form or another, this question has been wrestled with, practically, since the dawn of Christianity. Augustine and Pelagius argued about it – and then later, so did John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. John Calvin – the theological father of so-called modern, 5-point Calvinism – argued for Double Predestination; that essentially, God, on His own accord, pre-selects or “elects” certain individuals to experience Divine illumination and purpose, and ultimately heaven –  and then pre-selects all others to be “vessels fitted for wrath;” or in other words, condemned to Hell. Contra this – there is Arminianism; which holds that, ultimately, we make that choice. The number of books written on this debate, no doubt outnumber the number of letters in this present essay. But it is held by a few individuals, my self included, that this division is yet another dichotomy that is not an either/or choice; but that, rather – the truth is probably somewhere in between, or paradoxically – possibly even both.


All theology is divided into ‘cataphatic’ or ‘apophatic’ categories; that which you can know and assert – Positive Theology – or, conversely, that which is essentially unknowable and mysterious: Negative Theology. In Eastern Orthodoxy, mystery is embraced and celebrated within a theological context, but in it’s divergence from the East, The Western, Roman Catholic church – and later it’s Protestant step-children, generally favor the Positive or Cataphatic emphasis of things. It is arguable that this is a Cartesian influence – whereas we may accept mystery as a token theological reality; we are much more interested in the potentiality of rational assertions. And while any theologian can attest that this is a worthwhile endeavor – the potentially unchecked practice of it ultimately diminishes and potentially altogether removes the role of the Apophatic in the theological-epistemological theater of thought. Can something make sense to God and not man? Any Judeo-Christian theologian worth his salt will readily agree. However – many of these same theologians will express a reticence at actually allowing such a dynamic to express itself doctrinally or in the hermeneutical machinery that they are responsible to oversee.  In the context of ‘where does faith come from,’ and the question of even ‘if you have a choice to believe’ or if you were just chosen by God by Grace and no initiation or proclivity on your own part – it is certainly possible that the whole theological discussion is essentially too far gone into the Cataphatic to be of any use to anyone. The argument can be made that in denying the allowance of the Apophatic, either unintentionally or purposefully – we may just create bigger mysteries then we solve – but yet solve nothing, outside of our own minds, in our actual epistemological progression: we don’t  really solve any problems – we just add to the list the things are either outright preposterous or unknowable. There is no unified school of thought in the realm of the philosophical – no one idea unifies everybody all the time; just as there exists no such animal in the realm of the religious. Reason divides both Philosophers and Theologians into whatever respective schools thinks ‘this about that’ and ‘that about the other.’ The question for both Theologians and Philosopher alike is ‘does an advancement into ‘mystery’ advance the State of Prior Knowledge?’ In the words of the before mentioned Karl Barth in regards to Soterilogical Election/Foreknowledge and those who espouse Supralapsarian Double Predistination, who himself may have come as close as anybody to accepting the contractions of the scriptures he so much loved – “we are not autonomous, but we are responsible.”


Are we either – through a supralapsarian,[28] double-predestination – pre-selected to either be a Christian or a ‘Heathen;’ or are we just out here on our own, trying to figure it all out on our own? Is the capacity to apprehend Faith, provided for us – or is it discoverable? Wherein can one find a foundation to believe in faith? What is the place of Apophatic & Cataphatic Theology or even Philosophy? Is Philosophy epistemologically immune to such categorization? The general notion that faith can be found through either philosophical or scientific means is generally referred to as “Natural Theology.” When Descartes embarks on a process of argumentation – with the means of an attainment of faith as the goal – he is essentially going down this same path. Many sing the praises of Natural Theology – either directly or indirectly. Perhaps they dress it up as a form of philosophy; and never realize that it is a theological construct. This much I know to be true. No amount of education can ever necessarily induce faith in an individual. I have a professor who is fluent in Biblical languages and who commands a fantastic knowledge of Church history; which he teaches with all the passion and energy and excitement insomuch as one, that one would almost assuredly assume that he is a believer. And yet he is not. Faith is perhaps an enigma: the greatest vernacular inconsistency in the human language. Faith – in the context of Christianity – is a puzzle wrapped in a puzzle. Perhaps the clue to solving the first, necessarily lies in the latter. A dimension of Faith will always reflect back into the Apophatic, regardless of how much we try to emphasis the Cartesian Rationalist, Philosophically-Cataphatic impulses inherent to the human nature; to explore and figure out any mystery set before us.


The question has been asked; “what makes Faith believable?” Descartes would argue that his ego/rationality ultimately can serve as an adequate basis for faith, and he can Cataphatically assert a truth-to-faith dichotomy. The scripture speaks of the necessary inclusion of an Apophatic mystery-to-faith dichotomy as well, as Romans 10:17 states “so then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” And so does Faith make Scripture believable or does Scripture make Faith believable – which came first the chicken or the egg? Faith, from a Cartesian perspective might be understood to mean the act of belief in something via an astute excogitative process that teleological culminates in an advanced ideological directive through established and proven epistemological norms. Faith from a scriptural standpoint – is child-like and inherently simple. Though it may be as complex as 14 volumes, it can never be fully redacted from the simplicity of Barth’s own quotation of the beloved nursery rhyme; simplistic – but still laden with deep theological portent. What Barth told the reporters – who had asked for something deep, was ironically the deepest thing he could tell them – which was the simplest thing he could tell them as well. Faith: it just is – and is just so; because I was told by Christ that much – from His Word, and nothing more or nothing less. For all it’s modern limitations, and seemingly endless interpretations, it is all we really need, and it can only be the only real foundation in our spiritual lives. Reason may be a tool, but it cannot be wisely used as an ultimate and excluded foundation.


This present writer has himself actively engaged in the sometimes seemingly ‘competitive sport’ of Apologetics, and I have set my own feet down in the dust of a number of foreign lands, and in all of these endeavors, my goal was the impartation of Faith to those who did not know Christ. And have I made a rational case for Christianity ala Renée Descartes? I most certainly have. And was this wrong? It was most certainly not. But more importantly, ultimately – not my Reason, nor any argument, nor my thoughts, nor their positions towards anything else were the prime directives in any of my efforts: they were not the foundations for my work. I went – because that is what it is written I am to do. I spoke, because it is written that I am to speak. And I proclaimed – what it is written I am to say: I preached Christ and Christ crucified as it is written, I am implored to speak of. This I will do – as others have done before. If there is a circular notion to my logic, it is that the only reasonable argument to be made is to follow the instructions, as they were written – not because I thought about them or was able to think of them, neither deeply nor succinctly. My Reason is encapsulated within the concept of a self-authentication dynamic present and accepted inside the content and posit of scripture itself. Ultimately – this is where my faith is posited and grounded. Not in my own self-awareness, but in the self-awareness of scripture. Thielicke and McClasson argue that everything is either a theologic or philosophic logical (or illogical, for that matter) outworking of this premise. It and it is upon this notion that either Dogmatic/Canonical theology or Cartesian Theology either both rise and fall; are judge and dismissed or affirmed. But perhaps – we have chased yet another aspect of Rationality. Perhaps, Descartes has – as Kierkegaard tried to do – deceived us into the truth. Or perhaps he is as Socrates himself; his line of questioning, eventually questioned his own self. My own conviction is that there is a danger in the unquestioning application of any pure ideology. Would Descartes argue that even an understanding of Scripture as the ground of all Theology and Belief/Faith is still necessarily grounded back into the capacity to apprehend such truth? Possibly. For many never have the rational capacity to be any measure of a theologian; but you don’t have to be a theologian to believe – just able to so even as a child. And so – in thus, even the scripture affirms a Cartesian capacity to Reason and understand – as long as it is understood that it can appear and be existent in and of itself, but perhaps be of another origin – none-the-less – there for all to see. Understood and believed – in child like faith, as a Child. But perhaps we are just guilty of winding up yet another toy on the theologian/philosopher’s playground; more epistemological Lincoln logs; cataphatically arranged or apophatically strewn in yet another way. It is impossible to tell. What I do know, is that I can have a Child-like Cartesian faith; but that is all it is. Everything else – it comes from the Word.



Concluding Considerations


The Philosopher George Santayana once said ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’[29] Modern theologians – Thielicke and McClasson would argue – spend too little time going back into the history of thought to consider the philosophical influences and attendant epistemological de facto assumptions that shape and form their own thought processes and resultant conclusions; especially the Cartesian underpinnings that essentially serve as the foundations of much of the epistemological gerrymandering that both theologians and philosophers alike so enjoy doing. From their theological toy box, modern seminary students can seemingly put together endless combinations of potentially usable ideological itinerations and convolutions. But are they wise? What is the foundation upon which they place their efficacy? And more so in urgent in need of questioning is the idea – are they really ‘moving the conversation forward’?


Descartes, in his attempt to build a ‘philosophy behind his theology’ jumped from the theological to the philosophical and then back again. Is this allowable? Certainly. Both theology and philosophy share a multiplicity of connecting points and goals. Their waters are as rivers that mix and then diverge, only to mix again. But does this mean that they are indivisible? Certainly not. Not everything that is philosophical and endure purely theological treatment, nor can all philosophy endure the rigors of theological prejudice. This paper is surely guilty of a high degree of theology – and, I would argue, this is allowable – as Descartes allows a high degree of philosophy to become a part of his theology. The waters mixed – and to re-find/re-evaluate Descartes’ original directive, we must mix them yet again. So how and where did the two mix? When and where, if they did, did they lose their respective identities and responsibilities – and if such losses were incurred, were they both necessary – and above all – genuinely constructive? Are the strong theological assertion of Thielicke and McClasson warranted – to countermand a possible abuse by Descartes of this own theology, at the hands of Philosophy – and if this is so, are the eyes of Philosophy itself best able to see it – or do we need to look with theological eyes to see what was lost in the goal to see more theologically to begin with? Was that not the initial aim of Descartes to begin with – to use philosophy to help his theological counterparts in their own ambitions? Was he successful? Did he fail? And if he did either – did he lose or maintain his aim – and is that same aim the directive force of our own ruminations/applications of his ideas? Perhaps it is in the return to original intent, that we can remain most true. Because if we lose Descartes original intent of finding the Scriptures themselves and the Faith they speak of to be provable – then we risk merely following some obtuse and winding path that leads who knows where.


Perhaps this is what happened. If so – can we find our way back?


Another quote, which is also attributed to Santayana, is his description of Fanaticism; “redoubling your effort after you’ve forgotten your aim.” Both Thielicke and McClasson would remind us that no matter how much you preach the dogmas of soteriological salvation or the imperatives of social justice, if you forget the essential and mutual Judeo-Christian foundation which both are based upon, and rather choose to base your faith on your own ability to understand, interpret and apply select aspects of either –then you do indeed risk merely de-evolving into a fractious fanaticism that soon itself forgets where it even came from.







Helmut Theilicke. The Evangelical Faith. Volume One: Prolegomena, The Relation of Theology to Modern Thought Forms.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmands Publishing Company, 1974.


Karl Barth. Protestant Theology in the 19th Century.
Valley Forge, Great Britain: Judson Publishing, 1976.


Carl F. H. Henry. The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmands Publishing Company, 2003.


Paul C. McClasson. Invitation to Dogmatic Theology, A Canonical Approach. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2006.


Stanley Hauerwas. A Better Hope, Resources for a Church Confronting Capitalism, Democracy, and Postmodernity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2000.


Carl F. H. Henry. God, Revelation, and Authority, Volume 1, God who Speaks and Shows, Preliminary Considerations. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1999.


Walter Martin. Kingdom of the Cults. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Bethany House Publishers, 2003.


George Santayana. Life of Reason. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998.

Karl Barth. Church Dogmatics. New York, New York: Westminster Press, 1955.


J Gresham Machen. Christianity and Liberalism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Bethany House Publishers, 1996.



[1] Introductory quotes to Part One, The State of Theological Discussion, Orientation of Our Theological Thinking, Page 20, The Evangelical Faith. Volume One: Prolegomena, The Relation of Theology to Modern Thought Forms, by Helmut Thielicke

[3] Took place in 1917. It is the only division to take place in the history of the denomination.

[8] Machen makes this case in his book Christianity and Liberalism, which he later said would have been more aptly titled Christianity and Modernism

[9] Henry makes this case in his book series God, Revelation, and Authority, but is viewed by some as being an advocate of a balanced view of theology in light of his warning against radical fundamentalism in his book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.

[10] Dr. Carl F.H. Henry The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, page 6.

[11] Dr. Carl F.H. Henry The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, page 7.

[12] Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, A Better Hope, Resources for a Church Confronting Capitalism, Democracy, and Postmodernity  , page 24.

[13] Karl Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, page 457

[14] Paul C. McClasson, Invitation to Dogmatic Theology, A Canonical Approach, pg. 52.

[15] Paul C. McClasson, Invitation to Dogmatic Theology, A Canonical Approach.

[16] The Evangelical Faith. Volume One: Prolegomena, The Relation of Theology to Modern Thought Forms, by Helmut Thielicke, pg. 34

[17] Paul C. McClasson, Invitation to Dogmatic Theology, A Canonical Approach, pg. 104.

[18] Italics are McClasson’s. Probably in reference to Karl Barth’s polemical book entitled the same, No! – which he wrote as a response to fellow neo-orthodox theologian Emil Brunner’s book which attempted to make an apologetical case of Natural Theology.

[19] Paul C. McClasson, Invitation to Dogmatic Theology, A Canonical Approach, pg. 99.

[20] For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called]: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, [yea], and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

[21] The term for “Speaking in Tongues” as practiced by Pentecostal or Charismatic churches.

[22] But it is worth pointing out the there are denominations, that in their past, did think that they were the only ones who were “saved” – and for a time my own grandfather was a part of one, a Church of God of Prophecy church. He was excommunicated when he stood up and told the congregation that he felt like many of his Southern Baptist friends were in fact saved and he “knew he’d see them in heaven.” That event has been passed on through the family history – mixed in with a bit of humor and pride.

[23] The Assemblies of God – my background – has one of the largest mission programs, second only the Southern Baptists, and when per capita, denominational considerations are taken into account – it is the largest.

[24] The missionaries a met with had at least once been grabbed and thrown into hiding places when Shining Path guerillas swept into their village and began beating people and shooting into the air –“where are the missionaries, we are here to kill them!”

[25] At the time I met with them, while I was in Ecuador, and they had been reassigned to its capital city, Quito. The Assemblies of God had suspended all missionary work in Peru, because of the constant danger and chaos resultant from the activities of the Shining Path, which had gained infamous notoriety for its brutality and mayhem.

[26] For the sake of brevity I have excluded an apologetical inclusion of a systematized comparison of Governments which openly espouse Man as the final product vs. those that emphasis a Judeo-Christian religious foundation, at least in concept; such as Communism & Fascism vs. Democracy. It is worth noting that Democracy remains a largely Western, Judeo-Christian invention, the Islamist world, in particular, being largely devoid of it – outside of any direct Western influence or coercion in regards to a direction toward it.

[27] A definitive reference in regards to Christian Judeo-Christian orthodoxy, regarded as being so by many from many denominations and backgrounds is Dr. Walter Martin’s Kingdom of The Cults. In it Martin systematically delineates what is and is not a sect vs. a cult vs. a denomination or church tradition and then provides an exhaustive reference to many if not all sects and cults found within modern theological history.

[28] A type of Predestinationist thinking that holds to God’s decision to elect and reject believers/unbelievers as having taken place prior to the Adamic fall of man.

[29] Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner’s, 1905, page 284″


About hollerscholar

I'm a theology & philosophy student, writer, web developer, and medical laboratory professional.
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